The Vatican Reel
It is arguably the smallest state in the world and the Pope is its ruler. The Vatican is the seat of Roman Catholicism and is home to some of the world's most prized treasure trove; The Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica.
The grounds are guarded by Pontifical Swiss guards dressed in a tricolour (blue,red, and yellow) uniforms with a beret and a sword. To be a Swiss guard, one must be a Catholic, single and hail from Switzerland and trained under the Swiss military.
Make your way to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel during lunch time to avoid long queues. The ticket costs 16 euros and can be purchased online with a 4 euro reservation fee. Once you are in, just follow the signage leading you around the museum towards the Sistine Chapel.
The "Sphere within a Sphere" Statue at the Cortile del Belvedere depicts a huge fractured orb. Inside the cracked orb you can see another one. The design of the internal layers seems to imitate the gears or cogwheels of a complex machine such as a clock. It symbolizes the fragility and complexity of the world.
I tread past a golden globe into an arched entrance to find myself subdued in a gallery adorned with sculptures and busts of all sorts and shapes.
I tread surreptitiously from one room to another, cogging at every direction. Above me, a dome bedizined with 15th century Renaissance frescoes, and below a glistening black and white checkerboard marble flooring bouncing off the natural rays streaming through the high arched windows.
I walked through another corridor with another string of multiple gilded panels embossed with historical frescoes as its ceiling and inchoate maps of the world as its wall.
Out goes the sunlight and I stumbled onto another gallery, dimly lit and its entrance was kept close by a glass panel. I pushed it open and felt the sudden whiff of cool air on my skin. All around were precious tapestries borne out of the hands of 16th century weavers. I leaned closer, my gaze continue to follow the sinuous threads converging and diverging like a gilded filigree taking the shape of various biblical events.
Raphael's apartment stood nearing the end of this labyrinth. One particular room garnered the attention of many. I jostled my way through a throng of people to reach the back of the room and behold, Raphael's gripping depiction of philosophy, art and mathematics was etched across an imposing lunette.
Raphael's the School of Athens places Plato and Aristotle, both gesturing above and below representing their contrasting views on reality, at the centre. They craddle their lifelong ideology in the form books; Plato holding Timaeus and Aristotle with his Nicomachean Ethics. On the far left, Phythagorus can be seen scribing Mathematical laws in which he held on to dearly as the force that creates music and harmony in the sphere. My eyes were relentlessly fixed on this frescoe and I summised that this was the work of a man who thought possible the marriage between philosophy and science, bringing our beloved masters together to teach and learn from one another and, in a deeper way, exhalting humanity to its true Renaissance.
It has been 2 hours but somehow my pace became lighter and quicker. I looked at the final signage and my heart pounded incessantly. Suddenly, the corridors seemed familiar, its colours jolted a memory. I walked up the narrow steps with care as every step was dealt with apprehension. I held onto the banister and with one final motion, I hurtled through the small door, there it was....
Shhhh...Silencio!!...shouted the guards......The crowd was instructed to move from the entrance to the nave of the Capella swiftly....KEEP MOVING....NO PICTURES... the guards bellowed again...
An empty space on the bench that encircles the Cappela beckoned me. I moved quickly towards the opening, knowing that those spaces wont be left vacant for long and there I rested my body with sheer admiration. I turned my head around to see alternating red and gold trompe l'oeil drapery on the first tier. Above that, the flawless biblical depictions of the life of Moses and Jesus Christ engirdle the chapel's perimeter. The lower half of the third tier, adjacent to the lattice windows is the Gallery of the Popes, a series of pictorial representation of the Holy See. The upper half comprising the lunette and pendentives contain the Ancestors of Christ.
I shifted my gaze towards the altarpiece, a symphony of colours dominated by the colour of the sky and tones of flesh, creating an orchestra of immaculate unison. Christ and Virgin Mary, aptly placed in the centre, side by side dispensing his last judgement onto the departed souls whose fate is bound to either heaven or hell. At the bottom of the frescoe, the condemned sinners are damned to hell and the blessed is seen ascending towards Christ into the heavens. Surrouding Christ, his faithful Saints oversee the passing of the Judgement. St Peter's hold the key to the heavens, and St Barthelomeow holds his flayed skin from being skinned alive for spreading his Faith. The top corners of the frescoes contain the symbols of the Passion; the pillar which Christ was flogged on and the Cross that Christ bore and was crucified on.
The blue sky of the Last Judgement slowly dissipated as it reaches the flattened vaulted ceiling, turning into frescoe panels depicting scenes from the Book of Genesis. Around this, the 12 prophetic figures who foretold the coming of Christ were decked out in geometric harmony. Along the corner of the ceiling, 4 pendentives were painted with stories pertaining to Israel's salvation by Moses, Esther, David and Judith.
On the centre panel, drawing the attention of the space, rests the iconic Creation of Adam in which God extends his hand towards Adam to bestow the gift of life. Rather than being garish, the defined flesh tone against the dusky pastel background exudes a more subtle yet solid stance for such a moment as the creation of mankind.
I sat silently for as long as i could. I then whispered to myself....Behold this creation before your eyes, course through every detail, colour, bend and fold before it vanishes as you close your eyes and turn away from it....I stood silently and offered a sincere prayer.....My eyes began to well.....Most of us spend a lifetime yearning to savour, to see, to feel these wonders and here I am, sitting in the Capella Sistina for the second time under the master's loving art, overcome with such fulfilment and joie de vivre. It is places such as this that I am reminded, time and time again, why travelling has become an inseparable part of my life. It is in moments such as these that I find my breath of life, my courage and strenghth to achieve the impossible. I took one last look at the Capella and withdrew out of its sight.
St Peter's Basilica
If you are planning your visit to St Peter's Basilica, I implore everyone to visit Musei Vatican first as our kind receptionist had pointed out a shortcut to avoid the exhausting queue and security check outside the basilica.
From the sistine chapel, remember to look out for the group exit which is on the right hand side of the chapel and follow the rest of the tour group down a winding corridor which opens out into the semicircular collonades juxtaposing the main square. Walk up a few flight of stairs on right and you will find yourself at the entrance of basilica.
Piece de Resistance
Through the imposing solid wooden door, my foot rested on the white marble flooring with its alternating earthy grid sequence decked throughout the perimeter.
On my right, Michelangelo's Pieta sits behind a glass frame on a pedestal. Its youthful representation of Madonna cradling the body of Jesus against her monumental drapery after the cruxifiction has faced much criticism and, at the same time, inspired and awed many for its exemplary sculputural details.
Midway to the right transept, is the chapel of Blessed Sacrement. A notice in front reads ' only those who wish to pray may enter.' The pitter-patter of the human feet and the humdrum voices of visitors quickly drowned once I was inside this sanctuary. It was indeed a rare moment of absolute silence in a tourist packed place as I prayed in peace.
At the centre of the dome, Bernini's main altar composed of 4 bronze helical panels spiralling upwards to form the ornate canopy, shading the high altar of the basilica. The canopy's four corners are embellished with 4 angels standing in front of 4 volutes that ascend upwards, supporting the gilded cross on a sphere. Below the canopy, marks the grave of St Peter in the Vatican crypt which is accessible to the public without any charges.
The cupola on the ubiquitous dome designed by Michelangelo allows the natural ray of light to stream into the basilica, giving off a saintly glow when reflected against the walls of the basilica. Both the dome and cupola are accessible with a fee.
At the west end of the basilica, is the throne of St Peter. This gilded bronze monument was built by Bernini to enclose an oak throne gifted by Charles the Bald on his coronation.
The exterior of the basilica is comprised of 284 Tuscan columns, 4 columns deep in a lunette arrangement circumscribing the main sqaure with statues of saint above. At the centre of the square, a towering Egyptian obelisk stands mightily.