The Vatican is more than the world headquarters for the Catholic Church. It’s also home to a world-class collection of art from some of the great masters including Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Carvaggio and Raphael. Some of the most prolific work belongs to Rafael, including the four rooms of the Papal apartment known as the Stanze di Raffaello or Rafael Rooms.
The rooms are covered in extravagant frescos detailing various tales from Christianity. Ceiling medallions such as this one, entitled “Poetry,” depict some of the core tenants of the religion. The phrases held by the angels read “Touched by the Breath of God.”
A note on the Sistine Chapel: We walked through Michelangelo’s masterful works in the Sistine Chapel twice during our visit and it was as impressive as we are led to believe. Photos are prohibited in the chapel as it’s considered a place of worship. You can find tons of pictures online from people who ignore the no-photo rule. While not religious myself, I believe in respecting the sacred spaces of those who are, hence no Sistine Chapel photos in our collection.
Fontana dell’Acqua Paola, aptly nicknamed “The Big Fountain,” sits atop the Giancolo hill near Trastevere. Built in 1612, it was the first major fountain on the Tiber Riber’s left bank. We hiked up the hill early in the day, enjoying the sights of the churches and monuments of San Pietro in Montorio.
Opposite the fountain, we had amazing views of Rome from St. Peter’s Basilica to the Forum.
Atop Giancolo, we found a widespread tribute to Giuseppe Garibaldi, a 19th century Italian military hero and the namesake of a small seaside town in our home state! But even better, we found an espresso stand! Italy is the best!
In the 1500s, Pope Gregory XVIII commissioned a priest/cartographer named Ignazio Dante to fill the 400 feet long hallway of the Belvedere Courtyard’s third floor with maps featuring battles, waterways and detailed regional topography. The ceiling, painted by a group of artists, depicts scenes corresponding to each map.
The Belvedere Torso is one of the most important pieces in the Vatican collection. While the artist who carved it around 1 A.D. is relatively unknown, the piece had a huge influence on 16th century artists, in particular Michelangelo, who patterned the figures of many of the frescos in the Sistine Chapel off the sculpture.
A sculpture of river god Arno reclines in the Vatican’s Octagonal Courtyard. The sculpture was originally carved in the second century, but restored and changed throughout the centuries by various artists. The current form is the result of Renaissance-era artists in the 16th century.
Transfiguration is the last work completed by Raphael before his death in 1520. It was taken by Napoleon’s troops during their invasion of Italy in 1797 and installed in the Louvre. It was returned to the Vatican in 1815 where it has been displayed since.
A stained glass piece in the Vatican Museum.
Sphere Within a Sphere, a modern piece by Arnaldo Pomodoro, sits in the Belvedere Courtyard. St. Peter’s Basilica can be seen in the distance. The sphere was originally designed for the Vatican in 1990 and has been duplicated for installations around the world.
The aptly named Hall of Busts contains an impressive collection of famous faces from the empires of ancient Greece and Rome.
The exit of the Vatican Museum takes you down a steep spiral staircase (really it’s a ramp with speed bumps). Most folks took pictures from the top looking down, but the view looking up was quite stunning.
Four hours in the Vatican Museum (including two trips through the Sistine Chapel) looks like this…
We searched far and wide for Rome’s best gelato and found it a short walk from the Vatican. Lemongrass has a philosophy about its ice cream that includes touting the nutritive qualities of its natural flavors. It played out in the amazing, Roman-influenced flavors like this mixture of bacio (like Nutella!), gianduja and pistachio.
More Photo of the Day posts from our January-March 2016 trip to Europe