Churches, and chapels, and paintings, oh my!
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I have always loved walking into countries on foot. I did so with Monaco, and now again with the Vatican City in Rome, which can easily in my mind be categorized as the strangest little country in the world. Realize that by little, I really mean little, as it covers a scant 110 acres and is home to only 800 official residents, making it the smallest nation in the world in both categories. While no larger than the size of a neighborhood, the Vatican meets all the qualifications of an independent state, including a post office, it’s own coin currency, and a military consisting of hilariously dressed Swiss guards.
Reachable via Rome’s rail system, the Vatican in and of itself has the feel of one big massive museum. Literally, the entire country is seemingly a museum. This is probably why it is the only country that in its entirety is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. While there is a semblance of public transportation in the country, the reality is that anywhere you need to go is reachable simply by walking there.
Far and above the other sites in the country, the two that leap above the rest in terms of popularity are St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistene Chapel. In the massive St. Peter’s Basilica that occupies the center of the country, masses in Italian are held 6 times a day, and 8 times on Sunday’s at various locations around the Basilica. Those wanting to catch a glimpse of the Pope must visit on a Sunday as he usually appears free of charge in one of the windows of the Apostolic Palace. If you’re planning on paying a visit to the Basilica, however, be sure to cover up the legs and shoulders as the dress code is strictly enforced and even the most pious will be turned away for wearing shorts. While you’re at it inside of the Basilica, go ahead and rub St. Peter’s foot. It’s supposed to be lucky.
After wandering the massive grounds of the Basilica, we turned our attention indoors in order to gape at works of the most legendary artists in European history, notably the masterpiece that is Michelangelo’s Sistene Chapel. While I am usually not into the typical tourist destinations, I would have to say that craning your neck skyward to this massive portrait scrawled across the ancient ceiling is one “sight” that is well worth the price of admission (which currently stands at 12 Euros). It literally is possible to spend an hour without looking down once, just taking in all that is going on in the painting. Depicting 9 stories from the book of Genesis, the frescoes are impossibly detailed, and as Goethe once quoted, “Without having seen the Sistene Chapel, one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving”.