We headed back to the Vatican again this morning, this time with a slightly better game plan. The guide who gave our tour through the Forum yesterday (Gastone) also conducts tours through the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica, so we got an early start to meet up with his group. It turned out to be a pretty good tour, although we didn't spend a whole lot of time in the Vatican Museums.
(To be fair though, there's no way you could even begin to see it all in one day, and honestly, I don't think we could have handled a much longer tour. The museums were really crowded, so there was a lot of shuffling and standing, which was hard on our (already tired) feet. And, since my husband and I both grew up in Ohio, (and not in say, Beijing, New York, or Rome, for example) we haven't developed a high tolerance for being bumped and jostled for hours on end.)
The line for the Vatican Museums stretched out for a couple of blocks around the city walls, and while we stood in the line, they passed out radios with headsets, so that Gastone could speak quietly into his microphone, and we didn't have to be clustered all around him in the museum. To keep us entertained, he gave a little background history on Michelangelo, Pope Julius, and the Sistine Chapel. (If you want to know why the Sistine Chapel is so acclaimed as a work of art, I recommend reading Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King.)
Our tour took us through areas of the Museum dedicated to Renaissance art-- statues, tapestries, and paintings-- on the way to Raphael's rooms and the Sistine Chapel.
Raphael's fresco The School of Athens featuring great geniuses in philosophy, art, and science.
After seeing Michelangelo's work on the Sistine chapel, Raphael added a new figure to his work, front & center, beneath Plato & Aristotle. The "pensieroso" figure sitting by himself on the steps, writing, is supposed to represent Heraclitus of Ephesus, a solitary genius with a bitter temperament, but it is said to resemble Michelangelo, and people believe that Raphael added it to his work as a (grudging) tribute to Michelangelo.
The guards in the Sistine Chapel seem to get a kick out of enforcing all of the rules, which seem to be oriented around preventing you from appreciating Michelangelo's work... You can't sit down on the steps to look up at the ceiling, and you're also not allowed to stand in any one place for very long. Talking is strictly forbidden, even whispering. (But the guards continuously say "SHHH!" at 90 decibles, and they also come up behind people and clap loudly to make them move, because that's not distracting or annoying!) You are also not allowed to take photos or video, even without a flash. They say that 10,000 people a day go through the Sistine Chapel, so maybe it's unreasonable to expect that you could experience it in a relaxing environment.
St. Peter's Basilica is exactly what everyone says it is-- immense. I guess I had expected that it would be a reverent, awe-inspiring environment, but it's like most other places in Rome-- crowded and chaotic. Unfortunately, the idea that kept coming into my head as we stood in the basilica was the story of Jesus overturning the tables of the merchants in the Temple. While no one was selling anything, it just doesn't even remotely feel like a religious experience.
Don't get me wrong, I am glad that I got to see the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's, but I don't think I would want to go back and see them again unless I knew they wouldn't be horribly crowded. I just don't know if that's ever possible!
Tomorrow we'll head back to the airport to pick up a rental car, and then we'll leave Rome for Florence. We're planning to make a day of it, taking the scenic route and maybe stopping in one or two of the smaller towns.