Rome: The Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica

Jon and I took our first trip without the girls!  We have never left Madelyn overnight for a trip, and IMG_0709obviously never Olivia either, so this was a new thing for all of us!  We are lucky to have an amazing family we are friends with that offered to keep them for us so we could have an ‘adult getaway.’  After some thought, we decided to take them up on the offer and use the time for a trip to Rome!

We left Wednesday around lunch time and came back Saturday evening.  Because we got to see so many different places, I think it is best to ‘break up’ the trip into several pieces.  There was a lot to see, do, and experience, and I’m not exactly known for ‘being concise’ 😉

Our first full day there, we took a five and a half hour tour of the Vatican.  I didn’t know all the amazing happenings that occur on the Vatican grounds!  First off, the second largest museum in the world is the Vatican Museum, falling only behind the  ‘Louvre’ as the largest!  I honestly didn’t even KNOW there was a museum at the Vatican until we started preparing for this trip. I figured the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica were enough to make the trip there.  Boy, was I wrong!

We walked to the Vatican from our hotel to meet our tour.  It took us a little longer than we thought to get there, but still had to stop as we crossed the Tiber River to take this picture, our first view of  St. Peter’s Basilica.


Once we met our tour, we went through security and were led our onto the veranda to go to our first museum rooms.  The ‘museum’ is spread out over different areas of Vatican City, so we had to change buildings and areas frequently as we moved through exhibits. Our guide brought us out and started talking about the history of the museums and how it was organized.  I didn’t really hear her because I was too mesmerized by the view.

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I learned later that there are approximately 800 people that actually are registered citizens of the Vatican and live within the walls.  Italy and the Vatican have an agreement allowing tourists to enter without using passports.  There is a TV station, radio station, train station, family homes, and even license plates unique to those inhabitants!  Our guide talked with us for about 15 minutes while out there, so I did finally tune back into what she was saying 😉  

We started our museum tour in the Pinacoteca.  This is a collection of art pieces that are arranged in chronological order.  The advantage to this is being able to see how techniques and subjects changed over several hundred years.  Each piece was selected for its religious or artistic significance.

The first piece she pointed out was a screen that separated parishioners from clergy.  The screen was very large and painted on both sides with different scenes.  It is from the 13th century and has the 2-D style painting common for the time period.  It also has the golden background that replaces a ‘scene’ so the subjects seem to be in no particular location.  Both sides show important saints such as St. Peter and St. Paul holding objects that help identify them.  The first picture is more simplistic and was viewable by commoners.  The second picture is more detailed and meant for the wealthy and clergy members.

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She narrated several other pieces and then led us to a room that held large tapestries designed by Raphael, but completed by Flemish weavers.  They were very large and VERY beautiful!  There were approximately 7 tapestries all together.  One of the tapestries was a replica of DaVinci’s “Last Supper.”   The room also held the painting called “Transfiguration” by Raphael as well.  She pointed out that this one was different from many of his previous works and shows how he was influenced by Michelangelo.   The painting was originally to be hung in St. Peter’s Basilica, but was moved to the museum for safe keeping.

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**Disclaimer – I know the photos aren’t entirely in the order we took the tour… sorry!  I tried as best  could, so if you’ve toured the museum before and I have mislabeled or mis-ordered something it is an honest mistake!  I tried to keep track as best I could :)**

Once we finished in the Pinacoteca, we walked outside and across a courtyard to get to the next building.  This collection held mainly sculptures from Ancient Rome or replicas of Ancient Greek sculptures, some of which were created by Ancient Romans.

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Most of the floors in this section were covered in beautiful mosaic tile scenes.  I have never taken so many intentional pictures of floors before 😉




This sculpture we spent several minutes in front of because it has such an interesting story surrounding it.  It is called “Laocoon. ”


The man in the center was a priest named ‘Laocoon’ who warned the Trojans about the Trojan horse ambush.   He was sentenced to die from Athena, along with his sons.  Athena is represented in the snakes, with his sons on either side of him.  This statue was created in the 2nd Century, and was somehow buried in a hillside.  It was rediscovered at the beginning of the 16th Century in almost immaculate condition.  The only fault was the upraised arm was missing.  After much debate, a new arm was fabricated and the statue was put on display.  There were still some who felt the arm that was created was not in the same motion as the original.  Almost 400 years later, a man discovered most of the missing arm in a box stored away in an antiquities store.  He was confident that the arm was the correct arm for the statue and made his case.  After much consideration and testing, it was proven that it WAS the missing arm of the statue!!  The hand and such are still gone, but as much of the original sculpture has been preserved as possible.  The story almost seems impossible!

We moved onto another area that held additional sculptures and artifacts.  It is amazing to think these are made predominately of marble or another very hard stone, by hand!  There are always many talented people in the world, but to have something you created be admired by others more than 2000 years after you created it is mind-blowing to think about!



We worked our way through different parts of the museum and got to this room.  There were frescos on the walks, mosaics on the floors, and this beautiful centerpiece.  I honestly don’t remember what the piece was used for or who it was from.  What does stand out, however, is the blue panel that runs the circumference of the piece.  I though it held small paintings every two to three inches.  In fact, these were actually ‘micro mosaics!!’  They were so finely created that neither Jon nor I were able to zoom in close enough to show the tile work with a camera!  The last photo shows how detailed the pictures were, but that was the best we could photograph.  They were amazing!

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 Later, we went through a series of rooms called the ‘Raphael Rooms’ because all of the paintings were either completed or designed by Raphael.  Raphael died at the young age of 37, and several of this works had already been designed, and started at the the time of his death.  His students completed his work and they are still credited as being his work.


The fresco below was by far my favorite of all the works in these rooms.  It was very large and I was not able to capture it entirely in one picture.  It is called “The School of Athens” and features many of the greatest thinkers throughout history.  Many of the people are sort of a caricature of what they are ‘known’ for from the philosophical or artistic realms.   This fresco was completed in two ‘stages.’  The first stage was the entire painting EXCEPT the person in the bottom left sitting in the steps, leaning against a table with his head in his hands.  This person is supposed to be Michelangelo and was added after Raphael saw the completed Sistine Chapel.  Michelangelo, while an exceptionally multi-talented artist, was also known as being reclusive and unfriendly.  This explains why he is by himself and seemingly ‘sulking’ or ‘pensive’ 🙂


Another ‘fun’ fact about this particular room was the floor mosaic.  It was was allegedly completed by Jewish tilers and they ‘worked’ the Star of David into the pattern unbeknownst to the Pope 🙂


As we moved on through other exhibits, we came to the tapestries gallery.  This hallway held 15 or 20 large wall tapestries.  Many of the tapestries were commissioned by the Barbarini family or depicted them in some way.  The symbol for this wealthy family was a single bee or three bees together.  On the corner of many of the tapestries, you would find a bee or bees woven into the pattern.  The third picture shows a bee in the corner of a tapestry.  The last picture shows the keystone of the doorway of the gallery with the three bee crest ‘hidden’ in the shape of a face.

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There were obviously several other very beautiful rooms and artwork, but we were anxiously awaiting the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica.  When we finally arrived at the Sistine Chapel,  I was beyond excited!  Unfortunately, you are not able to take photographs inside, but we were able to admire each of the panels in complete silence.  I apparently never paid attention in my art history classes because I always assumed the first panel was the famous ‘God’s finger-Adam’s finger’ scene.  Its not.  That’s like the 4th panel of 14.  All the panels depict Biblical stories starting with Genesis.  While we were in there, a priest came in and did the blessing and offered to hear confessions in the back in the confessionals.  Neither Jon nor I are Catholic, but found it to be special nonetheless.

After the Sistine Chapel, we walked briefly through the modern art section that held several Dali and Matisse pieces.  We didn’t stop in this collection because we were on our way to St. Peter’s Basilica!   As the fates would have it, my camera battery died approximately 7 minutes into the Basilica!!  Jon and I had to take photos of the most beautiful cathedral built in history with the cameras on our PHONES!!!  I was SO angry at myself!  But, what can you do!

The Basilica is one that will leave you speechless.  The magnitude, beauty, and knowledge that you are IN St. Peter’s Basilica is almost overwhelming.  The detail in something of its size is astounding.  What I found interesting was that apparently several artists were wanting to create the ‘new’ basilica, and Bernini ended up winning the commission.  He edged out Michelangelo by challenging him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to essentially get rid of him.  He felt that the chapel ceiling would keep Michelangelo busy, but there would be no way his work could compare with what Bernini had planned for the new St. Peter’s Basilica.  The same with Raphael.  He was given the Pope’s private rooms to adorn with frescos, moving him out of the way as well.  Ultimately, all three artists left their mark on the Vatican with their amazing talents.

I end this post with a photo montage of what we were able to capture.  Enjoy!

View from from balcony before going inside


This is probably the most famous statue in the Basilica.  It was created by Michelangelo when he was only 24 years old and was his third statue ever created!!  It shows Mary with Jesus after his crucifixion.  It is called ‘Pieta.’  The statue today is behind glass (as seen in the second picture) because it was vandalized  in 1972.  The statue sustained 15 hits before the man was stopped and was painstakingly repaired before putting back on display.







This is an EXACT mosaic replica of Raphael’s painting we saw in the Pinacoteca.  The original did hang here for a short time, but was taken down because it is in direct sunlight at some point every day.  The mosaic was created so it would be able to withstand the sunlight.









St. Peter’s Tomb is directly below this sculpture by Bernini





Balcony where some papal speeches are given