The smallest country in the world is often known as the Vatican City, but it is no city, merely a tiny island in the ocean that is Rome. It makes up for its size by housing artwork by some of the great artistic giants of history- from individuals like Michelangelo to entire civilizations like the Egyptians. The huge throngs of tourists make it easy to forget that at its core this is a holy site housing the seat of arguably the most powerful religious leader in the world- the Pope.
Much of the Vatican’s space is not open to the public, but visitors are allowed to peruse St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums which include the Sistine Chapel. To get into the museums, you have to have tickets. You can either wait in an hours-long line along the city walls, or you can pay a tour company to help you cut at a set time. If you, like me, have anxiety in large crowds, make sure you are medicated before entering.
The plan inside the museum complex is set into two routes. These routes, especially the ‘short itinerary,’ become rivers of bodies. It is difficult to admire the artwork as you are either constantly pushed along or someone’s sweaty head is blocking your view. Make sure to eat before diving into the stream because it is impossible to go backwards. Thankfully, there is a prison-like cafeteria of cheap food in the complex’s basement. To get a short respite from the lumbering mob, you can head off into the optional exhibits. The plebeians don’t seem to want to visit these in their quest to be disappointed by not being able to take pictures of the Sistine. One of these exhibits, the Etruscan Museum, holds vividly-colored pottery from thousands of years before Christ.
Even with the crowds, it’s hard not to marvel at the sheer volume of art housed in the museums. There are wall-sized tapestries, sculptures of all kinds, pottery, artifacts, painted halls, globes, etchings, mosaics, sarcophagi, jewelry, and, of course, paintings of various imagery and style. And don’t forget the gardens and the architecture of the museums themselves.
The highlight of the journey is of course the Sistine Chapel. Photos are not allowed as it is a holy place, and there are guards to prevent plebs from breaking this rule. There is also supposed to be silence, but it’s difficult to get dozens of corralled people to be silent even with hypocritical loud speaker announcements entreating them. Even so, staring wide-mouthed at the ceiling, a calming peace comes over you as you gaze with your own eyes at images so old and so famous. I’m sure a student of the Bible or Catholic history would get even more pleasure out of being there. Afterwards you can meander starry-eyed through a few more exhibits before leaving the museum complex.
The other main destination of the Holy See is St. Peter’s Basilica, it’s blue dome visible from almost everywhere in the country. We opted not to wait in the massive line and just enjoy the outside plaza and architecture. I hope to go back sometime and go inside where many more famous works are housed (armed with pills, of course). I am content with never going to the museums again. The Vatican holds so much history and culture, but going there is like going to a theme park. The crowds themselves are not the only problem. The biggest issue I have is that though I am not Catholic, I would have liked the place to have a more somber and sacred feeling. Even religion is not immune to consumerism. The best way to sum up the bad taste in my mouth is this: