Professor Greg Gilbert turned me into an Art History Nerd. His art history survey course was by far my favorite class in all the seven years it took me to finish college.
So, it comes as no surprise that I was uber geeked-out to go to Rome,
the Eternal City where all the folks with slightly better than average art knowledge love to get together and pray for their tour guide to say something a bit incorrect so they can raise a hand and set the record straight.
We will be in Rome 4 more times on this adventure, so Day 1 was spent almost entirely in the walls of Vatican City.
As of the end of 2005, there were 558 people with Vatican citizenship, of whom 246 are dual-citizens of other countries (the majority being Italian).
Here is a breakdown of the peeps that live there:
293 members of the clergy who serve as diplomatic envoys abroad;
62 lesser-ranking clergy members who work in the Vatican;
101 officers, NCOs, and men of the Papal Swiss Guard; and
43 lay persons.
I guess this study forgot to mention the 75 million people that are visiting the Vatican at any given time. Like the 200,000 people that were shoved into one body-odor reeking room that I think was the Sistine Chapel, but I couldn't be sure because they were able to get more tourists in there by letting them walk on the ceiling.
The study also forgot to mention the 50,000 that visited the Tomb of the Popes with us. The people who couldn't listen to the countless announcements in every language that say, and I may be paraphrasing here, "This is a sacred place. Please observe silence and refrain from taking photographs. Wow. You people really can't shut up for more than 3 seconds, can you? Hey, Buddy, do your vacation photos really need to include a picture of the tomb of Pope Felix IV?"
I know I was in the middle of tourist central, I know. I know I shouldn't have been surprised that every other person in St. Peter's Square was on his or her laptop.
And I love that so many people want to see these amazing feats of art and craftsmanship. And I'm not going to kid myself that people are flocking to the Vatican in droves to pay homage to the Catholic God. But, I just thought that if anything could make people pause, make people feel something that wasn't palpable, something that couldn't be bought from a street vendor for 5 Euros, it would be this place. In fact, at the time of their creation, these beautiful works were sort of akin to the CGI/fireworks/car crash spectacles that leave us breathless today. They were commissioned to combat the loss of Catholics due to the Reformation. Art was the old school special effect.
These works, like the Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel and Bernini's Baldacchino on the alter of St. Peter's, are concrete proof that if God exists, Man is one of his most amazing creations. The fact that Man could create such works, using the tools and materials of the Earth itself, is testament to the awesome power of Mankind. They left me in awe.
And the rude, pushy, photo-happy fanny-packers and their fat, screaming children left me in awe as well.
It sounds like I didn't enjoy myself in Rome, which would be a terrible impression to leave.
Even waiting in line after line (here's me waiting in line to use the restroom in St. Peter's...God's Restroom!) was a bit more magical when doing it near the tomb of St. Peter.
I had waited so long to see so much of these works in person, and I guess I neglected to realize that I would be seeing these works "in person" so much as "with persons-" loads and loads of them.
My favorite things about the day were the rooms in the Vatican Museum besides the Sistine Chapel. We saw ancient sculptures from Greece and Rome. Unlike the Baldacchino, which was roped off and seemed so very far away and so out of reach, these sculptures were right out there, to be interacted with. I got to stare into the eyes of Medusa and not get turned into stone. Steve got to put his arm around Caesar.
And there is a garden outside the Sistine Chapel where you can breathe. You can watch little interactions between God's own funny and fantastic creations - Men, Women, and Children. It is quiet, and there is sun and sky.
In the end, it cannot be denied that Bernini achieved what he set out to do when he created the plans for St. Peter's Basilica. The colonnades that extend from either side of the church's facade were meant to symbolize the arms of the church, welcoming the faithful, embracing them and leading them into the church's walls. It worked then, and it still works now.
Even if not everybody is impressed by it.