Hot! Vatican City

48 Hours Rome

According to guidebooks and locals alike, there is no quiet time to visit Vatican City. After a peaceful market morning wandering Roman neighborhoods and putting my Italian to the test, I switched gears to tourist mode. After a quick shower, I donned my “I heart Roma” shirt and blended in with the masses walking towards St. Peter’s Square.

I entered this massive, welcoming circle hoping the publicized rumor of fewer crowds in the afternoon would be true. Hundreds filled the piazza queing in line to enter the Basilica, studying maps to identify works of art, and posing for pictures. I joined for the picture taking, mailed a postcard, then stepped in line for what I thought was the museum and the Sistine Chapel. When I found it was for the Basilica, I bowed out and made my long trek around the building.

It was a rookie mistake. Not only did I backtrack from where I’d just come, but once I realized the distance between the two sights, I knew I wouldn’t return for the Basilica. There is no shade in Vatican City and it was another hot and humid afternoon in Rome.

It was a relief to step inside the Vatican Museum where even more people crowded every corner. I began my tourist walk dodging groups and photo takers as I followed my guide book through the path to the Sistine Chapel. As most books recommend, the best is saved for last and I quickly bypassed most rooms, stopping only randomly in the Gallery of Maps for a short rest. As I looked at the floor-to-ceiling map in front of me, I almost instantly recognized the coastline. It was Northern Italy, and there in the center was Finale!

I couldn’t believe the coincidence and happily took a photo before moving on. I was surprised and awed by the following rooms containing Raphael’s frescos. The Sistine Chapel gets all the hype, but these few rooms depicting scenes from the Roman Empire come to life in their size and in the way they engulf each chamber. Even with my limited knowledge of the Church and art history, I was taken in by the scenes.

It was hard to linger, though. Even with climate control, high season made each room warm and crowded. I moved on to the Sistine Chapel expecting to find some peace with this masterpiece.

But the first thing that hit me when I entered the room was the noise and just how many people were crammed into this small space. It was overwhelming in its disappointment. I moved past people snapping pictures, and chatting away despite signs discouraging both. Then I lifted my head up and saw iconic image of God giving Adam the gift of life and other familiar Biblical stories.

It took a few minutes to remove myself from the noise and commotion around me, but as I gazed the scope of these frescos came into perspective. God, Moses and others seemed to float off the wall towards me on the ground. Was it perspective or just the blood rushing from my head as I tilted it back?

Eventually a loud “sush” came from the sound system and requested silence and no photographs in several languages. I left with a sense of amazement and regret that there was no such thing as a quiet day in Vatican City.

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  1. "God, Moses and others seemed to float off the wall towards me on the ground." Great description. Makes me want to go see…