Just one visit to Europe to discover and see the wonders of its historic and cultural heritage and you’ll be hooked, fall in love and promise yourself to be back. Returning to beautiful Italy for the third time our lives are enriched with the memorable experiences that will last forever.
As always our first stop is at Rome, the national capital of Italy and the seat of the government. Historically known as the “City of Seven Hills”, the Eternal City has a population of 3.7 million. It is believed that the city was founded by mythical twins Romulus and Remus. The Capitoline she-wolf is the symbol of the city.
Our sightseeing tour of Rome commenced at the Vatican City, known in diplomacy as The Holy See covering less than 1 sq. km. (0.4 sq. mi.) with 920 inhabitants occupied by the St. Peter’s Basilica, the Square and the Vatican Palaces. A sovereign state within a state, the Vatican is under the sovereignty of the Pope and is the administrative headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.
The huge elliptical 17th century St. Peter’s Square designed by Bernini is dominated by the immense silver-blue “Dome” by Michelangelo. The two symmetrical Colonnades with quadruple rows of Tuscan columns crowned with the statues of 140 saints form a superb entryway to St. Peter’s Basilica. Standing at the centre of the square is the tall Egyptian obelisk. Harmonizing perfectly with the vast square are two identically beautiful fountains on the left and on the right.
Near the entrance of the Basilica we encountered some of the famous Pontifical Swiss guards that give a touch of colour with their Renaissance costumes of red, blue and yellow.
The largest in the world and the centre of Christianity that draws pilgrims from all over, St. Peter’s Basilica stands at the Vatican Hill where St. Peter, the chief Apostle who is also considered as the first Pope was crucified and buried. The impressive interior which included 45 altars can be visited daily for free although a strict dress code is enforced – no bare shoulders or knees for both men and women.
As you enter the Basilica it is hard not to be awestruck by its grandeur and beauty. It is quite enormous and has a capacity of 60,000 people. In the first chapel of the right aisle is the “Pieta”. a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo, set back some distance from viewers and protected by a bullet-proof acrylic glass panel. This magnificent statue of classically sheer beauty surrounded by a veil of sadness depicts the lifeless body of Jesus on the lap of the immortally young Virgin Mary after the Crucifixion.
Towering over the high altar, under the dome of Michelangelo with balconies decorated with reliefs is the famous Baroque canopy upheld by four spiral columns made of bronze.
The Vatican Museums including the Sistine Chapel frescoes are the finest and extensive collections of art in the world from sculptures to paintings and porceleins. The frescoes of the Sistine Chapel represent the life of Moses (Old Testament) on one side and the life of Christ (New Testament) on the other side. Michelangelo’s gigantic task of painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel began in 1508 and was completed in 1512.
Twenty-three years later the artist began the most perfect work of his long and active career, the “Last Judgment”, a depiction of the second coming of Christ and the Apocalypse.
In the next issue we will cross the Tiber River from the Vatican to ancient Rome.