O sole mio
Day 3 - The Vatican and Saint Peter's

Rain, rain, rain and rain. It seemed like it would last forever. But we bought an umbrella in the street. Strange enough, the day before we had not seen one man in the street selling umbrellas. But now the streets were crowded with them. We took the metro to San Pietro (Italian for St. Peter. Oh, you knew. How could I know you knew?). For the first time we crossed river Tiber (Tevere). The area is called Trastevere (ie. Trans Tiber, you see).

The Vatican is the capital for Catholics all over the world. It became a sovereign state within a state in February 1929, by the Lateran Treaty, and is ruled by the Pope. In addition to its own post office, shops, radio station, newspaper, and publishing house, there are the Vatican Museum, and the Sistine Chapel. It is also the winter residence of the Pope (the summer home is Castel Gandolfo) and approx. 1,000 full time residents, that staff the premises. We decided, that we would come back another day for the museums.

Saint Peter's Cathedral

The site was originally the Circus of Nero, where St. Peter was crucified, martyred and buried in 61 AD. (It is said, that Peter insisted on being crucified with his head down, in contrast to Jesus Christ). In 200, an altar was built, where Peter was believed to be burried. Excavations in 1950'es have proven Peter to be burried there under the altar. In the first century Rome's Christians did not have their own cemeteries.If they owned land, they buried their relatives there, otherwise they resorted to common cemeteries, where pagans too were buried. That is how Saint Peter came to be buried in the great public "necropolis" ("city of the dead") on Vatican Hill, available to everybody. Likewise Saint Paul was buried in a necropolis along the Via Ostiense.

In 342 Constantine built the first basilica. By the 15th century, it was falling apart, and in the early 16th century Bramante began plans for a church, with the dome of the Pantheon (we shall show it to you later, if you'ld please show some patience) in mind. In 1506 Pope Julius II placed the first stone of the new church, that took over a century to build, and involved all the great architects at the time. Michelangelo finished Bramante's plans thinking of Brunelleschi's dome in Florence (I'm sure, that you have seen it, Janet). Giacomo della Porta took over the project at Michelangelo's death in 1564 and raised the dome by the end of the century in 1593. Carlo Maderno made a few changes to the church and completed the Fašade in 1614. In 1626 the "New Basilica of Saint Peter" was consecrated.

By the mid 17th century, Bernini was working on the perfectly symmetrical colonnades, the "welcoming arms of the church". In the middle of the square is a huge obelisk - which was moved against the advice of Michelangelo from Circus Maximus. The dome is 435 feet high, and is visible from practically everywhere in the city. From the top, accessible by stairs or elevator, offers a panoramic view of Rome and the Pope's gardens. The Basilica is 615 feet long, the longest in the world, and no other basilica can be longer. Inside the massive Basilica there are 11 chapels and 45 altars and priceless art.

Before entering the church we have to pass the swiss guards in their splendid uniforms. They must have been trained not to laugh of themselves, when they look into a mirror.

One of the items, you should not miss, is the Papal Altar, which dates from 1592 from the time of Clement VIII. The Baldacchino is a canopy of bronze supported by four 66 foot spiral detailed columns.

Bertel Thorvaldsen
There are not many places in the world where a single artist has had an entire museum placed at the disposal of his works. But this is the case with the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, when he returned to Denmark i 1838 after heving spent more than 40 years in Rome. In Rome he made a sepulchral monument for Pope Pius VII in San Pietro. His masterpiece, which after his death was erected in the Copenhagen Cathedral was statues of Christ and the 12 apostles. As I have not been able to find a picture of the manument in San Pietro, I show you his statue of Christ. It is remarkable for not showing a suffering Christ.

Pietß by Michelangelo
The PietÓ, was sculpted in 1499 by Michelangelo when he was only 25 years old. The bronze statue of St. Peter has a worn away foot from all the people touching (and kissing) it over the centuries. Maybe the most moving piece of art, we've seen. It is hard to understand, how a man of only 25 years can depict the sorrow of a mother, who has lost her child.

Saint Peter
The bronze statue of St. Peter has a worn away foot from all the people touching it over the centuries.

We saw an exhibition with the Vatican's treasures (at least some of them). Besides gold, silver, and artpieces they have a lot af relicts. This picture should show the remains (skeleton) of St. Peter. I would not dare to take a bet - but who knows? Anyway many believes it. After we had left the church, we were told, that all the portraits in there were mosaics and not paintings. So we had to go back to convince ourselves. This is very practical, since these pieces of art will never crack or ruin.

We were a bit disappointed, since we had not seen the Pope. But on the other hand, he hadn't seen us either. We wondered, why so many chairs were standing in the rain. But maybe the Pope had been too busy to take them in. Some days later we happenhed to see in TV, that the Pope was giving a mass on St. Peter's square. But nobody had told us.

In the evening we dined at an Ethiopean restaurant. The food was extremely spicy - but tasty. The food was served on a buttom af bread. You were supposed to eat with your fingers, wrapping the food into pieces of the bread. While eating we were making plans about where to go tomorrow. Since our legs had been doing fine the first three days, we decided to take a longer walk to explore Trastevere on the other side of the Tibern. Come along, if you want to.