Art in the Vatican City
With its many and disparate treasures and a
17th centuries long history at its back, the Vatican
city represents the cradle of the Catholic Church and
Basilica of St. Peter
is the most prominent building inside the
and the largest
was one of the
and, according to
tradition, also the first
Bishop of Rome.
though historians tell about the existence of a first church on this
site dating back to the 4th century, the construction of
the current basilica, over the old Constantinian basilica, began on
and was completed in 1626. The imposing facade of the basilica was
designed by Maderno and built of
stone, with a giant order
of Corinthian columns and a central pediment rising in front of a
tall attic surmounted by statues of Christ,
John the Baptist,
and eleven of the apostles.
portals give access to the basilica, of which three are framed by
huge salvaged antique columns. Inside the Basilica the visitor will
find on the first right Michelangelo’s suffered rendering of the
Madonna and dead Christ (La Pietà). Walking up the nave the visitor
will see, marked on the pavement, the lengths of other basilicas
from the entire world, shorter of course than St.Peter. As soon as
one reaches the center of the Basilica, directly under the dome,
will find the masterpiece of an artist, who was to become regarded
as the greatest architect and sculptor of the
period; GianLorenzo Bernini's baldacchino, sustained by
four spiral columns which are replicas of the ones of the Temple of
Solomon, rises from the most sacred part of the church, the tomb of
St Peter, and overshadows the papal altar. To the right of the
baldacchino a stairway leads down to the Grotte Vaticane, a maze of
corridors that run on the remains of the ancient basilica,
containing the tombs of several popes.
out of the basilica on the right side of the portico is the entrance
to the Cupola; St. Peter's dome rises to a total height of 136.57
m., and it is the tallest dome in the world; the long climb up to
the rooftop (an elevator will drop you off half way up) offers one
of the greatest view over the “eternal city”.
though the Basilica alone is impressive enough surrounded as it is
by its huge dome (Cupola)by Michelangelo, it is given an even more
majestic surround defined as it is by its enormous elliptical
Piazza (Piazza San Pietro) designed by Bernini between 1656 and 1667
for Pope Alexander VII. The piazza is embellished by two
semicircular wings (known as Bernini’s colonnade) which spread out,
as a symbolic representation of the arms of the Roman Catholic
Church reaching out to welcome its community. The central part of
the Piazza is dominated by an Egyptian obelisk placed here on
request of pope Sixtus V and by two fountains by Maderno and della
Fontana. Try to stand on one of the two circles marked on the
pavement near the fountains to see the colonnade, (which is actually
formed by a line of four columns), appearing like a single row.
Nowadays a long wide street, the
Via della Conciliazione,
built by Mussolini after the conclusion of the
leads from the River Tiber to the piazza and gives distant views of
St. Peter's as the visitor approaches offering one of the most
stunning panoramas in the world.
The Sistine Chapel
represents undoubtedly the most famous artistic treasure of the
Vatican city and of the whole world. Its walls and ceiling offer to
the visitors masterpieces from the major masters of the Italian Reinassance: Botticelli, Michelangelo, Perugino and Ghirlandaio.
Subsequently, Raphael was commissioned by
Pope Leo X to design a
series of tapestries to hang around the lower tier of the walls.
These depict the lives of the two leaders among the
Apostles who established
the Christian church in Rome, Saints Peter and Paul.
Last Judgment was painted by Michelangelo from 1535-1541 being
Pope Paul III Farnese. The
work is massive and spans the entire wall behind the altar of the
The Last Judgment is a depiction of the second coming of Christ and
the apocalypse. The souls of humanity
rise and descend to their fates as judged by Christ and his saintly
entourage. A curiosity is to be found in noticing Michelangelo’s
self portrait depicted on a flayed skin held up by St. Bartholomew.
Together with its artistic richness, the Sistine Chapel is also
worldwide known as the
site where the Conclave, the gathering of the cardinals for the
election of a new pope, takes place.
the long line crowded behind the imposing walls designed by
and you will reach
the Vatican Museums
the museum follow
the color coded routes which will lead the visitor to determinate
spots depending on his preferences; the routes vary from a length of
90 minutes to 5 hours.
Raphael rooms which formerly functioned as papal apartments, are
adorned with frescoes masterpieces from the genius of Raphael Sanzio.
The first room the visitor will walk in is named Hall of
Constantine, the Stanza di Eliodoro which features frescoes over the
relationship between the Catholic Church and God, the Stanza della
Segnatura, which preserves the world famous fresco known as “The
Athen’s school” , and the last room known as Stanza dell’Incendio
di borgo owes its name from the fresco showing the fire in the Borgo.
across the courtyard, entering the Museo Pio Clementino di Scultura
are located some of the most impressive works from Ancient Greece
such as the Apollo del Belvedere and the Lacoonte group dating back
to 1ST century AD; THE Museo Chiarimonti also displays a
magnificent row of Classical statues.
Pinacoteca, located near the exit, features a huge collection of
paintings, from Italy’s Reinassance artists such as Beato Angelico,
Perugino, Punturicchio through the art of XVI and XVII centuries
with works by Leonardo, Caravaggio and Bellini; it also includes the
Stefaneschi triptych by Giotto.
Visitors that will opt for a wider route into the museums should
also take a look at the other three museums of the complex: The
Egyptian Collection, The Etruscan Collection and the Gregorio