Days were passing like hours and I had only one thing left to do in Rome. My trip to the city was to conclude with a visit to the prestigious museums within the Vatican walls that I had reserved for the last day. The museums were extremely well maintained and overpopulated almost all the time (Unless you want to wait all day in the queue, consider buying the tickets online). I could skip the line as I had pre-booked the tickets (Well, almost!). However, visiting one of the world’s most famous religious and cultural enclosure without prior planning is foolishness unless you want to aimlessly wander the perimeter under the scorching sun. The entrance was thronged considerably and the long line went snaking its way to the street, let alone the wandering crowd.
‘Identita, si prega di (ID, please),’ said a blonde woman on the right-hand side of the entrance. Now, my printed vouchers had to be exchanged for actual tickets at a counter after security checks. After a careful scan, she directed me to the Cassa Online E Gruppi (some kind of exchange counter, I thought). Finally, the most exciting tour began at 10AM.
The galleries (in the order that I’ve visited) include 1.Pinacoteca housing Raphael’s last work, La Trasfigurazione (1570-1520; Courtesy Wikipedia) and da Vinci’s unfinished St Jerome.
One of the best sculptures in the museums is the statue of Augustus from the 1st century AD. Displayed in the Braccio Nuovo, this statue, I feel, crowns that entire wing (extremely well preserved for a 2000-year-old marble statue). The gallery also houses thousands of statues and busts along the corridor. The figures represent everything from immortal Greek gods to cherubs to ugly Roman practicians.
It has also been very commonly used to portray Rome’s first emperor Augustus or Octavian.
3. Museo Pio-Clementino contains some of the Vatican Museums’ finest classical statuary, the peerless Apollo Belvedere, Apoxyomenos (1st-century Roman art), the first known sculpture with a raised arm among many. The collection of artefacts was accumulated and preserved by decree of The Pope himself over a very long period of time.
This and a series of other unchronicled encounters which have almost eluded my memory. I entered the Vatican courtyard which made a splendid display of its Late-Medieval Christian architecture (I’m not an architectural connoisseur, you see).
4. Stanze di Raffaello : By Odin’s beard! the hall was littered with arts of all kinds. Frescoes and Murals all over the place were exquisite; paintings were incredibly maintained, and interestingly placed.
The Sistine Chapel: The last in line was Sistine Chapel; the most famous gallery of the lot and the official residence of the Pope. Lavish frescoes decorated in gold and silver can be seen in every nook and corner. Works here include Michelangelo’s ‘The Last Judgement’ (on the ceiling of Sistine Chapel), Creation of Adam (a bearded God pointing his finger at Adam) to name a few. However, I have no pictures of it as it is strictly forbidden to take pictures within the Chapel. With painted architectural features and a cast of colourful biblical characters, it’s centred on nine panels depicting scenes from the Creation, the story of Adam and Eve, the Fall, and the plight of Noah. From the eastern wall, you can see the Drunkenness of Noah, followed by The Flood, and the Sacrifice of Noah.
‘Nessuna fotos (No Photos)‘, said a vexed security guard pointing at my smartphone. I wasn’t intending to take photos anyway.
After a complete tour of the last Sala (Gallery), when I was about to leave the building, I found the security guard – the man who had almost chastised me during our first meet – refraining a young couple from taking photos close to the altar.
‘Inglese?’ I asked the guard (I was proficient enough to say the word English in Italian).
‘I know, little,’ said the man. (That’s more than enough, I thought)
‘Perfect!’ I said. ‘Is there a reason why visitors aren’t allowed to take photos inside the chapel or is it just to preserve these precious frescoes from the bright camera flashes?’
Pointing me to a nearby board which read ‘No Photography’ in multiple languages, he said ‘Don’t use camera. Against rules’ (perhaps he was unable to explain it in English or perhaps he wasn’t aware of the reason).
I wasn’t satisfied with his answer. I wanted to know the reason. At just about the same time, I bumped into a group of tourists who had appointed a tour guide for the last Sala. Luckily, The lady guide spoke English. So, I went to her and asked the same question that I’d asked the security guard.
‘It is not without reason that the world’s most precious piece of art lies in the No-Photo-No-Video zone,’ she said, ‘Back in the 1980s, the government had planned a large-scale restoration of the art inside this building. However, as this project needed some large sums of money, the government decided to seek help from the outside, from firms and other organisations. Nippon TV, Japan, who agreed to spend an unparalleled $3 million, asked for exclusive rights to photography in return for their funding. The corporation also mentioned that the ban did not apply to tourists. But, the authorities have made it a common-for-all rule lest some professional photographer – disguised as a common tourist – should infringe the agreement.‘
‘Which means that I have only to show them my photos to avoid penalty (my photos looked very unprofessional even to my untrained eye).’ I said.
The lady broke out laughing. ‘Anyway, thank you.’ I said.
‘The pleasure’s mine!’ she said and left me with a smile.
It was time. I was already 30 minutes behind schedule and loitering within the Vatican only delayed me further. Coming back to the Hotel, I found my bags stacked neatly outside the front door and the landlady had vacated my room for me. Of course, I was late by more than 2 hours.
The landlady strictly denied all kinds of service and my last day in Rome ended bitterly. Anyway, I left the hotel soon after my arrival and never looked back.
The second half of my last day’s stay in Rome was spent almost entirely in the railway station. The intercity 598 was scheduled to leave at 6:15pm. The train left the station exactly on time. The next 90 minutes of beautiful Italian countryside made it worth my while.
As one part of my journey ended, another began!
– Immortal Chiron