The Wonder, Glory, Agony and Ecstasy of Sistine!

Trip Start Sep 20, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Italy  , Lazio,
Saturday, November 15, 2008

Have you ever wondered what it was like to visit the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in Rome, Italy? Do you dare to be overcome with humility and awe as you stare unto the heavens? As you decipher the panels and journey through the story of man and time? Well, when you experience the majesty of Michelangelo's masterpiece painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, these are just a few of the thoughts that run through your mind. Journey with me as I tour the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel and share some insights and cool web sites so you too, can virtually visit one of the most magnificent places on earth. It is indescribable!

Well, where do I start? How do I begin to tell the tale of what was truly one of the most wondrous and moving experiences of my life? I do know that before I share my story, I really should back up and start at the beginning of our tour through the Vatican Museum. Actually, I think I will start a little earlier because in order to get into the museum, which happened to offer free admission on the day we planned to go, we had to ensure that we were in line at 7:30 AM which meant that we had to get up at 5 - the agony. Imagine, getting up that early on your vacation. Well we did and boy, was it worth it!

Because our hotel didn't serve coffee until 7:00, I had to hike a few blocks to find the only open coffee shop at 6. Grabbed 2 cups of Italian café and some pastries and ran back to the hotel to eat and drink up. After getting ready, we were on our way and in line at the Vatican at 7:30 AM. When we arrived, surprisingly enough, the line was already around the corner from the main entrance and halfway down the block. We found our place and then watched as buses followed by more buses pulled up to drop off literally hundreds of tourists all seeking their own space in line. We watched the line grow longer and longer and eventually out of sight.

By the time we reached the door, it was only 9:00 and we had until 2:30 to see the entire museum, not much time considering all that there is to see. However, we made the best of it. Be careful when you plan your itinerary because the hours of operation fluctuate tremendously from opening late, to closing early or being closed altogether so be sure to check before you arrive. Also, be sure to check which days offer free admission because that means you'll have to arrive that much earlier to ensure your entrance. Visit Vatican Museums to help you on your way. This is an amazing site that allows you to virtually tour the highlights of the museum and to examine up close, the details of the collection of artwork in fantastic resolution.

Awe-inspiring works of art, some of epic proportions, await visitors to the Vatican Museum. Inside is a vast collection of paintings, tapestries, sculpture and frescos designed by the masters including Raphael, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Leonardo DaVinci and countless others. Around every corner, timeless collections reaching back to pre-Gothic times and moving forward through the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the High-Renaissance and finally the Classical. It could take days to see it all so it is best to be prepared knowing what you are interested in and then plotting out your course. There are informative guide books for sale at the entrance so I strongly recommend purchasing one to help you navigate the way.

We began our tour through Gothic art which dated back to the 11th and 12th centuries. We examined ancient Egyptian and Etruscan artifacts, Greek and Roman antiquities, tapestries kept in very dark rooms and finally arrived in the Stanze di Raphaello, or the Raphael Rooms. Covering the walls of four rooms that comprise what was intended to be a suite of apartments for Pope Julius II, are some of the most exquisite frescos ever created at the beginning of the early 16th century. Pope Julius II commissioned Raphael to paint these enormous works of art at the same time he commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine. See a virtual tour of the rooms here: Stanze di Raphaello or you can go to Wikipedia for a more concise showcasing of the frescos. Personally, my favorite is the "School of Athens". Pictured here are famous philosophers and mathematicians including Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras and others. Even Raphael himself makes an appearance in the lower right-hand corner of the fresco. There is also a portrait of Heracleitus who was done in the likeness of Michelangelo whom Raphael admired greatly.

More anxious than ever now, it was time to see the Sistine. We followed the little signs on the walls that pointed right and then pointed left. They lead to grand staircases and tiny hallways that turned every which way in what seemed to be a giant maze. When you visit, you will know exactly what I mean, however stay the course, you are on the way to Glory!

We finally arrived at the threshold of the la Cappella Sistina. I couldn't believe I was finally here after all the years of dreaming about it. As I glanced into the cavernous chapel, my eyes wandered toward heaven literally as I took in the pure majesty of it all. Such beauty, such wonder, such awe-struck amazement, I said slowly to myself, "Oh my God!" These are the only words that came to my mind and then suddenly, I was filled with such profound emotion, I was moved almost to tears. Imagine, Michelangelo painted here 500 years ago! Inspired by God, each stroke of his brush moved with God's grace and flowed to create the most profound images the world will ever see and know. But do not take my word for it, see for yourself. Sistine Chapel.

Now, emotions aside, let me tell you a little about what you will see but first, allow me to make one small plea. When you go, don't be a tourist. Make sure you heed the Vatican's request not to take any pictures when asked and that includes inside the Sistine. Although some choose to ignore this request, take the high road and refrain. Besides, there are numerous postcards, posters, books and such that capture the frescos in much better detail and light than your cameras anyway.

As you look into the chapel and starting from just above the Michelangelo's Last Judgment at the back wall, the story of Genesis unfolds with 9 panels of which three depict the creation the world, three more depict man and the final three, man's sin. In addition to Genesis which takes up the center of the ceiling, Michelangelo paints the Prophets and the Sibyls prophesizing the coming of the Messiah on the outer edges. In the four corners there are panels or spandrels that show the salvation of the people of Israel. Finally the remaining panels are filled with architectural designs, columns and such, nudi or the nude figures in extremely contorted positions and other ancestors of Christ. To think that one man designed all of these figures with such realism and immense proportions, boggles the mind. One man, inspired by God, driven by Pope Julius II, persevered through years of trials, failures, successes all of which lead to sheer perfection!

As far as the rest of the chapel and painted by a number of other artists, lie more frescos that tell the stories of Moses on the north wall, of Jesus on the south wall and on the back wall behind the altar, is yet another contribution by Master Michelangelo - his Last Judgment. Surprisingly enough, this fresco was completed approximately 30 years after the ceiling and is very different in tonality in that he painted during such a tumultuous time at the end of the Renaissance and before the Sack of Rome in 1527.

Again, I find myself wanting to write and again, I find myself having to stop lest my posting may go on and on for eternity. So, some more advice for you. Throughout your tour, take your time to examine the masters' work, to recount the stories they tell and to imagine the inspiration of these feats of pure majesty.

Until I make the pilgrimage to the Vatican again, my story ends here. I hope I filled you with a sense of wonder, amazement and curiosity. I hope you too, have the opportunity to make this journey for the soul someday - the ecstasy!

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