Since, I'm leaving Rome tomorrow, I decided to wag the conference and spend time looking at the Vatican some more.
First, I visited the Vatican Museum. It's a great barn of a place, over multiple levels and with long, elaborately decorated corridors. The museum is itself a major work of art, and incorporates many rooms of Raphael's frescoes as well as the Sistine Chapel, site of Michelangelo's greatest paintings. I didn't have time to pay too much attention to the exhibits themselves, and decided to concentrate on these frescoes.
The Sistine Chapel was commissioned by Pope Sixtus (hence the name). In the 1980s the frescoes in the Chapel, including the famous Creation and Last Judgement by Michelangelo and Raphael's lives of Moses and Christ, were cleaned and made visible again for the first time in centuries. A few areas have been left uncleaned and you can see that they were almost black with soot. Now they are full of colour and very impressive. The Chapel itself has flat walls and a curved ceiling - nothing special. It's the frescoes that make it.
After my visit to the Sistine, I wanted to visit St Peter's again to visit the tombs of the Popes and climb the dome.
The tombs in the crypt of the Basilica. You go down a passage on the northern side of the outside Basilica. I saw JP2's tomb, which is very popular and had a small crowd praying around it. People leave small papers with prayers intentions there. I said a prayer there to JP2 and Mary for our little group in Melbourne.
In one area you can see a mosaic wall that covers the tomb of Peter. If you book in advance, you can visit the excavations behind this wall, and even see the tomb marked, in Latin, 'Here is Peter'. No such luck for me, but I've come pretty close to a Pope today anyway.
When you climb up the stairs to leave the crypt, you emerge close the the Papal altar which is directly over Peter's tomb.
I then climb the dome. I have to leave the
Basilica to do this because the entrance is very close to the crypt entrance outside. The lift takes you up about 100 metres and then you've got a few hundred steps to get to the top. The passages are narrow and stuffy in summer. The first stage takes you inside the dome, at its base, so you can look really closely at the mosaics on the inside of the dome. I love mosaics, so I enjoy this. It's amazing how the colours are graded to produce beautiful effects from a distance.
The passage to the top of the dome runs between the inner and outer domes. The higher you go, the more the walls tip inwards, until you are climbing with one hand leaning on the inside dome! But it's worth it when you get there - a cool breeze and unbroken views of Rome and the Vatican itself.
The walk down is a little more spacious and much easier. This time I emerge inside again, but at the rear of the Basilica.
This is my third visit to the Basilica. I've decided I like it a lot.
Back to the conference for dinner, and now I'm off to bed. Train to Milan at 12:30 tomorrow and then home to see you all.