Il Vaticano (aka the Day of the Ceilings)

5 July 2013

Vatican day today!

We set out early (about 7.15) to walk in the relative cool to the Vatican. We made it in plenty of time and, happily, found that only a few other tourists were up and about. Whereas yesterday St Peter’s Square was covered with a swarming mass of overheated humanity, at about 8am this morning it was pretty much deserted — which enabled me to get a few shots of the front of the imposing building (St Peter’s Basilica).

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I have others, also, but you get the idea.

Then I stumbled across my favourite shot of the day. It could be more sharp — but it was a half-second opportunity that hesitation would have rendered lost:

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We met our ‘Dark Rome’ guide, Natasca, at the designated meeting point across the road from the entrance to the Musei Vaticani. Natasca proved to be not only extremely knowledgeable, but passionate about her subject matter. She had clearly spent considerable time studying everything about which she spoke, and it was a subject dear to her heart. 10 out of 10 for customer satisfaction! (If you want to book a Vatican Tour, go to http://www.viator.com.)

She warned us it would be a bit crowded — and that was a gigantic understatement. We were cheek to jowl the entire time; and nary a moment to linger, lest we risk upsetting the ‘flow’ through the museum.

After wending our way through the metal detectors and up the entranceway, we scurried out into the now baking sun to have a look at the Pope’s backyard (not that you could walk on the grass). In the middle of the yard was a very large, bronze-looking modern-art sculpture. Odd. It rotated slowly. Something about eternal life or rebirth…

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After standing in the sun for quite some time and listening to Natasca explain, in detail, everything we would see later in the Sistine Chapel, we made our way into the vast museum building. And there began the ceilings — to me, the most outstanding feature of the entire Vatican complex. Yes, there are amazing paintings and tapestries on the walls, but the ceilings are the really impressive bit for me. I am not sure why the Catholics put so much effort into their ceilings — perhaps because to enjoy them you have to turn your head to the heavens? Don’t know.

Anyhow, I had the 10-22mm lens on in order to fit in as much as possible. The flip side is the level of ‘perspective distortion’ when tilting back and looking up a wall with the focal length at the shallower end. The other quintessential challenge was the lack of light: it’s really dark inside the Vatican museum. I had the ISO between 400 and 1600 most of the way (very occasionally 3200), and tried to keep the aperture at 8, even though often I would have preferred about 16 to get everything in focus. For most of the shots I had the exposure compensation set at at least minus 1.0. Occasionally, just to achieve a fast-enough shutter speed to avoid (or at least minimise) motion blur, I had to open the aperture up to 4.0 and set the exposure compensation even darker. So the images aren’t technically fabulous — but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and they represent what I saw.

So, without further ado, here’s a sample of ceilings (and the occasional painting and tapestry) from the more than 300 shots I took!

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No images from the Sistine Chapel, because you’re not allowed… Although we did see a few people cheekily sneaking a few on their iPhones we had been warned that if a guard saw you, they would make you delete all the images on your memory card. No way was I going to risk that!

The Sistine Chapel is just a really, really big hall — with a fence across it about two-thirds of the way down. Apparently, this fence is to separate the clergy from the other people. Didn’t quite get to the bottom of why that was necessary.

Anyway, I can now personally vouch for Michelangelo’s handiwork.

After the chapel (into which we were stuffed like sardines and permitted to stay for only 15 minutes) we made our way into St Peter’s Basilica. This, for me, was the most awe-inspiring part of the whole Vatican experience. Fittingly, I suppose, as the entire purpose of the opulence inside the Basilica is to inspire awe.

There is absolutely no way to capture the experience in images, because it is impossible to impart the scale. It’s HUGE. And there are monuments to dead popes everywhere. We even went down (after the tour) into the ‘grotto’ part — the lower level where lots of actual ex-popes are interred. But no photos allowed down there.

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This last image is the Pope’s house — well, the papal apartments. (It’s to St Peter’s Basilica’s left.) Except that the current Pope chooses not to live there, preferring instead to remain in his cardinal’s digs.

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After a sit-down on the Papal steps to eat our sandwiches for lunch, we trundled off home and made a return visit to San Pietro in Montorio — a wee chapel in a piazza in Trastevere, just up the hill from where we are staying — which wasn’t open on Wednesday evening when we went for a walk. It’s pretty.

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We also stopped by the fountain again. We thought this was the Fontana Giancolo, but after another look at the map when we got home we are now not so sure. Will have to go back and traverse a bit further up the road tomorrow.

After the hill we went on an excursion to Saint Cecilia in Trastevere… which took a wee while — only to find that it isn’t open to the public, so no photos. Stopped for gelato again on the way home, and dropped in to the supermercato to pick up fresh goodies for dinner. Have now tried Frascati wine — a pleasant and apparently common white wine from a region to the south of Rome. Cheap and cheerful.

Tomorrow is Colisseum day!

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