A visit to the Vatican Museum
Assisi (Italy), October 15th 2014

It is half past seven in the morning, when the alarm clock goes off in our tent at the campsite is the western part of Rome. We get dressed, eat our breakfast and walk to the bus stop just outside the campsite to take the bus and then the metro to Rome’s city centre. Today is a special day. We are going to visit the Vatican Museum, undoubtedly one of the most spectacular museums of our globe, including works by Italian masters Michelangelo, Raphael and Caravaggio. We are absolutely not art buffs, but the chance to see for example Michelangelo's "Genesis; the Creation" and the "Last Judgment" in the Sistine Chapel is something we are not wanting to miss. At a quarter to eight we join the queue in front of the ticket counter of the museum. Ticket sales starts at nine o'clock, but we are extra early to be one of the first in line. But we are definitely not the first. There are already about fifty people waiting, and at half past eight the line had grown to about 150 meters with more than five hundred people!

A large part of those waiting in the queue are Asians. Both before and behind us in line is a group of young Koreans, equipped with a wireless communication system so that their Korean guide does not need to talk loud to get her information to her pupils. In the hour that the young people still have to wait before the gates open, they get a bulk of information to digest. The mouth of the guide isn’t idle for a second, and very often she puts her iPad above her head to show images of artists and their works that can be seen in the museum. Most of the Korean youngsters are patient and listen carefully, with the exception of a few girls who stick their lips or send a WhatsApp message.

Ivonne and the rest of the crowds

At half past eight, the museum opens for the people who have made an advance internet reservations. These are mainly the tour groups arriving by bus and for whom there is a special line. At nine o'clock the ticket sales begin. For sixteen Euro per person we are allowed to get in and if we also passed the security checks, we enter the museum. It is already quite busy due to the tour groups. We decide to walk the halls that we find most important to see. And that is primarily the Sistine Chapel. This fabulous chapel was built in 1484 by Pope Sixtus IV, after who the chapel was named. But it was Pope Julius II in 1508 who asked Michelangelo to decorate the chapel. However, Michelangelo refused at first because he saw himself more as a sculptor than as a painter. Eventually, the Pope persuaded him to take the project, after which Michelangelo began the murals which became one of the most famous artworks in the world. His works “Genesis; the Creation" on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and his "Last Judgment" on one of the walls, are truly magnificent, and a must see even if you're not a true art lover.

The Sistine Chapel is also the room in the Vatican where the new pope is elected. But that’s something you can’t see in the chapel. The huge room is completely emptied to accommodate as much as possible visitors who come here to admire open-mouthed the stunning frescoes on the ceiling and walls. A significant number of security guards keep an eye on things and make sure that no pictures are taken (which is strictly forbidden in the Sistine Chapel). Occasionally, a priest is being put forward who welcomes all the visitors through a microphone and pronounces a blessing. He also invites visitors to come forward for a special blessing, but with the exception of a few Asians, nobody accepts it. The signal is clear: people come here to admire the works of the masters, and not for a blessing by one of the Vatican priests.

One of Raphael's most famous works: La Scuola d'Atene

The Vatican Museum covers many rooms in different buildings of the Vatican. It is not easy to find your way through the museum, even with the confusing map that you get with your tickets. The halls of the museum are connected by long corridors, which also include works of art, but serve mainly as traffic arteries to stow the large numbers of visitors The Vatican Museums are visited each year by about 4.5 million visitors; and that mean more than 20,000 people on a busier day! When we leave the Sistine Chapel, we notice that it has become much busier. With appropriate urgency we rush to the Pinacoteca part of the museum where we admire the last work of Caravaggio: “La Trasfigurazione”. This part of the museum also contains religious masterpieces of other masters, including Bellini and Leonardo da Vinci.

Another part of the museum that we admired with open mouth is the "Stanze di Raffaello' section. This area includes the former private apartments of Pope Julius II, with stunning frescoes by Raphael, including the masterpiece “La Scuola d'Atene; The School of Athens" which depicts the pioneering philosophers Plato and Aristotle. It's incredible to see how much art the Vatican has purchased and created over the centuries. There are historians who are of the opinion that the Catholic Church has created so much beauty in the 15th and 16th centuries to bind people to the church. It was the time of the Reformation, and there were forces in Europe who were questioning the role of the Vatican as the necessary connection between God and the people. The Catholic Church was terrified that its dominant position would be affected and decided to defend its position by acquiring and creating a profusion of colossal buildings and fabulous art.

By noon it is too busy at the museum. The number of visitors in the smaller rooms is still not so bad, but the more important works of art are almost impossible to enjoy. Shuffling like a penguin is the only way to get around in the museum and that means that the fun is over. Outside again, we see that the queue is still more than 150 meters long. People are hopeful waiting to enter, not knowing that the museum now looks more like a tin of sardines than a building full of unprecedented artwork. Anyway, a real alternative is no longer available if you want to see the museum. It is immensely popular; all days of the year, and all hours of the day. But it is still really worth it.

Crowds at the entrance of the Vatican Museum
We posing in the St Peter's Cathedral
Raphael's last work: La Trasfigurazione
Extreme wealth in La Sala Immacolata

One of the many rooms in the Vatican Museum

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