Today is the day we force my mother to atone for her sins which include waking my brother and I up for school by turning on the lights and leaving them on for over 10 years and for never understanding any of our obscure movie references. My mom always likes to say she is a good Catholic girl (I’m laughing along with the rest of you who know her well, don’t worry) so it was particularly exciting to continue her pilgrimage from last year where she received mass at Notre Dame to stepping into the Vatican itself–the holy capital of the Catholic Church and residence of the Pope.
We took an Uber since it looked like a bit too much of a walk to the Vatican City first thing in the morning sans coffee, so we enjoyed a pleasant little ride with our driver who told us about Queen Margherita when we passed the US Embassy. The location used to be the residence of her and her husband King Umberto according to our driver, and the famous margherita pizza was named after her because she had requested pizza in the colors of the Italian flag–basil, mozzarella, and tomato sauce. How true this is, I’m not exactly sure–but it certainly sounded cool to hear on International Women’s Day!
We planned in advance and booked a skip the line guided tour which we were very thankful for having done, because even though we are not visiting during the peak season (which we heard can see up to 28,000 people in one day–yikes) it was still very busy and the lines outside were incredibly long. Before getting started, however, we quickly filled up with a quick breakfast Italian style–espresso and a hazelnut croissant!
Our tour guide for the Vatican was a stylish and sassy Italian woman named Alessandra who is everything I want to be in the next 20 years. She got a degree in history and spends her free time leading tourists through a whirlwind romp of the Vatican museums cracking jokes and dishing on the sex lives of Raphael and Cleopatra to name a few, stopping for 10 minute espresso breaks, dodging Sistine Chapels guards so she can break the silence rules like a devil-may-care rebel, and topping the whole tour off by waving us into the Vatican so she could go get herself a bottle of wine. She’s my new role model. I need to get my dual-Italian citizenship so I can live that kind of hardcore history life.
Once inside, there is a fountain with fresh spring water that has been blessed by Pope Francis himself. I took a drink hoping to gain immortality or something, so that remains to be seen if it worked or not. See you in the year always and forever.
Next we toured around in the Vactican museums, ogling Medieval paintings with lapis lazuli and getting a crash course in refresher Christian history. Alessandra routinely opened the floor to questions to see if any of us knew the answers, and I got to show off a little if any of it overlapped with any prior knowledge I already had like why Peter was crucified (he wasn’t Roman, Caracalla was a douche and a half but at least he made everyone Roman and thus rendering crucification moot) or why he was buried upside down (because he didn’t believe he was worthy to die in the same way Jesus did, especially given that he had denied him). Or what led Constantine the Great to converting himself and subsequently the Roman Empire to Christianity (he had a vision, yo!). Other new tidbits we learned, however, included poor San Lorenzo who was executed via BBQ and is now the patron saint of cooks–but hey at least he gets to live on in eternity in paintings sporting a halo and the very grill that killed him.
Then we walked through the cartography room which was positively my favorite–I’ve always been a huge fan of maps, especially ones which have been painted to take up entire walls, and can easily spend hours inspecting every detail and location. My brain likes to visualize historical events by points of interest as well, so looking at a huge map for more than 10 minutes ends up turning into a History of the World for me. If there wasn’t tons of people packed along the halls and Alessandra wasn’t also eager to get her afternoon espresso dose, I could have spent all day there. Essentially, every region of the Italian Papal States and their territories were represented on those walls with a compass–and served as an early precursor to Google Maps.
Next, we made our way to the Sistine Chapel–the legendary commission of Michaelangelo which served as a back and forth headache between the church and artist integrity. Michaelangelo wasn’t about to go into that forced modesty thing and put any fig leaves over any private parts, and there is certainly many of that to go around in the chapel–which, unfortunately, I can’t show you. No pictures are allowed to be taken–which didn’t stop people from trying and prompted Alessandra to bark at them to cut it out and to not use flash because it can damage the art work (Seriously, she’s a hero). Suffice it to say, the Sistine Chapel is an experience everyone should have at one point in their life and I am unable to show you any of it here so you better get out there and make plans to see it for yourself!
We had to say goodbye to Alessandra (wine awaited, I understand) and so we headed on into the church of the Vatican and–holy opulence–the place is so massive and so grand, I definitely understood how different Christian sects in history rose up and started to complain about that (more on that later).
After I was done staring slack-jawed at the altar, we turned around and headed into the catacombs where we could spot the tomb of Peter (THE Peter, you know, Jesus’ numbero uno bro supreme, The Rock, the first Pope, etc. etc.) That was a wild experience. Unfortunately, another instance where pictures were absolutely not allowed but I will forever have his tomb seared into my brain. Among the catacombs are many other great Popes as well, the whole place felt like it was teeming with power and historical remanence.
After looking at all those centuries old dead guys, we got super hungry and had to stop for a quick lunch before hitting Rome up again and chasing down the remainder of The Forums.
By the time we got to The Forums it was 5pm our time and they were unfortunately closed. Bummersville. We decided to walk up the small portion that happened to still be open and free and that’s when I started to notice the Stations of the Cross as we walked and realized, “We’re not in Ancient Rome anymore.”
At the top of the Palatine Hill is a church dedicated to Bonaventura–a Franciscan and philosopher–as well as a monastery where another famous Saint Leonard of Port Maurice resided. As with all things unplanned, we stumbled upon this little church and happened into a small, intimate tour with a volunteer who was excited to show us around the church and tell us more about its history. We learned that Saint Leonard was responsible for saving the Colosseum from further destruction when he consecrated it as a church. There is a glass mosaic dedicated to this event inside the chapel as well as a holy relic of Bonaventura himself. We were able to go inside and tour a little bit of the church itself and see where the friars who still live there today hang out.
Franciscans may live modestly, but I’m pretty sure they have the best view of them all. I might have to give up my dream of becoming Alessandra one day and instead live the life of a tranquil friar in Rome.
In fact, I thought a lot about what it would be like to live here–what it must feel like to walk into a building called home with old, chiseled Latin in the doorframe. To start the day with a morning jog around the Circus Maximus, or to drink espresso with book in hand on a rooftop garden overlooking a piazza below. What does it feel like to walk down a street every day and witness the time lapse of multiple centuries down a single block?
Before getting dinner and tucking in for the night where we’ll head to Florence in the morning, we tried to visit the Mouth of Truth but suffered the same problem as The Forum. It was closed. Apparently, Truth only has a certain window of time to be evaluated. Either way, I blame Audrey Hepburn for this somehow.
For dinner, we feasted on linguine with seafood and lobster–look at this insanity!
And finished it off with delicious tiramisu from Pompi!
I’m seriously contemplating hanging it all up and staying here forever, guys, just so I can eat tiramisu and gelato for eternity and bask in the glory of Roman History.
3 days was certainly not enough, but hey–Florence awaits!