Exploring the Pomp and Grandiosity of the Vatican

Although the Vatican is the smallest country, by both area and population, what it lacks in scale it certainly makes up for in unbridled opulence. Indeed, nothing exposes that opulence more than the exquisite works of art on display at the Vatican Museum. The elegant, bright sheen of ancient sculpted marble still gleans, sumptuous frescoes dazzle the senses from all sides, while the post modern works refresh and remind us of a changing world. As you meander the Vatican halls, you are literally walking the hallways of the progression of modern civilization.

The Vatican Museum sees six million visitors per year and is the fourth most visited art museum in the world. Its collection is exceptional, housing over 70,000 works of art, of which, 20,000 are on display for the public. Entering the Vatican Museum, you are mesmerized by both its beauty and power. With a range of art and artifacts from ancient Egypt (including an actual mummy) to pieces from modern artists such as Salvadore Dali, I was captivated not simply from the art, but in the mind-blowing scope and history behind these pieces.

I recommend taking your time in the museums. Wonder and wander. There is so much to see, stroll at your leisure and focus on what interests you. Part of the experience is simply being inside and awestruck.

My Top Five “Must-See”

  • Laocoon and His Sons 
Founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th Century, the Vatican Museums traces its origin to one of its most treasured pieces (and one of my favorites) the Laocoon and His Sons. It depicts the ancient Greek myth of Laocoon and His sons being killed by serpents sent by Athena and Poseidon to ensure the defeat of Troy.
  • Gallery of Tapestries
Yes, this actually the gallery of maps because I didn’t take a photo of the tapestries. They are that magical. Each one took years to create and were based off paintings from pupils of Raphael. This is a must see to appreciate.
  • Bramante Staircase
This is actually the modern Bramante Staircase, designed by Guiseppe Momo in 1932. The original was created in 1506 and is not open to the public. This staircase is beautiful, yet easy to miss. ( I had to sneak back into the Sistine Chapel to find it!) Make sure you turn left after the Sistine Chapel so as not to exit the museum straight away.
  • Raphael’s School of Athens
One exquisite example of the culmination of Renaissance thought, Raphael’s masterpiece depicts the great classic philosophers and thinkers. Featured in the works are Galileo, Aristotle, Plato, and even Raphael’s contemporary, Michaelangelo. Best experienced with a guide of some kind.
  • Egyptian Museum
Although the origins of how the Vatican obtained these artifacts is dubious, the exhibit is nonetheless thrilling. With over nine rooms in the gallery, this exhibit is often glossed-over by the steadfast tourist, but is definitely worth visiting

Visiting the Vatican is a pilgrimage that should not just be reserved for Catholics. It is a journey through civilization itself and is a trip anyone who with a remote interest in history, art or the progression of the modern human should take.

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