No, this is not some late breaking story on the latest news in Vatican City. Well, maybe it is. Saturday, we were able to go on a behind the scenes tour of the Vatican called “VIP: Vatican Behind the Scenes and Sistine Chapel Tour”. Meaning, having the chance to view areas that have been open to the public within the past year. It was a three and a half hour tour, that was led by a guide from Walks of Italy . The guide was amazing and our group was only nine people. Oh and did I mention we had a Vatican Guard with us with all sorts of keys to unlock rooms? Not to mention–lift ropes for us? You bet I loved the jealous whispers and bewildered stares we got.
My husband and I were last at the Vatican in 2006, it was September and crowded. In February, the crowds were gone. Claudia, our guide, was able to speak freely to us before we entered certain areas and discuss their significance.
The first room we entered was an incredible “staircase” built in 1505 to lead up to Pope Julius’ apartment. It is known as the Scala del Bramante and has been known to be copied again and again. It was used to carry many things upward by horses, or by foot. You will see in the other image below that the bricks even gave it some traction. The Guide did give mention that the Pope was also known to be carried up in his chair…sounds quite nice.
We were in a courtyard when a large, I mean LARGE basin was pointed out to us. It was at least 2000 years old and from the Baths of Caraculla. You could have fit five people in there! Next is more lovely sculptures and a sarcophagus, which gives new meaning to the word “deterioration”. We saw where there was a hole left in this “burial box” to let that all happen.
The below section was all of sculptured animals. My son enjoyed looking at the wide variety. There was a large floor mosaic and a lobster sculpture that was over 2000 years old. Below is the ancient god Mithra s, odd as the Mithraic religion was said to be a rival of Christianity.
More exclusive access and differing busts of the Emperors and Roman Gods. What is notable here is the round shape below. On the belt around it are all signs of the Zodiac.
We entered the Gabinetto delle Maschere, the name coming from the mosaic tiles on the floor. These tiles depict theater masks, all with intricate designs. This was found in the Villa Adriana. Below, this image is another piece from the Gabinetto Room. You may have seen it used on the “Borgias” for confirming Pope AlexanderVI was, a uh, male. Why could this be? Well, let’s just say that the church does not like to be fooled.
Below is the entrance area we were in that lead to the Niccoline Chapel. This Chapel was built by Pope Nicholas V with gorgeous frescos painted by Fra Angelico. These frescos were created before the Sistine Chapel and are absolutely stunning. They were recently renovated from 2006-2009.
Lastly, is one of my favorite works by Raphael called, “The School of Athens”. In the center are two men, to the left depicted is Aristotle and Plato, in blue, on the right. The image of Aristotle is supposed to be that of Leonardo da Vinci. There is another artist depicted in the lower left with boots on. This is Michelangelo a contemporary, and rival, of Raphael. He is depicted tired and weary. Rumor is that this was painted at the time the Sistine Chapel ceiling was completed. Lastly, which you cannot really see, is Raphael, looking out, right at you.
Next we were off to the Sistine Chapel. But, alas, no photos allowed.