I would love to show a few photos of the Sistine Chapel, it is beyond describing. But no photos are allowed, although people clicked them off here and there (to be yelled at by the guards).


It is as amazing as you would expect it to be.

We finished out the tour with a walk into St. Peter’s, which is spectacular. Had we not been so tired (long walk), we would have headed up to the top.



A Swiss Guard, trained to protect the church and the Pope.


What I didn’t realize, that the Vatican has it’s own postal system ….


As you walk out of St. Peters, you enter Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square). In the center is an obelisk that was moved to Rome from Egypt AD 87 (dates back to 13th century BC).


And if you stand in one specific spot (marked), all of the columns line up perfectly under Alexander’s gate (they are four deep).



And with that, our trip to Rome came to and end. And we only saw a small fraction of the city …. Off to Florence.


As you would expect, the tapestries are spectacular. The one I found most amazing was this one, of Jesus exiting the tomb. No matter which way you stand, Jesus looks right at you.

From the left ..

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From the right … (sorry, blurry) ..

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Like everyone, the ultimate goal is the Sistine Chapel. Before you get there you go through the ‘Gallery of Maps’, which displays 40 maps of the Church’s territories by 16th century cartographer Ignazio Danti:

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The map of Venice was one of my favorites:

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It is then through Raphael’s Rooms (private apartments that were redecorated by Raphael thanks to Pope Julius II’s sponsorship), which contains one of his more famous pieces of work, The School of Athens, which contains the most famous of philosophers (And it is suggested that Raphael painted himself into the work (on the right – head down, painting).

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And Salvador Dali’s painting ‘The Trinity’ which is a beautiful piece. I wonder about the inspiration for this painting. When we walked through his exhibit in London, he did not strike me as the ‘spiritual’ sort.

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Next, the Sistine Chapel ….


Throughout the Vatican you find ornate monuments – paintings and pieces of work dedicated to remembering various popes. This doorway remembering Pope Leo XIII is quite lavish:

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As an aside, it was Leo XIII who …

‘….Church positions on relations with temporal authorities, and, in the 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum addressed for the first time social inequality and social justice issues with Papal authority, focusing on the rights and duties of capital and labour. He was greatly influenced by Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler, a German bishop who openly propagated siding with the suffering working classes in his book Die Arbeiterfrage und das Chistentum. Since Leo XIII, Papal teachings expand on the right and obligation of workers and the limitations of private property’.

Pope John Paul II wasn’t very interested in being one of the Vatican’s prominent displays:

The Testament of Pope John Paul II published on 7 April[140] revealed that the pontiff contemplated being buried in his native Poland but left the final decision to The College of Cardinals, which in passing, preferred burial beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, honouring the pontiff’s request to be placed “in bare earth”.

In St. Peter’s is the entombed body of St. Pius X. Via.

Below the altar, is a crystal coffin containing the body of St. Pius X (1904-1914), “pauper et dives, mitis et humilis corde”. The body is dressed in pontifical robes, while the face and hands are covered with silver. The world greatly admired his wisdom and firm government. He helped restore Christian life by issuing wise laws on the religious education of children, youths and adults. His catechism gives clear answers to many religious questions. He allowed young children to take Communion, promoted the practice of daily communion as a source of virtue and holiness, he reformed the liturgy in the Missal and Breviary as well as sacred music and Gregorian chant. He fought against and condemned modernism which is still the cause of many evils. He was, however, unable to convince the reigning monarch and heads of state of his era to avoid the conflict that would shed blood throughout Europe for four long years.

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It made me think.


The Vatican contains every type of art imaginable. On the floors of the ‘Round Room’ are Roman mosaics from bath houses like the one below from the Baths of Otricoli. It is a huge mosaic and you walk around the edges (feels wrong to walk on any part of it).

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As you walk, you are bombarded by beauty. Look to the side and you see priceless works of art. Look above you and you see either jaw dropping architecture or a stunning roof.

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Down one hall are a host of baby sculptures, a way for parents to remember children who passed on too early in life.

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Why these parents wanted their son remembered wrestling a goose is beyond me, there must be a story there.

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So much to see.


Our trip to Egypt taught us one thing – private tours are worth the money. When you travel all that way and spend the money, being part of a tour of 50 is not great – it is not interactive and your are bound by the whims of the tour (plus it is a pain to see in a crowd).  A friend in the UK recommended Hanna & Mike’s tours to us while in Rome. Unfortunately, Hanna was not available for the first couple days but was able to take us through our big 3rd day in Rome – the Vatican.

If you are going to Rome, we would HIGHLY recommend Hanna, she did an amazing job and made the day spectacular.

As you can imagine, the Vatican is awe inspiring. You have seen it in movies (I just watched Demons & Angels and it was neat to see so many of the places we had just been) and of course, it has been around for a long time. I was very excited about the day and a bit worried about the boys (They are the most amazing of travellers, but at the end of the 2 years, they were getting a little ACO (all churched out))

Upon reflection, I would say that there are a few things that I was left thinking about from our tour of the Vatican:

  • The size of the collection: Inside the walls are hundreds of thousands of pieces of human history. I would imagine there are two points of view, some who are happy that the church acquired all of these pieces as they will protect our human history and many who would have the same view that the Egyptians had of the UK displaying the Rosetta Stone … ‘give it back’. Hanna did make a very valid point, had the church not stepped in, many of these pieces would have been lost.
  • Inside the church walls are endless pieces of pagan work. Considering the Bible’s stance on idols, one has to wonder how the retention of these idols within church walls is rationalized against biblical ideology.
  • I was left with the thought that all of these things that we enjoy today came at a great human cost.

The entrance to the Vatican Museum is exactly what you would expect, spectacular. It is also built into a huge wall, giving the appearance of a fortress.

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A great example of ‘saving’ can be found upon entering the Cortile del Belvedere or the Courtyard of the Belvedere, an ancient headstone.

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Donato Bramante‘s Cortile del Belvedere, the Courtyard of the Belvedere, designed from 1506 onwards, was a major project of the High Renaissance at Rome, reverberating in its details in courtyards, formalized piazzas and garden plans throughout Western Europe for centuries. Bramante himself never saw it completed, and within the century it had been irretrievably altered by a bisecting wall.

It was also at one point the home of the papal menagerie. It was on the lower portion of the courtyard that Pope Leo X would parade his prized elephant Hanno for adoring crowds to see. Because of the pachyderm’s glorious history he was buried in the Cortile del Belvedere. [1]

Yes, that is right, a Pope had an elephant (insert reference to ‘great human cost’, I am sure he did not pay for it himself). In the courtyard is a very cool piece that I simply cannot find additional detail on, ‘Sphere inside Sphere’ by Arnaldo Pomodoro.

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Sitting at the end of the courtyard is the giant pinecone …

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Sixtus V spoiled the unity of the Cortile (1585-90) by erecting the wing for the Vatican Library, which occupies the former middle terrace and bisects the space. James Ackerman has suggested that the move was a conscious one, designed to screen the secular, even pagan nature of the Cortile and the collection of sculptures that Pope Adrian VI had referred to as “idols“. Today the lowest terrace is still called the Cortile del Belvedere, but the separated upper terrace is called the Cortile della Pigna because of the colossal Roman bronze pinecone, once a fountain, that occupies the center of the niche.

You exit the courtyard into a long hallway filled with statues. Many of these statues were originally bronze but were recycled to make war implements. There are only a few bronze statues in the entire Vatican.

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The detail is unbelievable. They are beautiful sculptures, in this case an Emperor.

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Many of the sculptures are the tops of caskets, meant to immortalize the person entombed. In this case, a woman.

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Or a favourite pet. I doubt that they named him ‘Fido’. Looks more like a ‘Hercules’.

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One room is completely filled with sculptures of animals or of animals being hunted. Spectacular. The sheer number of pieces is astounding, each with a rich history that may or may not be known.

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Identified as one of the oldest pieces in the Vatican. (83BC)

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And a restored bust of the god Jupiter.

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And finally one of the few Bronze statues that still exists, of Hercules.

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One thing you will note is the fig leaf (In Angels and Demons, Tom Hanks’ character makes a wise crack about it). The fig leafs were put up to either cover the genitalia or to cover those sculptures that were castrated by various Popes. Via:

In the eruption of Counter Reformation fanaticism following the Renaissance, the edict of the Council of Trent forbade the depiction of genitals, buttocks and breasts in church art. In 1557, the fig leaves were instituted by the bull of Pope Paul IV. Most of the fig leaves that we see were put in place on the personal initiative of Pope Innocent X (1644-1655) who, for reasons of his own, preferred metal leaves to the plaster ones. This Pope, to his credit, spared most of the art in the Vatican. By 1857, Pope Pius IX discovered that these few remaining statues constituted grave threat to the faithful and destroyed most of them; the fig leaves were promptly added by his successor to stop the iconoclasm. All in all, the campaign raged for 450 years.

Fascinating place.


Throughout the city of Rome, we took photos of items that had the word ‘SPQR’ inscribed on them as our son was doing a project on the topic. SPQR stands for ‘Senatus Populus que Romanusor’ or ‘the Senate and the People of Rome’. It is stamped on anything that is paid for by Roman taxes (The government of Rome still does it).

Our tour guide had a few other definitions to share:

  • The Florentine translation (who did not like the Romans) is either Sono Porchi Quelli Romani (These Romans are Pigs) or Sono Pazzi Quelli Romani (These Romans are Crazy)
  • The Romans have another translation, Solo PreteQui Regnono (Only Priest Rule Here).

The first photo is of a water fountain with the SPQR, the second is from the roof of the Vatican where Pontius Pilate condemns Jesus in a Roman court.

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As you wander from the Coliseum to the Palatine, the logical next step is to make your way down the hill through the Roman Forum.

The Roman Forum (Latin: Forum Romanum), sometimes known by its original Latin name, is located between the Palatine hill and the Capitoline hill of the city of Rome. It is the central area around which the ancient Roman civilization developed. Citizens referred to the location as the “Forum Magnum” or just the “Forum”.

The oldest and most important structures of the ancient city are located in the forum, including its ancient former royal residency, the Regia, and the surrounding complex of the Vestal virgins. The Old Republic had its formal Comitium there where the senate, as well as Republican government began. The forum served as a city square and central hub where the people of Rome gathered for justice, and faith. The forum was also the economic hub of the city and considered to be the center of the Republic and Empire.

From DK Italy:

… the Forum was a chaotic place, with food stalls and brothels as well as temples and the Senate House.

The view looking down on the Forum …. The Basilica of Constantine and Marxentius is on the left with the Santa Francesca Romana bell tower on the right (One of the many churches built on top of the ruins).


A view of Temple of Antoninus and Faustina (building on the left with the columns) the Temple of Romulus, which is now part of the church of Santi Cosma e Domiano, (the building with the bronze ‘cap’).


A second photo.


The original 2000 year old bronze doors remain on the temple, which is now a Christian church.

The Temple of Romulus was dedicated by Emperor Maxentius to his son Valerius Romulus, who died in 309 and was rendered divine honours. It is possible that the temple was in origin the temple of “Iovis Stator” or the one dedicated to Penates, and that Maxentius restored it before the re-dedication.

The ancient Roman fabric was Christianized and dedicated to Sancti Cosma et Damiano in 527, when Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths, and his daughter Amalasuntha donated the library of the Forum of Peace (Bibliotheca Pacis) and a portion of the Temple of Romulus to Pope Felix IV. The pope united the two buildings to create a basilica devoted to two Greek brothers and saints, Cosmas and Damian, in contrast with the ancient pagan cult of the two brothers Castor and Pollux, who had been worshipped in the nearby Temple of Castor and Pollux. The apse was decorated with a Roman-Byzantine mosaic, representing a parousia, the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time. The bodies of Saints Mark and Marcellian were translated, perhaps in the ninth century, to this church, where they were rediscovered in 1583 during the reign of Pope Gregory XIII.

In 1632, Pope Urban VIII ordered the restoration of the basilica. The works, projected by Orazio Torriani and directed by Luigi Arrigucci, raised the floor level seven metres, bringing it equal with the Campo Vaccino, thus avoiding the infiltration of water. Also, a cloister was added. The old floor of the basilica is still visible in the lower church, which is actually the lower part of the first church.

In 1947, the restorations of the Imperial Forums gave a new structure to the church. The old entrance, through the Temple of Romulus, was closed, and the temple restored to its original forms; with the Pantheon, the Temple of Romulus is the best preserved pagan temple in Rome. A new entrance was opened on the opposite side (on via dei Fori Imperiali), whose arch gives access to the cloister, and through this to the side of the basilica.

I pose the question again, is it right to have a Christian church in a building that was built for a pagan god? Not sure.



The grounds were beautiful in April, the wisteria in full bloom.


Inside the Curia (the ancient Roman Senate house that was reconstructed) were the sculptures of previous rulers. The below was a fascinating piece of history (excuse the clumsy clipping together) on the life of Titus Flavius Domitianus (24 October 51 – 18 September 96), known as Domitian.

As emperor, Domitian strengthened the economy by revaluing the Roman coinage, expanded the border defenses of the Empire, and initiated a massive building programme to restore the damaged city of Rome. Significant wars were fought in Britain, where Gnaeus Julius Agricola expanded the Roman Empire as far as modern day Scotland, and in Dacia, where Domitian was unable to procure a decisive victory against king Decebalus. Domitian’s government nonetheless exhibited totalitarian characteristics. As emperor, he saw himself as the new Augustus, an enlightened despot destined to guide the Roman Empire into a new era of Flavian renaissance. Religious, military, and cultural propaganda fostered a cult of personality, and by nominating himself perpetual censor, he sought to control public and private morals. As a consequence, Domitian was popular with the people and the army but despised by members of the Roman Senate as a tyrant.

Domitian’s reign came to an end on 18 September 96 when he was assassinated by court officials. The same day he was succeeded by his friend and advisor Nerva, who founded the long-lasting Nerva-Antonine dynasty. After his death, Domitian’s memory was condemned to oblivion by the Roman Senate, while senatorial authors such as Tacitus, Pliny the Younger and Suetonius published histories propagating the view of Domitian as a cruel and paranoid tyrant. Modern history has rejected these views, instead characterising Domitian as a ruthless but efficient autocrat, whose cultural, economic and political programme provided the foundation of the peaceful 2nd century.

To work so hard to create a cult like personality to have it all ripped down and to be vilified for the rest of human time thanks to inscriptions like the below. Had they only known.


We exited near Arch of Septimius Severus to hit one last spot, Marmertine Prison.  For the record, it is a stairway down into a small room with a small alter and a hole leading to the sewer. It is not the location, but the legend that is of interest:

According to Christian legend, St. Peter and St. Paul were imprisoned here. They are said to have caused a spring to bubble up into the cell, and to have used the water to baptize two prison guards. The prison was in an old cistern with access to the city’s main sewer. The lower cell was used for executions and corpses were thrown into the sewer.


So ended Day 2.