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.
A great example of ‘saving’ can be found upon entering the Cortile del Belvedere or the Courtyard of the Belvedere, an ancient headstone.
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. 
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.
Sitting at the end of the courtyard is the giant pinecone …
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.
The detail is unbelievable. They are beautiful sculptures, in this case an Emperor.
Many of the sculptures are the tops of caskets, meant to immortalize the person entombed. In this case, a woman.
Or a favourite pet. I doubt that they named him ‘Fido’. Looks more like a ‘Hercules’.
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.
Identified as one of the oldest pieces in the Vatican. (83BC)
And a restored bust of the god Jupiter.
And finally one of the few Bronze statues that still exists, of Hercules.
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.