Rome: visiting the Vatican

Let me describe hell: a tourist visit to the Vatican museums, the Sistene Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica.

The pre-tour was interesting, a potted version of the history of the Vatican State, the Swiss Guard and some facts about the current pope. Then the tour started in earnest and we paid.

The Swiss Guards don’t always wear harlequin uniforms. They evidently can still fit a lot in their pockets.

Imagine a world where you can pay to bypass access queues. (Clue 1: long queues, spatially and temporally.)

Then imagine a world where online tickets are sold for bypassing queues. (Clue 2: many people have online access.)

Then imagine tens of thousands of tourists, yes, even pre-mid April, arriving at the same spot on the same day within hours of each other (Clue 3: all lines, even early, will be long).

Agggghhhh. Even as part of an english-language guided tour for which we 20 willing victims each paid €46 for the privilege it was hell! We looped through various gates, along side streets and through doors that were limited access. We could see some nearby queues, remembering the time of year and early time in the day many more could have fitted. Hmmm.

Then to an access point into the Museums with 3 lines. Two prepaid and one of unfortunate savers (didn’t pay to bypass queues). Even in a prepaid queue access took time.

 Given the numbers security, luckily, was a bit of a joke. Phones and cameras checked, metal detectors possibly on.

Then upstairs and through a very small part of the Museum with antiquities to the left and to the right of us…..

  With few exceptions, such as above, most figures or statues were very much male, including the dog.  In fact, in the Vatican almost everything is male, except for many of the tourists.

The fig leaf rightly gets a bad rap! Thankfully not everyone chose to wear one as they look a bit silly don’t you think?

A fitting place for a small body, a small casket or ossuary.

See me win against all foes! 
And yet more wonder above us in the Vatican Museums ….


and more below in the mosaics.

 So wonderful but, remember, many thousands entered at the same time as our group, which, our guide noted was small at 20 people! How big must tour groups and queues be in June and July!

So, it didn’t take long to ‘do’ the Museums. You have to keep moving. Past Nero’s bath, phenomenal tapestries where in some the eyes appear to follow you and the furniture seemingly reorients, ancient statues in wonderful condition, marble floors and beautifully ornate tessellated sections. Overwhelmingly amazing, but better I’d guess when not led by a guide and absolutely surrounded by other people.

Sistene Chapel
Then another piece de resistable, the Sistene Chapel. Up grand staircases to an outside area overlooking part of the Vatican and, best of all, cheat photos of the Sistene Chapel frescos. Our guide was good. He took us through Michelangelo’s wonderful work in the Chapel without it sounding like his 4,000th repetition of the salient points: what each panel represented, both the story and some symbolism; some living people Michelangelo pictured and why; and how small, uncleaned squares were left to show the true magnificence of the recent restoration.
So, enter the Sistene Chapel and you have 10′ to ‘do’ it. No-one in my group needed longer. The floor was crowded. Crowded meaning very many people in a small space. We were all regularly reminded ‘no photos and silenzio (no talking)’ as it is a chapel. ‘No photos’ is because copyright has been sold to pay for the restorations.


The ceiling? Personally, I reckon many of the photos I’ve seen of the Sistene Chapel ceiling are better than what I saw looking up from a crowded floor further cramped by time limits. Of course, were I a cardinal, locked in to select a pope, it might be different. Having time and a few thousand fewer people beside me would have made it a different experience, totally different. I liked seeing where the pope is elected and the small scorches from under the stoves used to puff out the smoke signal.

Yes, at this stage we could turn back from the tour and review the Museum and Chapel again under our own steam. That not one in my group chose to confront the crowds again in either, or between them, says a lot. Our guide ended the tour and reclaimed the headsets at this stage and we individually walked through to the Basilica. Or escaped!

Wow! The Basilica was splendid, so over the top and so beautiful. I ignored the pathos of the Church’s use of widows’ mites over the millenia to pay for all this. It’s magnificent, truly magnificent. For me, it was also so unexpected and so much better than I’d expected. Wow!

For some reason one pope was on the ground floor and not in a crypt. No idea why but he was sure desiccated.

Wonderful lace underskirts on some of the old boys. Really spectacular.

Ceilings in the Basilica are phenomenal.



If millions of people visit somewhere each year the crowds will be big every day it is open.

The size of the crowd reflects the inherent wonder of the site.

However, excessively large crowds can detract from the  wonder of a tourist site. Trust me. Tour the Vatican museums and the Sistene Chapel

: buy a table book covering most of the Vatican and just visit the Basilica, it’s free and proportionately more spacious!

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