Castel Sant’ Angelo and The Vatican
On my last day, I went to the Vatican. I had never been to the Vatican – it’s on the other side of the river, but I thought it was about time that I found out what it was all about. I took the number 40 bus – by this time I was getting quite blasé about taking buses – which took me right through the heart of Rome and dropped me by the bridge over the River Tiber, and there, on the other side of the river, was the Castel Sant’ Angelo, looking gorgeous in the sunlight.
I knew this was Hadrian’s burial place, designed to be even bigger than Augustus’ mausoleum, indeed it was so large that in the Middle Ages it was turned into the castle and a suite of rooms was built on top of it. I walked along the Tiber and then across the Castel Sant’ Angelo bridge, lined with the statues. I pondered whether to go in and I was surprised to find that it was open since it was a Monday, when most museums in Italy are closed, but it wasn’t, so I asked for free admission with my dog collar from the conference. They said yes, so I went in. In retrospect it was possibly a mistake.
I made my way around the base of the monument and then endured a long long tramp up through the interior. Eventually I reached the courtyard that was the centre of the 15th century palace. I sat there for some time getting my breath and then went up to the circular viewing platform from which there are splendid views over the Vatican and in the other direction over Rome itself. Then it was time for descent, which was a little terrifying as there were long sweeps of shallow steps several of them without hands rails and I am reaching the stage where I am scared to go downstairs without holding on to a handrail. Eventually I emerged into the sun and it was time to eat my sandwiches. I found a seat overlooking the Tiber when I listened to a really rather good violinist – was he a professional moonlighting from an orchestra? I enjoyed his performance and made a small offering.
And then up to the Basilica of St Peter itself. This again is Mussolini. Originally the approach was through narrow streets so that suddenly one emerged to see the grandeur of Bernini’s superb oval piazza in front of the basilica. Mussolini however opened it all out with a grand new approach road, with St Peter’s at the end of a long vista. The guidebook said this was a big mistake: I was not wholly convinced one way, or the other. It is interesting to see the results of a dynamic dictator .trying to grandify everything and one must ask oneself how far he actually succeeded.
And then we reach the great Piazza , the oval designed, with the fountains, by Bernini. The Piazza is indeed superb: I was not so certain about the facade of the basilica.The square was designed by one man, one genius. The basilica went through a number of architects over the course of the two centuries it was being built and the facade is, well okay, but no more than you okay. The Piazza was crowded, and divided up crowd control. I didn’t quite know whether it be possible to visit the Basilica, but I passed through the x-ray machine, joined the queue and found it I could enter the Basilica free without difficulty
And the Basilica? I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed, but then I wasn’t underwhelmed either. It is very big, very decorated, but I suppose it’s not really my sort of thing. I went round with the crowds and admired the Altar built with bronze stripped from the Pantheon.
On the way out I saw Michelangelo’s famous statue the Pieta now protected behind glass: but the surroundings were so cluttered with a distracting marble background that it was difficult to appreciate the statue.
St Peter’s was interesting, and in a way impressive: But on the whole, I couldn’t help thinking that I really prefer St Paul’s – less cluttered, more coherent.
I came out into the Piazza which was full of chairs ready presumably for open-air services. But I couldn’t help noticing that lowering in the background was a rather ugly office block which form, I suppose, the offices where the pope lives and the bureaucracy works.
On to the Vatican Museum
30th March 2016