Friday, 3 September 2010

The Pope's Gaff.

Thursday 2nd September.
Last day in the Rome and with late afternoon transfers to consider I stayed in and around the Vatican this morning wandering the hundreds of rooms, palaces, chapels with the thousands of other visitors, sometimes piggy backing onto a guided tour, sometimes moving alone. It's an incredible collection but it's so sumptuous and there's so much that it's inevitable that most of it goes by unnoticed. Still I spent a good deal of time in the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche looking at the beautiful regional maps painted onto the walls by Ignazio Dante and I enjoyed the Raphael rooms - particularly playing spot the philosopher on the star studied School of Athens fresco.

The suggested tour worms it's way mysteriously around the buildings bringing you closer and closer to the Sistine Chapel - always, it seems, a suite of rooms away - until eventually you're led up a set of stair and funnelled into the room.

Truth be told I was a bit underwhelmed and unconnected. It was packed, as noisy as a train station and cavernous. I found no space to imagine the quiet contemplations that must have occurred here, the election of centuries of Popes, the decisions effecting millions of people. It had all the intimacy of Disneyland.

Went for a coffee on the terrace and looked across the Vatican grounds - shimmering and manicured like an exclusive golf club - before going to visit the crypt of St Peters, where all the Popes are buried alongside the convert Queen Catherine of Sweden and the last of the Stuarts - the unrecognised James III.

Soon it was time to be heading for home, but first I climbed to the Cupola of the basilica for one final 360 degree look over the eternal city. Muffled traffic, streams of pilgrims and tourists following their hearts and umbrellas across the square, the deep set Tiber, the ancient ruins and beyond the seven hills. Stunning really.

Since I got here I've been reading a lot of travellers tales Dickens, Goethe, Ruskin, Zola, Shelley, Woolf all wrote vividly about their time here - but my favourite description comes form Gogol.

'Rome. What air! It seems that when you inhale through your nose at least seven hundred angels will fly in your nostrils.'

It's the one I'll take home with me.

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