sistine chapel. vatican city
The Sistine Chapel is without doubt one of the greatest art treasures of all time, one of the most celebrated masterpieces in the world. It's the last stop on the Vatican Museum tour and is the most ardently awaited moment for the millions of tourists from around the world that come here every year to admire it.
Step into the Sistine Chapel and the magic completely envelops you because literally everything in this place is priceless and rich in history, from the pavement to the amazing frescoed ceiling by Michelangelo.
From the outside, the Chapel gives an entirely different impression: its imposing defensive structure is almost fearsome with its powerful walls and menacing ramparts. It's like an ancient strongbox guarding a treasure: powerful and massive outside, rich in extraordinary and unimaginably precious masterpieces inside.
The creative force behind all this fame and beauty is the unsurpassed genius of Michelangelo and the most amazing thing is that he managed to complete this artistic miracle all by himself!
Normally, the artists of the time completed their artwork with the help of assistants. The master personally worked on only certain parts of the piece while the apprentices finished off the minor details. This wasn't the case with the Sistine Chapel: incredibly, all this beauty is the work of one single human being.
The Sistine Chapel takes its name from the pope that commissioned it, Pope Sixtus IV of the Della Rovere family. It's hard to believe, but, that which would later become one of the most famous religious sites in the world should have a totally prosaic beginning. In fact, it was originally intended to be a simple palace chapel.
The Vatican Palaces needed a new building to house religious celebrations and to host the conclave, the gathering of cardinals that elects the pope. Thus, in around 1473, the pontiff gave the job to architect Giovannino De' Dolci of building the Sistine Chapel, exactly on the spot where at one time had stood the so-called Great Chapel.
The architect designed a grandiose building that had the same dimensions as Solomon's Temple as it's described in the Bible: more than forty meters long and as high as a seven storey building!
Pope Sixtus IV wanted the walls of the Chapel to be decorated with stories of Moses, guiding light of the Hebrew people, and of Jesus, comparing the latter to the former as a guiding figure of the Church. For the occasion, he called upon the most famous artists of the time —Botticelli, Rosselli, Ghirlandaio and Perugino— to tell the stories of the Bible through pictures so that everyone could know them.
Besides that, he commissioned a costly pavement, an imitation of medieval floors, with multicolored mosaics that formed geometric designs and concentric circles—the very same pavement you walk upon in the Chapel today.
The Sistine Chapel's first years were not exactly happy ones; however it was the most unfortunate of events that led to the creation of a masterpiece. During the first years of the 1500s, all sorts of building sites had grown up around the edifice, above all, around the new Basilica of St. Peter that was right next door.
The excavations for the foundations caused very serious problems for the Chapel, so much so that an enormous crack appeared in the vaulted ceiling. Bramante, the palace architect, was hurriedly called in for a consultation and he resolved the problem by locking the roof timbers in place with a series of metal chains.
The frescoes, unfortunately, had suffered such damage that the new pope, Julius II, had the idea of asking Michelangelo to re-do the ceiling. Michelangelo lived alone and in total poverty, notwithstanding all the wealth he had accumulated. He was presumptuous with others, always unhappy with himself, obsessed with anxiety about death and salvation.
He was described as a "genius, inspired, almost removed and hostile to the world". Even the pope, despite his admiration for Michelangelo, agreed that there was simply no getting through to him. Neither was Julius II the "easiest person to deal with"; one story has it that, grown so exasperated with the artist, he finally took several whacks at Michelangelo with a stick!
Overview and HistoryAll roads lead to Rome, the capital of Italy, current football world champions, where western civilization really got cookin' and Christianity gained its foothold on an empire.According to legend, the city was founded on the Palatine Hill by Romulus and Remus, just after they finished wiping wolf's milk from their lips. Romulus killed his brother Remus in a fight over who had the right to name the city, hence "Rome" and not "Remo". He attained divine status after his death, being given the name "Quirinus," the root of which you can see in the Quirinale Palace.The Quirinale Palace is the home of the President of the Italian Republic. Its fountain has two ancient statues of Castor and Pollux, sons of Zeus, the famous twins of the Gemini constellation.Rome is famous for its seven hills: Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline, Esquiline, Palatine, Quirinal, Viminal. Vatican City is on Vatican Hill which is not one of the seven hills. It's its own state, too, not technically under the authority of Italy. It's also the smallest country in the world.Within Vatican City you can find the Pope of course, the Basilica of St. Peter and also Michaelangelo's masterpiece -- the painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. This painting is a fresco, which means the paint is part of the actual plaster. The painter mixes plaster and pigment at the same time and had to finish the work before the plaster dried, and by the way he was laying on his back to do it. Call me crazy but I think the requirements for being an artist have declined in their stringency of late. Vatican City has an insane amount of pure-gold artwork as well.Since Rome predates the Christian era, you will find many examples of gods and goddesses who were worshipped in the Pantheon, or, "Temple to All the Gods." This is the oldest domed building still standing in Rome, dating to 35 B.C and first reconstructed in 126 A.D. It's been in continuous use since it was built, and has been a Catholic church since 700 A.D.Students of history may also enjoy the Roman Forum, around which the ancient city first developed. This area included the Senate and Republican government, and a central marketplace where everyone came for news, supplies, gossip and everything else. It's between Palatine hill and Capitoline hills, a swampy spot that was drained during the Forum's construction. Doomed to repeat history, or fascinated by its roots? Take your pick.All roads lead to Rome except this one, it leads to the Colosseum. Forget Youtube, Netflix and getting laid. REAL entertainment comes from the Colosseum. Do you know why we have popcorn and movies today? Because first they had Bread and circus at the Colosseum, baby! Fake pirate battles in an ocean of real blood! Two vs. one gladiator ambushing with Neptune's tridents and deadly spiked nets! Here's the interior.If this is what you see around you, you'd better hope to find a sharp sword in your hand to go with it.Now nevermind all that old stuff, welcome to the Hippodrome, race fans! Besides being the coolest panorama on the whole site, the Circus Maximus was where they had the chariot races and judges who knew how to take a bribe for pole position.But let's zoom back out for a second. Rome is located on the Tiber river. Crossing the Tiber are many bridges dating back several centuries, for instance Ponte Cavour, Ponte Umberto, and the Saint Angelo bridge.Rome offers an enviable array of Renaissance and Baroque architecture due to its luck; like Prague and only a few other cities, it escaped major damage during WWII.Now here are a few little things to get you there so you can investigate the more than 2500 years of history which continue to seep into out modern times.Getting ThereFiumicino Airport provides international access for flights into Italy. You can connect to it by bus, train or taxi. The train takes about thirty minutes and costs five euro or so.There's a smaller airport called Ciampino, which handles mostly charter flights, and has a bus line running to meet the Metro.TransportationThe historic center of Rome is less than two miles from the central Colosseum and Piazza di Spagna, so you might as well walk there. The bus network is very extensive but the Metro is probably easier to get your head around. It's called the Metropolitana and it makes a loop around, rather than through, the city. Basic tickets cost one euro. Night buses run between midnight and four am when the metro stops.You can also hop onto one of the many tourist buses for a guided ride around Rome. These prices are a lot higher than the metro, but it's an activity more than just a ride.Now if you really want to do as the Romans do, rent yourself a Vespa scooter and drive it one-handed, shouting.People and CultureYou don't have to have a lot of money to have good style. That's Italian culture in a word.I'll go up against Paris right here and say that Italians have style all sewn up. Rocking a scooter in a red dress and stiletto heels? Come on.Here are a few piquant expressions which further the idea:"Finish that pasta so Nonna doesn't have to put it away.""It's sugar sweet and as big as your hand.""People do not age at the table."And concerning the stereotype that Italians all talk with their hands:"Mathematics is not a matter of opinion."Just imagine how funny it was, the first time that one sprung out.Things to do & RecommendationsFirst of all, go back and see all the panoramas in the top section. After you've been through the places and back, try these:Modern art at Gallery Nuovo Pesa.Worm through the Aseq esoteric library on your way to Limonaia Cafeteria for lunch.After lunch, pick up a few things at the most popular market in Rome, Piazza Vittorio.Be glad you're there and not eating only memories in the Traianei Market ancient Roman market.Some other gems in the city: the Trevi Fountain and its marketplaceFor a little more religious history, visit the 18th century Rococo style Plaza of St. Ignacio. Saint Ignacio was the founder of the Jesuits or Society of Jesus, the largest male religious order in the Catholic church.There are also some beautiful green spaces in Rome, like the historic park Il Pincio and Villa Borghese parks. Look at those cherry blossoms!For music lovers, the Auditorium is the main music hall in Rome.Text by Steve Smith.