We found an English language tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel (41 € each), and off we went. With our guide, we entered the Vatican Museums. Here, we saw statues and other ornaments, like granite baths. So many of the Vatican's treasures are sculptures of around the first and second centuries after Christ, and many of these are replicas of originals from much earlier. Like the replica of Diana of Ephesus. We saw the statue of Laocoonte which was found in pieces down a hole. Following Michelangelo's advice, the Pope bought the pieces, and established the museum. There were other statues such as Ajax, also the bronze statue of Hercules, who stands in front of a large bowl, once thought to have been a fountain.
We passed through the Hall of Maps. Hundreds of years old, the maps are of parts of the Italian Peninsula, and are regarded as highly accurate. The maps are large paintings adorning both sides of the Hall. In the Hall of Tapestries, many large tapestries hang that women weaved together of scenes of various religious significance. One shows the Cardinals with cards on a table. They are in the process of electing a new pope.
Before we entered the Sistine Chapel, we were warned we must not take pictures or video, and we must be quiet because it is a sacred place. After a momentary detour elsewhere, I entered the Chapel after the rest of my group. Among the throngs of visitors, I studied Michelangelo's nine panels of ceiling frescoes, taken from the pages of Genesis, and then eyed his Last Judgement on the altar wall. The low murmurings of the crowd upset the security guards who clapped and yelled at everyone to be quiet (contradictory, no?). I noticed several tourists were taking photographs quite openly. Next thing, a security guard demanded of one tourist "Show me your last picture!" Then, another guard demanded of another tourist "Give me your camera. Show me your last picture!" I thought I'd better put my camera (i-pad) in my bag out of sight. Soon, I found the others, and it emerged that two of our group were being dealt with for taking photos. Our tour guide was most upset. She told us she could have been stripped of her accreditation as a tour guide. I don't know the outcome, but when the two returned to our group, I felt really embarrassed for them. The guide actually chastised them a little.
Soon, the tour ended, and Jean and I entered St Peters Basilica, which, we were told, is the biggest church in the world. Apparently, the Statue of Liberty would fit beneath the dome, which is more than 500 steps from the ground. And the detail in the Basilica is amazing. A bronze statue of St Peter, the first Pope, is here, and many devout passed it, touching his feet. The marble floor is excellent. We wondered why the fuss about the Sistine Chapel. We were allowed to take as many photos as we wanted in the Basilica. Michelangelo's art, we thought, was too much for the Chapel's small space. The Chapel was a bit disappointing.
Aside from its religious significance, I was more interested in Vatican City's status as a sovereign state. Like all other countries, it has citizens. They number more than 800, including the Swiss Guard that guard the Pope and about 450 people whose families have lived here for centuries. They hold VC passports. Like Monaco, VC is a member of the Shengen Agreement and uses the euro, despite not being in the EU. There is a Foreign Minister here, a Treasurer, and every other post imaginable. While the Pope himself is the head of a billion Catholics, he is a national leader like Barack Obama, Angela Merkel or Kevin Rudd. Interestingly, I note the Holy See has diplomatic relations with Taiwan. That suggests to me that the Vatican, though small, could be rather immune to pressure from China.
Back at our hotel later, I told Jean for the first time that I'd been very naughty today. "What did you do?", she asked? I had taken four photographs inside the Sistine Chapel. I'd been very careful.