Category Archives: Vatican

Sistine Chapel : Vatican

Before I had visited Vatican I knew about Sistine Chapel but it had never interested me. But I was in awe of the whole place when I got there. I think the biggest credit goes to our guide who was so good at explaining all the details about the chapel that I wanted to share the information with all of you. I am sure many of you know a lot about this famous chapel already but I still am sharing what I learned.

As you know I am not a Christian but still the history behind the chapel is so interesting that anyone will fall in love with this architectural beauty and its frescos by Renaissance artists including Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio and others.

When we entered the Sistine Chapel, no photography was allowed but these are photos I took in the garden where the guide explained the detail about the chapel. Rest of the photos are from the internet.(I have no idea how they managed to take these photos.)

There are 1,100 sq. m of paintings in the chapel, and its beauty is astounding. Even though there were so many people inside the chapel, I was lost looking at the amazing pace while our guide was talking into our headphones.

From time to time I heard a guard in the Sistine Chapel enforcing the No Talking rule and hundreds of tourists instantly complied but just for a few seconds.  Then the buzz began again but I was just lost in one of history’s monumental artistic achievements.

The Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted by Michelangelo, was exhibited to the public for the first time on November 1st 1512. It was quite shocking at the time as it appears to depict an image of God – forbidden by the Church.

Michelangelo considered himself more of a sculptor than a painter, which is one reason he was reluctant to accept the commission of Pope Julius II to come to Rome and paint the ceiling of this building.  It had originally been built in the 1470s at the behest of Pope Sixtus IV.

The building had undergone some renovations due to structural flaws; Michelangelo started in on the new ceiling in 1508.  There were problems:  For one thing, he had relatively little experience with fresco.  That technique involves applying paint to wet plaster, so the artist and his assistants had to estimate how much plaster they thought they could paint before the surface dried.

Another issue was even more basic:  How do you work on a large horizontal surface that is 60 feet above the floor?  The easiest approach would have been to build scaffolding towers, but the pope and cardinals wanted the floor to be clear so they could continue holding their meetings in the chapel.

Michelangelo figured out a way to bolt the scaffolding into the side walls; he and his assistants climbed up to their perch and did that marvelous work while leaning backward.  The first half of the ceiling — the eastern side — was completed in 1510.

The scenes are all from the Old Testament and relate to rebirth and new beginnings (God creating the World, God creating Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden and Noah’s Ark) and therefore indirectly relate to how the della Rovere family helped achieve its own rebirth of the church.

Look at the interesting view of the ceiling below, the combination of large scenes combined with smaller scenes and the painted illusion of sculpture and a cornice is incredible.  Everything you see below is painted and creates both a striking illusion and a powerful narrative.

The stories were painted in backwards chronological order. You can see how much his style was changed and simplified from the first scene showing Noah and the Flood.  In that early painting the scene is crowded with figures.  His work becomes much more effective when he simplifies his style.

He uses the human figure to represent the entire story, leaving out many of the symbols, landscape and backgrounds that other artists were using.  His studies in human anatomy are evident and this key work shaped the direction of the Renaissance.


When that scaffolding was taken down, Michelangelo was dissatisfied with the result.  There were too many figures in the panels, he felt; from the floor they appeared small.  When you visit the Sistine Chapel, you’ll notice that the figures in the other end, starting with the iconic “Creation of Adam”, are larger.

There are also paintings on the walls, including some by eminent artists like Boticelli and Ghirlandaio, who was Michelangelo’s teacher.  By far the most impressive wall painting, though, is the massive “Last Judgment” behind the altar on the west end, which took Michelangelo several more years to complete.

I found this amazing 360 degree view of the Sistine Chapel online. Check out this interactive video.

Here are some interesting facts about the Sistine chapel

Sistine Chapel Fact #1:

Did you know that the Sistine Chapel was built by a Pope named Pope Sixtus the Vl, hence the name Sistine Chapel?

Sistine Chapel Fact #2:

Did you know that Michelangelo was only 32 years old when he began painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and completed it in only 4 years?

Sistine Chapel Fact #3:

Did you know that the Sistine Chapel was built to house the Cardinals while they deliberated on who should become the next Pope?

Sistine Chapel Fact #4:

Did you know that the famous chimney that releases black smoke telling us the Pope has died and white smoke telling us we have a new Pope is set up in the Sistine Chapel? You can see the marks where it sits towards the back right of the chapel?

Sistine Chapel Fact #5:

Did you know that no artist in history suffered as much as Michelangelo suffered in the 4 years it took him to complete the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? He suffered with his knees, back and neck and he still managed to live to be 89 years old.

Sistine Chapel Fact #6:

Did you know that Michelangelo painted the Last Judgement (the front wall of the Sistine Chapel) 28 years after he finished the Sistine ceiling?

Sistine Chapel Fact #7:

Did you know that Michelangelo’s enemy, Rapheal, was originally asked to paint the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel but refused. He suggested Michelangelo knowing he was a sculpture and not a painter.

Sistine Chapel Fact #8:

Did you know that the Sistine Chapel was completely cleaned between the years 1980 to 199. It was paid for by the camera company Fuji Film. Fuji Film now own all copyright to the paintings, and that is why there is no photography allowed in the Sistine Chapel.

Sistine Chapel Fact #9:

Did you know that Pope Julius ll (the Pope that commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel) sold Indulgences in order to pay Michelangelo for his work? Selling Indulgences meant that people could pay money to get time off Purgatory.

Sistine Chapel Fact #10:

 Did you know that there are 3 Botticelli paintings in the Sistine Chapel, painted 24 years before Michelangelo began the Ceiling?

Please click here more photos.

St Peters Basilica : Vatican

We went to St Peter’s Basilica on Vatican city tour.  One must wear proper cloth that covers shoulders and legs in order to go into the Basilica.

St Peter’s Basilica is the largest Christian church in the world. It is the symbolic “Mother church” of the Catholic Church and is regarded as one of the holiest Christian sites.

Stepping inside St. Peter’s Basilica, you can see and feel the grandness of the church.  The place is so huge and beautiful that it must have cost a fortune to construct something so amazing. The church roof was really high and the letters on the wall just below the roof were actually over 6 feet tall even though they looked so small from the floor of the church. We could see people on the gallery near the roof and they were the same size as the letters.

The big altar, the decorated ceilings, the sun shining through the stained glass windows of the basilica were just awesome and the main altar was about 10 stories high. The details on every pole were just awesome and we could have easily spent hours admiring the work of great architects and sculptures. The natural light coming from above illuminates the church and spreads subdued radiance all around.

The Papal Altar and rising above it is the Baldacchino

The altar in St. Peter’s is made of bronze, just the way the requestor wanted it to be.  The designer at the time, however, was unable to find enough bronze in all of Rome to make it.  So, the requestor told the designer to use the bronze in the Pantheon.  So, the designer went and drilled numerous holes in the Pantheon, taking out the bronze he needed to finish his work.

The whole church is filled with renaissance monuments, statues, trimmings, and sculptures in meticulous motifs/details and maintained in utmost attention. In there, we also saw the famous Renaissance masterpiece that was sculpted by Michelangelo called Pietà.


The structure is pyramidal, and the vertex coincides with Virgin Mary’s head. The statue widens progressively down the drapery of Mary’s dress, to the base, the rock of Golgotha. The figures are quite out of proportion, owing to the difficulty of depicting a fully grown man cradled full-length in a woman’s lap. Much of Mary’s body is concealed by her monumental drapery, and the relationship of the figures appears quite natural. Michelangelo’s interpretation of the Pieta was far different from those previously created by other artists, as he sculpted a young and beautiful Mary rather than an older woman around 50 years of age.

Here is an interesting story behind the Pieta.

Created by Michelangelo before he was famous, Michelangelo never put his name on his works.  No matter what the work is, you can’t find his name anywhere.  There is an exception, of course.  Shortly after Michelangelo made it, another sculptor of the time began to claim that the Pieta was his work.  This was of course quickly disproven, but Michelangelo got fed up with it.  He snuck into St. Peter’s late one night, and carved this across the sash running across Mary’s breast:  MICHAELA[N]GELUS BONAROTUS FLORENTIN[US] FACIEBA[T] (Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made it).  There is one more important piece of information about the Pieta.

It sits today behind thick bullet-proof glass.

Next was the chapel of the tomb of Pope John Paul II, whose remains were placed beneath the altar.

We also saw a statue of St. Peter with the foot extremely worn down from all of the people touching it. It is believed that if you touch his foot, your wishes will be fulfilled.

The bronze statue of Saint Peter

We also had a chance to go down the grottoes, beneath the basilica, where there are many tombs. Although surrounded by tombs, it did not have an eerie feeling.

Here are few photos from the Basilica. Even though our guide told us what each of the statues and altars were about, I couldn’t recall them when I looked at the photos after coming back to Australia. Thanks to internet, I managed to identify most of them.

Altar of Falsehood

Altar of St Jerome

Michelangelo’s dome

Please click here for more photos.

Vatican City: Vatican

Vatican City is a Holy place for most Christians and is one of the must see places if you are in Rome. We were in Vatican City twice during our trip.

St Peter’s Square

I am sure all of you know Vatican City is a tiny country in itself. It is a landlocked sovereign city-state whose territory consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome, Italy. It has an area of approximately 44 hectares (110 acres), and a population of just over 800. This makes Vatican City the smallest independent state in the world by both area and population.

The city is ruled by the bishop of Rome, the Pope, who is the head of state and head of government of this city. As an independent state, the Vatican has its own postal service, currency, newspaper, radio station and army. The flamboyantly dressed Swiss Guards were founded in 1506 by Julius II to defend the Papal States against invading armies and are responsible for the pope’s personal security even today.

The place has really impressive architecture and I can’t believe how well built and maintained the tiny country is. Large vaulted ceilings and tall building, statues of saints in every direction.

On the square lies the amazing structure of 100+ columns on both sides. While walking past the columns that surrounded the square we could see an Egyptian obelisk in the centre, with two fountains on the sides all looking at the magnificent Saint Peter’s Basilica.

The obelisk is about 25m high. It is also a sun dial and its shadows mark noon over the signs of the zodiac in the white marble disks in the paving of the square.

On one side of the square, there is the Apostolic Palace which is actually a group of buildings including the Papal Apartment.

 Papal Apartment

The Papal Apartment is the top floor of the Apostolic Palace where the pope resides. The top two right windows are the study and bedroom of the pope. On Sundays at noon, the pope usually appears at the second window from the right to pray the Angelus and bless the crowd in the Square.

The day we were there was Sunday as well so there were lots of people around in Vatican waiting to be blessed by the pope. The pope was in Milan that Sunday so he performed a TV blessing instead. The guide explained that square was not very busy that day like most Sundays when the Pope is in the city.

Even though I am not a Christian, I am really fascinated by history and religion. I have watched movies like Dark Angels and Da Vinci Codes which have taught a lot of things to me. Also AS is an avid reader and he has some knowledge of the Bible as well as lots of other books so he is my guide when I get lost with the history and religion. When he is lost too there is always Google.

Vatican Museum

The next morning, we had a local tour guide with us who took us inside the Vatican. I really liked her as she had so much knowledge and I could tell that she loved her job.

There was a long queue outside the Vatican main gate when we arrived there at 7.30am. As we were with tour and the guide had already booked our tickets, we didn’t need to wait on the queue. Instead we were escorted straight inside the Vatican City. At the entrance we were informed that flash photography was not allowed as it ruins the frescoes. Unfortunately, once inside I realised that no one was really following the rules as everywhere I looked I could see the flash of cameras.

When we got inside the guide went to get our tickets so we had time to look around while we waited. There were a few plasma TVs around the place and most of the inside was made out of the marble. There was heavy security like at airports so we needed to send our things through scanners. Once the guide came back she gave all of us our tickets.

Once we cleared the security, we took the accelerator to the other level and we were led into a big garden.

We stooped there for 15 minutes while she explained in detail about the Sistine Chapel. I am so fascinated by the whole history of the Sistine Chapel that I have decided to do a separate post for the chapel. I will post it soon.

From there we were ready to experience the tour of the Vatican Museum. Inside the museum, there were people everywhere. There were tour groups as well as individual tours who were admiring the massive museum arts and sculptures which were collected over the centuries.

First we entered the Raphael Rooms. There are classical sculptures, paintings and masterpieces from the Renaissance, among so many others. I really wished I had recorded what the guide told us about the arts in the museum. She had so much information that I was lost in it all. There were countless of other sculptures and arts that after a while, I was not even sure what they were.

I do remember her tell that they were masterpieces by famous artists like Michaelangelo, Rafael, Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian and many others. The Gallery of the Maps was filled with painted topographical maps.

The ceiling frescoes of the museum looked so marvellous. It looked like a 3D art but the guide explained that they were flat art so cleverly done that it looked like a 3D art.

After she was done explaining, she led us to Sistine Chapel and gave us an hour on our own to admire the beauty of the chapel.  We also went to St Peters Basilica and I will post more on them in my next blog.

Going to Vatican was a really remarkable experience.

Please click here for more photos.