The Vatican. Somewhere between the Divine and Human.

View of St. Peter's Basilica approaching main entrance of the Vatican.

View of St. Peter’s Basilica approaching main entrance of the Vatican.

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View of St. Peter’s from the Vatican Gardens.

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View of the Vatican Museums inner facade from the Vatican Gardens.

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Typical road walking through the Vatican Gardens, filled with cars, tourists, and sculpture.

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Courtyard inside the Vatican Museums.

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Vatican Museums.

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Vatican Museums.

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View of the Gregorian Tower (Tower of the Winds) from the Vatican Museums.

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Vatican Museums.

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One of the paintings talked about in lecture that we then got to see in the museums.

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Modern art in the Vatican Museums.

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Bramante Staircase at the exit of the Vatican Museums.

We are nearing the end of our time in Rome and working on our final projects. Today was all about the Vatican! This morning another student and I visited the Vatican Gardens, and walked through the beautiful landscaping only open to the public with a tour guide. With high hopes I must admit that we were just a little disappointed. While the gardens that we did see were beautiful, it is still winter, and the time spent in each area was short lived due to our tour guide. The gardens as a whole seemed almost residential. When looking at a map the gardens appear to a giant open expanse of greenery and curvilinear paths. However, once there it was full of streets with cars parked everywhere and we were only granted glimpses of beautiful open spaces at a time. We were not allowed in probably 75% of the garden, and instead were carefully guided via the road stopping briefly at notable stops along the way. While the gardens were still beautiful, they did not quite live up to my expectations, which very well may be resulting from our lack of access and time.

After the gardens, the two of us joined the rest of the group for a lecture at Accent about the Vatican Museums. It was great to listen to someone so passionate explain some of the art we would be seeing inside the museums. Listening to an in-depth interpretation about a painting adds so much more significance and appreciation to a piece when you later do see it for yourself in the context of the museum.

After the lecture and lunch we were off to the Vatican Museums for ourselves. A part of the Museums includes the Vatican Library, Vatican Courtyards, the Sistine Chapel, the Gregorian Tower, the Papal Apartments, the Secret Vatican Archives underground, cafes, numerous galleries including a contemporary art gallery, and much more. While not all of it is open to the public, while you are there you can feel how large an expanse the Museums and its structure are. They are extensive.

Personally I have already visited the Museums twice before today, but today was different and I was still very excited to spend the afternoon there. Having learned more about what were behind its walls and the significance of the works added so much more depth to the experience. Walking through the galleries, it felt more as a labyrinth than a cohesive building. I feel this is true for a lot of the Vatican as a whole.

The Vatican is very divided by public and private spaces; the vast majority of the space is not open to the public. The Vatican is its own country with its own government, its own stamps and postal system; it’s own officials and all. It is the smallest country in the world completely enclosed by a wall around 220 acres. The Vatican has less than 900 citizens many of whom live abroad for majority of the year. The Vatican is a country defined somewhere between the divine and human and this shines through to its visitors and through the structures that make it up.

The pope is their head of government, who acts as the mediator between God and the people in the Catholic faith. The government system is called the Holy See. One of the most famous works in the Vatican is the Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; where man is created by the touch of God, the connection between the Divine and human. There are more chapels and churches than there are streets, where the Divine is worshiped and put at the highest priority. Yet at the same time, the Vatican is highly driven by tourism working by the human for the human. The Vatican only exists for the Divine, but would fall apart without the human; it is the relation between the two makes it such a unique and powerful space.

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