|Just part of our group after a very full day in the Vatican.|
It is hard to believe that our three-week adventure is coming to a close. I started the day, as I like to when I can, with an early run. In addition to the exercise, it allows me to cover a lot of ground I might not otherwise get to. This morning I ran to the Tomb of Hadrian (Italian, Castel Sant'Angelo) and along the Tiber River.
As a group, we had a "late" start, not having breakfast until 7:30 or 8:00, and leaving the hotel at 8:40. Once we got going, however, it was a full day. We spent the rest of the morning and the early afternoon in the Vatican Museums. After visiting St. Peter's Basilica, we broke for lunch and/or gelato. We then had a most interesting tour of the scavi, or excavations, under the basilica.
The Vatican Museums
The sprawling Vatican Museums are a treasure that one cannot possible absorb no matter how long, or how often, the visit. That said, it is a difficult place to do "museum work" in. The crowds are so great, and the press so tight, that one can hardly pause to really examine or enjoy the artifacts. Still, we saw some stunning items even if we did not get to everything on our lists. And to the Egyptian, Ancient Near Eastern, and Classical holdings, we added the magnificent Stanze of Raphael and, of course, the Sistine Chapel (no pictures allowed in the last, however).
|The Nebuchadnezzar Cylinder|
|With the Prima Porta Augustus, the first emperor being my favorite Roman figure|
|Roman copy of the Doryphporus|
|Achilles and Aias Playing Dice|
|Raphael's School of Athens|
St. Peter's Basilica
While St. Peter's is not the seat of the pope as the bishop of Rome (that honor is held by St. John of Lateran), because of its connection with the tomb of St. Peter, it is arguable the holiest church in the Roman Catholic Church. It is also the most famous. Because of time constraints tonight (I need to pack for an early flight in the morning), I will again refer you to the Wikipedia link for more background.
|Michelangelo's heart-rending Pietà|
With a special reservation, we were admitted to a private side door of the basilica, which led down into the archaeological excavations, or scavi, that have been done beneath the basilica. Pictures were not allowed here, but some interesting images can be found at the official web site.
In short, today's Vatican City includes the old Vatican Hill. Its slopes included both an imperial circus, or race track, used by both the emperor Gaius (Caligula) and Nero, and a necropolis, or "city of the dead," that is a cemetery. The Jewish philosopher Philo encountered Gaius here while the latter was dressed up as the sun god Helios, and early Christians persecuted by Nero may have met their end here (the Flavian Amphitheater, or Colosseum, was not built until the Flavians).
By tradition, the apostle Peter was buried here, and the emperor Constantine later honored him by by building Old St. Peter's here. In the process, the top of the Vatican Hill was leveled, the race track filled in and the obelisk that was in its center moved (it is now in the middle of St. Peter's Piazza), and the necropolis covered over.
|Artist's rendition of the Old St. Peter's|
We had a fascinating tour of the lowest and some of the Constantinian levels, which appear in blue and red in the schema above. Since the earliest burials were pagan, much of what we have been studying on this trip all came together here. The tour ended at the site of the traditional burial of St. Peter's. What our guide said at the end was stirring. "Whether the bones that were found were actually Peter's is not what is important for my faith. What is important is the evidence that we have here for the worship of Christians for almost two thousand years."
We then walked to a fun restaurant in Trastevere for our final group meal.
How I will miss this group! We have had some great experiences together. And thank you for joining us for so much of it.