Besides the chance to eat authentic Italian pizza, another reason I went to Italy was because I was lucky enough to get tickets for the Vatican's Scavi Tour. I don't know how I managed to, as they are notoriously hard to obtain (they must be requested months in advance and participants have to be pre-approved by Vatican authorities to go on it). I'm not Catholic, but clearly the god(s) were smiling on me and blessed me with an opportunity I will never, ever forget.
The Scavi Tour takes visitors deep below the world's smallest country, into an ancient Roman cemetery that was buried for centuries underneath St. Peter's Basilica (and rediscovered in 1940). Approximately an hour and a half long, the tour officially begins when the guide places his hand on some type of security device that scans his fingerprints (!) thus opening a secret door in a feat of technology worthy of being in a Bond movie. Inside, visitors are met with the musty aroma of 2500-year-old crypts built by the glitterati of the once most powerful nation on earth. Each one is more elaborately decorated than the last. I've never been to Egypt, but I imagine people are met with the same sense of awe when entering the Great Pyramid. One lady on my tour nearly passed out from the lack of oxygen, but she came to in time for the grand reveal...the bones of Saint Peter himself!
I shamefully admit ignorance when it comes to knowing who most religious figures are and had absolutely no clue prior to my visit who Saint Peter was, why he was revered or even what dinner placement he had in Da Vinci's 'The Last Supper'. The best way for me to describe him after enlightenment is that he was the Colonel Tom Parker to Jesus's Elvis: someone who saw the raw potential in another individual and helped bring their gospel to the masses. In the Colonel's place, it was the legacy of rock and roll; in Saint Peter's case, it was the empire of Christianity. Both have devoted followers. Both are worth a fortune. Only one has caused most of the wars in history. Just sayin'.
The unveiling of the bones was an incredibly moving moment though. There before me lay the remains of the person who has, in effect, influenced the course of history for the past two millennia (and also a few Dan Brown novels). I write a blog.
No pictures were allowed on the tour of the necropolis, so if you are curious, click here.
While at the Vatican, I also visited the interior of St. Peter's Basilica and toured the museums. Never have I been surrounded by so many priceless (original) works of art!!! It was beyond inspiring. The Sistine Chapel was great, but I think it's the de facto answer that people give when asked to name the stand-out piece of the collection...the Raphael rooms were far more intriguing to me. Neither have anything on the ceiling fresco at the Duomo in Florence though, but I will get to that horror masterpiece later.
A place of great beauty is destined to being out passion in people and the Vatican was no exception. I am by no means a prude, and yet I was clutching my pearls at the number of couples practically having coitus at the Holy See. Making out in front of a number of old priests and judgmental statues is not as sexy as Madonna's music videos imply. In fact, it's downright creepy. Get a room.
No, I did not get to see the Pope (nor the Popemobile).
Next up - Venice.
To be continued...
Swiss Guard on duty at the Bronze Doors:
Interior of St. Peter's Basilica:
The Tomb of St. Peter:
The Scavi Tour took place underneath this marker in an ancient underground necropolis:
Vatican Museum details:
The epic Map Room at the Vatican Museum:
Preparing for tourist season...the overflow Vatican Post Office:
Pizza at the Vatican food court (it wasn't good):