The Smallest Country in the World

This morning I board the Metro and head to another country. I really like the look of some of the Metro stops – underground, mostly dark, but shiny metal walls reflecting the light of trains coming from afar. Small and compact – no two-way traffic or additional trains at these stops, just big enough for one train to come through.
1292 Metro

I arrive at the entrance St Peter’s Square, which is mostly blocked off for some event, and spend a while in the hot sun waiting in the security checkpoint line to leave the country. Well, the security is to enter St Peter’s Basilica because it’s a significant and important site that has bee attacked in the past, not because I’m walking from one country into another. My audio guide tells me to “go through security, past the gaggle of backpackers in shorts being turned away for not reading the dress code, and into the square”, but it seems the dress code must have been reduced in recent years, as I don’t see anyone being turned away, and see some people in shorts inside.

I walk through the gorgeous entryway, through some giant bronze doors, into the church, and am awed by its scope.

St Peter’s is a massive church. It is the massive church, bigger (and more culturally, religiously, and politically important than any other church in all of Christendom) than every other church. As I walk, I pass markers indicating where the other largest churches in the world would fit inside of this one. But, despite that, various tricks with perspective are done to make it feel much more intimate. Quite interestingly, the statues, as in the next picture, one close at the bottom and one far into the distance, are made to look similar in size (top one only looks a little smaller due to distance, right?), but in fact the top one is about 50% taller than the bottom one. Checking this myself with Photoshop’s inverse perspective warping, it does seem to be true =).
1303 Perspective Tricks

I wander around the massive church for quite a while. I stand upon the spot on which the Pope had crowned a French King. I learn that the giant twirly columns around the altar are made to resemble the columns from Old St Peter’s which was here long ago. The actual columns from the old church were preserved and used in some of the balconies around the altar. My timing getting to the back of the church was just about perfect, managing to show up a few minutes before mass was beginning. This particular mass is celebrated, in Italian, in one of the side chapels, reserved exclusively for prayer, with no photographs or gawkers allowed.

After hearing my audio guide talk about it, before leaving completely, I exit and re-enter through the Holy Door. This door is open only on “Jubilee Years”, which it currently is, and is the final destination of many pilgrims traveling from all over the world this year. It enters to where Michelangelo’s Pieta is kept – one of his most famous and moving sculptures, made when he was just 23 years old.

Next up, I go up. I climb to the top of the double-dome of St. Peter’s. First we get to the base of the dome and can look down into St Peter’s, see the inscriptions along the dome – the basilica contains every biblical quote of Jesus speaking to Peter engraved along it’s ceiling somewhere, and along the dome is the significant text of “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”. In this case, this particular church is literally built on top of Peter’s tomb (by tradition, believed to be directly under the altar, but an excavation of more recent years found a 1st century tomb, containing bones and ancient inscriptions implying it was in fact Peter’s, a dozen feet to the side).

There is a bigger external dome around the smaller internal one, and we climb up between them. At parts, the walls of the dome are arching significantly from the level stairs (that picture is not rotated, the stairs were perfectly level within the slanted walls).

Views of Vatican City and of Rome from the top are gorgeous.

Leaving St Peter’s I see some foreign mercenaries (the Swiss soldiers hired to guard the Vatican and its residents such as the Pope) and a marching band in lederhosen. Also, I’m beginning to like Fanta.

I enter the Vatican Museum, which has an incredibly vast collection of art. In one hall filled just with statued busts, I learn that they apparently put masterpieces surrounded by more average works of their contemporaries so that their quality is more clear. I try for a while but have absolutely no ability to tell which ones the “masterpieces” are.

There are many very long galleries in the museum – thin room after room of related art, most of which I find not particularly interesting. However, there is a gallery of maps which I find utterly fascinating. The maps are beautifully painted, and quite interesting, presumably representing the sum of knowledge of local geography at the time they were made. It’s great, the combination of peering into the past through these maps as well as being reminiscent of looking at a great campaign setting for an RPG. I take pictures of way too many of them, only including a couple here, as I’m sure many more, much better developed, pictures can be found elsewhere.

The final stop in the Vatican Museum is the Sistine Chapel, in which no pictures are allowed. Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling and wall are amazing and intriguing. I sit for quite a while, listen to some audio commentary from Rick Steves, and just soak in the atmosphere of the room in which Popes are elected.

I’m nearing the end of my tourist activities in Rome, I’ve got a few days of down time before attending the Papal Audience on Wednesday, and then heading up the Mediterranean coast the day after that.  Looking forward to it!

I’m not getting as much real “work” done as I’d hoped, preparing these blog posts are taking quite a bit of time, more than I would have guessed!  But, I think I’ll stick with it another couple weeks until the end of this trip.  While preparing these last three posts, I kept careful logs of time spent, and I average about 2 and a quarter hours per post, admittedly a lot of that is photo editing/cropping/naming that I would want to do even if I were not blogging (though would probably put off until I “get home”, and never actually get around to…).  For the curious, and my own future self, the breakdown of the average time on these last three posts (which, admittedly, involved slightly more editing and the making of an animated GIF… but had fewer images than a lot of other days) is as follows:

  • 31 minutes – Copy images from phone, camera; prune duplicates, delete poor quality shots, choose best shot when I have multiple of the same subject, merge separate images into panoramics
  • 31 minutes – Renaming all images to have a useful, if not amusing, title, some editing
  • 14 minutes – cropping all images (even if the shot is good, I’ll let Photoshop “crop” it to the same resolution and re-save it as a legitimate JPEG instead of a PhotoJPEG for significant space savings).
  • 38 minutes – writing the blog posts (in Sublime Text), sometimes off of notes I took the day of the events, and choosing which images to include
  • 20 minutes – paste blog into WordPress, upload reduced size images, assemble together using WordPress’s editor, and re-read/edit the entire post (wow, do I make a lot of typos the first time through…)

Though it’s not programming, this still makes me feel pretty productive ^_^.

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