The Scribbler

26 September 2011

Bella Roma – day 2 Michelangelo and the angels

A section of one of the richly decorated ceilings in the Vatican museum

We’re up and out early this morning in a bid to beat the crowds to see the treasures of the Vatican museums. Foxed at first by the metro and a lack of change, we eventually approach the vast walls around the museum. 45 minutes in the queue and then the numbers inside are overwhelming.

In a gallery filled with marble busts and statues, I declare, “They have too much stuff”. It’s only the first room.

We shuffle through room after room of unimaginable treasures. Paintings and tapestries, ceilings, marble floors, ceramics, vases, sculptures and mosaics. We are drunk on opulence.

And ever forwards, forwards. Shuffling through the narrow doorways, crammed and packed and shoved. All driven on a strange kind of pilgrimage towards the treasure at the centre of the maze .

At last we reach a small dark doorway and emerge into a vast space. Impossibly high above me, figures float in the air, draped in rich jewel colours. They reach down and take my breath away.

Giant men, women, gods and sybils confuse the dimensions and send my head reeling. Beyond human figures made real by layers of colour and paint. I am rooted to the spot and cannot look anywhere but up.

St Peter's Square, Rome

St Peter's Square

Eventually, senses stunned, I turn away and move on. The following rooms and corridors are crammed with art treasures, that now seem flat, pale and insubstantial.

Museumed out, we rest for a while and grab a mediocre slice of pizza before heading to St Peter’s Square – a huge clearing surrounded by colonnades and, at the centre, the great dome of the church itself. In the sunshine fountains sparkle and a child plays scattering pigeons.

We enter the church, which is Tardis like – even bigger on the inside. In the dimming light, immense statues ornament the elaborate ceiling. An elephantine cage of twisted black ebony surrounds the main altar.

We follow a group around behind one of the figures in an alcove and descend into the crypt. The surprisingly light and airy tomb houses the sarcophagi of former popes and kings and the relics of St Peter himself, hidden far behind the glass.

Once more out into the open, we walk foot sore, hot and weary along the river to the Castel St Angelo. Inside we wind through cool dark corridors, ascending in loops to emerge in the castle rooms, to see the armour, guns, cannons and spikes of battle. A Michelangelo angel with bronze wings overlooks the courtyard.

We enjoy more glorious views over the city from this fortified base, before making our way down down down to the bridge of angels and back to the modern world.

Through streets of luxury shops we emerge at the Spanish steps, a flutter of colour and custom in the afternoon sun as street vendors try to sell us roses. I think of two lovely people for whom this will always be a special place. But  we are weary and don’t linger too long, taking the metro back to our hotel.

After a rest and refreshment we head out in search of a recommended local restaurant, Nido D’Abruzzo. Its style is basic, old school, tatty even. But the pasta is fresh, rich and delicious, like you wish your mama used to make, served by an old guy who could be your Italian grandpa. And the fish I have to follow is one of the tastiest, simplest dishes I’ve ever eaten. A real treat of a meal.

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