Being both the first day of spring and the beginning of Easter weekend, chances are you European backpackers are doing as the Romans do and flocking to the Eternal City for a weekend full of….standing. While the weather for this weekend is anticipated to be less than perfect (hey, it’s still March), you can enjoy a good amount of time in La Citta Vaticana having a religious experience without looking like you just walked through the Tiber River. And yet, I feel compelled to suggest you wait a week to do so; as the 30th will be the last Sunday of the month and will therefore leave a cluster of museums normally 12 Euro (8 Euro for the usual suspects) free for the taking. There is plenty to do in the Centro of town–including the Way of the Cross procession from the Coliseo to the Palatine Hill on Friday night, a pretty remarkable occasion for saints and sinners (and, if you’re like us, Jews) alike.
(Every museum has its perks. You can explore all the geeky interments of the Musee des Instruments de Musique, in Brussels or dive into the ancient history of the Vatican). Whichever way you choose to visit the museums of Vatican City, grab a map on your way in or check it out on their website (and print out a copy). You can make this an hour or so to dodge a rainstorm, or you can make it a day-long excursion–complete with lunch in their cafeteria and a few cappuccini interwoven with each museum. And if you have one day of art in Rome, this is your full spread of appetizers that add up to a hearty meal: the Museo Pio-Clementino has the Green and Roman artifacts (some of which originated just a stone’s throw away from their current resting places), the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche houses an impressive collection of maps, and the Galleria degli Arazzi does the same for tapestries. The Stanze di Rafaello (originally the papal apartment to Pope Julius II) hold the frescoes of Raphael, including the landmark piece The School of Athens–a veritable Who’s Who in philosophy (you can even see the artist himself in there). The Apartamento Borgia has some similar frescoes by Pinturicchio, but the real attraction is down another flight of stairs into the Sistine Chapel. Yes, that Sistine Chapel.
It’s been said of few paintings and actually rung true, however nothing can prepare you for seeing the Sistine Chapel or compare to just sitting in the room. Grab a chair along the perimeter and tip your head up. Try to be as quiet as a church mouse (lest one of the numerous security guards shush you–which they will happily do), which won’t be hard in here. Yet the work in here is not just Michelangelo (though he is responsible for the ceiling). The walls are taken up by artists such as Botticelli, Signorelli, and Pinturicchio, a Who’s Who of Renaissance art.
Not bad for a country that doesn’t have Peeps.
Piazza di San Pietro/Viale Vaticano
Metro to Cipro/Musei Vaticani
8:45 am to 12:20 pm Monday through Saturday (Nov-Feb)
8:45 am to 3:20 pm Monday through Friday and 8:45 am to 1:20 pm Saturday (Mar-Oct and Christmas)