St.Peter's Basilica and The Dome

Once inside the great St.Peter's we walked around in awe of its many doors, niches and altars. There was prayer as well as a full service going on. There were a lot of barriers in place to keep the flow of people. There were also lines to various sites within the compound. I didn't pay attention to much because everything was beyond me. The sheer massiveness of the structure itself was enough to marvel at. It would take a lifetime to really explore every part of the place. It would take a lifetime and a half to even understand what you actually saw. In the moment of being there I tried to retain the grandeur versus the detail. So I didn't take many photos and I tried not to touch anything. The majority of the morning I fumbled with my make shift covering which was one pin away from a wardrobe malfunction. So instead of really getting into things I found myself in corners trying to keep my knees from showing.

Inside the Basilica there were eerie tombs of dead saints. All of Europe I'd avoided mysterious crypts people pay to get into. Now I was running into short lines waiting to see past saints embalmed and covered in silver & gold. When we saw these poor souls laid out we questioned were they real. I am so sorry I ever went to the internet on that one. You can simply Google "bodies in St.Peters" and get long stories of "incorrupt" corpses. I never knew that was a thing. Basically these special ones didn't succumb to the finalities of death and stayed mostly intact for Him. I think most people had no idea they were looking at real dead bodies. I sure didn't and I feel awful now that I actually stood in line to see several of them. I tried to take my time at each one because everyone seemed to have a reason for waiting and once in front of the clear caskets seemed to pray or say something important. I was somewhere in-between childlike curiosity and adult horror. I tried to read the little placards and they didn't explain much. So in that respect I thank the internet for at least elaborating.

When we got to a private space for prayer she told me she was going in. I think for a short moment she expected me to follow. I chose as always to refrain but then wondered how would I find her whenever she came back out. There were so many people I couldn't really leave and go on looking at things. So I sort of leaned on a barrier separating the entry way from the side alters and thought things out. In that moment the Catholic religion became well understood. All the ritual and relic that people tend to complain about was all around me but never as it was told. Honestly, as big and bold as everything was it was so humbling. Of course, I wasn't affected to a point where I gave an offering or prayed like she did. I just understood more than ever and respected the holiness of it all. When she appeared we sort of sauntered through the rest of it taking pictures of what mattered most. There are a lot of Latin sayings and scripture throughout the basilica as well as things I'd only heard about. I was able to capture an image of the dimly lit tunnels underneath us. Some say those let the crypts breath and others say its like a passage for priests and clergy. I just felt like I'd noticed them in a sea of people stepping on them like manholes. 

We did enter some other area which was like a dead end. We were trying to find the entry to the dome. Again, this was all her idea and I was really trying to conquer my fear of heights so I agreed to do it. Just like in Paris there was no easy method to finding the way up. There really was no signage or directions inside the Vatican. So we sort of wondered all over the place looking for it. I was even manhandled by a guard trying to ask where the line was. For some reason once you exit the basilica you are not allowed back in. I guess there is a process and once you are out you need to make the line all over again. He was absolutely gorgeous and quite sweet about it after grabbing me by the arm. He sent us around the side to another door in the same vestibule. Basically the entire church is wrapped in a gigantic hallway with doors leading to several places. The one door lead people to an outside gate and holding area to get up to the dome.

This line was the most uncomfortable. We were really smushed up against people like sausages. There was no single file line. It was more like a mass exodus of people. All of us pushing against this metal gate to an outside pen. Once outside we were corralled under a stone awning where we could see people returning from the climb. Those coming back were obviously exhausted and were all taking refuge from a fountain. Some people in our line took turns going to the fountain but we still had our water from earlier. We were also still covered and now quite hot. However, everyone was covered and it was sort of a risk to attempt taking off things. I eventually took off the scarf tied at my knees because I couldn't bare to walk in it any longer. Once ahead we were sent to a ticket window and made to pay exact cash for entry to the dome. We could chose an all stair option or an elevator mid way option. It was a very rushed process with onlookers and guards awaiting our choices. We both chose to take the elevator. 

On the elevator we had two guards or attendants that fascinated us both. They were men in suits, delicious brown men at that and speaking Italian like such gents. We couldn't help but share in the excitement of seeing Black men working in Vatican city in high power roles having candid conversation in their native tongue. It was like the most pleasant sight before the impending doom of the climb. We exited at the first tier of the dome which looks down inside the basilica. This particular portion is a round narrow walkway fenced in and doesn't make it completely around the rotunda. The door way to the ongoing stairs is at a midpoint so one must turn around to make exit. Sadly, looking down from this point your view is through tiny fence holes. There is no way to take a clear image but it is a nice moment to view everyone below and catch a breath before the full climb. At this point if you have chosen all stairs you are about 200 steps away from the very top. It is a total of 500 stairs. The steps are not easy and very disorienting in comparison to other height challenging sites. As the dome narrows the walls curve in and you are holding onto them to make the turns up each floor. These curved walls have no texture and are quite low so you will be grabbing at nothing. It is also very hot and there are a lot of people ahead and behind you. It is virtually impossible to just stop. At some points there are tiny landings with side pockets. I took advantage of those with many other walkers. I was surprised to see the types of people who did stop - both young and old. There was also one young lady who refused to go any higher after a certain point and she finally made it up to much applause.

Once up there are no barriers between you and the sky and the square. In fact, this was the most scariest attraction I visited in Europe. There were not only any barriers at the roofline but no crowd control either. There was a lot of pushing and shoving that made you feel like you could be pushed over the edge. There is also no real seating making it very hard to relax or set up a camera. However, once up we both spent a great deal of time there. We also separated and it was extremely hard finding each other in the crowds. There is only one exit down and thankfully there are several stopping points. There is a wide roof that houses several water fountains and a nurses station for those overcome by the steps. Once here people were disrobing and resting and it seemed acceptable by clergymen. There are also gift shops to browse and buy things for your journey down. Once down you exit completely on the other side of the basilica where there are additional fountains and restrooms. However, these ones have horrific lines especially so for women and children. I bypassed the rooftop restroom to wait almost thirty minutes below. So if you make the climb take advantage of those at the top. If you feel dizzy by all means just sit because that roofline has no barriers either and it strangely ebbs with plenty of holes and dips. It was extremely disorienting and the gift shop became refuge. Of course when inside of the shops your cover is expected.

She spent a great deal of money on things considered holy by Vatican artisans. The reality is rosary and religious articles are available all over town. I can't say if the Vatican items carry a special authenticity or blessing but in comparing costs they must be something special. The shop seems to be ran by civilians and sisters are merely supporting them. A sister showed her several counter items but ultimately a plain clothes vendor assisted the sister with sizing and availability questions. I personally don't partake in purchasing any religious articles but I really wanted some packaging as a souvenir. I wanted so badly to ask for a bag but chose to stay quiet the entire time. I felt like this was something she really wanted to experience and it was best I didn't try to ruin that for her. I don't think she expected to spend as much and later in the trip I saw her ogling items that were similar to hers. However, those things were not wrapped by a sister or placed in a pretty white paper bag with The Vatican written on it in periwinkle blue. 

When we exited we took several photos in the square in front of the facade. We also witnessed a old couple bombard the guards with a letter for the Pope. There was a big rush to thwart them from causing a scene but the colorful guard kindly took their letter. We then saw one of the Bernini fountains in the square. There were people inside of it and we both couldn't help ourselves. I don't know if it was allowed but she climbed into it and I took photos of her parading around in the water. I myself could not get over the banister and chose to just splash myself with the water. There were a great deal of naughty children in it splashing around and a lot of on lookers laughing. People really were in it because it was so hot. I imagine people in the lines standing in the afternoon sun leapt into it. Honestly, it was the best finale to our visit. 

Next stop the Vatican museums and The Sistine Chapel….

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