Thursday, October 09, 2008

Vatican Gardens

For our third day in Rome, we spent the day in another country. What's this, you ask? How is such a thing possible? Well, Vatican City is it's own sovereign country. Not only that, but it's the smallest country, both in population and area. It covers 110 acres and has only 800 residents. As a country it came into existence in 1929 (with a treaty signed between Italy and the Pope).

In the morning, we toured the Vatican Gardens.

Here is me Chris and Kent waiting for the tour to start. The large wall behind us is the wall that encloses Vatican City.


This is the entrance to the Vatican Museum. To get the Gardens, you first enter the Museum. Even though we got there early in the morning, the line was already stretching around the block. Good thing we had signed up for a tour and could skip all the lines!

Ok, so I totally didn't take this picture. But this is what the Gardens look like from above. Here's some info from the interwebs:

The Vatican Gardens have been a place of quiet and meditation for the Popes ever since 1279 when Nicholas III (Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, 1277-1280) moved his residence back to the Vatican from the Lateran Palace. Within the new walls, which he had built to protect his residence, he planted an orchard, a lawn, and a garden.

While the gardens themselves are beautiful, they do offer an extra benefit. They provide the best views of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Because the Basilica itself is so large, it can be difficult to see the dome when you are actually standing in front of it. This shot of the dome was taken as we initially walked into the gardens. Now if only I could move that big tree in the foreground....are you there, God? It's me, Margaret.

The gardens themselves are actually comprised of three separate sections. The first we came across was the English gardens, which are the most wild, untamed of them all. There is a fountain hidden in this picture, and these unmanicured gardens were my favorite.

I expected everything in the Vatican Gardens to be pristine and perfect. So I was really surprised when we came across this rough-hewn fountain with its ragged edges. The spouts are actually dragons and other mythical creatures, which were surprising to see in the seat of Catholicism. Our tour guide explained this really well though, by pointing out that while Rome was being purged of symbols of the pagen gods by the public and church officials, the areas around the Vatican were not open to the public, and therefore many pieces of art and architecture dating from the Renaissance and earlier were protected from vandalism and alteration. In addition, since the gardens are the private property and sanctuary of the Pope, some random Cardinal is not about to go back there and start tearing things apart. It's good to be the King, er, Pope.

The next group of gardens we came across were the French gardens. These were much more manicured and perfect, but still maintained different levels of height. In the spring, these gardens are filled with flowers.


The third garden group is the Italian gardens. These are the most perfect, planned, and symmetrical of all the gardens. There are no flowers, and while they are beautiful, they seem too sculpted to me. I prefer to let Mother Nature run a little wild.

This is one of the most modern sculptures in the garden. The Our Lady of Fatima was sculpted by an American sculptor, Frederick Shrade, in remembrance of an attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II in 1981. The story goes that when John Paul was shot, he was wearing a Fatima medal that actually deflected the bullet and saved his life. Sounds like something from a movie, right? After the attack, he commissioned this sculpture in remembrance.

This is a replica of the Grotto of Lourdes. From wiki:

In 1858, a 14-year-old local girl, claimed a beautiful lady appeared to her in the remote Grotto of Massabielle. The lady later identified herself as "the Immaculate Conception" and the faithful believe her to be the Blessed Virgin Mary. The lady appeared 18 times, and by 1859 thousands of pilgrims were visiting Lourdes. A statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was erected at the site in 1864.

The replica of the shrine was a gift to the Pope from France. It's also the location where the current Pope received George W. Bush (ugh) when he visited Vatican City. This was seen as a very informal receiving area, and I guess speaks to the close relationship between the Pope and the President. As I said, ugh.

Our tour ended at the base of St. Peter's Basilica around the back. If you look in this picture, you can see how the statues in the niches around the base of the Basilica are much whiter than the actual walls. This is because the statues are actually new, having been installed in the last few years. Previously, the niches were empty, and the decision was made to fill them with more modern statues. While statues are themselves beautiful, it is clear that many of them are more modern than the building they are meant to ornament, and it creates a really strange and interesting dichotomy between the old and new.

This is my favorite shot of mine of the dome of St. Peter.

The guys in charge of security for the Pope and Vatican City are the Swiss Guards. This is their uniform. I know, goofy, right? It was designed by Michelangelo. Swiss Guards must be between the ages of 18 and 30, 5'6'' or taller, unmarried, and have trained with the Swiss Army. They are trained to kill not only with the normal stuff (guns, knives, etc.), but are also trained to kill you with 500 normal every-day objects. Bad. Ass.

We wandered into St. Peter's Square before having lunch, and here is the Basilica from the front.

To the right of the Basilica, are the Pope's personal apartments (just past the Sistine Chapel). The top window on the far right is his personal office. Woah!

Coming up tomorrow: The Vatican Museum and inside the Basilica. Get ready!

1 comment:

The Vatican Gardens Rome said...

Read more about the Vatican Gardens.