There are many reasons to be impressed with the Vatican or more specifically St. Peter’s Basilica, its public face. Whether based on architecture, the fact that it is the smallest city-state in the world, its religious significance, age, or sheer scale, the building, the art, and religious and cultural meanings are all intersected to create a place that ‘wow’s a visitor.
Everything in the inside of the Vatican draws your eye upwards. Vertical lines dominate, only intersected by large marble adornments or mosaics. We chose to climb the 500-odd steps to the cupola before entering, and therefore enjoyed the birds-eye view first- but even this did not prepare me for the height of the building when we entered it. In addition, everything is intricate, carefully designed and placed, organised. I felt a little overwhelmed by the massive statues or monumental mosaics, and found myself focusing on details- the cherubs foot, the skeleton with the hourglass and his face covered, the devil being crushed by a papal sandal. In the mosaic in the dome we picked out the different expressions, gestures and appearances of the apostles to identify them. Colour and detail were everywhere.
The view into the distance seems different. While the building was designed by multiple architects and surprisingly still works as a harmonious whole, the view across the city shows a clustered, cramped and disorganised scene. Different shapes juxtapose strangely- straight lines and right angles suddenly hitting domes, circular buildings, or very modern ‘waves’. Inside the Vatican walls the buildings and plants look like a well planned garden, outside Rome sprawls in a fascinating urban chaos. On the gloomy day, everything looked slightly matt as well- shades of grey or brown fading away into the distance until you could only see the blue shape of mountains on the horizon. We stopped for a moment, and held our breath, looking out over the world.