The Vatican Diaries Sandeep Mathur, 27th October, 2015

The Vatican City

This was my third visit to the center of the Catholic World and like always its was a revelation. You learn so many new stories, new incidents, new pieces from history and of course it's a photographers delight. The one thing as a photographer you must do is take a guided tour, but not any guided tour - take one that starts before the general public are allowed in. This may cost a bit more but it allows you to take photographs without being jostled or pushed and more importantly to just soak in the amazing atmosphere which is unique to the Vatican.

St. Peter's Square - Piazza San Pietro

The St. Peter's Square was designed by Bernini including the massive Tuscan colonnades, four columns deep, which embrace the visitors in the "maternal arms of the Mother Church".

The St. Peter's Square is both new and old. 2000 years ago this was the site for Nero's circus, a huge cigar shaped race course. The huge obelisk standing even today was the Center of the race track. This is where in between the races Christians were killed for sport during the half time entertainment. Many believe that amongst the many killed here was St. Peter's - Jesus's right hand man. His is one of the statues in the square, holding the keys to Rome. In 65 AD St. Peter's had come to Rome to spread the message of Love. But his outspoken words about a forbidden religion won him many enemies and he was crucified at this very spot. At his own request he was crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die as his master did. After the crowd dispersed, his friends buried his remains in a nearby cemetery called the Vatican Hill. For 250 years the site of his grave was worshipped secretly by the faithful, until 313 AD when the Emperor Constantine assured religious tolerance for Christians, by decriminalising Christianity. The present alter and the massive dome of the St. Peter's Basilica marks the exact spot where St. Peter was buried.

Piazza San Pietro

One of the two granite fountains at the Piazza - one constructed by Bernini in 1675 matches the other by Carlo Maderno in 1613.

The Colonnade of St. Peter's Square.

Statue of St. Paul, on the right side in front of the portico of St. Peter's Basilica.

Getting ready for the Wednesday mass by the Pope.

The Vatican Museum


It is unlikely that the Vatican realized, when it commissioned Giuseppe Momo to build a staircase in 1932, that it would become one of the most photographed pieces in a museum that boasts 9 miles of art. But it did.

The Spiral Staircase, also called the Momo Staircase or the Snail Staircase, is made up of two wrought iron stairways – one going up, one going down – that curve in a double helix. Ironically it was created in a time before the double helix became a symbol for science, DNA and subsequently, all human life.

While the staircase was once walked by every visitor to the Vatican Museums on their way in, it is no longer on the route. Subsequently (and sadly), the Vatican spiral staircase is now missed by a lot of visitors to the museums. If you want to see the staircase during your visit, look for it near the entrance to the museums.

The entrance to the Vatican Museums

The terrace

The central courtyard with the sphere.

The bronze pine cone in the central courtyard before you enter the museums.

Museo Chiaramonti founded by Pope Pius VII Chiaramonti contains about 1000 Roman Sculptures.

Gilded bronze statue of Hercules from the Theater of Pompey.

When you are mesmerised by the art and sculpture do not forget the ceilings. The ceiling of the upholstery room.

Laocoon & his Sons

The statue of Laocoon and his Sons is one of the most famous ancient sculptures ever since it was excavated in Rome in 1506 and placed on public display in the Vatican. The figures are near life-size showing the Trojan priest Laocoon and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus being attacked by sea serpents.

The Belevedere Apollo

The statue of Apollo is said to represent the "highest ideal of Art", also called the Pythian Apollo as it depicts the God Apollo has just loosed an arrow at his enemy, the Python of Delphi. The statue was found in 1489 and is said to be a marble copy of a bronze original by Leochares, 350-325 BC.

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica, the greatest church in Christiandom, built in memory of the first Pope - St Peter. This is where the grandeur of ancient Rome became the grandeur of the entire Christian world. There is a strict dress code applied - no bare shoulders or shorts allowed. Unless you arrive very early there are long queues to deal with.

The dome was designed by Michelangelo, who worked on the construction of the basilica beginning in 1547. By the end of his long life (he died at 89 in 1564), construction had reached the drum of the dome, which alternates highly prominent double columns with gabled windows. Then, Giacomo Della Porta, Michelangelo’s pupil, took over the direction of the work, raising the vault of the dome about 7 metres and completing it in 1590, in just 22 months, under the pontificate of Pope Sixtus V.

The dome has a double calotte, with an inner diameter of 42.56 metres and it measures 136.57 metres from the base to the top of the cross. The lantern is 17 metres high.

Remember the story from the beginning of the blog - the present alter and the massive dome of the St. Peter's Basilica marks the exact spot where St. Peter was buried.

About the author - SANDEEP MATHUR

I'm a photography enthusiast. I love to travel to new places and take pictures that tell stories of the place, its history and its people. I live in the ancient and colourful city of Delhi in India. You can find me at :



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Sandeep Mathur

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