Story and photos by Tom Weber
began in January of 1506 when an ancient Greek marble sculpture was
discovered resting peacefully underground in a vineyard within the city
limits of Rome.
Pope Julius II, a true patron of the arts,
dispatched Michelangelo Buonarroti, his artist-in-residence, to examine
the find and report back. So impressed by its artistry and workmanship,
Michelangelo recommended on the spot that the Pope purchase the capolavoro
Julius did, and Laocoön and His
Sons, dated somewhere between 27 BC and 68 AD, became the very first
work to go on public display inside the Vatican and give rise to a series
of museums, galleries, courtyards and chapels that, today, collectively
showcase over 70-thousand pieces of art that are viewed by millions
It's 8:30 a.m. and the queue outside the
entrance to the Vatican Museums the Papal Museums and Galleries
to be precise is already growing as the mass of humanity snakes
around the corner and up the cobblestone street that hugs the exterior
wall of Vatican City. They'll be waiting for hours. Not to worry. I'm
a member of a select group of international media that's the guest of
Insight Vacations (Insight) to sample a portion of its premium-escorted
"Country Roads" journey around central Italy.
Here's what's so premium. Our luxury motorcoach
drops us off curbside, our FastTrack passes get us inside in a flash,
and we're off and running with our personal guide, art historian Siggy,
who waives a red flag for all to see and narrates every step of the
way that I can hear clearly through an earpiece attached to a radio
receiver. Jeez, I feel like a member of the Secret Service: "POTUS
is on the move."
A mandatory bucket list entry, the entire
complex appears to be one gigantic museum, but it's really a union of
a series of various collections, each named after the pope who commissioned
The Museum of Museums, spread out like
a labyrinth inside the walls of Vatican City, the smallest internationally
recognized independent state in the world, is a cascade of rooms, galleries
and highly-polished corridors.
It's an incredible stroll through history
where you're eyeball-to-eyeball with the greatest artists of all time,
but don't forget to look up now and then to admire the ceilings frescoed
by the likes of Raphael, Pinturicchio and Fra Angelico, and take the
time to peer out windows and over balconies for panoramic views of Rome.
To see every piece of art and square meter
on display would takes days, weeks, even months, but we're on the clock
and Siggy's waiving that red flag again and telling us AVANTI!
through the earpiece.
The highlight of our morning at the papal
museums was a private viewing of the Bramante Staircase, the
double-helix step-less staircase designed by Donato Bramante, the Vatican
architect during the High Renaissance who was Michelangelo's arch rival.
So private is the viewing of the up-the-down-staircase
that a serious looking custodian is called, the antique key inserted
and the heavy wooden doors pushed open and we're ushered inside.
If all roads lead to Rome, then it's only
fitting that all Vatican Museum guided tours lead to the Sistine Chapel,
named in honor of Pope Sixtus IV who restored it and where photography
is strictly prohibited. We enter, look left, right, and mostly upward
to marvel at Michelangelo's agony and ecstasy: the perfectly restored
ceiling he was commissioned to paint, on his back, and The Last Judgment
that adorns the wall just behind the altar. Without a doubt, Michelangelo's
paintings were masterpieces without peer and dramatically changed the
palette of Western art.
The final stop at the Mvsei Vaticani
now completed, our band of merry media merges with the crowd and exits.
Walking past the Pontifical Swiss Guards,
standing vigil in their traditional Renaissance era uniforms, we take
one last look at the majesty that is the Vatican, bid farewell to Siggy,
our knowledgeable art historian guide, and hop on the Insight motorcoach.
Stretched out in our reclining business
class legroom seats, someone yells out, What's next?, to Belinda,
our tour director-slash-storyteller.
How about lunch in Orvieto, she
replies with a wink and a grin.
For complete information on Insight Vacations'
12 Italian premium and luxury-escorted itineraries and over 100 journeys
throughout Europe just click HERE,
or call toll free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you in a couple of hours when we'll
meet up with Lorenzo, the Etruscan Chef, in ohr-vee-AY-toh.
Ciao for now.
Roads, Italy; Rome:
Basics for Beginners; Norcia,
The City of Palladio; Vicenza
Walks: Piazza dei Signori; Sipping
Vino and Savoring Vistas In Tuscany; Traveling
in Northern Italy