Friday, September 19, 2008

Sistine crush

Sistine Chapel ceiling
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Although I was primarily interested in the remains of Ancient Rome, we took a day to visit the Vatican, leaving early in the morning while the sun was still low and the buses reasonably quiet. Getting a bus is simpler than you might think - you buy the tickets in advance, and then have to validate them on board, just like a French train ticket. Apparently dire financial penalties apply if you are caught with an unvalidated ticket, and we had a great palaver getting the machine to do the biz when we did it ourselves. On that morning, however, I couldn't get near the machine and a kind girl did it for me. All was well, and we leaped from our bendy bus and followed two wee nuns who were heading purposefully up the road.

The rellies who advised us to make a beeline for the Sistine Chapel were not wrong. Even so, the journey along the interminable corridors of the Vatican museum was not one that I would willingly repeat. Crowds of people shuffled along, gazing up at the riot of decoration on the ceiling, bumping into stationary members of tour groups who were being lectured through ear-pieces in a Babel of tinny accents. I thought of the hadj, the Muslim pilgrimage where people are killed in hellish crushes in a walkway, and wondered how we would all cope if anyone panicked. We funnelled into a tiny, utilitarian stair - two people wide - and down to the chapel.

It was, of course, crammed with people. People looking upwards, at Michelangelo's ceiling, swaying and bumping into one another. Uniformed guards - not the stripey Swiss variety, but blue-shirted ones - moved among the crowd. At frequent intervals one of them bellowed "Silenzio!", occasionally adding "Per favore". This would be followed by a tide of loud shushings, like a class caught in flagrante by an approaching teacher. And now and then they would force their way through to someone who was committing the worse crime of all: taking photos.

Prohibition of this kind has a dire effect on me.It brings out the delinquent. And so it was that I found myself sitting on the bench which runs round the walls, my tiny Leica on my lap, pointing it casually at the ceiling and pressing the button. The picture at the top of this post is the first I took, right in the middle, with God and Adam doing the biz in the third panel from the left. I'm rather pleased with it, as I am with the pic here of the Last Judgment, and another two of ceiling and wall frescoes.

The chapel itself is a rectangular box, and it was impossible to imagine it being used for quiet worship of any kind. But as a work of art it is incomparable, and I'm glad to have seen it and wondered. They should, however, do something about their crowd control techniques.


  1. Anonymous2:20 PM

    We went to Rome in 2004 as a celebration of our silver wedding anniversary and encountered precisely the same as you on our visit to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, both in events and in our anarchic reaction to the no photos dictat :-) Yours is very good.
    All your Roman bloggings have brought back happy memeories. Thank you.

  2. As I read this, I giggled aloud, wondering what your students would have done, seeing their fearless leader breaking the rules!!! Rebel!

    I drive Mark crazy, as I adhere to rules, always afraid of the consequences were I to break them. I guess my father instilled that in me quite well, eh? hehehe!!!

    Very nicely done photos! Thumbs up for both you and Leica!!!!