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Mike Vouri: Finding your way to Michelangelo

  • Written by Mike Vouri

Had a superb meal in Rome last night at the Fortuna Pantheon, which is just off the piazza where the Pantheon has stood for 2,000 years. There were three times the human beings in the piazza and building for every one of those years!

The Pantheon (c.125 AD) is not to be missed; and as you can see, not many miss it!

The Pantheon was built as an all-in-one place of worship for the “pantheon” of Roman gods in 125 AD under the direction of the Emperor Hadrian. Ot is the granddaddy of all domed structures—from the Duomo in Florence to St. Peter’s, also in Rome, to the capitol in Washington DC. Unlike most Roman structures, it survived pillaging from the Vatican because all those gods were winnowed down to one. It became, and still is, a Catholic Church, replete with statues and stone boxes in the big niches, two racks of pews facing an altar and a hole in the roof. The latter feature is the oculus, which has admitted the rain and sun and focused on the stars from the building’s inception.

We stood in yet another line that serpentined around the piazza, terminating in a series of lanes you might find in any airport’s TSA check point. Once you reach the columns Hadrian purchased from agents in Egypt you’re in! I’m always tempted to do a Peggy Lee “Is That All There Is,” but not in this case.

By the way, the Latin inscription on the Architrave (the piece resting on the capitals, which supports the pediment) credits Marcus Agrippa with the construction of the edifice. Agrippa was Octavian Caesar’s (also known as August) schoolmate, general/admiral, right-hand man and eventually his son-in-law. They did things like that in Ancient Rome. He is responsible for some incredible works—including works in ancient Nimes, France—but not this one. Aggripa’s Pantheon, for whatever reason, needed replacing and Hadrian was only too happy to comply. But in a tribute, typical for him, he honored an illustrious predecessor.

But the crowds at the Pantheon were nothing compared to the Vatican. Of course, the Vatican is not to be missed, particularly the Sistine Chapel. To reach this masterpiece, you must first enter the complex, which is a procession of hallways, some up to a quarter mile long and full of treasure…and people, hundreds, with cell phones to record the wonders for all you Facebook fans. I stole a moment to do so myself, though I took care to ensure someone did not walk up my back, and I would not dream of jamming the doorways (classic choke points) to exercise my own whims. But I come from a different place and time, and though I am well aware of this, being caught in a crowd that comes to a grinding halt, stretches my nerves taut as banjo wires. I break into a cold sweat and yearn for escape.

The Hall of Maps in the Vatican seemed like one of tunnels you see in an ant farm. 

However, the chapel is only a few halls more away, one of which is the ornate Hall of Maps, in which you can find a topographic reference to every province of Italy, rendered in blues and greens with shades of pink and ocre for the Apennines. My personal favorite is the distinctive fish shape of Venice , with all the little details, capturing nearly every palace along the canals, the campanile, San Marco, the Doge’s Palace and even the pillars on the molo. I took a quick look behind me. If I wound my way through the four bodies between me and the end of the hall (to the right of the door), I just might pull it off! “Oops, sorry. Pardon. Scuzi. Beg your pardon.” I think, “Maybe if I coughed loudly and prolonged…no, that’s unseemly.” But slowly, surely, I made it without losing my shoe or being cuffed.

The rewards are many in the Hall of Maps in the Vatican, if you chance stopping for a closer look.

Then it’s down three narrow, plain stairwells, a step at a time, at the end of which you encounter a like throng ascending from the opposite direction, both queues aiming for three or four steps that give onto one of the wonders of world. You’ve made it into the Pope’s private chapel, though heaven knows when it is ever private enough just for him. I know that this is also the room where popes are elected, and what a poling place! Michelangelo worked four years on the ceiling alone, and designed his own scaffolding in the process. Imagine spending your days looking up, extending your arms, enduring drips of paint and varnish…and maintaining your vision, figuratively as well literally. I can’t imagine it. I’m worn out stowing my bag in the overhead bin.

No, I didn’t sneak a photo. It’s from Wikipedia.

Anyway, once you’re in, the trick is finding your way to one of the plexiglass encased stone benches that flank the chapel, find an open spot and take a load off. Then you can soak in the master’s interpretation of the Bible up to the birth of Christ on the ceiling without a guard moving you along. No photos are allowed, but that never stops the assorted scofflaws who believe no regulations is ever meant for them. About every five minutes a loudspeaker scolds and if you’re lucky you might see one of the attendants escort a miscreant from the room.

You don’t want to leave, but then you see others coveting your spot, longing for the same opportunity. And you rise and head for the exit, exhausted and exhilarated, but hoping one day to return and go through it all again. (By the way, the Adam/God image from the chapel came from Wikipedia.)

My feet after a day in Rome’s hallways and pavements.

Last modified onThursday, 16 February 2023 21:08

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