16 June 2011

Best Things: Vatican Necropolis

Tony & Mom entering The Vatican
The Vatican is one of my favorite places. It is the main reason I am willing to return to Rome again and again...the artistry and history in this particular little city/country blows my mind, in large part because much of it is Renaissance, which is my favorite.

I had only vaguely heard of the Necropolis and Grottos of St. Peter's Basilica. I had never given it much thought until my mom put it on her "must do" list. Located beneath the Basilica, it follows history through the very early days of Catholicism in Rome, through to the modern day practices. It is quite a history lesson and quite an experience.

Tony & Mom pretending to ask directions
First off...you MUST reserve in advance. The Uffizi Scavi's (Excavation Office) website has all the detailed information. Follow it. It is very important! You will set your time, date, number of people, language, and all that good stuff. The office is quite responsive (which surprised me). They will get back to you with your appointment date and time, and how to pay. It is all very organized and easy. At the time we went, it was 12E/person.

When your big day finally arrives, you'll go all the way to the left side of Piazza San Pietro (towards the Petriano Entrance). About 15 minutes before your appointment time, the nice Swiss Guard in the fancy uniforms will allow you to head on back. They'll check your confirmation, so make sure to have it handy. I actually really like this part; it is a part of the city that not everyone gets to see, and allows you to experience the working part of the Vatican, versus just the tourist part.  The guards inside are helpful and will guide you the correct way should you appear to be veering off the path.

Once at the Uffizi Scavi, one person in your party should go and check in. This is where I realized they are serious about dress code...I had a tank top on because it was warm outside, but had my sweater with me to cover my shoulders. The moment I walked in, the guy behind the counter scolded me. I quickly told him I had my sweater, and he pretty much made me put it on before I walked back out. So...they are SERIOUS about the shoulders covered/knees covered rule!

How Much is that Basilica in the Window?
Other rules they're serious about? No babies (one couple left their little one with the father's brother, who appeared to be a priest), no big bags (you need to check those by the Petriano entrance area), and no cameras. At first I was bummed about this, but it's rather dark down there, so photos wouldn't be so great, anyway.

They keep groups to about 12, and do their best to accommodate your language. Our guide was a local university student (seemingly matriculated, because I am pretty sure she was my age or older) who was a native English speaker (from New Jersey or something) and also spoke Arabic (I think...one of the Middle Eastern languages and that sounds the most correct). At any rate, they'll do their best to speak in your language.

We were lucky to have a terrific guide, though I would be surprised if there were any bad ones in the bunch. She was very educated about church history, which was awesome for a nerd like me... some people in our group liked it for the religious reasons; I enjoyed it, more objectively, for the historic perspective. The Catholic Church has a very rich history; while many movie makers and authors have used it as a basis for fascinating works, the truth needs very little embellishment!

You get to walk through various chapels and crypts, some rather recent. The grand finale in the necropolis is a look at the bones of St. Peter himself. They are encased in a special, NASA-created box, and hardly visible, but they are the basis for much of the religion and importance of the Vatican, something I didn't really know.

Once the tour is done, the guide leaves you in the Grotto, where there are many tombs of old popes. We got to see where PJII was originally buried; he has since moved up to the Basilica (in a chapel right near Michaelangelo's Pieta).

Very glad we were able to do this! Feels like a secret club I'm now in.

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