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April 2, 2007
From journal 5 Days in Rome on $225 Budget (Including Airfare!)
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
December 5, 2003
The two arms of the colonnade reach out towards Rome from the Basilica, opening the arms of the Catholic Church towards the city and beyond but is it welcoming or perhaps a little daunting? It certainly attracts the faithful; large groups from across the world make colourful crocodiles cutting across the open space and threading their way between the thousands of chairs that face the Basilica in anticipation of the pontiff’s next show. We spotted Mexicans in distinctive neckerchiefs, overheard Spanish and Portuguese of various flavours and mingled with priests of all ages. All were gravitating towards the grand edifice at the western end of the piazza and we joined them (insert ‘when in Rome’ gag here).
We joined the queue that patiently shuffled toward the grand façade of the Basilica itself. Today’s church is relatively young – built in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to replace a crumbling church that had stood since the Rome of Constantine ‘went Christian’. The hand of pretty much all of Italy’s great and good architects and artists of the day had a hand in its construction. It is huge – the church was making a statement about its importance here – and clearly no expense was spared, not only in terms of scale but also in the richness of its décor and treasures. If you look up you will be lucky to see the dome of course, the main landmark from any other vantage point in the city. What you will see is Christ and his apostles staring back down at you from their vantage point along the roof’s edge.
The Basilica is one of the few tourist spots left where a dress code still matters – no shorts or inappropriate bare shoulders will find their way in. I was hoping that the ostentatiously dressed Swiss Guards would be doing the inspecting but, alas, no. I really hope that those guys are pretty tough – I would love to see them ‘turn nasty’ – it would be a hilarious sight.
The outside of the Basilica and its setting leave you dumbstruck, but that’s nothing compared to what’s in store inside.
From journal The Vatican...riches beyond your wildest dreams