Our itinerary on day two included the Vatican, Vatican Museum, Piazza Navona, and the Pantheon.
We decided to walk to the Vatican. Our route took us by the Pantheon and although it was a longer walk from our B&B, the cloud cover made the day a little more bearable. The Vatican has a dress code so pants (or Capri pants for women) must be worn if you want to enter St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican museum.
St. Peter’s Basilica is free to enter and I would recommend arriving before 10:30 am to avoid the long lines. As we were leaving around noon, the lines were at least an hour to an hour and a half long. Inside St. Peter’s you are immediately in awe of the painted domes and ceiling detail. This was one of the most challenging lighting environments to take photographs when combining the bright light coming through the skylights and the large floodlights set up to illuminate the Basilica.
We did not buy our tickets in advance for the Vatican Museum so we did have to wait in line for approximately 20 minutes. If you are planning on getting to the museum in the afternoon, make sure that you bring a bottle of water. The area where you line up is sheltered from the wind and the heat reflecting off the pavement and walls of the museum was incredible.
Once inside the Vatican Museum we were very comfortable. I had to check my camera backpack but was able to take along my camera and a spare memory card. You are allowed to take photos of everything with the exception of the Sistine Chapel. We spent 3 hours in the museum exploring the many hallways and rooms throughout and easily could have spent more time there. The crowds that shuffle through the museum walkways come in waves, so if you wait a few minutes, you will be able to take some good photos without the presence of people’s heads or tour guide umbrellas spoiling your shot. The Sistine Chapel is a long rectangular room that is packed with people. You are constantly reminded to be silent although there is an ever present hum of people pointing out and discussing the intricate artwork that adorns the chapel. Those taking pictures are yelled at and if you do not heed the warnings, the security personnel will remove your camera in an instant. There was even a creative attempt by one guy to sit on the floor while surrounded by a circle of friends that did not get by the watchful eye of the security team! The restoration work that was done on the paintings has made them vivid and easy to see as you stare upward. The shear magnitude of the art display that Michelangelo created is awe inspiring.
Piazza Navona is one of the largest piazzas in Rome and is a great location to have a lunch in an outside café or to simply sit and enjoy the large fountains after a morning of walking. Many of the surrounding buildings date back to 1644-55 and predominantly feature a Baroque style of architecture.
Colorful cafes line the sides of the piazza offering shade and great food. Those traveling on a budget should note that the pasta and panini offered in these prime locations are 30% more expensive than those a block or two away. You will also be charged as much as 9 Euros per person as a cover charge for dining outside. The total cost for two people having a simple pasta dish and a drink each could total more than 60 Euros ($88 USD) plus tip. We felt that an $88 lunch was a little over the top and decided to find something to eat on the way to the Pantheon and use our savings to treat ourselves with some late afternoon Gelato.
Entertainers and vendors selling their artwork and other souvenirs fill the vast piazza during peak hours making it a great place to people watch. There is always something going on at Piazza Navona. Please note that unless you are stopping here for lunch or a drink, you will not find any shade here, so be sure to bring a hat and your sunscreen.
The Pantheon is one of the architectural marvels of ancient Rome standing strong for nearly 200 years in the heart of Rome’s financial district. The Pantheon was created as "the temple of all the gods" in 118-125 AD and immediately upon walking inside you are in awe of the design as much as you are the condition of the interior. The rotunda’s height and diameter are equal, measuring 142 feet. The dome is supported by 19 ft thick walls and was made by pouring concrete mixed with pumice and tufa over a temporary wooden framework. The ceiling was coffered to reduce the overall weight of the roof. Inside is the tomb of the renowned artist Raphael.
We walked by the Pantheon early in the morning on our way to the Vatican and we were surprised to see very few people on the grounds that surround the site. We didn’t stop to look inside until we returned in the afternoon and found the crowds at this free exhibit very modest. There were more people taking time to enjoy a late afternoon coffee or a gelato outside than there were inside this magnificent structure.
Adjacent to the Pantheon is a wonderful church that I would highly recommend taking the time to visit. The Santa Maria sopra Minerva boasts an impressive record of Italian art on its interior walls and ceilings. Dating back to the 13th century, the Minerva is one of the few examples of Gothic architecture in Rome. You may be asked for a modest donation upon entering so have some change ready. I was able to take some good photos of the church despite the dark lighting conditions and I have attached them to this journal posting.