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Experience the Renaissance in Vatican City
By Sharon Fabian
Vatican City is a most unusual place.
It is an independent country that is also a
tiny city. Its total area is only about 0.17
square miles. Vatican City is located
inside the city of Rome, which is located
in the country of Italy. So, as you can
see, Vatican City is situated in the heart
of what was once the High Renaissance.
The Italian Renaissance was a time of great creativity. Artists, musicians,
architects, and writers produced amazing works during the centuries of the
Renaissance. Would you like to see for yourself what the Renaissance was
like? If so, there is no better place to surround yourself with Renaissance
culture than Vatican City.
Much of the tiny city itself was rebuilt during the years of the Renaissance
at the direction of the popes who ruled then. Saint Peter's Basilica was
constructed over the site where the old basilica had stood. The Vatican
Palace, where the pope lives and where the Sistine Chapel is located, and the
Vatican Museums are some of the other buildings that make up the walled
It is all guarded by one of the oldest standing armies in the world, the 100
or so men of the Swiss Guard, who have guarded the city since the early
1500s. In their red, yellow, and blue striped costumes with puffy sleeves and
pants, the guards add some colorful Renaissance atmosphere to the stately
buildings. And they have plenty to guard, maybe more than the soldiers of
some full-sized nations. That is because Vatican City is a storehouse of
Renaissance treasures.
Nearly everything in the city is splendid and elegant, but two of the most
magnificent locations are the Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter's Basilica.
The Sistine Chapel, in the Vatican Palace, is known all over the world for
its ceiling painted by Michelangelo. The original idea was to have paintings of
the twelve apostles on the ceiling, and Michelangelo was hired to do the job.
He rigged up scaffolding so that he could paint high above the chapel floor.
He chose helpers who would carry paint and supplies, but he chose to do
most of the painting himself. As he began to paint, his creative ideas began to
grow. Soon there were plans for many more than twelve figures on the
chapel's ceiling. When the project was finished, Michelangelo's ceiling had
more than 3,000 figures in all! A visitor could spend days just looking at the
paintings on this one ceiling.
Michelangelo was also one of the creators of Saint Peter's Basilica, along
with many other great Renaissance geniuses.
In 1506, Donato Bramante was appointed as architect to build the new
basilica. He designed the huge, impressive church in the shape of a cross
with a dome at the center where the beams of the cross met. In 1514,
Raphael, the famous Renaissance painter, took over where Bramante had left
off. Then, in 1547, Michelangelo became the church's architect. He completed
the main part of the building and also the drum that made up the inside of the
church's dome. Michelangelo was in his 70s when he worked on this job, and
it was not a job that he took for the money. He just wanted to create a
beautiful church, and in fact it is said that he accepted no payment for his
work. After Michelangelo died in 1564, the dome was completed by Giacomo
della Porta.
Saint Peter's is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture,
and inside the church there are many more Renaissance treasures. One of
the most popular among tourists is the Pieta, Michelangelo's statue of the sad
scene with Mary and the body of Jesus just after it has been taken down from
its cross. The Pieta in St. Peter's is sculpted of marble hand selected by
Michelangelo at the quarry. It is one of several statues of this scene that
Michelangelo carved during his lifetime.
The Pieta stands in the basilica behind thick glass. The glass case was
added for protection in the 1970s after a vandal attacked the statue with an
Another interesting statue in the basilica is the one of Saint Peter
Enthroned. This statue has one foot worn away from years of being kissed by
The rest of the church is filled with statues, chapels, monuments, and
works of art of all kinds. Works by famous artists and figures of famous people
fill the spaces, making the church seem smaller than its real, monumental,
size. Along with the Sistine Chapel and the other buildings within the city wall,
Saint Peter's Basilica makes Vatican City a true Renaissance destination.
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