“From the dome of St. Peter’s one can see every notable object in Rome… He can see a panorama that is varied, extensive, beautiful to the eye, and more illustrious in history than any other in Europe.” Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad
By mid afternoon when we crossed the River Tiber over the Ponte Sant’ Angelo like time travellers we had completed the ancient, the medieval, and the modern and now it was time for the religious. Rome is the most important holy city in Christendom and St Peter’s Basilica at the heart of the Vatican City is the headquarters of the Catholic Church and is a place where some of the most important decisions in the history of Europe and the World have been made over the centuries. (A Basilica by the way is a sort of double Cathedral because it has two naves).
The route took us past the Castel Sant’ Angelo, which was the Pope’s ‘safe house’ in times of danger and into the busy square outside the Basilica where a long queue of people seemed to snake forever around the perimeter waiting for their turn to go inside. We joined the back of it and were pleased to find that it shuffled quite quickly towards the main doors and soon we were inside the biggest and the tallest church in the world that has room for sixty-thousand worshippers at one sitting and even Micky overcame his usual reluctance to visit the inside of a religious building and joined us. It was busy inside but not uncomfortable and we soaked up the atmosphere as we passed by chapels with precious holy relics, the tombs of dead Popes and rooms with glass cases full of religious artefacts.
Outside we saw the Swiss Guards in their striking medieval uniforms of blue, red and yellow and the Vatican post office doing a brisk trade in post marking letters and postcards.
The Vatican is the third smallest state in Europe after Monaco and San Marino and its status is guaranteed by the Lateran Treaty of 1929 when Church and State, who had been squabbling since Italian unification, finally thrashed out a compromise deal that was marked by the building of a new road the Via della Conciliazione which, I have to say, to me seems rather sterile and lacking any real character. It is expensive however and from a street side stall we bought the dearest water I have ever had at €4 for a small bottle. We weren’t going to fall for that again so later on Kim refilled it from a public fountain by the side of the road.
The Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II took us back over the River Tiber and not unsurprisingly onto the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II which leads inevitably to the Vittorio Emanuele monument at the other end. As it stretched out in front of us there was about a kilometre and a half to walk and all of a sudden my itinerary looked for the first time to be overly ambitious. We had seen everything that we had planned to see but now there was a long walk back to the train station and everyone was hot and tired.
This long road is flanked with Palaces and Churches and Piazzas but our feet and legs were leached by the effort and aching and it was desperately hot so all we wanted was a bar and a cold drink even if it did cost another eye-watering €25 for five drinks. We found a place about half way along the road and stopped for half an hour to rest and recover in the comfort of an air-conditioned bar and yes, sure enough it cost us €25.