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  Cornell University

Cornell in Rome

College of Architecture, Art and Planning

The Vatican is REALLY all it’s Cracked Up to Be

Often, when I visit major cites and famous historic monuments, I feel a little letdown. Of course, they are beautiful and worth seeing, but sometimes it feels as though they don’t quite live up to the ‘hype’. Luckily for me, our class trip to the Vatican and museums actually exceeded the hype that I expected.

St. Peter’s square, lit up at night (image courtesy of Ariel Brodey)

Primarily, the building of the Vatican itself is so massive and spectacular in scale, that even approaching the outside feels exciting. St. Peter’s Basilica, which sits in the middle of a large plaza designed by the Baroque master Gian Lorenzo Bernini if flanked by massive Doric colonnades. At the center, a giant red granite obelisk taken from Egypt stands at attention. The design does Bernini credit, because the elliptical shape of the columns seem to encircle and welcome visitors into the space with equal parts of welcome and wowing grandeur. I am gushing about this cite, but it truly is something you have to experience in person. My friends and I have taken to running around the square at night, and the much less crowded space takes on an even more magical beauty when lit up against the dark of the Roman night sky.

Professor Blanchard and Perseus with the Head of Medusa, Canova. (image courtesy of Lauren Peters)

It’s amazing, and I was only talking about the exterior! As a class we visited the dome and the Vatican museums, which was more magnificence than my art history heart could bear. The crowning glory of the collection, of course, is the Sistine Chapel. Most people know this chapel to be the work of the great master  Michelangelo, yet what they don’t realize is that below his ceiling the room also includes a series of frescoes by Renaissance masters. What amazed me was that these works alone (works by Botticelli, Perugino, Pinturicchio, and Rosselli) would be enough to draw viewers, yet these masterpieces pale in comparison to the tremendous work of Michelangelo. I honestly could not believe that Michelangelo painted the entire ceiling in 4 years with very little assistance. He truly was genius!

Image courtesy of Lauren Peters

We also had the chance to view tapestries by Michelangelos rival, the great artist Raphael. The tapestries were intended to frame the base of the Sistine chapel, but they have since moved to another section of the Vatican museums. I think that’s probably a good thing, because I can’t imagine trying to take in all of that genius at once!


Suffice it to say, the Vatican delivered on every single count– inside and outside. It’s a place crowded by tourists and filled with frenetic energy, yet it also is one of the greatest works of art and collective genius that I have ever had the privilege to witness. Every time I run by it, I am amazed and reminded of how lucky I am to have this as my backyard for a semester. And although we share it with so many Romans, visitors, and tourists, if you run by it at night, it feels like a special sight just for you.


Running at the Vatican! (courtesy of Ariel Brodey)

Ciao for now!



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