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To the north of Saint Peter’s Basilica is a complex of buildings that house all the Vatican museums. These two areas differ immensely physically and experientially.
Whereas Saint Peter’s Basilica is all about its enormous scale and imposing spaces and surfaces, the museum complex operates on a much smaller scale while devoting more attention to detail. Saint Peter’s decorations consist of marble patterns, isolated monumental statues and architectural details. The Basilica is rather plain especially when compared to churches in Palermo for example, which are decorated with stucco and paintings from floor to ceiling. The museums offer extraordinary spaces in wish you almost feel as if you are in a painter’s atelier, or a sculpture’s workshop, where artwork covers most of the walls. This is especially the case in the beautiful Animal Room that houses a vast collection of sculptures in marble, stone and other materials of many species. Larger ones are positioned in the middle of the floor and must be circumnavigated while others are layered one atop another on heavy decorative shelves. The Bust Room is fascinating in the same sense. Huge busts of emperors surround you as you proceed through two rooms. Highly detailed and brightly colored paintings ornate the ceilings and most available space. One really feels like these rooms belong to the sculptures that (over)populate them.
The largest spaces of the museum complex are the three outdoor courtyards. In contrast to Saint Peter’s paved piazza, the series of courtyards negotiate the terrain slope by creating terraces. In addition, the courtyard loggias’ floors slant at an angle similar to the natural sloping of the ground. The corridor of maps is perhaps the most visually extended space. This corridor features large fresco maps that flank the corridor. The ceiling is beautifully painted and brightly lit. The corridor is neither very wide nor tall and thus all emphasis is on the longest axis.
Bramante’s Spiral Staircase (which is actually a ramp) is closed to the public. However, we were able to visit it as a group. It had been initially conceived to allow people to ride their horses to upper floors. Bramante chose to express the hierarchy of column orders as one moves from lower to upper floors. The continuous spiral ramp offers no interruption and consequently order changers are expressed rather awkwardly with one column order right besides another column order. This might be one of the few instances that you might associate Bramante with awkward, as his work is always so harmonious and well composed. All these instances of order changes are placed on the entrance-side of the. So, as one enters, the transitions are unnoticed.
The Vatican Museums have an unbelievable amount of famous artifacts and will definitely require additional visits to be able to glance at most of them.
One of the first things you learn in Rome, especially arriving in August, is that when you make plans, you should always include an alternative plan B and plan C. Opening and closing hours vary immensely depending on where you are in the city, what day it is, what month it is, if renovation is going on, what happens in the place, and sometimes it seems like it just depends on whether they want to be open or not. However, what also happens very frequently is that you find yourself being pulled away from your route as you discover something new and unexpected. So, good planning in Rome should be able to accommodate unexpected detours and you should be able to improvise.
One of the many events I haphazardly witnessed here was the changing of the guards at the Palazzo del Quirinale. Since 1947, it has served as the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic. It had served as a papal residence for more almost three centuries when, in 1871, it became the residence of the Kings of Italy. Italian guards, impeccably dressed in traditional Italian uniforms, heavily defend the palazzo. The Palazzo sits atop the highest of the Seven Hills of Rome and has a beautiful grand entrance way. The piazza in front of the Palazzo del Quirinale offers a great view towards St. Peter’s Basilica.
The changing of the guards, which happens daily at 18:00, is a rather lengthy show. You see different ranks and regiments of soldiers marching; a military band plays during the march and during the switching of the guards. The highlight of this event is when the two guards that flank the entryway into the palazzo are switched for two new guards. The new pair of guards assume the next shift until a new changing of the guards takes place. From some positions, the public can get very close to the soldiers. Most of them kept a straight and focused face as they marched not even ten feet away from me.
My group’s first studio assignment partially deals with the avenue that brings you to the Presidential Palace, and it had not even been more than 5 hours since we had met with our professors in front of the Palazzo del Quirinale for our first ‘desk crit.’
I would find it very hard to believe that anyone of us was prepared to find such a concentration of famous buildings in our new city. An abundance of structures that were heavily discussed in our Analysis and Theory classes are only minutes away, often by foot. Many of us first became aware of Piano’s Parco della Musica after someone undertook the project for their structure’s model. A ten-minute cab ride was enough to see it in person.
On Friday, September 3rd, many of us had the pleasure ofexperiencing Beethoven’s first three symphonies conducted by the famous Kurt Masur (for more than ten years, head of the New York Philharmonic). The evening’s program was part of a complete cycle of all of Beethoven’s symphonies performed by the Orchestra e Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. The concert took place in the Sala Santa Cecilia, the largest of the three impressive concert halls by Renzo Piano that form the complex.
The most prominent feature of the Sala Santa Cecilia is the ceiling design that employs heavily protruding volumes that create inverted canyons in the ceiling (a design that addresses acoustic requirements). American cherry laminates the entire concert hall. To the dissatisfaction of some, a view of the ceiling is not available from all seats. Seated in the center rear balcony area, one doesn’t get a view of the ceiling’s beautiful design. This is very unfortunate as the spot and diffuse lighting on the wooden protruding volumes account for the entire ambiance of the concert hall.
The overall appearance is very orange, as all photographs of this space illustrate. Hundreds of electrical cables and structural members descend from above the orchestra to allow microphones, acoustic panels and lights to be correctly positioned. All cables pierce through the wooden volumes and create constellation of holes in the otherwise very smooth and regular surface. Seeing this, I couldn’t help but imagine the space modeled in Ecotect Analysis (a software partially used to map lighting and acoustics), trying to find the best angle and shape for the acoustic panels while observing the paths of all the primary and secondary sound vectors. Some day, I would like to design a concert hall.
For those who might have missed out on the first concerts, you may still attend the 4th and 5th symphonies on the Thursday, Sept 9th or Friday, Sept. 10th; symphonies n.6 and n.7 on Thursday, Sept. 16th or Friday, Sept. 17th; symphonies n. 8 and n.9 on Thursday, Sept 23rd or Friday, Sept 24th.