Saturday February 6, 2016.
Rome is a glorious city to visit. The security around the Vatican, one of the best tourist attractions in Europe, is a sight to behold. It is multi-layered, consisting of several police forces, each with its own agenda. Closest to the pope, the Pontifical Swiss Guard, a military unit of the Holy See, act as bodyguards to the pope and provide security for the Apostolic Palace. The division of the Swiss guards dressed in traditional 15th century costume are very approachable and will even give you directions.
The Corpo della Gendarmeria, the police and security force of Vatican City, provide border control, traffic control, criminal investigation and general police duties in Vatican City. Patrolling the outside of the Vatican, on Italian soil, are firstly, the Carabinieri, Italy's military police force who serve both civilian and military populations. And secondly, the Polizia di Stato, the main public police force of Italy.
It should be noted Vatican City is the smallest country in the world (technically an enclave, entirely surrounded by Rome), making it quite possibly the most heavily guarded country in the world.
And finally, a strong army presence is also posted outside the Vatican on the streets and next to metro stations.
Tuesday February 2, 2016.
Large crowds form each day in the square to admire Bernini's Colonnade and the dramatic facade of St. Peter's Basilica. Cardinals strolled nonchalantly through the square in their regal scarlet robes and I was able to capture a few photos of them.
Many different clergy and religious students from all over the world mixed in with the tourists to take in the splendour of the Vatican and to attend private mass with the pope. Here are a few photos.
Wednesday February 3, 2016.
Every Wednesday the pope performs live mass either in St. Peter's Basilica or, if they're expecting more than 15,000 people, in St. Peter's Square (which can hold 80,000 people). I purchased a ticket and filed into the square after successfully running my umbrella through an X-ray machine and passing through one of several metal detectors. The square was already teeming with excited people and we were directed to seating areas, forming a mass grid of thousands of seats that had been laid out across the square. The pope arrived in his special vehicle and for about fifteen minutes drove around the square. He came to within thirty feet of where I was sitting and everyone stood up on their chairs to get a better view. It was quite an experience!
St. Peter's Square
Bernini designed Saint Peter's Square between 1656 and 1667. He also designed the two colonnades on either side, sort of metaphorical arms that reach out and embrace or hug people as they arrive. 248 Doric columns were erected in an oval shape. The columns are arranged in rows of four, and on top of the entablatures a total of 96 statues tower over the square. According to Marder, they “serve as actors and audience for the oval theatre space.” Bernini is thought to have designed the statues, but he did not carve them. Instead, members of his studio and a multitude of assistants created them.
The figures of Saint Agnes and Catherine were placed above the entrance to the Apostolic Palace. The saints and martyrs belonging to the early Church can be found over the northern colonnade’s balustrade. On the east are located the ‘female saints and male founders of the religious orders,’ while the south colonnade includes predominantly male saints.
The 135 foot tall, 330 ton obelisk (from the ground to the top of the cross) in the center of the square is over 3000 years old, and was originally brought to Rome from Egypt by Emperor Caligula in 37 AD. In 1585, Pope Sixtus V had Domenico Fontana move the obelisk to the center of St. Peter’s Square using massive towers and a giant pulley system to put it on its side and haul it to its new location. Circular stones set into the square mark the tip of the obelisk’s shadow as the sun enters each of the signs of the zodiac, turning the obelisk into a massive gnomon (the part of a sundial that casts the shadow).
Fontana's Successor, Carlo Maderno, added the fountain on the right side of the square nearest the Papal Apartments. Bernini moved this fountain in line with the obelisk and added a replica fountain on the other side.
Thursday February 4, 2016.
Here are some photos of undercover Swiss Guards, a single Swss Guard dressed in halberdier uniform, as well as Italian army personnel stationed near street corners and metro stations around the Vatican.
Friday February 5, 2016.
The Knights of Malta. A face-to-face meeting with the Grand Master
In the year 1113 a Papal Bull issued by Pope Paschal II declared the Order of St. John of Jerusalem an operative and militant part of the Roman Catholic Church. Conspiracy theorists still widely claim that the Knights continue to act as the Church's modern day enforcer.
Back to what we know as fact, the Magistral Palace of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is situated on Via dei Condotti near the Spanish steps in the heart of Rome's historical centre. It serves as the residence of the Grand Master, as well as the seat of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta's government since 1834.The Order also owns an estate on a rise directly overlooking the Tiber River and Vatican City. The Villa del Priorato di Malta, as it's known, the Order's Grand Priory, was granted extraterritorial status in 1869 by the Italian government. It was a fortified palace belonging to Alberico II. In 939 it became a Benedictine monastery run by the abbot Oddone of Cluny. In the Twelfth Century, it passed into the hands of the Knights Templar, the famous warrior monks, who in 1312, were violently suppressed by Pope Clement V. After the destruction of the Knights Templar, the monastery became the seat of a priory belonging to the Gerosolimitani (known as The Knights Hospitaller, predecessors of the present Order of Malta). In the second half of the 1400s, Pope Paul II granted the monastery to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
The two flags flying above the entrance to the Palace (seen here) are the flag of St. John – the State flag – and the other is the flag of the Order of Malta's works: their medical and humanitarian activities worldwide. Luck was on my side this day as the Grand Master was attending an important meeting. I spoke with his driver and when he wasn't looking I took a photo of the decal on the front window of the Grand Master's Mercedes Benz. I also caught a brief glimpse of Grand Master Matthew Festing (the now former Grand Master after his argument with the Vatican concerning a contraceptives-for-the-poor dispute they had been having) as he drove through the archway at the end of the meeting.
Saturday February 6, 2016.
Beneath St. Peter's Basilica and above Constantine’s 4th century basilica, the vast underground graveyard or grottoes contain chapels dedicated to various saints and tombs of kings, queens and popes, dating from the 10th century. The holiest place is Peter’s tomb, containing the "memory," built in the 4th century by the Emperor Constantine, on the spot where the Apostle’s tomb was venerated.
I could only gain access to part of the grottoes on such short notice. I did, however, go underground in another church which was almost two thousand years old and situated five minutes walk from the Colosseum. The Basilica of St. Clement underwent archaeological excavation in 1857 and they discovered the original fourth century basilica directly underneath. Further excavations led to the discovery of an even older structure below dating back to the first century. This structure was modified heavily at about this time to facilitate its use as a Mithraeum temple by members of the cult of Mithras.
I'm certain these underground tunnels and crypts are a good approximation of the Vatican grottoes, minus the skeletons. I have added a couple of photos of the burial crypts beneath the suburbs of Rome for good measure. They say over four million people are buried in these underground burial chambers.