This was our last day of the marathon run around Europe for the past 2 weeks. We have entered Europe via Paris and will be leaving back home from Rome. One continent, 4 countries and 5 cities. What a blast!
“Our last day?” exclaimed the wife.
“Yes. After this, we’re heading back home,” I said.
Galleria Borghese has a time limit of 2 hours viewing time, not to mention reservations in advance
As was the recurrent theme, we had to wake up early again. This time, there was a deadline. We are going to visit Galleria Borghese. Not the usual museum that we were used to, for this one, we had to book early, there are only a limited number of tickets and viewing times is limited to 2 hours only. No ifs or buts.
It was not an easy place to get to either, there are no Metro stops near the area, the nearest is by bus. So off we went to Rome Termini to look for the Visitors Centre. Lo and behold, the place was not even opened yet.
“What? It’s almost 8 and they aren’t open yet?” asked the wife.
“Yes, surprisingly. Lucky for us, I did research in advance, just wanted a confirmation from the Visitors Centre,” I replied.
“Let’s go and search for bus #910.”
The bus stand was just in front of the Rome Termini, and even so, their information counter was also still not operating yet. But luckily there was a lady behind the counter, some sign language and replies in broken English, we were directed to the specific bus stop.
That’s two for two. Maybe it’s because today was a Saturday, everything starts later than usual. The bus came sharply on time, we had to be at the Galleria Borghese before 9am. Five stops later, we were outside the gates and 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Now to wait for the rest of the family and for the place to be opened.
This museum is actually a villa located in the Borghese Gardens. This is the epitome of luxury, given to the community by the Borghese family. Hence the mandatory reservations and the limited entry hours. If you are really interested, you can always follow the guided tours. Not only that, cameras must be checked in. No photography allowed, although you could try sneaking in your camera phone.
The main entry hall is adorned with ancient Roman mosaics on the floor. Admire the intricacy in laying small squares of various colours and sizes to capture various scenes, including gladiator fights and pools of blood.
“What a way to greet your guests,” the wife said.
Next up is Paolina Borghese Bonaparte as Venus, as you would have guessed, she is actually the sister of the famous Bonaparte. Here she is naked, as usual, portraying herself as Venus, a conqueror of men’s hearts as much as her conqueror brother.
Visit the top floor first, followed by the ground floor, as most would do it the other way around
This museum is also famous for Bernini’s works. Most of us would be quite familiar with Michelangelo’s David. Here, you can find Bernini’s version, I think the only difference is one is thinking, while this is acting.
There are about 8 rooms downstairs, mostly filled with marble sculptures. The rooms on the first floor are mostly paintings.
Tip: Visit the top floor first since you could do them in about half an hour to 45 minutes. The main worth of the ticket price is actually the ground floor’s sculptures.
Basically, if you are a lover of museums and works of art, this is a must-visit museum. Otherwise, it is quite out of the way for the usual tourists, not only that, there aren’t any notable sights within the nearby vicinity. You need to traverse the whole length of the Gardens to finally arrive back at Rome. Not only that, you need to reserve in advance and make sure you can be there on time, which is rather tricky given Rome’s public transport doesn’t really get you right on the doorstep, except for the taxis.
This is a really vast garden, there are buses traversing these parts, so be extra careful when walking in here. My advice is to get some bicycles, or put on your jogging shoes. But since the day was still early, the sun was still behind some clouds, we decided to give it a walk.
It took us about half an hour before we reached the exit somewhere around Piazza del Popolo. The place was filled with youngsters, probably waiting for the shops around the area to open. The Red Cross was having their blood donation right in the center of the square.
The weather was perfect for walking, so we took another short hike towards St Peter’s basilica.
“You want to walk some more?” asked the wife.
“Why not? Going to be our last day here, not sure when will we be back. Then, we might be too old to walk,” I replied.
St Peter’s Basilica
The place was as packed as before, probably due to the weekend. Surprisingly the queue was pretty fast, until we went up against the queue for the cupola. This time, the queue took about 45 minutes, because there is a limited number of space up there around the cupola. €7 for taking the lifts and another 320 steps, but €5 for 520 steps. Not really that much of a difference because the first 200 steps were evenly spaced and not many were taking them. Squeezing into the lifts was actually claustrophobic.
€7 for lifts + 320 steps; €5 for 520 steps to the top of the cupola
Using another couple as a guide, we arrived at the exit of the lifts at about the same time, although that was most probably down to another queue in front of the lifts. But nevertheless, the climb is only suitable for those without a heart condition.
200 steps will take you to beneath the dome of St Peter’s Basilica, admire the people below you within the basilica and also the mosaic motif along the walls. This is also where you get to rest and enjoy your accomplishments. There is a souvenir shop up on the roof, but you could find similar items at any of the souvenir shops below.
Another 320 steps later, which comprises of claustrophobia-inducing narrow climbing spaces, and a lot of spiral stairs, plus a lot of butt-watching if there is someone in front of you, you will finally reach your destination, the top of the cupola.
Coming down was much easier, and you could actually skip all of these if you’re afraid of heights and just head on into the interior of the basilica. The Dome’s namesake, Peter, lies within beneath the first pillar on your right, just under the dome. He was actually the first bishop of Rome. In one hand, he holds the keys, a symbol of authority given to him by Christ and the other hand is blessing us. His big right toe has been worn smooth by the lips of pilgrims. You can’t even distinguish the big toes from the little ones.
Rubbing Peter’s toe is not really required and you could attach whatever sort of meaning to it if you want to
“Are we going to kiss it? What does it mean? For luck?” asked the wife, always the skeptic.
“Shhh, don’t tell anyone, there is actually no such thing, it is a myth, unlike the noses and whatever-nots that we have rubbed over the course of 2 weeks.” I whispered. In case some true believer was eavesdropping on us.
“You could always just touch your hand to your lips and then rub the toe, or what’s left of it,” I continued.
The Pieta is Michelangelo’s ONLY signed work, look for his signature on the ribbon near Mary’s chest
We have one more thing we came to see here, and that is the Pieta. Could you have guessed that Michelangelo completed this when he was just 24 years old? This is Mary, cradling her crucified son in her lap. Christ’s arm lay lifeless on one side. Just take a look at Mary’s face, her son is 33 years old and she looks so young, younger than her son.
“Look for Michelangelo’s signature on the ribbon running down Mary’s chest, this is his ONLY signed work,” I quote.
“If you’re also wondering why you can’t get good photos of the Pieta without the camera flashes reflecting off the bulletproof glass, it is because some crazy guy ran and hacked at the Pieta back in 1972,” I continued.
(to be continued)