talk about being focused! its been a week since i kick started my bucket list, and already two of the (supposedly more tricky) items are settled!
the vatican necropolis is a paticularly tricky one, owing to the fact that (i) not many people know of it, and (ii) even if you know of it, its quite tough to get tickets, owing to the limited number of tourists they allow in. but you know what, after the experience, methinks its so worth it. it speaks volumes despite being quite humble in appearance, and acts to connect your entire ‘vatican’ experience, tracing the soaring beauty of michelangelo’s dome and bernini’s bronzed sculptures right down to the tomb that started it all.
the place doesn’t allow for photography – but in all honesty, it’s not a place to just merely see – photo’s wouldn’t do it justice. it’s meant to be experienced and felt, as with alot of ancient rome sites. in fact, as a gentle advice to future tourists, do note that alot of ancient rome needs to be recreated in your mind — hence people with bad imaginations might actually find ancient rome stiflingly boring when they stare at piles and piles of rocks and crumbling edifices.
but anyways, part of what makes the necropolis scavi tour so special is that it offers and intimate, close up experience of the vatican and the heart of catholicism/christianity. because of the small size of the group, you don’t get annoyed by the throngs of tourists, camera flashes, inappropriate laughters and such. instead, you focus on what is in front of you and you re-imagine the scenes and the emotions of the past. our tour guide paints a compelling image, telling us of how the circus of augustus (i think), which was on top of vatican hill, used to be the scenes of much christian martyrdom, and where peter was eventually crucified upside-down and martyred.
i think the strongest point of the tour for me was when we were right underneath the papal altar, a position closest to peter’s grave and where we could look up from the grate in the ceiling to glimpse at the basilica built above and at the amazing dome that capped the basilica. it spoke to me in a certain way — that amidst all the grandeur and pomposity of the renaissance basilica, and the adornments of the constantine basilica below, lay a very simple, and humble grave. a grave of a man who was deeply flawed as well – having outright denied Christ three times.
such emotions drove home two points to me – christianity was never intended to be about grandeur and riches – and this is an uncomfortable truth, but one we ought to take heed especially in light of all the brouhaha that has emerged what with the city harvest mismanagement saga in singapore. christianity is a personal relationship with God, one who understood our flaws, never left us and uses each flawed individual to accomplish great things as long as we let Him.
so yeah, call it a pilgrimage of sorts, but this tour certainly was an emotional and special one for me. and to be honest, as we emerged from the lower levels and re-entered the main basilica, my mood instantly dipped when i got hit with throngs of tourists talking ridiculously loud in this special place and just obstructing and preventing any form of reverence and worship. and to be honest, i also didn’t feel as inspired in the renaissance basilica – if there was ever a time something could be too impossibly big, or too impossibly grand, then st peter’s basilica definitely could be considered as such. and what with the maddening sounds of the tourists who didn’t seem to have much understanding of the significance of the place and were chattering excitedly about their previous day’s prada purchase, there wasn’t a greater contrast to the experience i just had.
and that’s sad.
to access the vatican necropolis, you need to send a special email indicating the number of people and preferred dates well in advance to the vatican excavations office online. and hope that they have space for you. it costs 12.50 euro for entry and a guided tour of roughly an hour or so.
[photos are from my previous visits of the vatican compound, including the st peter's square and the vatican museums]