Part of the museum ceiling.

Part of the museum ceiling.

The Vatican Museums originated as a group of sculptures collected by Pope Julius II (1503-1513) and placed in what today is the “Cortile Ottagono” within the museum complex. The popes were among the first sovereigns who opened the art collections of their palaces to the public thus promoting knowledge of art history and culture. As seen today, the Vatican Museums are a complex of different pontifical museums and galleries that began under the patronage of the popes Clement XIV (1769-1774) and Pius VI (1775-1799). In fact, the Pio-Clementine Museum was named after these two popes, who set up this first major curatorial section. Later, Pius VII (1800-1823) considerably expanded the collections of Classical Antiquities, to which he added the Chiaromonti Museum and the “Braccio Nuovo” gallery. He also enriched the Epigraphic Collection, which was conserved in the Lapidary Gallery.

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The Museums also include the Gallery of Tapestries, a collection of various 15th and 17th century tapestries; the Gallery of Maps, decorated under the pontificate of Gregory XIII (1572-1585) and restored by Urban VIII (1623-1644); the Sobieski Room and the Room of the Immaculate Conception; the Raphael Stanze and the Loggia, which were decorated by order of Julius II and Leo X (1513-1521); the Chapel of Nicholas V (1447-1455), painted by Fra Angelico; the Sistine Chapel, which takes the name of its founder, Pope Sixtus IV; and the Borgia Apartment, where Pope Alexander VI lived until his death (1492-1503).

The inner courtyard - officials only!

The inner courtyard – officials only!

Part of the Sistine Chapel magnificence

Part of the Sistine Chapel magnificence

The corridors seems to wind on forever

The corridors seems to wind on forever

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The ‘English’ section of the gardens, complete with boxed hedgesand topiaries.

Pious tradition claims that the foundation site of the Vatican Gardens was spread with sacred soil brought from Mount Calvary by Empress Saint Helena to symbolically unite the blood of Jesus Christ with that shed by thousands of early Christians, who died in the persecutions of Emperor Nero Caesar Augustus.

The gardens date back to medieval times when orchards and vineyards extended to the north of the Papal Apostolic Palace. In 1279, Pope Nicholas III (Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, 1277–1280) moved his residence back to the Vatican from the Lateran Palace and enclosed this area with walls. He planted an orchard (pomerium), a lawn (pratellum) and a garden (viridarium).

The site received a major re-landscaping at the beginning of the 16th century, during the pontificate of Pope Julius II. Donato Bramante’s original design was then split into three new courtyards, the Cortili del Belvedere, the “della Biblioteca” and the “della Pigna” (or Pine Cone) in the Renaissance landscape design style. Also in Renaissance style, a great rectangular Labyrinth, formal in design, set in boxwood and framed with Italian stone pines, (Pinus pinea) and cedars of Lebanon, (Cedrus libani). In place of Nicholas III’s enclosure, Bramante built a great rectilinear defensive wall.

Today’s Vatican Gardens are spread over nearly 23 hectares (57 acres), they contain a variety of medieval fortifications, buildings and monuments from the 9th century to the present day, set among vibrant flower beds and topiary, green lawns and a 3 hectares (7.4 acres) patch of forest. There are a variety of fountains cooling the gardens, sculptures, an artificial grotto devoted to Our Lady of Lourdes, and an olive tree donated by the government of Israel.

Patroness of the Gardens
Pope Pius XI designated Saint Therese of Lisieux The Little Flower as the official Patroness of the gardens on 17 May 1927, according her the title as “Sacred Keeper of the Gardens” and within the same year a small temple dedicated to her was built within the gardens near the Leonine walls.

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Right near the top of the Vatican Hill.

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Statues abound – right behind the walls to the Vatican City.

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An unusual modern statue.

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Shrine to the Immaculate Conception

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A Papal bell dominates one of the areas.

The Gardens of Vatican City also informally known as the Vatican Gardens (Italian: Giardini Vaticani) in Vatican City are private urban gardens and parks which cover more than half of the country, located in the west of the territory and are owned by the Pope. There are some buildings, such as Radio Vatican, within the gardens.

The gardens cover approximately 23 hectares (57 acres) of which is mostly the Vatican Hill. The highest point is 60 metres (200 ft) above mean sea level. Stone walls bound the area in the North, South and West. The gardens and parks were established during the Renaissance and Baroque era and are decorated with fountains and sculptures.

There is no general public access, but guided tours are available to limited numbers. The gardens also enshrine 14 Marian images venerated worldwide at the designation of the Roman Pontiff.

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There are many towers and other fortifications dotted along the walls

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Part of the gardens

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Small paved piazzas abound

The Vatican Gardens have been a place of quiet and meditation for the popes since 1279 when Nicholas III (Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, 1277-1280) moved his residence back to the Vatican from the Lateran Palace. Within the new walls, which he had built to protect his residence, he planted an orchard (pomerium), a lawn (pratellum) and a garden (viridarium). The event is recorded among other places on a stone plaque which can be viewed in the “Sala dei Capitani” of the “Palazzo dei Conservatori” on Rome’s Capitoline Hill. Created around the hill of Saint Egidio (where the “Palazzetto del Belvedere” is located today) and the courtyards of the Vatican Museums, this was to be the first garden in the Vatican. However, when  you visit the Vatican Gardens today you begin by viewing a totally different area from that first orchard, one located in a more recent addition to what is now Vatican City State. It is there that larger and more recent gardens have been planted, covering together with the original garden about half of the 44 hectares of Vatican City.

 

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This is not a house! This is the back of a fountain!

 

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Turtles swim lazily in one of the fountains

A place of reflection and meditation

A place of reflection and meditation

A statue of Pope Clement presiding over his own fountain

A statue of Pope Clement presiding over his own fountain

One of the many papal fountains - in the background are the apartments where the many Cardinals and high ranking officials stay.

One of the many papal fountains – in the background are the apartments where the many Cardinals and high ranking officials stay.

Another view

Another view

Water gushes around the gardens at every turn.

Water gushes around the gardens at every turn. This is carried by an original Roman aquaduct from 10km away.

Another view of  the apartments

Another view of the apartments

Home of the Vatican's own radio station

Home of the Vatican’s own radio station

The tlecommunications towers on the hilltop are a testament to the sophistication of the Vatican empire.

The tlecommunications towers on the hilltop are a testament to the sophistication of the Vatican empire.

Since the new Pope Francis has been in position, the Vatican Gardens have been opened to the public. It’s a guided tour only option, and the gardens are crammed full of security but a revelation nevertheless.

We partook of this….

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A view down to the back of one of the Vatican Museum wings, from the entrance to the gardens.

 

St Peters looms in the  distance

St Peters looms in the distance

It seems that every Pope has had a fountain constructed and named after him

It seems that every Pope has had a fountain constructed and named after him

Impeccably tailored

Impeccably tailored

We passed some restorers - painstaking work.

We passed some restorers – painstaking work.

Close up as they work on one of the many 'prayer places' dotted around the gardens

Close up as they work on one of the many ‘prayer places’ dotted around the gardens

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At the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome, lie many restaurants, some good, some bad, some average. We were recommended “try the antipasti buffet at Alla Rampa.”

We arrived on the stroke of 12h00. Alla Rampa is one of those restaurants where the waiters have been there for years, they’ve seen it all and are highly professional. We saw the buffet and melted – no one can do an antipasti buffet better than the Italians! It was heavenly nd a huge variety, and by charging by the plate, you can go back time and again.

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However, this is where it stopped…

Our pasta arrived cold and unappetising

We were charged a princely 2.50€ per head for bread

The bill’s addition was creative to say the least.

We left dreaming of that buffet, but not as happy as we could have been. Pity.

 

 

Clver topiary at the entrance to the Papal Gardens in the Vatican.

Clver topiary at the entrance to the Papal Gardens in the Vatican.

Rome is cherub-lovers’ heaven.

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Spotted in the Vatican Gardens.

 

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Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) is a fountain in the Piazza Navona in Rome, Italy. It was designed in 1651 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Pope Innocent X whose family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili, faced onto the piazza as did the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone of which Innocent was the sponsor.

The base of the fountain is a basin from the centre of which travertine rocks rise to support four river gods and above them, an ancient Egyptian obelisk surmounted with the Pamphili family emblem of a dove with an olive twig. Collectively, they represent four major rivers of the four continents through which papal authority had spread: the Nile representing Africa, the Danube representing Europe, the Ganges representing Asia, and the Río de la Plata representing the Americas.

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This fountain has always been a work of rumour and innuendo. The most famous being….. the statue representing the Rio de la Plata – one of the four rivers in the fountain in Piazza Navona – raises its right arm instinctively to protect itself from the collapse of the beautiful church of Saint Agnes in Agone, which stands with its two towers and beautiful dome only a few meters from the sculpture.

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In fact, the fountain – with its statues, large rocks and obelisk – was erected in 1651, when the church had not yet been built (construction began in 1652). The rumour about the statue was sparked by the well-documented rivalry between the famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini, author of the fountain, and the great architect Francesco Borromini, who designed the church. The Rio de la Plata’s gesture was misinterpreted to express Bernini’s belief that the sacred building was bound to collapse, posing a risk for his monumental fountain.

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