From the Port
The cruise stops at the port at Civitavecchia, which is the main port serving the Area around Rome. It harbour dates back to the Emperor Trajan and built over an older Etruscan settlement.
While Civitavecchia has some points of interest, we wanted to see Rome. More specific, my wife wanted to see the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica.
Rome is about an hour by train from Civitavecchia. Holland America offers a number of tours that features different parts of Rome’s history. There was only one for the Vatican City, a bus tour leaving at bus tour leaving at 8:00am
After an early breakfast we caught our bus for the trip into Rome. The trip into Rome was a quiet uneventful. Travelling a major highway is pretty much the same anywhere in the world. We did get to see a bit of the countryside - but again we could have been anywhere in southern Europe.
Buses are not allowed in many parts of Rome
We eventually arrived at an underground parking area outside the Vatican. Walking through a series of tunnels and passage ways, we arrived on Via della Conciliazione. This was outside the security checkpoint for entrance to Piazza Pio XII.
Due to a canonization mass, the crowds were overwhelming. Pope Francis, was celebrating the mass declaring seven people to be saints. There were lineups at the checkpoint, however, it was a fairly fast and simple - check of bags and purses.
The entrance to the Vatican City is not well-defined at this point. While a wall runs around most of the city, a low metal fence is all that separates Piazza Pio XII and Piazza San Pietro. There was second checkpoint, at the entrance to the Vatican City. Entry to the Vatican City was limited to those holding tickets for the Pope’s mass. No ‘tourista’ allowed until after the mass.
On entering Piazza Pio XII we were led to the Mondo Cattolico, to shop and have a ‘toilet break’. ( On the right as you enter the Piazza. ) The store is full of religious articles. There were hundreds of rosaries, varying in price from €4 to over €500. ( Do prayers said on a €500 rosary have more value to God? )
Being Sunday, the Sistine Chapel was closed. And, we had to wait until after the mass to get into St. Peter’s Basilica. The tour guide gave us forty-five minutes of ‘free time’. After which we would get back on the bus and go for lunch.
Rather than go back out through the checkpoints we decided to look around the Piazza. I was trying to get a picture of the Swiss Guard at the entrance to the seating area. I also was able to get pictures of the other police forces guarding the area.
There were at least four police forces controlling the crowd and protecting the Pope. The most obvious are the Swiss Guard. The Swiss Guard at the entrance is largely ceremonial. However, the Swiss Guard always provide close support for Pope when he appears in public. ( Like other security details - they are in plain clothes.)
In addition to the Swiss Guard there is the Vatican Gendarmerie Corps. For this occasion, the Polizia di Stato, or State Police, and the Carabinieri, an anti terrorist force were present.
After our free time we went back on the bus for lunch at the Casa Nova restaurant on Via Rodi. The restaurant seats 200, and they seemed to be full with other tour groups joining us for lunch. After an interesting, but not spectacular, lunch and a line up for the restroom, we were back on the bus for tour of Rome. Then back to the Vatican.
By the time we were back at the Vatican, the crowds had cleared a bit, and we were given passes for the Basilica. Entrance to the Basilica is on the right. To the right of the entrance is Michelangelo’s PietÃ - the one thing I wanted to see.
The Pietà was vandalized in 1972 . After the restoration, bulletproof glass was installed to protect this magnificent work. Poor lighting, reflections from the glass hard appreciate the true beauty of the statue.
As I stood enjoying the work, an endless stream of ‘turista’ walk up, take a picture on their cell phones and leave. It was as if they were checking another item off their list of things to see.
( NOTE: Don’t stand directly in front of the glass when using a flash. All you will get is a reflection of the flash. Remember your high school physics. Angle of incidence equals angle of reflection -- stand at an angle to the glass -- which, of course, no one did. )
I braced my self as best I could to take this picture without a flash. (Should have brought my tripod.)
Looking back down towards the Piazza Pio XII at the empty seats. Each represents someone who had come for the canonization.
The obelisk, on the left, is Egyptian. It was brought to Rome in 37BC by Gaius Caligula and moved to its present location by Pope Sixtus V in 1586.
After our tour of the Basilica our group formed up again preparing for our trip back the the ship. Another, ‘toilet break’, this time at the Galleria San Pietro, at #5 Largo Del Colonnato. ( To the left of Piazza Pio XII as you face the Basilica.)
Rather than walk back to the parkade and wait for our bus, our guide arranged for us to meet the bus on Via delle Fornaci. Leaving the Vatican on Largo Del Colonnato. This was not exactly Kosher as buses are not allowed to pick up passengers in this area - but a lot faster.