The ambiance was still less than perfect. And I hadn’t come to Rome, Italy to experience anything less than perfection. So almost indignantly, I closed my eyes. I pushed my lids far into each other so that the world before me would disappear, but only for a few seconds. The hum of tourists and odor of human sweat flooded my senses choking my desire to simply feel; to simply understand. When I opened them, there was silence.
Marble floors shone ostentatiously where feet from every corner of an ancient world once traversed. Air occupied space where there had once been the clumsy bodies of vociferous animals. The Sistine Chapel now appeared bright and untainted. Centuries of human weathering evaporated from the walls of the room that was now electrifying my senses.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
Silence was broken by a breath. Above me was a man whom I could quickly identify from my brief stroll through the Vatican gift shop only a few hours prior; 16th century Michelangelo. My eyes followed him in awe, tracing at a distance his hand as it swept over the famous fingers of Adam and God. Every movement of his body was rhythmic and each adjustment mellifluous. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. He was not a universal mystery forged by the word of historians or a leading figure of Italian artistry; he was simply a man. A living breathing man.
Every square inch of St. Peters Basilica is alive. At the will of the spectator, legend becomes reality. While the statue of Hercules is ostensibly fossilized, if you allow yourself to believe it, his muscles seem to twitch and his chin appears to rise with a hint of quiet pride. A stone Cleopatra becomes flesh as she detaches herself from the tomb of a child to mourn its unfair and unexpected departure. The dark, marble eyes of Minerva glance from left to right then down to yours, confounding you with hypnosis interlaced with insatiable curiosity.
Tour guides are certainly helpful in understanding the many stories behind the images and statues. Our handy historical companion, Georgiana, from RomeInLimo Company’s services truly enhanced our time spent in the Vatican. Hundreds of artifacts could have easily become blurred replicas of each other if not for the knowledge we gained from her expertise. However, what makes the journey truly memorable is the effort put into feeling and understanding. To be granted entry to the dimensions of imagination that have never been explored, one must simply believe.
My experiences in the Sistine Chapel and Vatican were in many ways paradoxical. In the Sistine Chapel and in the presence of every historical relic within, I felt the beauty and tragedy of humanity that was felt then and now. Through the depictions of angels versus demons and men versus gods, I experienced death versus life and heaven versus hell. While I felt incredible human strength I simultaneously felt incredible human weakness. The power of human emotion proved to me its unique ability to transcend 5 centuries of history, and in the Vatican City—a place renowned for somber ritual and staunch security— one is able to unlock it in even the most unexpected of places. For within its walls, the past is omnipresent.
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