Text and photography by Patrick La Roque

We’ve rented a small cozy apartment on Via Tolemaide—a few minutes walk away from the Vatican—which means every day we navigate the street vendors, the ticket scalpers and the lumbering hordes crowding the sidewalk, inching towards the gates for hours on end, rain or shine. 

This morning it’s our turn. We booked a skip the line tour and we’re glad we did: some thirty-thousand visitors will enter today—a veritable circus; a gigantic, awe-inspiring, sweat-laced circus.

Tour guides walk around with flags held at arm's length so each group can follow its leader, but the human tide is relentless and we get separated more than once. You can’t even fight it: you just ride, lost in rooms and corridors bursting at the seams with frescos and paintings, massive sculptures above you, others just scattered around the floors like bargain items at a flea market. Museum and warehouse all in one—like some vault waiting for the end of days.

In Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel we’re herded like sheep, security guards shouting “No pictures!”, “Silence!”, “Move!” every thirty seconds. It’s downright military. And that picture ban? It’s not about reverence or respect: a japanese TV network owns the rights to any visual representation of the chapel. Part of a deal made when it was last restored; Yeah, money makes the world go ’round… The things you learn.

But it’s still grandiose and terrifying, and beautiful and excessive. Four hours spent wading through two thousand years of human achievement, cramed into every corner. When we end our tour at St-Peter’s Basilica, we feel microscopic, dwarfed by the gold, the stone and the towering dome. 

And as we leave, we welcome the rain.
We most certainly welcome the rain.