"The Vatican Gardens" Rome Travelogue by von.otter
Rome Travel Guide: 12,023 reviews and 26,760 photos
“How many people work at the Vatican?” asked a reporter
“Oh, about half.” replied Pope John XXIII (1881-1963)
During our tour of Giardini Vaticani we saw some of the people who work at the Vatican: delivering supplies, building things, and gardening; there are 30 full-time gardeners. Our guide too was a Vatican employee. He conducted the tour in three languages, Italian, his native language, English and French, for the sole Frenchwoman on the tour. And he was also eager to debunk “The Da Vinci Code.” Several times he brought up the novel with an aim to discredit its claims.
To book a tour it is necessary to fax a request, including date and the number of people in the group, to the Vatican’s Office for Guided Tours. The fax number is 06 6988 5100. Use the web site below for more information. Your confirmation will be faxed in return. After faxing my request a month in advance, following instructions on the Vatican’s web site, I nervously waited for the confirmation. I was ecstatic when the my office’s receptionist notified me that it had arrived.
“Saint Peter’s speaks less of aspiration than of full and convenient assurance. The soul infinitely expands there, if one will, but all on its quite human level. It marvels at the reach of our dreams and the immensity of our resources.”
from “Italian Hours,” 1909 by Henry James (1843-1916)
The immense dome of St. Peter’s dominates the views within the Gardens. Throughout the 2.5 hours we spent in the Gardens our group of 30 climbed higher and higher. At times it seemed as if we would soon come level with the top of the dome!
“Young people are threatened by the evil use of advertising techniques that stimulate the natural inclination to avoid hard work by promising the immediate satisfaction of every desire.”
— Pope John Paul II (1920-2005)
Standing in the Vatican Gardens the Jubilee Bell of 2000 pays tribute to Pope John Paul II.
In the beginnings of his pontificate John Paul II went jogging in the Vatican Gardens. Vatican staff members were shocked; they told the Holy Father that tourists climbing to the top of dome of St. Peter’s Basilica could see him jogging. Reportedly the pope’s reaction was “So what?”
“If you wish to be brothers, let the arms fall from your hands. One cannot love while holding offensive arms.”
— Pope Pius VI (1717-1799)
These jasmine-covered arches were the most beautiful part of the Gardens. Our guide pointed out that in past years the arches were covered by roses.
The hill they stand on indicates the hilly nature of the Gardens. For the first time it was possible for me to understand why the Ancient Romans called this area Mons Vaticanus. The Etruscan soothsayers, who practiced vaticinating (prophesying) on the wild, snake-infested Mons Vaticanus were looked upon with great skepticism by the Romans.
The top of the Vatican Hill is 256 feet above sea level and more than 200 feet above St. Peter’s Square. The basilica hides the hill behind it.
“Affection, like melancholy, magnifies trifles; but the magnifying of the one is like looking through a telescope at heavenly objects; that of the other, like enlarging monsters with a microscope.”
— Pope Paul VI (1897-1978)
These heavenly gardens of the Vatican date to the Middle Ages. Vineyards and orchards extended north of the Apostolic Palace and Old St. Peter’s. In 1279 Pope Nicholas II enclosed this cultivated area with walls. Nicholas V (1397-1455) developed a series of gardens to be used in the ceremonies of the papal court, as well as for the pope’s personal enjoyment. In the early 16th century these gardens were transformed into the Belvedere Courtyard and the Pine Cone Courtyard.
Pope Pius XII didn’t want to see anyone during his daily walks in the Gardens, which were always at 4 pm; the gardeners would hide when they heard him approaching. By contrast, his successor, John XXIII, enjoyed chatting with the gardeners and others he met on his frequent strolls in the Gardens, which cover 40 acres.
“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things which are God’s.’ One would like to add: Give unto man things which are man’s; give man his freedom and personality, his rights and religion.”
— Pope Pius XII (1876-1958)
Fontana dell’Aquila, 1611-12, was designed for Pope Paul V by the Dutch sculptor Jan van Santen. One of the heraldic symbols of the pope’s Borghese family, an eagle, tops the fountain, which is a compilation of artificial rock, formed by compacting large and small natural stones with plaster. It was built to celebrate the Pope’s rebuilding of an ancient aqueduct, the Acqua Paola, that brought water to the Vatican.
“Defenders of the Church’s freedom.”
The title granted the Swiss Guard in 1512 by Pope Julius II (1443-1513)
A replica of the Grotto of Lourdes was a gift from French Catholics in 1902.
Not far from Grotto of Lourdes is the Vatican heliport. For Pope John Paul II’s funeral services, heads-of-state and diplomats were brought into Vatican City by helicopter; they were then brought into the Basilica through the rear because St. Peter’s Square was packed with mourners, making it impassable. The heliport was a tennis court used by Allied diplomats, who lived in neutral Vatican City surrounded by Fascist Italy during the Second World War.
Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,
And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,
Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:
In splendour and in light the Pope passed home.
From “Easter Day” by Oscar Wilde
Garden styles vary throughout the grounds, from Italian formal arrangements to English natural settings.
Following the Lateran Treaty of February 1929, a great building plan took place within the gardens. Piazza Santa Marta was laid out, and the Mosaic Studio, the Railway Station, the Palazzo del Governatorato or Government Palace, the Ethiopian College and the Marconi Broadcasting Center (Vatican Radio) were built.
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