Vatican 1/23

William Sullivan

“Meet me at the Obelisk.” These were the instructions we received the eve of the  23rd  of January. Specifically, the obelisk was the 25.5m (83 ft 8 in) Vatican Obelisk.  On this early morning rendezvous we would see the path of Popes through Rome, the path of mankind, and take a breath on our own paths to becoming architects.
. . .
The Dome.

Departing from the long morning shadow of the obelisk, we joined one of the lengthiest lines in Europe to go through security and enter the grounds of Vatican City. Once through security we slid along the side of The Basilica to a modest door. Assembling into a lift we ascended and exited onto the roof. Already, the voice of our professor and peers began to fade as our imaginations wondered at what waited atop the dome. From right above our heads the dome seemed to bellow up, its ribs curving in, shooting away and into the sky. The essence of movement was all around, the essence of baroque done right. However, before we could go UP we had to go IN. We ascended a few stairs and entered into the drum of the dome. Drum: the portion of a dome structure, above the pendentives, that elevates the hemispherical, or in this case, ovoid dome above the building. Like mice along a sliver of a balcony that hugged the wall, we scurried around and looked down 170 feet to the marble pavement. We floated. From our perch we saw the 98ft bronze Baldachin by Bernini, seemingly distant, below us. Above us, the through the oculus, we could see the lantern of the dome 200 feet away. To say the least we all learned in that moment what monumentality felt like. To give a sense, the dome of the national shrine could fit inside the dome of St. Peters with 14 feet, on either side, to spare, and Michael Jordan could fit inside the letter “I” in the inscription around the dome. We took our pictures, slefies and time with our professor. Slowly exiting we passed through a little door and into a spacious, curved ramped hallway and began to ascend between the double dome. We turned into a smaller chamber of stairs walls leaning in. left left left we slowly climbed through a matrix of curved staircases, slanted walls, spiral staircases and some surprisingly normal flights of stairs till we were greeted by the tiniest spiral stair case. Just enough would be the best description, as a handrail would have taken up too much space. Instead, a thick rope which had been worn waxy smooth by decades tourists, coiled around and down the spine of the helix and hung there as if to say “I'm not pretty but your gon’na need me”. Nowhere to go but up from here. Soon the rush of bitter cold air came over us and we were there. 
The Lantern.
We loped around gawking and exclaimed what we knew and recognized and stood memorized by things we had never seen before. Our minds clicked just as fast as all the cameras, making connections, sparking ideas taking in the beauty. Time had left us as we hovered above the eternal city. But time called us back down for we had a date with history.
The Basilica.
Called back down to earth we descended over 400 feet and into St Peters Basilica. Though if you called the space we entered earth some of us would have laughed. The absolute size of the volume was stupefying. It is often the plight of the amateur to look first at the mass of a building, but in St. Peters this is rather impossible. One is not overcome by the size of the columns and walls, though grand, but instead by the volume of the space. It is as if a separate realm with its own atmosphere is held within the walls and ether like roof of the structure. We quickly made our rounds. Seeing the Pietà by Michelangelo Buonarroti, the marker where the national shrine would end if it were in St. Peters. We reverently rushed to be under the dome and made sure not lose our breath on our way or while looking up. The oculus suspended above us burst as if it were a star with ribbons of lapis lazuli and gold streaming down. However, our romance was short-lived as the Vatican museum waited for us. We left, all with the secret promise to return and take another peak into this other world. 
The Museum.
After a brief lunch we returned and ventured to the museum entrance. Here we were given our tickets and a brief packet to fill out on some important dates, dimensions and names that would assist us in any academic conversation on the baroque period. From here we were set loose in the Vatican Museum 
. . .
Along our paths we were accompanied by Egyptian goddesses and sarcophagi, Dali and Rodin, The School of Athens, moving sculptures, hallways with no ends, and gardens of delight. Popping in and out of rooms filled with treasures we had read about and ones we never knew existed. Many of us rubbed our necks as we left the Sistine Chapel for the bright frescos of Michelangelo, Broeck, and Lecce  stole  our eyes and minds to sing to us the song of mankind through color and image. We wandered on our paths each trickling out that evening, our shadows long in the setting sun, with an experience we knew we would never be able to fully describe. However, perhaps we would be able to share it and one day say “meet me at the obelisk”.