Rome is the capital of Italy and the eternal city. The city of gods, the city of Caesar and the city of food and wine. That’s what you travel to Rome for, and that’s what you find. And that’s why I love Rome! But when something surprising like this happens, there’s a good chance it will be your best travel memory.
On my last trip to Rome in 2013 for the 10th anniversary for my husband and I, we accidentally became part of a huge gathering in favour of one very special person. And it’s definitely one of my most memorable unplanned encounters.
So here’s the story of how we turned our backs on the Pope:
IS THAT THE POPE?
It all started on a hot day in Rome…
We are heading to see the Basilica again, since… well obviously. Usually, you find nuns, priests and pilgrims running around and lots of tourists, so we are not surprised to see cars and groups of people, when we enter the square in front of the Basilica. It is afternoon, and we had walked all day in the heat and are dying for a break. The square is designed by Bernini and is a very elegant constructed piazza, so this is a perfect place for relaxing. Rows of chairs are placed in front of the Basilica along with a stage or a platform, so clearly something is going to happen, but there were almost no people. Maybe the Pope will speak tomorrow -we thought. We buy some water and sit down on the 10th row.
While we are chilling and talking about the day, people start arriving in larger numbers. Queues are forming for seats and more security arrives. The chairs are slowly, but steadily occupied with more nuns, priests and other Catholic devouts.
Now, we realize that something is going to happen soon. We decide to stay one more hour, since we have time to kill before dinner. Within the next hour the square becomes completely crowded with rows filling up quickly, papers with something in Latin on are distributed, excited cardinals enter the stage and what not.
Suddenly, there is an announcement over a speaker. A few clergy men takes the stage, and before we knew it the Pope slowly walks up the stairs to the stage and sits down in one of two chairs before making a short speech. 30 meters away from us! We are very surprised at how fast this changed from a lazy afternoon to an exciting and rare event.
First, it was really fun and thrilling- to be so near the Pope. Even though I’m not religious, you can really feel the enthusiasm and intense emotional reaction from the other guests. This is clearly an experience of a lifetime for some, and I will never forget this overwhelming stream of emotions from the others attending.
But quickly, it became rather boring. Maybe because my Latin is a bit rusty or because I don’t share the excitement about the old man himself. We can see from our neighbour’s paper that this is a marathon event and not a trailer, but we’re kind of stuck in front. After an hour more of reading and praying, we have now been in the chairs for 3 hours. So, we put all of our shame and decency aside and stand up in front of thousands of excited spectators and squeeze and crawl along the row of chairs past angrylooking nuns -trying not to trample on any holy peoples feet.
And walked away from the Pope!
The guy was Pope Francis, who had only been elected a few months before. After that much religious excitement, you need a large glass of cold Vernaccia di San Gimignano!
So… we didn’t get into the Basilica that day, but luckily I’ve been several other times. Saint Peter’s Basilica is technically not in Rome, but in the Vatican City. The whole Vatican city is a UNESCO site, and seeing St. Peters’ Basilica is a must being the burial site of Saint Peter. The first basilica from 324(!) and the current from 1500s.
But I admit, it’s not my favourite religious building – by far. I think, it’s a mess and kind of boring. I don’t even like the famous baldachin inside. But maybe you feel different?
A rarely mentioned sculpture, but a hidden highlight and my favourite is “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” also by Bernini (he’s just so talented). Her expression is great – religious ecstasy or another kind of ecstasy – I love it. Of course, “Pietá” by Michelangelo and the Giotto frescoes are also pretty famous…
But be sure to have the time, energy and money to visit the dome. Taking the stairs is cheapest. The view across the square is spectacular. The first time I visited, there was no line to enter the dome, the second time the line went around the square…
If you are not lucky (or unlucky) enough to bump into the Pope, then drown your sorrows or joys in some prosecco and pasta with pulpo.
Italy is one of the countries I recommend visiting this year, since Matera is Capital of Culture: Where to go in 2019 for the cultural traveller!
Have you met someone interesting on your travels?
I think it is funny that you can say you walked out on the pope. In 1984, I had the chance to see Pope John Paul II give a mass in St. Peter’s Square. Like you, I am not a religious person, but I will always remember the fervent atmosphere around the pope that day.
🙂 Yes, the fervent atmosphere! That’s what really stuck in my memory.