Henri Craemer | Our Last Days in Rome
art, Piazza del Popolo, Borghese, Museum, Vatican, San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, church, Roman Catholic, relic, holy relic, Mary Magdalene, pilgrim, Vallicella, Chiesa Nuova, Venezia, Palazzo, Doria Pamphilj, Pamphilj, Vatican, Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica, Rome
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The Doria Pamphilj Museum: Hall of Statues & Mirrors (Photo: Henri Craemer)

Our Last Days in Rome

Rome, 23 September 2017. After a day packed with a round trip walk to the Pantheon, Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Forum Romanum, we take it easy. We pick another place to eat supper at one of the small side streets. The quality of the food and prices surprise us; much better than last night. On the way back to our Hotel we hear the band from last night busking again. Unfortunately, the bassist is not with them. It’s the same music but watered down.


Some More Sight-seeing

24 September 2017. We start the morning by wandering off to Piazza del Popolo. It’s reportedly here where St Francis entered Rome before meeting Pope Innocent III at the Basilica San Giovanni Laterano (St John Lateran). We have breakfast and then wander around the Piazza and up to the promontory. Looking down we have a great view of Rome, including St Peter’s Cathedral.

A view of Piazza del Popolo towards St Peters (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

A view of Piazza del Popolo towards St Peters (Photo: © Henri Craemer)


We walk around in the gardens surrounding the Borghese Museum, not expecting to go in. It’s short wait after getting entry tickets at a ridiculously low price. In two hours, I see some of a most amazing collection of artwork yet. This includes paintings and sculptures by all the major Renaissance artists and artwork from ancient Rome.

Our wanderings take us to Piazza Navona for lunch. There are masses of tourists, interspersed with quite a few street performers.

After supper, we track the band for the last time by their sound. Not only has the bassist returned, but they also have a drummer and backing vocalist. People stand packed wall to wall. This is their best performance.


Our Last Full Day

25 September 2017. Our plan today is to visit the Vatican Museum at 15:00. Until then we’ll simply randomly walk through Rome. For the Italians, it’s just a usual Monday morning. For me, it’s the last moments of an epic adventure.


The Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini

We enter the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini (St John of the Florentines). Apart from the décor in keeping with many of the Roman Catholic churches I’ve seen, it’s hard not to notice a very imposing statue of the baptism of Jesus by Francesco Mochi.

Shrine with the foot of Mary Magdalene (Photo: Henri Craemer)

Shrine with the foot of Mary Magdalene (Photo: Henri Craemer)

Then I notice a shrine to the left of the main sanctuary. It contains the relic of the left foot of Mary Magdalene. What is not visible when the shrine is closed are the actual bones of the foot. Many pilgrims of the past have first venerated the foot of Mary Magdalene before going to the tomb of St Peter. The importance of the left foot is because it is believed that this was the first foot to step inside the tomb of the Risen Christ.


Chiesa Nuova and Palazzo Venezia

Our next stop is the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, known as the Chiesa Nuova. We acquaint ourselves with the legacy of the life and work of St. Philip Neri. He is regarded as one of the greatest mystics during the Counter-Reformation. We wander onwards and come across the Palazzo Venezia, regarded as one of the most important Renaissance buildings. The courtyard garden around the central fountain is truly beautiful and peaceful.


The Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

We kill some time before our visit to the Vatican Museums. When we pass the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj Museum, Niels decides to pay it a visit. It’s a museum he hasn’t visited before and there are many important pieces to be seen – Velasquez, Caravaggio, and many other.

Although I’m quite saturated with visits to museums and churches, I realise that the Pamphilj is quite a gem. Of all the places we visited, it has the most entertaining and informative audio guide. It not only gives information on the art but also the Pamphilj family. In some cases, it sounds very romantic, intriguing, and quite devious.


The Vatican Museums

As we get closer to the Vatican, it becomes more crowded. Thank God we pre-booked. This is the longest queue I’ve seen at any tourist attraction ever. For those who haven’t booked, I guess it’s a wait of two hours at least. Once through the entrance, the crowd spreads out and I can breathe a sigh of relief.

One can but try to take in the vast extent of beauty collected over the ages.* We make our way through the various museums, starting with the Pinacoteca. We pass through the Pius-Clementine Museum, Gregorian Museums of Egyptian, Etruscan and Profane Art. I’m intrigued by the Gallery of Maps. We miss out on half of the Papal Palace due to time constraints.

A polyptic of Christ (top centre), St Anthony Abbott (bottom centre), and various saints, by Antonio and Bartolomeo Vivarini (Photo: Henri Craemer)

A polyptic of Christ (top centre), St Anthony Abbott (bottom centre), and various saints, by Antonio and Bartolomeo Vivarini – the 15th Century equivalent of a “photo album” in the Pinacoteca. This piece is noted in “The Vatican Art Deck: 100 Masterpieces” by Anja Grebe (Photo: Henri Craemer)


It’s like traveling back in time as far back as nine millennia BC. This is what the artists, known and unknown wanted to tell us. Not only did each one have a story, but they also told it from their time perspective, using whatever materials they had available. I wonder if our age of instant communication and social media will be able to tell its story for so long.

The Round Room with the statue of Hercules. (Photo: Henri Craemer)

The Round Room with the statue of Hercules. (Photo: Henri Craemer)


The crowds are again funneled into one mass as we approach the Sistine Chapel. I get anxious also because we are running out of time before the museum closes. In the Chapel itself, I hear many cameras clicking. I manage a photo of the ceiling, just before an announcement of “No photos!” I put my camera and phone away. Many people still merrily keep on clicking away, in despite numerous announcements not to do so.

We make our way out via the St Peter’s Basilica.

A visit can easily leave one suffering from information overload, especially if you’re like me who wants to take in everything. When we leave, Niels buys me a book, by Susanna Bertoldi: “The Vatican Museums.”

As we cross St Peter’s Square, it feels like ages ago that we completed our pilgrimage. Now I sense a kind of detachment. I’m in the crowd but not part of it. It’s as if I’m watching a movie as the end titles are starting to run.



* More than enough details about the sites mentioned can be found by clicking the links in the piece itself.

  • Judy Craemer
    Posted at 12:39h, 01 September Reply

    Fabulous description as always Henri. So nice to take a virtual tour with you as I read your entries of places i have yet to visit.
    My late husband was born in Venice but his home town was Treviso.
    I have two stepsons who live in Italy.
    The third is in UK.

    • Henri
      Posted at 08:06h, 05 September Reply

      I’m really glad you enjoy my pieces. Thanks Judy.

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