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It’s 25 years that I am living in Rome, and I visited the Vatican Gardens only once. Yeah, I’ve seen them, and that seemed to be enough. There is so much more to discover in the city. But how wrong I was ! I really have to thank the Direction of the Vatican Museum to give me the opportunity to become a member of the big family of people who are the dedicated guides of the Vatican City. Those experienced guides opened for me a total different view of something that are only shrubs and trees, and now, I would like to return daily. Thank you Vincenzo, Isabella and Emanuella ......
In my approach of the Gardens, I like to find the humanity of the many popes, who created this oasis of peace as a counterweight for the pressure of their office. A bit of research and I found little stories that I weaved into the garden, often lines of Pasquino, one of the talking statues of Rome, who told the government what the people in the streets were thinking. I hope you enjoy it. I have to thank a few people.
Emanuella Stirpe, feb.4, 2014
Vincenzo Pelosi and Isabella Salandri, feb. 22, 2014
Walking in the garden, on the right hand side we see the Belvedere Palace of Innocent VIII, (picture) built in 1484 and used as a kind of summer-residence inside the compound of the Vatican until 1582, when the popes moved to the Quirinal Palace.
In 1772 it was transformed in the Octangonal courtyard, where is held the famous Laocoon (1506) and the Appolo del Belvedere.
We see also here the modern museum of Religious contemporan art, made in 1973
History of the Gardens
Originally, it made the 8th hill of Rome, but was outside the boundaries of the old roman city. Agrippina had a villa on this site, and Caligola built a circus. This was increased by Nero. It was in this circus that we had the first persecutions between 64-67 AD. Outside the circus was a cemetery were saint Peter was buried.
But from here we walk to the left, and going through the gate “Vignaccia”, on one side we are seeing some work-shops. Vignaccia stands for “Bad Wine”. Pope Leo XIII wanted a vineyard over here, but wasn’t very successful. Opposite the workshops we can find a milestone of modern history: An authentic piece of the Wall of Berlin (August 13th, 1961- November 9, 1989)
The piece of Berlin wall, which is inside the Vatican Gardens today, is a gift from the Italian Marco Piccininni to the Vatican in 1994. Mr. Piccininni acquired this piece of wall in an auction of wall segments in Monte Carlo 1990. The wall segments show those part of Sanct-Michaels-church from Berlin as a painting, which were hidden through the wall. The segments were originally part of the wall at Waldemarstreet, located on Waldemarbridge. The illusionary painting ("Mauerdurchblick") on the segments was made 1986 by Yadegar Asisi, initiated by the architect Bernhard Strecker. Hints on these wall segments in Vatican Gardens were also given by Paul Hofmann in 1997.
For the thirsty, the little fountain la Zidella, with excellent (sparkling) water from the Acquaduct of Paulus V, Borghese.
This brings us to the Paolin Museum, originated by Paulus VI in 1965, when the collection of Saint John in Lateran was transferred to the Vatican City. Through the glass we can admire the beautiful mosaics coming from the baths of Caracalla.
This museum consists of three parts: 1. Pius Christian Museum; 2. The Profane Museum and 3. the Missionary and ethnological museum.
After this brief introduction, we entering the proper gardens. Those are divided in three parts, as we will see in successive order.
1.The English Garden
2.The French Garden and
3.the Italian Garden.
1.The English garden,
Tries to keep the plants and shrubs in their natural state, as it would have looked in the open country. Therefore it’s called “Il Boschetto”, the little forest.
On the left we see (and only one wall is left) a square “secret garden” (today guides are explaining the Sistine Chapel here). This secret garden was build by Paulus III, Farnese (1534) and was used for private walks. One side of the secret garden today is walled by the 1932 neo-renaissance building, housing today the Pinacotheca, the painting gallery. We can see the names of varies artist in the wall: Giotto, Raphael ....
In the secret garden we today also the “Caffeteria” and “the museum of the carriages.”
The 44 ha big (small) garden had near the former Saint Peters Basilica a little lodging since the 6th century were the popes would stay when officiating in the Vatican. Nicolas III expanded it in the 8th century, and Julius II built the Palace of the Belvedere, from where indeed he had a nice view.
In the English garden we have a little shrine “La Madonna della Guardia”, a gift of Genova to pope Benedict XV, who originated from that city.
On the left is the tower of Gregory XIII, the “Tower of the Winds” and the longest gallery of the Vatican Museum build by him: the geographical maps. The tower is from 1578 and functioned as an astrological observation centre. The Jesuit Anastasius Kirchner build one in the Collegio romano. Later the observation centre was moved to Castel Gandolfo, but today, caused by electric light-smog, moved to Virginia or Arizona? (USA). Here was corrected in 1582 the Julian calendar, and are we living today with the “Gregorian Calendar”. Today the tower is housing the Vatican Radio, in the Palazzino of Leo XIII, used in 1931 for the first time by the inventor of the Radio: Guigliemo Marconi to broadcast worldwide.
Very few people are aware that Oscar Wilde converted to Roman Catholicism at the end of his life. After being imprisoned for homosexuality, he came in exile to the continent and to the city he loved the most: Rome. in 1900 under Leo XIII
Wilde was a “broken” dying man by the time of his conversion in Paris in 1900. It was Wilde's most loyal friend Robbie Ross who – having spent months with him in Rome and Paris – called the priest. And it was he who witnessed the baptism of Oscar Wilde and his entry into the Roman Catholic Church.
By crossing the next arch we have the image of Santa Maria di Galleria (a village at 20 km from Rome) and so we enter in part 2 of the gardens:
2.The French Garden
Those gardens, very symmetrically consists not of flowers but mostly of threes and shrubs. A bas-relief in the wall was a gift of Savona (Liguria) to Pope John Paul II. A modern work inspired on the “Madonna del Pellegrino” di Caravaggio.
Here at the beginning of the French Garden, we can see the original wall of pope Leo: “le mura Leonine”. In the last room of Raphael we see the battle in Ostia in 849 against the Saraceens.
But what takes the eye, is the exact copy of the grotta of Lourdes. An other donation of France. Behind the wall was the “summer-residence” of the pope Leo XIII when he was prisoner of the Vatican city in the 19th Century: from 1870 until 11 february 1929. It was called the period of the “Roman Issue”. It was part of the Pontifical Palace of Sixtus V in 1590. This palace on the other side is facing Saint-Peter’s square, where is the window where the pope addresses the faithful for the sunday Angelus prayer. The Popes lived here since 1870 until Francis I, who moved to Santa Martha. Still he is using it for formal occasions as reception room receiving people. After 1870 the Holy Father became a self-declared prisoner of the Pontifical Palace. Even the balcony of the Saint Peter’s Basilica was out of use, being occupied by the new government. Nonetheless, the Romans approved the courage of Pope Pius IX in his resistance to the new government by saying: Pio Nono, sei buono, Ma-Stai !! (Pius IX, You are [a] good [man], but [please] stay [put]. This was of course a game of words with his last name: “Mastai . The pope, being prisoner in the Vatican City called it his “little Castel Gandolfo”.
Weather permitting, from here you can see the Alban Hills and the summer residence Castel Gandolfo.
This part of the garden is also open to the +/- 800 residents of the Vatican City (a.e. the families of the Swiss Guards ...)
A little stone with the inscription Zakopane, refers at a polish town was a gift to Pope Pius X. John Paul II’s name was added in the Giubileo of 2000.
But the main focus of the French Garden, as said is the copy of the Grotta of Lourdes, where Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubrioux. On one side we are seeing the mosaic with Pope Leo XIII, on the other side the bishop Schoeffer. This copy was a gift of France to pope Leo XIII. The altar is the original of the sanctuary in France and was a gift to the Apostolic Nuntius in France, Card. Roncalli, who in the same year became pope John XXIII in 1958.
On the left, approaching the “Grotta” is the “tree of Judas”.
This part of the garden is very pretty in the spring in May, when celebrations in honor of Mary are taking place here.
And so we enter in the Viale delle Ulive. A statue of “Our Lady of Fatima” stands here, remember how see appeared to local children on May 13th, 1917. But also the name of John Paul II is here: on the day of Our Lady of Fatima, in 1981, he was shot on St. Peter’s Square and miraculous, by divine intervention of Our Lady, he survived it.
On the left hand side, we see a small fountain, and is also an entrance to the Secret Archive of the Vatican City. Originated by Nicolas V, extended by Sixtus IV, and finally became the Vatican Library by Sixtus V.
On the left we have first the “fountain of the frogs” and then we have an other memorial Statue of “the Madonna of Guadaloupe”, made by the italian artist Ponzanelli, and holding a relic. A gift to Pope Pius XI in 1937. Our Lady appeared to a native and spoke to him in his language. Juan di Sumaraga was the bishop of Mexico, who first didn’t believe the apparition. Our Lady told that there should be build a convent. A second vision of the Madonna, gave the native some flowers. Where they felt down, there was the imprint of the feet of the Virgin Mary.
On the other side on the highest point of the Vatican City (78 m over sea-level) was originally a tennis court, today the Heliport.
At the end of it, we notice also a statue of Our Lady of Chestochova, Poland. Another gift to John Paul II.
Turning to the left we see the medieval Defense Tower of Nicolas IV of the 14th century. It was extensive restored under John XXIII. Even if the Vatican City doesn’t have any hotels, this is today a guest-room for special guest. Among them the Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras and his successor Bartolomeus. Also the American president Bush stayed here when visiting the Vatican. The Tower is dedicated to St. John: over the entrance door we see Saint John Evangelist and Saint John the Baptist; above the lion of St. Marc in Venice, the city where Card. Roncalli was patriarch before becoming pope in ’58. John XXIII was immensely loved by the common people. For the first time Christianity had a spiritual father who didn’t came from one of the famous italian noble families. He was the son of a poor Montanara, a shepherd in the mountains of the north of Italy. He was elected, because .... harmless and aged. But that man changed the Church by, on his old age and already ailing of a cancer, opened the windows of the Vatican to the world by calling together the Second Vatican Council. His direct approach with the people made him of course also much more vulnerable for attacks of journalists as today Twitter and Facebook can do. And then, there was a journalist, who wanted to know a bit more about the finances of the Vatican, asking the Holy Father: “And, Your Holiness, how many people are working in the Vatican?” On which came the speedy reply of John XXIII: “Just like in the rest of Italy, half of them ...!”
In front the reminder of a sanctuary of Our Lady on the Via Ardeatina, at 20 miles from Rome: it’s dedicated to Our Lady of Divine Love: Divin’Amore.
The beautiful olive threes we have here are coming from Puglia, in the south of Italy.
The lovely wall with Ivy, had in the time of Pius XII, a kind of canapé, sheltering the Holy Father who was walking here, from the elements. There is a story: Pius XII was praying his breviary over here, when he saw a cardinal playing the ball with his niece. As soon the Holy father approached, the little girl went to her uncle cardinal and whispered something in his ear. Pius XII, asked the cardinal: “What was it that she whispered in your ears?” The cardinal, embarrassed, replied: “Oh Holy father, you know how children are, it was nothing of importance.” But the pope insisted to know it. And the cardinal, becoming almost as red as his dress said: “Your Holiness, she told me that You are ugly!” On which pope Pius XII, Pacelli, replied: “Yes, indeed, We are ugly !!”, using the majestic plural.
Turning the next corner, we see a beautiful bell, a gift of the Marinelli Family to Pope John Paul II in concordance with the Jubilee of 2000.
Above the name of the family: a triangle with an eye. In the “open eye of God” we can see Saint Peter’s Square, almost that the looking eye of God is protecting Christianity. From here you can also admire one of the eight smaller towers that surround the dome of Michelangelo.
Three famous artist were working on the dome: it started with Michelangelo, who saw the tambour and the windows. And it was concluded after his dead in 1564 by Domenico Fontana and Giacomo della Porta.
On the back of the Guest Tower Saint John, we have a statue of Saint Theresa of Lisieux, a gift to pope Pius XI. She is the saint Patron of the Vatican Gardens.
Against the wall we can see the remains of the ancient roman walls that lead the people to the Vatican: the Via Trionphalis and the Via Cornelia.
The holes in the wall were used for putting the scaffolding. (?).
And so we arriving to the last part of the gardens:
3.The Italian Gardens.
On the lower level we can admire the Labyrinth garden and behind it the Vatican Railway station. Today only used for goods. But most are arriving at the Porta Sant’Anna in the wall of the Vatican City, were is also the Bank (IOR), the supermarket and the pharmacy.
Here we have also the Ethiopian Seminary, constructed by Pope Pius XI. By the current lack of seminarists, today transformed in a monastery of nuns of the religious order “Santa Maria Bambina” - “the Infant Lady Mary”.
Under the tower with the radio mast is also a little vegetable garden From the time of Paulus III, Farnese (?)
Instead, on our right side we can admire the “Governorato” of the Vatican City. It is the administrative heart of the Vatican City since it became an autonomous country by the Pacts of Saint John in Lateran on February 11, 1929.
On top of it is a statue of Mary, looking towards and protecting Saint Peter’s Basilica.
In front, a paleo-christian church, dedicated to Saint Stephen, built by Leo the Great (the pope who stopped Attila the Hun) in the 5th century. Behind, not visible from here is the “House Santa Martha” were the current pope Francis I is living.
On the left we have (behind a closed gate) a monastery of “Clausura”. Not very well know until recent. Today it houses the former pope Benedict XVI (Ratzinger)
The little medieval building we notice is from the XII century and is the “House of the Gardener”. The Vatican City has in total 28 gardeners who maintain the compound.
From here we are arriving in a round square with the view Michelangelo would have liked that you were seeing the Saint Peter’s Basilica. The construction took over a hundred years: Originally in the form of a greek cross.
a.Started by Bramante under Julius II (idea of greek cross, copying the Pantheon and the Basilica of Maxentius on the forum)
b.After him came Michelangelo, who worked here from 1546 until his dead in 1564, he started the dome, and under influence of the Council of Trent, the Basilica took the shape of a Latin cross.
c.The dome was finished by Carlo Maderno and Giacomo della Porta after the designs of Michelangelo. You can always visit it: first the lift to the second floor and than 350 steps.
d.The facade was finished under Paul V, Borghese. Architect was Carlo Maderno. Later famous artists would continue the inside: Bernini ...
Opposite this beautiful view we have the “fountain of the Eagle” (the coat of arms of pope Paulus V Borghese. 1605-1621). This fountain was made to celebrate the re-use of the aqueduct of Trajan. The water comes from Lake Bracciano. It arrives on top of the Gianicolo Hill in a fountain recently famous as opening-scene in the movie (the Great Beauty; La grande bellezza). Today this water is called “Acqua Paolina” after the pope.
You can also see here a little monastery built by John Paul II, where the cardinals are residing during the conclave.
On the circular square we have a statue of st Peter in memory of The Vatican Council I in 1870. Originally in the Pine Courtyard, than on colomn of Trajan (?) and finally here on a basement with cherubs.
The fountain of the sacraments (under restoration) made by pope Borghese. Attached to it is the Vatican Mint (they have own coins). And behind we see the Sistene Chapel, inaugurated in 1483 by pope Sixtus IV. (Maybe here the story what happens after a pope is dying.)
The two-store building is today the Vatican Museum, added at the Belvedere Courtyard (today the Pine Courtyard) and connecting the Belvedere Palace. Pietro Ligurio took this roman pine from the neighborhood of the baths of Agrippa, a general in the time of Augustus near the pantheon.
Pietro Ligurio (from Naples) made for pope Pius IV also a little villa (casino) 1558, with views of the Belvedere Palace. This little villa was inspired by the imperial Villa of Hadrian in Tivoli.
From above, we can admire the oval courtyard. Pius IV came in this oasis to meditate with his nephew Saint Charles Borromeo. Together sitting around the oval fountain with cherubs and dolphins. They had their meetings often by night, called the “Vatican Nights”. Often present were saint Philip Neri, saint Charles Borromeo, his nephew Federico and the Pope. Each of them used a nickname: “The Wise, the Choleric one, the Mathematician ....”The decoration of the building is pure renaissance: From ancient Rome in the bas-reliefs we have the “Muses”, inspiring the different Arts. On the left and the right, the mosaics are copies of those you would have found in an imperial palace.
The Casino since 1926 is housing the Pontifical Academy of Science. The members, presided by the pope and chosen by himself worldwide are gathering her together every year in november.
When we speak of Pietro Ligurio, we have to think about water. His most famous creation is without doubt the Villa d’Este in Tivoli. Also here, at the Casino, water flows in different levels.
The originally Casino was originally surrounded by 120 statues of antiquity. Being too profane, some were given to palazzo Pitti in Florence, others finished in the Capitol museum.
The whole casino looks a bit like a roman temple, with the statues of the Sybills (fertility) and mosaics of tropical birds. Pius IV of Milan put also his name on it.
The staircases on the right and left were ordered by Leo XII.
But think: this Ancient Rome Oasis was build for meditation.
Behind it Pope Nicolas III added a little medicine and herbal garden. This botanical garden was originally, after the popes return of Avignon in the Belvedere Garden and had three levels.
Here is the end of the tour, a tour in what pope Pius XI called a Garden City.
Where we walk back in the museum we are at the wing added by pope Braschi (palace on Piazza Navona), who was the founder of the actual Pinacoteca, with works of Giotto, Raphael, Leonardo, Caravaggio .....The Painting gallery was originally housed in the Tappestry Gallery. That explain the plain decoration of the vault of that part of the museum.
look up: Oscar wilde rome
pictures of popes
Unter der Waldemar-Brücke - Blick zur Michaelskirche
Tower of Wind, Vatican, Gregory XIII
Grotta of Lourdes
Our Lady of Fatima
Fountain of frogs
Our Lady of Guadaloupe
Paulus VI & Athanagoras, Patriarch of Constantinople
Gregory XIII: founder of the astronomical centre and promotor of the Geographic maps in the Museum.