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The Great Pontifical Palace and the Vatican

( Originally Published 1907 )



Those buildings below, which correspond so perfectly to the map, are parts of the huge, rambling palace. We do not, however, see at this moment those parts of the palace which stand nearest to the Piazza of St. Peter's.

This is not our first glimpse of the present residence of the Pope. When we stood at Position 1 on the roof of a house, looking at the Basilica, the Piazza and the colonnade, we caught sight of a building at the north which at that moment did not seem to be of consequence. Its rather modest front did not hint of its real splendor; and really, in the shadow of the church and the dome, the palace is not of great architectural account. From this lofty eyrie, however, we get a different idea of the ancient structure; truly it is a palace fit for the great ones of the world. Its main direction is almost north and south with a slight deflection to the east, and from the church to its farthest limit must be nearly a quarter of a mile. It is built, as we see, about two great courtyards, with a smaller one intervening. The nearest large courtyard is called the court of the Belvedere, and the farthest the garden of the Pigna. We shall see those at close range later on. The growth of the palace has been the work of centuries. Fourteen hundred years ago Pope Symmachus built a modest residence here ; additions were made from time to time, till now the palace buildings cover more than thirteen acres of ground. Popular fancy once gave it sixteen thousand rooms, when a thousand would be nearer the mark. In the days of Pius IX over two thousand people lived therein. It was not the only residence of the Popes, for three miles away to the southeast stands the Lateran Palace.

Times and customs have so changed that the Vatican remains alone the papal residence, and only a small portion of it is devoted to living rooms. For example the side nearest us now contains the famous library of the Vatican, and has a corridor which extends in a straight line nearly a thousand feet. The opposite side of the building has two museums, the museum of inscriptions at the south and the museum of ancient sculpture at the north end. Between offices and art treasures, the government of the Church and the guarding of noble works of art, the palace has little space now for the luxuries of a royal court. Observe that the double row of buildings is joined about the center by two transverse buildings with a little court between. It would take a long time to describe the different and interesting uses to which all these buildings and their various apartments are put. We shall visit many of them in the course of our journey. At present it is merely necessary to get a clear idea of the plan of the building, so that we may know at every stage just where we are with regard to the palace as a whole.

Looking out over the roofs of houses scattered about the plain, you can see the Tuscan hills beyond and the haze that half conceals, half reveals the road to the north of Italy. The Tiber flashes a smile from the distance. With a little imagination we can see and hear the glorious legions that sped along the northern road under the command of victorious generals, and returned again and again laden with the spoils of nations; we can see too the hordes of barbarians that thundered down from the north later on and despoiled in rage and revenge the city whose rapacious lords had conquered them. The barbarians would have razed Rome from the earth, as the Romans razed Jerusalem, but that the Popes captivated, baptized, instructed, and so persuaded their wild chiefs that they became tillers of the soil and governors of a new Italy.

At the nearer edge of the distant plain the long, buildings which we see are the barracks of Italian soldiers. Midway are splendid apartment houses which represent a tragic episode in modern Roman history. After King Victor Immanuel took possession of Rome in 1870, and the Pope withdrew to the imprisonment of the Vatican, all Rome went mad with the dream of a city that should surpass in ex-tent and population London and Paris. It was supposed that not only foreigners but half of Italy would come here to reside. There was a rush to build apartments and villas in the suburbs. The banks of Italy provided the money, and French financiers provided the banks with millions. Unfortunately for the speculators, Italian diplomats made a secret alliance with Germany and Austria, a secret understanding since known as the Triple Alliarice. When the French discovered this betrayal of confidence, their financiers withdrew loans from the Italian banks; the banks had to call upon the debtors unexpectedly, and Italy suffered terribly from the panic that followed. Indeed, had not its allies come to the rescue, the monarchy might have 'gone down before public indignation. The houses yonder have come into use with time, but the people who built them lost fortunes. The city grew, but not to the glory and size of the fatal dream.

The buildings close at hand to the right are the dwellings of the workmen of the Vatican. It takes a small army of them to keep, the place in repair and order. The ravages of time have begun to show in the old palace, and it is re-ported that great repairs must be made to save parts of it from falling.

Before we descend from our lofty view-point on the dome, we should turn a little to the left and take a glance at the famous gardens of the Vatican, whose classic shades we shall soon study. Our ninth position is almost the same as before, being still in the lofty lantern, but this time we are to see what lies between the two red lines whose extremities (marked 9) are found in the upper margin and the upper left corner of our map. Notice that we shall be looking almost due north over the garden and that this time we shall get but a glimpse of one corner of the palace.



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