Grand Corridor of the Vatican Library, the Longest Room in the World
( Originally Published 1907 )
We are looking south now towards the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's. The room before us is over one-fifth of a mile long. Recall our view of the Vatican Palace from the dome, (Position 8), how the walls ran almost north and south in parallel lines. We are at the north end of the west row of buildings. At our left is that Court of the Pigna which we saw to be the farthest court of the three within the walls of the palace. At our right, beyond a carriage-driveway, are the palace gardens.
Observe the beautiful pillars set at intervals down this corridor, their surfaces polished as brightly as if each was a jewel to be set in a crown. Hundreds of these pillars were taken by old builders from the ruins of pagan Rome, and would have been lost to us altogether but for this artistic plunder. See that scroll-carved panel at the left of the nearest arch. Its sculptor is unknown, but his work remains forever, the envy of artists, the delight of the cultured. What hours he spent over those delicious curves ! Its particular value to us is that if we once get a clear idea of its beauty and grace all other works of this kind will be judged by the standard which it sets up in the mind.
Some of the cupboards or cabinets which are seen on one side of the corridor contain Greek and Roman bronzes, oriental jewelry, and curious articles, for instance the hair of a young lady found in her sarcophagus. This and the adjoining rooms are places in which the collector of rare volumes would revel if he could but get at its treasures. Fortunes could not buy them, and very few persons are even permitted to see them. Manuscripts of the Popes, their correspondence, copies of their public documents, records of official business, which would throw light on the secrets of history, are locked up here, not to be inspected and studied until the authorities give the word; for the rule of the library is that no document shall be given to the light until at least one hundred years have elapsed from the date of its first appearance.
The Queen of Sweden presented to the library her Alexandrine collection; the Elector Maximilian presented the manuscripts of the famous Palatine library captured when Heidelberg was taken in the Thirty Years' War; the Duke of Montefeltro gave the Urbino library, which he founded in 169o; and one room is filled with documents written on papyrus, the reed-paper of Egypt.
On the tops of all these cabinets are placed curious urns, lamps, statuettes and altar-pieces, taken from ancient and forlorn places left to the bat and the owl ; the walls and ceilings are frescoed with brilliant scenes from the lives of the Popes, or mosaic pictures of great value ; and in each section are quaint tables and chairs for the use of students examining books and manuscripts. Not a foot of this corridor but holds priceless treasures representing the handicraft, the artistic genius of four thousand years.
Half way down the corridor there is an entrance toward the left into the main library of the Vatican. You recall in our view from the dome (Position 8) that the two parallel walls of the Vatican were joined in the center by two transverse buildings. We are now about to see the more southern of the two transverse halls. Find the figure 14 on the map. Standing on that spot we shall face east and see about half of the famous room.