The famous Roman market of Campo de’ Fiori doubles as a microcosm for the quotidian life of Rome. By day it is a vegetable market. Midafternoon, it is a hot mess in the process of putting itself back together. It’s business wear scattered across the floor while preparing for the evening. By night, Campo de’ Fiori is bubbling with nightlife, the movida. That being said, he who passes through the square in the morning knows it as a farmer’s market. He who walks through at four pm knows it as a piazza full of spoiled tomatoes and garbage trucks. And so on. He who frequents Campo de’ Fiori by night knows it differently—the traditionally red roofs of Rome that otherwise look as if they are sunburnt are cooled off by the moonlight and the statue of Bruno Giordano in the center of the piazza watches over the city in all of its cosmic pluralism. Cities, Rome in particular, are as infinite as Giordano’s universe. Everything a matter of space and time.
One of the least nocturnally toured areas of Rome is the Vatican. Despite having one of the most historical and treasured museums in the world and being one of the most popular destinations for Rome tours, the Vatican is rarely seen under the moonlight. The Eternal City is full of nighttime gems (for example, the best part, you can’t tell how dirty the Tiber River is), but the people that know how completely different a tour of the Vatican in the evening can be are few and far in between. In the daytime, the Vatican Museum is overflowing with visitors. The Sistine Chapel and the Last Supper become pop culture. People are cramming together to see important works for the sake of seeing important works. Cameras snapping, elbows touching elbows, sweat being swapped. Michelangelo and Raphael are the Beatles at Citi Field. However. A tour of the Vatican Museum at night offers an entirely different experience. The same Sistine Chapel and the same Raphael Room are transformed. Almost mysterious. Without the swarming of tourists and borderline skirmishes involved in getting close to famed pieces of art, the rooms of the museum become a new kind of intimate.
The Octagonal Courtyard is a classical open space in the Vatican Museums. Being the only major open-air attraction in the Vatican Museum, it is completely transformed by the night sky. The moon and the stars (the distant suns according to Bruno Giordano???) move across the Belvedere statues. However ironically, Antonio Canova’s stone statue of Perseus raises Medusa’s decapitated stone head towards Mount Olympus to display his accomplishment to Athena. Laocoön and his sons battle sea serpents sent by the Greek gods.
These are the statues that the likes of Bernini and Michelangelo himself used as fountains of inspiration. With the change in light source and shadows, the visual effect of subjects themselves is changed. Drastically. The triumph of Perseus and the human suffering of Laocoön are no longer textbook attributes, but sentiments come to life. So if you find yourself in Rome and it’s nighttime and you happen to be awake and in search of an artistic experience to relish, take a walk through the Vatican and its spectacular museum. You will feel like the star of your own Ben Stiller movie.
– By Tony Mastroianni –