The shuttle buses departing from the Auditorium Parco della Musica each had a sign indicating the language of the onboard tour guide (the entire Business Leadership Forum was simultaneously translated and available to all attendees through headphones in Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, German, and English). The route from the auditorium took us through the Olympic Village which was built for the 1960 Games. The guide on the "English" bus was superb and she pointed out the many architectural features along the route and also the history of Vatican City.
The Vatican is a landlocked enclave in Rome, but it is actually the world’s smallest sovereign state (country). Beyond the territorial boundary of Vatican City, the Holy See has authority over twenty-three sites in Rome and five outside of Rome, including the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. The Vatican was closed to the public when we arrived. I had been there some years ago along with many thousands of other visitors. It was a unique feeling to be there with a small crowd of five-hundred. Being divided into small groups of a dozen or so made the experience very special — a lifetime memory for all of us.
The Vatican Library is home for many of the world’s rarest books and documents.The library has more than 150,000 manuscripts, including the four oldest surviving manuscripts of the Roman poet Virgil dating from the fourth and fifth century AD; and the oldest known manuscript of the Bible, written in 350 AD. There are also more than a million books, including 8,000 published during the first 50 years of the printing press. Virtually all civilizations and cultures in the history of humanity are represented somewhere in the Vatican Library. The wealth of content is phenomenal and scholars from all over the world are deeply interested in studying it in detail. The result will be an advancement in the general understanding of the history of the world. That is the good news. The bad news is that due to the cost of travel and the physical limitations of the Library to accommodate visiting scholars, only about 2,000 scholars per year can actually visit. Fortunately, a number of technical collaborations have focused on how to both preserve the treasures of the Library and make them more accessible to scholars. IBM developed a digital library service to extend access to portions of the Library’s collections to scholars worldwide. (more on the project here).
Walking into an empty Sistine Chapel is hard to describe. The chapel is 135 feet long and 44 feet wide. The paintings are awe inspiring. It took Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (March 6, 1475 – February 18, 1564) four years to create the 68 foot high fresco ceiling. Our tour guide happened to be an artist and she herself was in awe of the art and knew an amazing number of details about every aspect of the incredible room. We spent nearly an hour listening and craning our necks to try to absorb what we were seeing. One part of the "creation" panel contains an image that depicts the various parts of the human brain. It has been only recently that the image has been validated as being an accurate depiction. When Michelangelo painted the ceiling in 1512 he certainly had no MRI’s or medical texts to refer to.
Cocktails in the courtyard outside of St. Peter’s Basilica and dinner in the Braccio Nuovo Gallery at the Vatican were beyond outstanding. The blessing was offered by the president of Vatican City, who is also a cardinal. His eminence then thanked IBM for the digital library project and said it was that generosity that inspired them to make an exception and allow a formal dinner in the Vatican for IBM and the BLF guests. He also reminded Sam that there were still many thousands of manuscripts left to digitize. The outstanding food and wine were accompanied by a string quartet which played a selection of works from the great masters: Bach, Pergolesi, Boccherini, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann. It was an evening to remember forever.