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Galleria delle Carte Geografiche

An important, though frequently overlooked component of the Vatican Museums, the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche (Gallery of Maps) is more corridor than room, running half the length of one side of the upper floor at 175 metres and adjoining the Galleria degli Arazzi and the Galleria dei Candelabri.

The Gallery of Maps was the creation of Pope Gregory XIII, who we know today for devising the Gregorian Calendar which we use today. Gregory's self-imposed remit was much bigger even than that - his commanding of time fitted neatly into his vision that the entire world be under the writ and control of a Catholic Church bossed from Rome, and the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche is a bold attempt to map this dominion. Starting in 1578, Gregory had built a new storey on top of a corridor alongside the Belvedere Courtyard, with the map gallery just part of a concrete celebration of his papacy. Again, the spiritual father was attempting to leave a very material record of his time as pontiff. All this took place against the backdrop of the Protestant Reformation, as the Papacy desperately tried to assert the supremacy of Rome. The gallery was to describe, in cartographical detail, just how the Catholic Church had pulled the whole (known) world together, with the Pope at its head.

Down both walls are massive maps of all the provinces of Italy, some extant, some commissioned to complete the set. The Pope played fast and loose with historical and political fact: the former papal seat of Avignon in France was included, as were Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, though these were currently controlled by Spain. The placing of the maps on the walls represents (roughly) their place on the Italian peninsula, so one can get a sense of viewing maps within a larger 'map' - that being the whole room.

Complementing the maps are narrative scenes from the history of the Church - old testament martyrs, holy victories over unbelievers (and Protestants). All are parts of the story which lead us to our current position - complete dominion of the Catholic Church over the world. If northern Protestant troublemakers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Knox could foment dissatisfaction with Rome and its works, the Papacy could mount a dazzling display of the efficacy of the Papacy - the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche would display to humbled pilgrims that Rome really was creating, civilising and unifying God's Kingdom on Earth.

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