Directors take a rare opportunity to visit the Vatican Secret Archives

Posted by on Jan 6, 2011 | No Comments

Today’s the day! Museum Secrets premieres tonight on History Television at 10 PM ET/PT. In order to get you in the mood for the first show, read on, for an interview with the Co-Director of Museum Secrets: Inside the Vatican Museums.

An Interview with Rebecca Snow

Robert Lang and Rebecca Snow in Rome, shooting Museum Secrets: Inside the Vatican Museums

Amanda: What was it like to get access to the Vatican Secret Archives, when you co-directed Museum Secrets with Executive Producer Robert Lang?

Rebecca Snow:

Visiting the Vatican Secret Archives was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There are scholars who have spent their entire lives trying to get access, and there we were filming in the ‘bunker’ or underground storage room. It was hard to comprehend how much history was bound up on those shelves. Some manuscripts had definitely been closed for centuries. And, no doubt – living up to its name – there were many well-kept secrets too.

Amanda: While you were shooting at the Vatican Museums was there a moment that just blew your mind?

It’s not everyday that you are given a chance to climb a scaffold in the Sistine Chapel, enter the Vatican Secret Archives, or accompany an Egyptian Mummy to the hospital. It’s moments like that when I love my job most!

In particular, there was a guard who followed us around with an enormous keychain, which must have had upwards of 300 keys on it. It had keys to all the various important rooms in the museums and the Vatican palace. Needless to say it was extremely heavy.

Amanda: Was there one fact that you learned about the Vatican Museums that really wowed you?

Rebecca Snow:
I was pretty blown away to hear that the Vatican Secret Archives has over 25 miles of bookshelves!

Amanda: What was the most challenging moment during the production of the episode? How did you work around the issue?

Rebecca Snow:
One of the biggest challenges was simply getting a sense for the space, and covering all the ground in the museums in the limited time that we to film. For example, in the Pio Clementine Museums, there are many galleries filled with classical statues that we wanted to explore with the camera. We had a steadicam rig, and our steadicam cameraman suggested that we use a Segway in order to cover the ground that we wanted to, and get smooth moving shots through the galleries. We decided against using a dolly and track, which is time-consuming and limits the length and movement of the shot. The floors of the museums are generally marble, and smooth, so standing on the Segway, our cameraman could do some excellent tracking steadicam shots through doorways and hallways, and along rows and rows of statues. It was really effective, and very time-efficient too. He had a Segway that was adapted for steadicam use – with a built-in rig, and he steered with his knees. He even zoomed down steps on a ramp!

Amanda: Were there any attractions outside the Vatican Museums that made your visit memorable?

Rebecca Snow:
There is an amazing gelato place called ‘The Old Bridge’ just along the walls from the Vatican Museum entrance. You might even pass it while you are waiting in line, and be sure to grab a couple of scoops there.

Being an archaeology fanatic, one of my favourite sites in Rome is the forum, and also the Golden House, or Domus Aura, which the emperor Nero had built near a lake which is now where the Colosseum stands. Nero was so unpopular that the next emperor, Vespasian, built the huge colosseum, a building for public games, in an attempt to win back the people’s favour. The Colosseum is a breath-taking sight, but something I slightly hate to love, considering the cruelty and horror that went on within its walls back in the Roman period.

There are some underground excavations under the church of San Clemente, near the Colosseum, where you can see some amazingly preserved Roman apartment buildings.

The Catacombs of Priscilla are really cool too, very atmospheric and spooky – with niches for the bodies of Christians, and very early Christian art from the 2nd century AD.

Museum Secrets: Inside the Vatican Museums premieres tonight at 10pm ET/PT on History Television (Canada)!

Visit the episode page on our website tonight for web-exclusive video and interactive features connected to each of the objects we explore in the episode.