Take a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel

Seeing the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel is a hassle. It’s constantly mobbed, you’re not allowed to take pictures (unlike the sneaky photographer on the right) and you have to walk through a maze of rooms to reach it. But the minute you gaze up at the beauty of this Michelangelo masterpiece, all the pains of getting there evaporate. Now there’s a totally new way to view this stunning masterwork without all the fuss, courtesy of the Internet and some high resolution photography.

The Sistine Chapel Virtual Tour offers web-surfers the pleasure of exploring this oft-packed wonder all by themselves, all rendered in gorgeous detail. You’re free to zoom in on the most minute details of the frescoes, examining them up close in a way never before possible. To help get you in a properly pious mood, your Virtual Sistine tour is also accompanied by the sound of an ethereal chorus (get your mute button ready if you’re not a fan of choirs). As you spin your cursor in circles around the room, you literally feel like you were there.

Thanks to technology, everyone can now get up close and personal with this amazing landmark. Best of all, there’s nobody around to yell at you if you try to take a photo…

[Via Buzzfeed]

Insults against religion in Italy can get you jail time: Just ask Italian comedienne

I just heard about the Italian comedienne who is facing jail time in Italy for insulting the pope. In Italy, there are laws against insulting religion. If you tell a joke that is against the pope, it can land you in hot water.

According to the story, Italian comedienne, Sabina Guzzanti, a presenter at a rally in Rome this past July, made a joke about what could happen in the after-life to popes who are against gay rights. Now she is facing five years in jail.

Italy is not the only country where people mind their Ps and Qs when talking about certain people and regulations or habits are in place to command respect.

In Thailand, for example, before each movie, there is an ode to the king before the feature film. The audience members stand throughout the king’s anthem and photo montage of images depicting aspects of his life. There isn’t a law that says you have to stand, but everyone does–even tourists like me.

If you don’t stand for the king before a movie, you may feel a bit silly sitting in a sea of waists and legs, but that’s about the worst that can happen, I imagine. If you head to Italy, it seems like when it comes to religion, follow the adage, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

[Here’s an article I came across about the habit of standing up in movies to pay tribute to the king.]

Unless you must see the Pope, avoid New York this weekend at all costs

A New York cab driver told me yesterday he expects this to be an insane weekend n New York, from a transportation stand point. “Much worse than when Bush is in town. People actually want to see the Pope, you know,” he told me.

I believe him. With the Pope arriving here from Washington on Friday, there will be massive road closings, tightened security, thousands of visitors from out of town…They are apparently already sealing mail boxes in the area where he’ll be staying (East 72nd between Fifth and Madison) and erecting barricades.

The chances of seeing Pope Benedict XVI. are somewhat slim, anyway, unless you have “tickets.” It’s kind of a funny concept – having to obtain a ticket to see the Pope. Forget the Yankees! The Pope is the hottest ticket in town and people are scalping tickets to the Pope’s mass.

Unless you absolutely must see the Pope’s shadow, my advice is: stay away from New York.

Churches in Saudi Arabia?

Cultural changes in Saudi Arabia have been a frequent topic on Gadling. We’ve talked about advancements such as: Saudi women being allowed to drive, controversial books being permitted distribution, bans on photography being lifted, and restrictions such as men imprisoned for flirting and the banning of red roses for Valentines day.

The latest, and what might be the most significant cultural change in the works is the possibility of building churches in the country. According to the BBC, the talks are the result of Saudi King Abdullah’s meeting with the Pope last November. Allowing churches to be built would give 1.5 million Christians who live there a place to worship — something that they can do only privately at the moment. The last Christian priest was expelled from the kingdom in 1985.

These talks were spurred after Doha allowed for a Catholic church to be built where the first mass was held earlier this year, attended by 15,000 people. Doha has now given the go ahead for Anglican, Orthodox and Coptic churches to be built.

According to the UK Times: “Saudi Arabia adheres to a hard-line Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam and is home to Mecca and Medina, the most holy sites of the religion — no faith other than Islam may be practiced.” If churches do come around to being built in the kingdom, it will be a huge feat in Muslim-Christian relations.

Pope Urges Europeans to Have More Children

Here is a good opportunity for tourists with good sperm! Europe needs more children. At least the Pope thinks so. During his recent trip to Austria, he blasted Europeans for beings selfish and not wanting to procreate. As a result, Europe is aging rapidly.

Nothing seems to help Europeans have more kids though: they have tried bonuses for child delivery, generous benefits, cheap daycare…now the Pope.

Consequently, statistics show the Austrian Church has lost about one million followers since 1983, and only 67 percent of Austrians are still officially Catholic, compared to almost 92 percent in 1900.