Also a trivia note - for those of you who have read the Dan Brown book "Angels and Demons," this is where the camerlengo makes his final appearance.
The final set of stairs wind up around and follow the curvature of the dome to the point that you have to walk diagonally because it's no longer possible to stand up straight.
Cameras cannot capture this breathtaking sight of early morning Rome from the top of the Basilica. From the Tiber snaking along dissecting the city to the hundreds of churches punctuating the hazy skyline, this was one of the coolest things I've seen on my many travels, ranking right up there with the sunrise on Mt. Sinai.
The enormous dome's shadow on the opposite side
After descending down the opposite side, we visited the Tombs of the Popes (photos prohibited inside). Much like my experience in St. Katherine's Monastery, there was something incredibly moving about this place. Perhaps it was because of the enormous power wielded by the men buried there and how much their decisions affected the course of world history, or because of how much people loved the popes that reigned during their lifetime.
People were falling on their knees to pray in front of the tomb of John Paul II, and being there, it was easy to understand why. The reason I was on vacation in the first place was because Muslims were on the Eid Al-Adha, and some were completing their lifetime achievements of the pilgrimage to Mecca, which is one of the five pillars of Islam. For the people praying in front of John Paul II's tomb here in Rome, it must have been the culmination of their own pilgrimage. This was a man who had reigned since 1978 and was enormously popular, as evidenced by his funeral procession in 2005. For many devout Catholics under 40, this was the only Pope they had ever known, and the opportunity to come and pay their respects must have been very moving.