We had a big day planned in Ancient Rome, the city where all roads led.
Our first stop was a quick side tour of St. Peter’s in Chains Church which was kind-of-on-the-way to the Colosseum from our hotel.
Two sets of chains, now linked together, that St. Peter reputedly wore are on prominent display here. One set of chains is believed to be from the nearby Mamertine Prison where St. Peter had been held, and the other from St. Peter’s time in jail in Jerusalem under Herod’s rule.
Also of great interest here is Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses. It is flanked by statues on the wall in a large work that was intended to be the tomb of Pope Julius II, but that Michelangelo died before finishing. Following his death, Michelangelo’s assistants brought some of the remnants of the tomb project to St. Peter in Chains. Some of the best statues ended up elsewhere. Originally intended for the tomb, Michelangelo’s Slaves is now at the Louvre and his Prisoners is in Florence. This church is worth the little detour because when you gaze at Moses beside these lesser statues, it becomes crystal clear what a genius Michelangelo truly was. His work almost looks alive.
It’s all downhill to the Colosseum, possibly the single thing I’ve connected with Rome in my imaginings and what I had most looked forward to seeing. I was not disappointed.
We all had our iPods loaded with audio files by Rick Steves’ which helped us understand not only what we were looking at, but also the history behind it. I highly recommend them.
Called the Flavian Amphitheater at the time, the Colosseum was begun by Vespasian around 70 AD and opened ten years later by Titus. The opening celebration lasted 100 days during which time about 5000 wild animals were put to death.
The interior of the Colosseum consisted of the arena with a wooden floor covered with sand and the stands separated into four main sectors as you ascended, each “rigorously reserved for a particular class of citizens,” and the top level providing standing room only for the least important. Everyone got in free. Rome
Gladiator battles and wild beast hunts were the main events. “Christians were definitely thrown to the lions, made to fight gladiators, crucified and burned alive. . .but probably not here in this particular stadium. Maybe, but probably not,” Steves. “The last show of which we have any certain knowledge was held in 523 AD under Theodoric, Kin of the Ostrogoths,” and “consisted of only animal hunts, for gladiator fighting had been abolished in 438 AD,” Rome.
The rooms and corridors, below what would have been the floor level are visible in this photo and were used by the gladiators and animal handlers to move animal and human combatants up elevators to the arena floor.
The Arch of Constantine was the last monument to added to the Great Square which contained the Colosseum, the Temple of Venus and Rome, the Colossus of Nero and the Meta Sudans. Besides the Colosseum, and excepting a few columns from the Temple of Venus and Rome, the Arch of Constantine is the only monument left standing in the Great Square; the rest require your imagination. The entrance to the Roman Forum is across from the Arch of Constantine and up the hill. That’s where we headed next.
Here is a view of the Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum taken from the hillside on the way to the Forum.
A long view of the Forum. At first glance, the Roman Forum might be a disappointed for some. It is largely an area of ground with a few isolated columns left standing and an occasional partial building. But if you come well-prepared having studied history or guide books, and armed with audio tapes and a vivid imagination it is truly an amazing place to visit. In your mind you can transport yourself back to the days when Christ walked this earth and Romans in their togas and sandals hurried along the same paths we now walked. It is quite awesome, really.
From this vantage point, to the left is Palatine Hill. Located in a position to dominate the Tiber, the remains of early bronze-age huts have been discovered here. “This was certainly one and probably also the most important of the villages from which the city of Rome was to evolve,” Rome. Later private homes were built on the hill by the rich and famous. Sadly, although we were in such close proximity to Palatine Hill by the time we got through the Forum, we were not able to tour it—our legs were screaming, “No more.”
The Basilica of Maxentius was the first, and might be the largest structure we saw in the Roman Forum. The remains seen here are only one of two smaller aisles that flanked a large central nave. The emperor Maxentius died before it was finished “on the banks of the Tiber at the Milvian Bridge after the famous battle against Constantine in 312 AD.” Constantine inaugurated the basilica and had a large marble and bronze statue of himself erected in the west apse.
The Temple of Vesta stood near the base of Palatine Hill. “Within it the Vestal Virgins guarded the sacred and eternal flame, symbol of the eternal life of the city,” Rome.
The house of the Vestal Virgins was built beside the temple and was the home of the six Vestal Virgins, or priestesses charged with guarding the flame. Young women between the ages of six and ten entered as novices and remained for 30 years. They were highly honored. But “any priestess who allowed the fire to go out or became untrue to her vow of chastity would be buried alive (with a loaf of bread and a lamp) in a small underground chamber,” Rome. The house was built around a courtyard with a couple of pools, the bases of which are visible in this photo along with partial walls, statues and pedestals.
The Temple of Antonius and Faustina is one of the most intact structures still standing. It was built by Antonius Pius in memory of his wife Faustina who died in 141 BC.
You can make as much or as little from the Roman Forum as you please. The ruins are interesting, even if you know little to nothing about them. They are enthralling if you can reconstruct the living breathing city in your mind. A book I purchased at the Colosseum gift shop was extremely helpful towards this purpose. If you’re planning a trip to Rome, I highly recommend finding, purchasing and studying this book before you go. You’ll be oh so glad you did. It is called Rome—Past and Present by R.A. Staccioli. I got the English edition. The website for the publisher is www.visionpubl.com. The thing I like the most about this particular book is that it contains photographs of the Ancient ruins with overlays of what the original buildings looked like.
Archealogists continue to work here, in the heat and dust and grime, doing tedious work. Because of them we can all learn from and appreciate the Roman ruins.
It’s fascinating that a few steps away, while you are practically still standing in the ruins, you can gaze on these marvelous views of modern-day Rome.
We were down to our last day in Rome and in Italy. What a full, rich trip it had been.
Some people might make the pilgrimage to the Vatican for a religious experience, and I suspect they are well-satisfied. But regardless of your personal religious beliefs, affiliations or lack of, Vatican City is a sight in Rome not to miss.
Sometime during its growth and evolution, the Catholic Church amassed great wealth, (we could debate the ethics of the source and use of the wealth at a later time perhaps). The Church used the wealth, in part, to collect and commission art masterpieces. A large part of this incredible collection is right here in Vatican City (technically a tiny independent country), and on public display. “With the fall of Rome, the Catholic (or “universal”) Church became the great preserver of civilization, collecting artifacts from cultures dead and dying. Renaissance popes (15th and 16th centuries) collected most of what we’ll see. . .),” Rick Steves
My only advice if you go is — wear walking shoes.
The two main sights in Vatican City are the Musei Vaticani and St. Peter’s Basilica. The entrances are a 15-minute walk from each other. We went first to the Vatican Museum and started in the Pinacoteca or gallery of paintings from Medieval times through the Baroque.We were following Rick Steve’s guide for the most part which highlighted the greatest masterpieces.
This wall displays the remnants of a great fresco by Melozzo da Forli — The Ascension of Christ. I doubt photographs will ever be able to fully capture the essence of frescoes.
A close-up of the Angel playing the viola circa 1480.
This is The Transfiguration by Raphael. It is displayed prominently on a wall in a primarily empty large room, between two other paintings by Raphael—the Madonna of Foligno (circa 1512) and the one I preferred, the Coronation of the Virgin Mary (circa 1503) The Transfiguration shows Christ with the prophets Moses and Elijah at top, then Peter, James and John who cower in fear, and the remaining apostles at the bottom.
We saw Leonardo da Vinci’ St. Jerome (circa 1482), paintings of someone holding St. John’s head, of the Crucifixion of St. Peter, of Christ being buried (Caravaggio’s Deposition 1604), of many Madonnas with child, and of the Garden of Eden. It was like an illustrated version of the Bible.
We had only just scratched the surface.
We actually did the tour a little bit backwards by starting in the Pinacoteca, at least according to Rick Steves, but we were hoping by jumping to the end first, we might avoid the crowds in the Pinacoteca. I can’t say that it worked with any certainty. I don’t believe it is possible to avoid the crowds in Vatican City.
Fast reverse in time from the Renaissance to early Egyptian art.
“Egyptian art was for religion, not decoration. A statue or painting preserved the likeness of someone, giving him a form of eternal life. Most of the art was for tombs. . .,”Rick Steves
This is the mummy of a woman who died three millennia ago. I thought this was kind of creepy and I felt bad for her. I’m sure she never expected to be exposed and land in a museum. I realize my displaying her here perpetrates the offense, but I figured the number of people who see her here is insignificant to the millions who walk by her every year.
On to the sculpture from Greece and Rome (500 B.C. to A.D. 500).
Apollo Belvedere is hunting for prey. He prepares to put a (missing) arrow into his (also missing) bow.
I love the action captured in this statue of Laocoon, the high priest of Troy who warned his people not to bring the Trojan horse inside the gates. Laocoon, the most famous Greek statue in ancient Rome was lost for more than a thousand years. “In 1506 it was unexpectedly unearthed in the ruins of Nero’s Golden House near the Colosseum. The discovery caused a a a sensation. The cleaned it off and paraded it through the streets . . .One of those who saw it was the young Michelangelo.” Rick Steves
The Torso — all that remains of an ancient statue of Hercules seated on a lion skin. “Michelangelo loved this old rock. he knew that he was the best sculptor of his day. The ancients were his only peers . . .He’d caress this statue lovingly and tell people, ‘I am the pupil of the Torso,'” Steves.
The long march is a quarter-mile walk through hallways of sculpture, tapestry, and maps. The building the museum is in was originally a series of papal palaces. “The popes loved beautiful things—statues, urns, marble floors, friezes, stuccoed ceilings—and, as heirs of imperial Rome, they felt they deserved such luxury,” Steves.
Are you tired yet? Because I am. And all I’m doing is sitting here typing and putting up photos. I can’t imagine how we ever made it through the Vatican City day.
My husband Mark loved the Map Gallery of 16th century maps showing regions of Italy. Scenes in the ceiling portray important moments in church history. Mark insisted on perusing each and every one of these maps in great detail while I was interested only in finding someplace to sit down.
We’re almost done, but you can’t miss these next two rooms— the Raphael Room and the Sistine Chapel.
When Raphael was 25, Pope Julius II asked him to paint the walls of his living quarters. This room is one of the reasons you have to visit Vatican City if you are able. It is like being in a 360 theatre of wonder and glory.
Raphael’s the School of Athens is one of his most famous works of art. It occupies an entire wall in this room. Raphael has gathered all the great thinkers and scientists of ancient Greece. Plato (pointing up) and Aristotle (pointing down) are in the center. Socrates is in green midway to the left (I’m not sure he can be seen well here). Euclid (bald) is in the foreground bending down to demonstrate a geometric formula. Raphael has painted Leonardo da Vinci in the role of Plato in the center. Raphael painted himself in on the far right with a black beret. Steves
I think nothing conveys the world in which these genius talents lived in together better than the simple fact that while Raphael was painting this room, Michelangelo was down the hall, working on the Sistine Chapel.
Sadly, or maybe not so sadly at this point in this very long post, we were not allowed to take photos of the Sistine Chapel, you will have to view those online. But you can take my word for it — truly amazing.
Just a quick stop for lunch, a short walk to St. Peter’s Basilica and we’re on our way home.
You can see the people in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, lined up to tour.
“St Peter’s is the greatest church in Christendom. It represents the power and splendor of Rome’s 2,000-year domination of the Western world. Built on the memory and grave of the first pope, St. Peter, this is where the grandeur of ancient Rome became the grandeur of Christianity,” Rick Steves
The interior is as impressive as you might expect it to be.
A view of the main altar, where the dome is partially visible.
St. Peter’s is a church, not a museum. Mass is said in the apse daily for pilgrims, tourists, and Roman citizens.
And the reason I would go back and do it all again . . .
Michelangelo’s La Pieta.
All that’s left now is to sit here on the stone steps,
try to tap our energy reserves, and make it back across the bridge where the angels watch over us.
Change of plans. We were originally going to see the Colosseum and the Forum on our first full day in Rome, but after my unfortunate incident with the clams at dinner the previous night, we decided to make an easy day of it. In the morning I slept in and our two young-adult children who were traveling with us did some shopping. Before lunch, Mark and I took a leisurely stroll down the sidewalk and slipped into a church that was just there on the street.
I don’t recall the name of this particular church or if it was even given an honorable mention in one of our tour books, but I want you to see how magnificent the Roman churches are, even perhaps the more insignificant ones. We were the only two people there. (Mark seems to recall that my brother recommended we look at this church, so if you really want to know the name, I may be able to track it down. Otherwise, you could just give me a break. I was still recovering from having spent the previous twelve hours violently ill.)
I might have been looking at paintings or sculptures by one of the masters.
I didn’t have any idea what I was looking at. But in some ways this small, seemingly everyday little church was as impressive as the rest. The wealth of the Catholic church over the years, as seen in the churches we visited, can hardly be quantified and perhaps is best described as . . . excessive. But it was a sight to behold.
Mark and I had a light lunch at a sidewalk cafe and I began to regain my strength and feel my feet under me again.
We met up with our daughter and son and headed for the Pantheon.
The most impressive thing about the Pantheon might be its magnitude. It’s almost scary-big. This is not the best perspective to show it, but you can just make out a few people in the bottom right hand corner of this photo for a size comparison.
The Pantheon looks like a circular building (where the dome is) with a very large columned porch stuck on the front.
This particular building was built by Emperor Hadrian around 120 a.d. on the site where two previous temples had burnt down. As was his habit when rebuilding or restoring Roman monuments, Hadrian dedicated the Pantheon to Marcus Agrippa to whom the first temple built on the site had also been dedicated. You can just make out the name of M. Agrippa inscribed on the Pantheon in this photo of the surrounding square.
The Pantheon is known for its remarkable dome, which served as a model and inspiration for the Duomo in Florence, the dome of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Vatican City and the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. The panels of the dome were formed by pouring concrete-type materials into molds. As the tiles approach the top, the material the builders used got lighter and the panels got thinner going from about 7 meters thick at the base to 1 meter thick at the top. The open hole in the center (in this view you can just start to see the light coming in) is there by design to allow occupants to see the heavens. It provides the only natural light for the interior and also, occasionally a good floor rinsing if it rains.
Although the semi-circular niches in the circular walls used to display statues, now many are used as tombs for Italian monarchs from 1870 to 1946.
The tomb of Raphael, who died in 1520, was exhumed in 1833 and is now located here.
Although the name, Pantheon, refers to “all the gods,” no one knows for certainty what the purpose of this structure was. Some think that originally the 12 Olympian gods of Ancient Greece were venerated here, others believe it was never a temple at all, but merely “a place for rulers to glorify themselves by appearing in the company of statues of the gods,” AAA.
This photo also gives you a feel for the massive size of the Pantheon as people walk through the doorway. The reason it remains one of the best-preserved Roman structures, and mostly intact, notwithstanding the looting over the years of bronze and gold embellishments, is that in 608 the Pantheon was converted from a temple where pagan rites were performed to a Christian church—the first temple of its kind to do so.
Although we had enjoyed some of the finest meals of our lives so far in Italy, after the previous night’s experience with fresh seafood, we were all ready for a taste of home. We dined at Rome’s Hard Rock Cafe and splurged on hamburgers and fries and thoroughly enjoyed refillable soft drinks on the rocks.
We returned to our room to rest up for tomorrow and the Vatican.
Well, technically, the Trevi Fountain was not our first stop in Rome. Our first stop in the bustling city was back to the airport where we had rented our car upon our arrival in Italy. As we were staying in the city with mass transport on most corners, and as we did not want to hassle with driving and parking in Rome, we ditched the car and caught a taxi from the airport to our bed and breakfast.
We stayed at the Hotel Giardino near the corner of Via Nationale and Via Maggio. The rooms were comfortable. The hotel provided a light, but filling continental breakfast. And you couldn’t beat the location. We were about equi-distance from the Colosseum to the south and Fontana di Trevi to the north. We walked most places that we went (with occasional assistance from the metro and bus lines once we figured it all out).
Anxious to get our first look at Rome, we dumped our bags in our rooms and headed to the Trevi foutain. About two blocks up Via Maggio we passed by the Piazza del Quirinale, previously the home of the pope and now the home of the Italian president. We did not see Berlusconi once during our many trips past this corner, only his guards.
Our first view of the Trevi fountain—like so many other sights in Italy, this exceeded my expectations both in size and grandeur. It is a powerful water fountain supplied by the aqueduct system built by an emperor in 19 B.C. In 1732, commissioned by the Pope, Nicola Salvi created the masterpiece we see today.
From there we walked on over to the Spanish Steps and began Rick Steve’s recommended night walk (in reverse). The Spanish Steps are located in an upscale shopping area. Traveling with our two young-adult children, we tried to stay clear of most of the shopping. The square around the Spanish Steps is a popular night spot.
Here we are at the Fotana di Trevi again, this time under lights. Stunning.
I think this is the Egyptian obelisk (but don’t quote me on it. It was night time and there were a bunch of them.) “taken as a trophy by Augustus after his victory over Mark Anthony and Cleopatra in the 6th century.” (Steves)
The Pantheon is also stunning. We turned a corner and there it was. A monstrosity. I still get kind of a creepy, tingling feeling just looking at these photos of it. Those columns are huge. More later.
Next stop, Piazza Navona. According to Rick Steves, this piazza “features street music, artists, fire-eaters, local Casanovas, ice cream, fountains by by Bernini and outdoor cafes.” We only saw the fountains and cafes. Maybe it was a slow night, or more likely, we were simply too early. The space this piazza occupies was originally a race track built by the Emporer Domitian. From there we went to our last stop on the night walk, Campo de Fiori, where we had dinner at one of the outside cafes. I ordered a fresh seafood pasta dish that evidently contained clams. Big mistake. (I don’t know how I could have momentarily forgotten the episode after lunch at the Clam Shack in Kennebunkport, Maine.).
We walked back to our hotel past the Victor Emmanuel Monument built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the country’s unification. The chariots on top of it are visible in many places throughout the city.
Choosing a single photo of Italy to post that represents our 10-day trip there in 2009 is a daunting task.
Do I pick a photo of or from a medieval Tuscan hill town or the countryside where plum-colored, plump, ripe wine grapes cover the vines? Siena’s ornate duomo, or perhaps one of the piazzas? One of the statues in Florence—Michelangelo’s David, Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women, Cellini’s Perseus? What about Rome’s Colosseum, the Vatican, or the Pantheon?
I decide to pick the photo of the sight that I had the greatest difficulty turning my back on and walking away from, knowing I would likely never return.
I pick La Pieta by Michelangelo.
La Pieta is representative of Italy in many ways. First of all it’s in Rome and it’s in the Vatican.
One of Italy’s major attractions is the ancient city in Rome. I couldn’t stand in the Colosseum without considering the fate of Christian martyrs, (although if my AAA guidebook is correct, “few if any Christians were killed in the Colosseum.” If my memory serves me, most of this happened in a different arena. )
La Pieta is a statue of Mary cradling the crucified body of Jesus. In this statue we see both the beginnings of Christianity and the wielding of power by the Roman Empire.
It was sculpted by Michelangelo.
I think it would be impossible to visit the major cities in Italy without at minimum noting, but more likely being enthralled by, the artwork of the Renaissance and the power-packed artistic lineup gathered in Florence—Donatello in sculpture, Brunelleschi in architecture, and Michelangelo, to mention just a few. The artwork in Italy is phenomenal—I have no words to adequately describe it.
So I think in trying to portray Italy in images, La Pieta is not a bad place to start.