Did you know: the outfit for the carabinieri, the Italian military police force, was co-designed by Armani?
I’m actually writing this post at a computer while we do laundry. So…the past three days…
On Monday, we decided to do the “Caesar shuffle,” i.e., the Forum Romanum, the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill, that sort of thing.
We actually started at the Forum and took the official tour offered by the Archeological Society of Rome. Our tour guide claimed to be an archeologist, but I would recommend against the official tours. She was hard both to hear and to understand.
Like before, I’m going to describe the photos that will be put up here when I get home (well, possibly a little bit later—I have a lot of photos to edit).
The problem with the Forums is that there’s not a lot left. You’ll see 3 or 4 columns from a temple that has otherwise been torn down or plundered by Christians.
First, we saw the Basilica of Constantine. It was a big building, and apparently a smaller third of it was left. At the Capitoline Museum we saw what was left of the giant statue of Constantine that was there, but that comes later.
Next, the Temple of Romulus. But not Romulus as in the founder of Rome; this one was apparently the son of Marcus Aurelius. The son died young, and so the father deified him to help cope with his grief. The columns are made of some red marble, which is extremely valuable.
Then, a giant temple to some person; don’t remember who. It was apparently reused as a church later.
Other cool buildings included a temple to Saturn, of which about 7 columns are left, and the Arches of Septimius Severus and Titus. The Arch of Titus itself isn’t original; it was remade within the last 100 years. The friezes, though, were original, and just stuck back in.
Also, right in front of the Temple of Saturn was the Rostra. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what it was—it didn’t look as I imagined it, but that’s what our guide pointed at. Also, the Curia, which I believe was also repurposed as a church.
Near the Colosseum was the Arch of Constantine—really big arch. My photo of the arch was actually taken from the second floor of the Colosseum.
And then there’s the Colosseum. It’s big. And missing a lot of the original marble. Apparently this was not, as I had expected, from Christian salvaging but from an earthquake. For your visual enjoyment, I have a series of photos that I can hopefully stitch together into a panorama or two.
Tuesday was Vatican day, which I actually enjoyed a lot more because everything was still there. Also, not as sunny.
We got off the Metro (subway) intending to do the Vatican Museum first. Stupid non-believer that I am, I didn’t really see what would be so great about a giant church (a.k.a. Saint Peter’s Basilica). This is where I show you the photos of the lines to get into the museum, which were about 12 people wide and probably stretching halfway around the world’s smallest country—all the way around 3 different sides of the wall.
So, we decided to head for the Basilica. When we were about to get in line to go through the metal detectors, some guy was standing around offering a free English tour of the church. He was an ex-pat, turned out to be Canadian, so he spoke good English, and he seemed like a nice enough guy, so we joined him. We figured there had to be a catch, but we also figured that a tour by an expat with a catch was better than a tour by a local without one.
The guy gave a great tour, though, pointing out all kinds of nifty stuff with perspective (two statues might have looked like they were the same height, but one was actually 6 feet taller than the other). Also, flash photography is allowed in the Basilica because everything that looks like oil on canvas isn’t—it’s glass mosaic. Everybody ooh and ahh together now.
Near the entrance is La Pieta, a sculpture by Michelangelo of Mary holding the dead body of Christ. After someone took a hammer to Mary’s nose in 1972, it’s now behind 2-inch thick glass, and you can’t get anywhere near it, so I had to really work the camera for all it was worth to get a good photo. I can’t really tell if I did or not, but I think so.
The columns on the giant structure (technically called the Baldachin) are modeled after that of the Basilica of Constantine (different one that used to stand where St. Peter’s is now), and the entire thing could fit in the little hole in the top of the dome with room to spare on all sides.
There is a giant statue of Paul and Peter on either side of the church entrance, and Paul looks strangely like Zeus (see the picture). Across the top are Jesus, the apostles (minus Judas), and John the Baptist, and bunches of saints and martyrs are positioned around the square.
So here was the catch to the guy’s tour: he was selling a tour of the Vatican Museum later on. But he was really good, so we decided it was worth it. After a quick lunch, we met up with him at a bar, and then headed to the museum.
By the way, the line that was insanely long earlier? It now only stretched about halfway around one side. We stood in line for maybe 10 minutes and then went through.
Waiting for us right after the metal detectors was a statue of Laocoon and his sons being strangled by snakes. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the original statue—it was a plaster cast, as the original was being restored. Oh well. It’s still a cool statue.
Next? A statue of Artemis from the Pope’s private collection of everything stolen from the Forum (and other places). There were at least 100 marble statues from antiquity on display.
The next room was the Hall of Tapestries which contained, you guessed it, a bunch of tapestries. Not many of them were very interesting, and they were mostly faded, so I moved on.
Next was the Hall of Maps, where some cartographer had gone and drawn up giant maps of each of Italy’s provinces. These were done 400 years ago, but were apparently found to be 98% accurate. The photos here are really for the ceiling. Our guide commented that you never have to ask if something’s gold—it always is.
We then saw a couple of rather uninteresting frescos, and finally ended up in the Raphael rooms, where we were shown one of my favorite paintings: the School of Athens.
Finally, we saw the Sistine Chapel, where you weren’t allowed to take photos, so I have none. I personally was of the opinion that the paintings might be nice, but they were really far away, so kind of hard to enjoy.
One interesting thing I’ve found about museums in Rome is that they’re not nearly as protective of their artwork. Many of the galleries let in sunlight, have open windows, aren’t climate controlled…our tour guide says that he’s had curators from England who were literally in tears by the end because of how much damage the elements were doing to the artwork.
The other funny thing was that our guide was apparently not a registered tour guide—in Italy you have to be. Of course, we were in the Vatican, which is not Italy. That doesn’t mean he didn’t catch a lot of flak from other tour guides, who apparently didn’t like him too much. They apparently insulted his character in Italian, and so he flung it right back. I thought it was kind of amusing, personally.
Next we went up to the top of the dome. First they drop you off at the base of the dome, where you can walk around on the inside. I did the best I could to get photos of the whole thing which I’m going to try to digitally tape together, although there was a giant grate in the way. After you soak in your fill of that, you go out and start the 320-step climb up to the top. And boy is it a climb—as you get higher, the staircase first starts leaning to the side (in parallel with the dome), then you have to take a very narrow spiral staircase (no railing) to get to the very top. The observation deck is at the bottom of the small hole in the top of the dome.
And boy was there a view. Not surprising, really—by law, no building in Rome can be taller than the dome, but nothing even came close. I have another panorama of Rome, a photo of St. Peter’s Square, some nice shots into the Pope’s private gardens, and some nifty floral arrangements.
Today we played catch-up, hitting all the sites we had missed earlier, since we leave for Florence tomorrow.
First, we had lunch at the Piazza Navona. The Tre Scalini is apparently well known for their Tartufo, a chocolate gelato covered in chocolate chips with chocolate sauce and whipped cream on top. Very, very tasty. For the main course, Dad had a gnocchi dish and I had a fetuccine alfredo, both of which were good.
Then, I took a photo of the Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini. For reference, the closest river god is the Nile—its head is covers because at the time of the sculpting the headwaters apparently had yet to be discovered. On the left is the Ganges and on the right is the Rio de la Plata (apparently they hadn’t discovered the Amazon yet).
Next we walked to the Pantheon. It’s big and it’s apparently perfectly sized to hold a sphere the diameter of the dome. The dome, by the way, was the model for the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, but out of respect, Michelangelo made his 13 centimeters smaller. The Pantheon was converted to a Catholic church (wasn’t everything?) and is still being used as such today. Also, Victor Emanuele II and Raphel were both buried here.
Next was the Fontana di Trevi. It’s basically a big fountain. There were also lots of people trying to force knick-knacks onto the tourists.
Then we walked up to the Spanish Steps. They were rather uninteresting, though, so we just headed back to the hotel.
Note: I didn’t have time to finish this post earlier, so I’m doing it now, May 26, in Florence. My memory may be weaker as a result. I’m also going to go ahead and finish up our stay in Rome, but I’m preserving the original composition date.
After doing laundry and getting kicked off the computers, we dropped off our stuff at the hotel and headed off to a restaurant that Dad found. It really wasn’t too great, but Dad’s tirmasu was.
The restaurant was near the Spanish Steps, so we took the subway. However, we went to go back and the subway station had closed. We figured that was OK—we’d just walk to the next station. So we did, and it was closed too. But at that point, we were just two stops away from the train station, and we needed to get tickets for the train to Florence. A stop on the Roman subway, by the way, is about a 10 or 15 minute walk—walking two wasn’t unreasonable at all. So we walked to Termini and got our train tickets. At that point, our hotel was one stop away from Termini, so we went ahead and walked the rest of the way.
Editor’s note: I’m going to start on a Florence entry now, but I don’t know when I’ll finish it.