Our weekend in Rome was exhausting. Miserable and wonderful both. The weather was very hot and humid and shade was not often found. Our guide, Angela Orberer made it magic with all of the wonderful information that brought the history alive.
On our first day in Rome we visited the Vatican City museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peters’s Basilica. It was so hot and the museum was miserably crowded. The museum is huge; we only saw some of the more important works. One of my favorite pieces was the pieta done by Michelangelo. The proportions of Christ were a bit odd; he looks not quite large enough to be a full grown man. It is such a lovely work expressing the love of a mother. It is sadly behind glass because in 1972 it was attacked by a crazy guy with a hammer. The Sistine Chapel is all about Michelangelo’s ceiling, which is incredible but otherwise it would not be special, a short visit here is all that’s needed. It was so amusing to know about and then see the way Michelangelo incorporated people into the painting. Such as Biagio da Cesena who criticized Michelangelo for painting genitals. He is depicted on the ceiling in the underworld with donkey ears, body entwined by a huge snake that is biting the end of his penis! St. Peter’s Basilica is spectacular. It is so enormous that you lose all sense of perspective. There is lettering up high below the ceiling that are 8 feet tall and look like nothing.
Our first stop of the day was at the Trevi Fountain, arguably the most famous fountain in the world. It’s name Trevi comes from its location at the junction of three roads. These roads converged at the termination of the ancient Acqua Vergine aqueduct, which feeds the fountain to this day. This is where people came for drinking water. This aqueduct system deteriorated after the fall of the Roman Empire but was restored during the Renaissance. The fountain represents the four seasons and the benefit of water. It also bears the coat of arms of Pope Clement XII. This fountain’s grandeur contrasted with the ruins, dirt and poverty of the common people living there at the time.
We saw the Spanish Steps (174) which were built in the early 1700’s to link the Spanish Embassy with the Trinità dei Monti church, The column of Marcus Arelius depicts the life and battles he fought and originally had a statue of him on top, it now has a statue of St. Paul, one of many examples of the Catholic Church appropriating the ancient works of art. There are a number of ancient obelisks in Rome. One we saw is the Egyptian Obelisk of Montecitorio (595-589 BC) brought to Rome by Emperor Augustus in 10 BC. It was part of a sundial system. It was buried somewhere between the 8th and 11th centuries and not recovered until 1512. Restoration work was difficult an expensive and faltered until Pope Pius VI [reigned 1775-1799] repaired it and added the bronze globe decoration with the emblem of Pius VI on top…. sound familiar. Still without the vast wealth of the church we probably would have lost many of these treasures.
Our next stop was the Pantheon, now the Basilica di Santa Maria ad Martyres. The former temple of the gods was commissioned during the reign of Augustus and completed by Hadrian. It has perfect proportions! It is open at the top and has a drain in the floor. The walls are 18 feet thick to support the dome and the foundation is as deep as the dome is high. Rafael is buried here as well as two Italian kings. There are monarchist volunteers who stand guard over the tombs of the kings!
We made our way through the hoards of people for our 12:25 scheduled visit to the Colosseum. WOW! There are 80 arched entrances that were used by the ancient Romans. They could fill the Colosseum in about an hour! Their ticket would have been a piece of clay with a gate number on it telling them where to enter. Food and bathrooms were on the bottom floor. Bathrooms were a social place in that time with places to sit and visit and there was cold water on the floor to soothe the feet and promote elimination! The building was started in the year 70 and completed in the year 80! Can you believe it was constructed that quickly?! Slave labor. It is constructed of brick and concrete with a travertine facade. They would put up an awning to shade the visitors Many horrible events happened here for the entertainment of the masses. There were 5-9 thousand animals killed during the inauguration year.
The forum was really interesting and fascinating to wander through. I found it impossible to imagine it how it had once been. It was the heart of the city where temples and justice buildings were located. We saw the remains of the Temple of Vesta, where the vestal virgins lived. They were chosen by draw to leave their families as young girls to become priestesses for a total of 30 years. They were well educated and protected but if they broke the vow of celibacy the punishment was very harsh. Here is a website with some very good history of the Colosseum: http://www.the-colosseum.net/idx-en.htm
We also visited St Ignatius. The ceiling fresco is unbelievable. When you are standing under the entry way and look up you would swear that there are columns and that the ceiling raises very high, but when you look back from the center of the church you can see that it just a painting. This wonderful optical illusion was created by the painter Andrea Pozzo, a jesuit monk, painter and architect. He created the paintings in this church between 1685–1694. It is a lovely church with many fine works of art but this is what stands out in my mind.
Finally we visited The French National Church to see the Caravaggio paintings there. All of the other artwork is light in color but the Caravaggio paintings have a very dark background. The paintings have great depth and beauty. This was new for the time. The paintings are illuminated but every now and then the lights go out and you see them as the worshipers at the time did, with only natural light. It is very difficult to see them!
This was the end of our museum visits. We had another half day to look around Rome before leaving the next day. That evening was spent on the rooftop terrace of the hotel with the view you see in the first photo on this post. What a great view! (Hotel Pace Helvezia)