Another great day in Italy today. We started out this morning for the Colosseum, the Palantine Hill, and the Roman Forum. The day was beautiful, again, sunny but breezy. We still got sweaty and dirty, but it is much nicer than we have experienced in Rome before. The Colosseum is a tremendous experience – every time I go there I really feel a sense of awe. It was such an engineering feat and it was home to such strange and savage things that passed for entertainment. I always marvel at both those things and wonder what life was like for Romans in that time – before the first century AD. Too different to even to imagine, I suppose.
After that we went to the Palantine Hll and the Roman Forum. The Palantine Hill was where the Emperors lived in their palaces. It was truly a case of the rich having every excess. The gap between the rich and the poor was very dramatic and should be very instructive to us today.
After the Forum we walked around a little looking at other ancient ruins and witnessed a street brawl. Two tour guides got into a fight and one was just not willing to let it go. It spanned across a very wide (and busy) street and down several hundred feet. Finally the Police came and that seemed to calm things down a little.
Next stop was St. Peter in Chains Church. I’m so glad we stumbled onto this church several years ago. It’s really wonderful and not on the tourist route so it’s not nearly as crowded as the other big attractions. The legend is that the priest had the chains that bound St. Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem and the ones where he was bound in Rome. When he brought the two sets together to compare them, they miraculously fused together and so they built this church to house them.
There’s also a wonderful sculpture by Michelangelo of Moses. In this sculpture, Moses is depicted with horns, which was common in that time. There was some confusion in the translations of “beams of light” (halo) and horns in the translation from Hebrew. Many artists used horns to represent halos. As Steve said, horns are much easier to sculpt than a halo.
We grabbed a quick (and not very memorable) lunch before heading to the Capuchin church to go through the crypt. It was a little macabre diversion from all the ancient wonders. It’s a display of about 300 or so skeletons of monks who died and were buried there. After about 30 years or so, they open the coffins and take the bones out to make room for the newly dead. Instead of just piling up the bones, they made impressive displays with them. There are several rooms – the pelvis room, the thigh and leg bone room, the skull room, etc. In the first chamber is a haunting reminder that death is imminent for us all and we shouldn’t fear it: “What you are now, we once were. What we are now, you will become.” No photos allowed in there so you’ll just have use your imagination (or look it up if you’re really curious). Oh, and you have to buy tickets to tour the crypt. They had discounted tickets for under 18 and over 65. I pointed to the sign and said, “Oh, look discounts for over 65″ meaning Steve should definitely get it. The guy looked us all over and gave us all the discount. I wasn’t sure I should be happy that I got a discount or mad that he thought I was over 65. I decided to go with happy.
Next stop was the Trevi Fountain. It’s a must on the checklist – for us and the rest of humanity.
Next was the Pantheon. One of the greatest buildings of all time. Dating to about 118 AD, it was built as a temple to all pagan gods. It was built by the Emperor Hadrian and has been in constant use ever since. First as a pagan temple, then for Christians. Again, the engineering is really impressive.
How they managed to design and implement such a thing is incredible to me. The dome was constructed by using the Roman arch system and using different materials as it went up to support it. The higher it goes, the lighter the materials. And the very top, the oculus is open to the sky, allowing wonderful light to come through that changes as the day progresses. And also to allow rain in as well.
Then we walked through Piazza Navona, one of the great piazzas in the Rome. The centerpiece is a Bernini fountain, the Fountain of the Four Rivers. There is a great deal of symbolism in this fountain which was erected in the mid 1600’s. Now it is the center of the piazza which is surrounded by restaurants, shops, and a church. And lots and lots of tourists. This piazza used to be home to many performance artists – musicians, painters, and those people who look like statues and move for money. Apparently, the city has begun regulating them because there were only a few scattered here and there. We even saw the police giving some poor musician the once over examining a packet of paperwork he had produced. It’s nice, but I kind of miss all the street theater that used to be there.
We took a taxi back to the apartment and rested in the AC. It was nice. We decided we earned some gelato, so we walked down to one of the best artisan gelato shops – Il Gelato Torce. They have some really exotic flavors, like celery and haberno. We got some more traditional ones – Hunter’s favorite of strawberry and lemon, I got watermelon and lemon cream, and Steve got rice and something a little weird. They were all wonderful and just what we needed.
We had dinner at Pirilli’s, just at the bottom of the hill. It was a wonderful meal and a great conversation and even better people watching. A great day in Rome.