Monday, November 11, 2013

Viaggi a Roma! (Part Tre)

St. Peter's Basilica
We were back in Rome for the final leg of our trip. Having been there briefly a week before to see the Pope, followed by a 7 day cruise around the Mediterranean, I was looking forward to staying (mostly) in one place for the next five days and exploring the sites Rome had to offer.

Rome is home to more than 900 churches, and we only missed a few.  It's not just St. Peter's Cathedral and the Vatican that have wonderful art- some "regular" churches have phenomenal works of priceless art for all to see.  Some might criticize the Catholic Church for holding such collections, but they are open to everyone and will be forever, free of charge.  If you want to critique, click the links, but I was amazed by the beauty of the art work and surprised that I, having never been much interested in art before, had an emotional reaction to some works.  No I didn't cry or anything, but some of it took my breath away and just amazed me.  It's hard to describe, but if you ever have the opportunity to travel to Europe, Rome and its art shouldn't be missed.

The first we saw was in a small church near our hotel- Santa Maria de Vittoria- a creation by the master sculptor and architect Bernini, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa.  The title refers to her being in a state of spiritual enrapturement, feeling divine joy from it.  My picture of it is poor due to having been rushed while taking it.  When we arrived there in the early evening of our first day, we noticed many visitors sitting or kneeling at the pews.  My research notes showed the church to be open until 7PM for visitors, but our 6:25 arrival was apparently only a five minutes before an evening mass started.  We quickly abandoned our tourist personna and stepped into a pew, joining in the ceremony.  While we understood the rituals and recited the prayers along with the 3 Priests behind the altar (3 Priests!-  no shortage of Clergy there), it was a little hard to follow in Italian so we slipped out soon after it began.

The Ecstasy of St. Teresa
My favorite piece of the whole trip was Bernini's Rape of Persephone.  This was completed when he was only 23 years old.  It depicts the abduction of Prosperina, where she is seized by the god Pluto and taken to the underworld.  
The Rape of Persephone
Borghese Gallery

The statue is housed in the Borghese Gallery , a former home of Cardinal Borghese, an avid art collector and patron of the arts who had the villa designed to showcase the works.  Unfortunately, they practically frisked us before going in, with no bags or purses allowed, and definitely no cameras, so both these two pictures were taken from the internet.  The sculpture is in the center of the room which allows it to be viewed from all sides.  The most dramatic side is the one below.
Solid marble appearing to be actual flesh
The sculpture had once been kept behind glass to keep visitors from touching the piece, believing it was real flesh.  Since Bernini was so young and masterful, and this piece looking so realistic with the hands of Pluto gripping the flesh of Persephone as she struggles to free herself, he was thought to be some sort of wizard who had turned two people into stone.

Bernini's work is all over Rome.  He designed St. Peter's square and the bronze canopy over the altar inside the Cathedral, two fountains in Piazza Navona, Apollo and Daphne (also in the Borghese Gallery), and countless others.

The facade of St. Peter's without restoration.
Hundreds of years of dirt and grime.
The facade after (we) Knights of Columbus
paid for its restoration.
St. Peter's Baldachin is a large Baroque sculpted bronze canopy, technically
called a 
ciborium or baldachin, over the high altar of St. Peter's Basilica 

Fountain of the Four Rivers (undergoing maintenance) 
The Moor Fountain in Piazza Navona (where a Cardinal was saved in Angels and Demons)

Apollo and Daphne.  Daphne changes into a tree
to escape Apollo chasing her.

Of course most of the architectural sights in Rome are essentially works of art in themselves.  We saw them all, walking nearly everywhere, only using the metro or buses when starting or finishing our day on the other side of the city.  Travel Tip: If you plan to see three to four museums over a 3 day period, and will use the bus or metro, buy the Roma Card. It will give you 2 free museum or historical site admissions, discounted admission to unlimited others, and free transportation.

The same night we saw the St. Teresa statue, I took my wife to the Trevi Fountain and shared dinner and a bottle of wine on the Spanish Steps. I highly recommend that, if not for the view, then for the significant romance points one can score.

Travel Tip:  Avoid locals offering to snap your photo for you.  I saw a few tourists around the city haggling with the opportunistic photogs over the price they'd have to pay for that "service."  Another Travel Tip:  Bring a decent camera.  While my late model Droid smartphone has a high megapixel camera, it just doesn't compare to a real camera.  The varied delays in the shutter caused me to miss several shots that were either lost opportunities or had to be redone.  I-Phones don't have the same delay though.  Another problem with them is the glare on the screen washing out the image and the shutter release button.  All of these pictures were taken with my smartphone however, and it does a decent job despite the drawbacks.
Some sort of sports venue undergoing renovation
We visited late in the day and the crowds were very light. The
Roma Pass got us into a line that had no wait whatsoever.  This view
shows the area beneath the floor of the coliseum which served as
locker rooms for the Gladiators and housed the animals used in the games.

Panoramic View of the Coliseum

Picture showing how the floor of the coliseum was used to
change sets for the day's show, as well as allow both
Gladiators and wild animals into the venue.  
Model detailing the engineering behind the sets, how
animals were lifted from the sub-levels through the floor.

The rest of that day were spent exploring Palatine Hill and Circus Maximus.  Palatine Hill was basically the upper east side where all the de-luxe apartments were in Rome.  It was even shored up and enlarged to fit more homes for the affluent and a few Emperors later on, including Augustus and Tiberius which can still be seen.

The church of San Bonaventura (1625) 
View of the Stadium of Domitian
By the end of the day we were exhausted.  At the end of every day  we were exhausted.  You can literally walk the soles off your shoes, which my wife nearly did.  Travel Tip:  Invest in some excellent walking shoes.  Tennis shoes would have been great, but my silly need to look fashionable caused sore and tired feet that couldn't recover by the next morning.  During the planning for our trip I become somewhat of a fan of Rick Steves.  His advice was very helpful for us in many ways, but I probably took it on board a little too much. The clothing he recommended is good for the traveler touring many cities or countries in Europe, but not so much for us staying in either a stateroom on a cruise ship, or in a hotel in Rome.  His recommendations are based on the need to travel light to aid in getting on and off trains with luggage, as well as easy wash and wear in the hotel sink.  I had heard him and others say that Romans don't wear shorts and tee-shirts, and that this type of clothing would not only mark you as a tourist, but could affect the level of service one receives.  Between the moderately high temperatures (upper 70's to low 80's), high humidity, the amount of activity we undertook walking everywhere, and the clothing (long pants and sleeves), I was a soggy mess by noon everyday.  While we did do quite a bit of getting on and off trains and moving in and out of the metro stations which involved lots of stairs (see part 1), I could have used a few more changes of clothes, shouldn't have cared about trying to look European (there's no chance I won't stick out as a tourist), and gone more for comfort in my clothing choices.  Rome is full of tourists no matter what time of year and from what I saw, the level of service was fine no matter how people were dressed.  Surprisingly, the cruise line passengers, despite our ship offering "Freestyle Cruising" where casual wear is fine almost everywhere on board, were very well dressed every night.  So some more of my better duds could have been useful had I felt the need to fit in.   

The next day was spent on the Scavi Tour below the Vatican where the tomb of St. Peter resides- directly below the tip of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica.  The history of St. Peter's is fascinating but to briefly summarize, Constantine, the first Christian Emperor wanted the Cathedral to be built quite literally on top of St. Peter- "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church."  So he cut the roofs off the existing tombs built upon the spot where Peter was crucified (upside down) in Nero's Circus.  He filled them in with earth and thereby used those tombs as the foundation for St. Peter's Basilica.  The various rooms of the scavi are compartmentalized by glass airtight doors and an exact humidity is maintained to perserve both the ruins and the remains of St. Peter.  Unfortunately pictures were off-limits and I didn't dare try and sneak one.  I won't promise that I'll always abide by that rule however; pardon the foreshadowing.  

The Scavi below St. Peter's.  You'll recognize the canopy from an earlier picture in this post.

After the tour we went through the Vatican Museums which ended in the Sistine Chapel.  More amazing art throughout the museums of course.  I was fascinated by the many sculptures on the ceilings.

What surprised me was that these were actually paintings on a smooth rounded ceiling.  Everything you see in those pictures is paint, but no matter where you stood to view the ceiling, it still looked like sculpture. Countless works of art in the museums, but those pale in comparison to the magnificence of the Sistine Chapel. While Michelangelo was painting the ceiling of the chapel, Raphael was painting the Papal Apartments.  Raphael was considered both by others and himself to be the greatest painter of frescoes in all of Rome.  When he learned that Michelangelo, a sculptor and his rival for artistic praise, was painting frescoes in a chapel that all would see, he was jealous and angry.  After sneaking a peak at the ceiling of the chapel, he ran back to his own work and repainted a figure using the face of Michelangelo in spite. However, Raphael improved his figures from then on by adapting to Michelangelo's style, essentially admitting that his was better.

The Vatican Museum tour was followed by a visit inside St. Peters where we saw the magnificence and grandeur of the Cathedral up close.  

As part of that tour we could have climbed the dome of St. Peters, but by then we were beyond tired so we called it a day.  This post is beyond long (and we still had over 2 days left on the itinerary), so that will be enough for now.  Assuming our host doesn't change the locks, I'll be back for what should be the last in the series of Viaggi a Roma!


  1. Bravo! Magnifico!

    (No worry about me changing the locks Tuna. This stuff is great. The photos alone are priceless. Well done and I'm excited that there will be a Part Quattro!)

  2. Well, thanks for this! The post is a tour de force and as a virtual tour you just saved me a couple o' few thousand dollars on air fare, hotels, yadda, yadda. I can cross Roma off the list now. ;-)

    (I've been, actually, albeit many many years ago.)

    Nice job on the layout of the post, as well, which is very appealing, visually.

    1. I was concerned that it might be a bit, ya know, "busy". (Hee hee!)

    2. I will say there wasn't NEAR enough glitter.

    3. Something our technical support staff is working long hours to correct...

  3. Great post and brought back a LOT of memories... Thanks for sharing them!

  4. I go on trips and get pictures of flying pigs in tutus and mugged by pelicans. You got some great times there.

    1. Whoa cool. Are we going to see those pics over at your place?

      ("Mugged by pelicans", I'm guessing down in the bayou on that one...)

  5. Gents, thanks for the nice comments. I'm glad you like the pics and I'm happy to share. The formatting is a bitch so I'm glad that's appreciated too. Florence and one last casual day in Rome is all we have left so Blogger in Residence role will transition back to snarky lurker and occasional poster.

    1. Snarky lurker?

      Occasional poster?


      Tuna, I'm so proud of you.

    2. Yeah, my comments tend to be on the sarcastic side, or maybe that's just how I'm thinking before I actually comment! I'm "occasional" since I'm never going to be as prolific as you, although I really like the forum you give me- brothers in arms who don't mind me ranting every once in a while.

    3. I like the stuff you post. Don't care how infrequent it might be, it's quality stuff.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.