Friday, July 11, 2008

Roma Heat Eterna

So this is our last night in Rome. Tomorrow we fly back to London, and then on to San Francisco on Sunday. But we're not there yet...

On Wednesday we visited the Vatican and didn't have enough time. The line, while enormous, actually moves very quickly, and we got inside St. Peters in about 45 minutes. Once inside, there was no more waiting. We spent a lot of time wandering around the basilica, built during the Renaissance. It is the largest in the world, and you believe it. The ceilings are huge throughout, and the mosaics on the walls really stand out. The high altar seems about 3 stories tall, and is directly over the tomb of the apostle Peter, while the site of his upside-down crucifixion is in the left wing. Michaelangelo's Pieta sculpture is in the right wing, and sits behind bullet-proof glass. It's magnificent.

From there, we could have gone directly to the Sistene Chapel or climbed the Dome, and we decided to climb the Dome first. All the other dome climbing was a warm-up for this 520-step journey. But with all our walking around and climbing, it didn't seem as challenging as it sounds. The most unique thing about it was the utter lack of graffiti on the walls, and some modern steps. (But the fun slanty climb at the top was still there.) The surveillance cameras and easy-to-clean glazed bricks might have something to do with its cleanliness.

Last was the Vatican Museum and Sistene Chapel. It closes surprisingly early and we didn't get enough time, but it was still worth it. The rooms leading up to the chapel are an impressive precursor, with hallways painted with many many maps (each the size of a large room) of the ancient world, and real tapestries. In the rooms themselves (formerly apartments for medieval popes) are frescoes by Raphael including School of Athens (look it up :) ). I wasn't expecting it and almost walked right past it. Finally was the Sistene Chapel with Michaelangelo's restored ceiling, which removed the dust and soot from many centuries, but added no paint. It's surprising how bright and vivid it is. But the guards spend a lot of their time telling people to be quiet and wandering through the crowd to get them to stop taking pictures. Some people!

Yesterday we visited the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Mamertine Prison, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fountain. The Colosseum is taller than I expected, but not as wide or long. Unfortunately, we couldn't go out onto the restores arena floor like Tim and Corey did. Also unfortunately, I lost the others near the exit.

After about an hour without seeing them (they thought I was ahead of them and were waiting at the nearby Arch of Constantine), I gave up and went ahead to the arch (they'd already left), and then across the street to the ruins of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, the home of emporers. Most impressive there was the ruins of the Vesta temple and the home of the Vestal Virgin, the preserved Roman Curia (but you can't go inside) and the Arch of Titus, built by conquered Jews after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Equally impressive is that I ran into the others near the end of our time there! Whew!

Mamertine prison is quite a place to be. Both the apostles Paul and Peter were actually imprisoned in its cell (across the alley from the Curia), and you can stand next to the pillar to which Peter was chained. It's very dark and damp and small, but not as small as some of the dungeon cells in the Louvre -- which isn't saying a whole lot.

Later in the day after siesta, we went to the Pantheon. It's got enormous Egyptian pillars. It's this huge imposing round building in a TINY space with other buildings all around. And it's also been a Catholic church for hundreds of years. We could peek through the doors to see the altar table, the walls, part of the inner dome, and the roof's circular hole. It's a complete anachronism because its a perfectly structurally sound ancient building amidst all these other modern buildings that are nearly as tall, obscuring much of the approaching view.

Finally we visited one of my personal highlights from Rome -- the Trevi Fountain. I had no idea that there was so much going on there. The "fountain" is actually a bunch of different waterfalls and spouts all next to each other with a vivid scene of Neptune (I think) in sculpture behind it. And the square is PACKED with people at night. Just a fun, energetic place to be. And yes, I tossed a coin, so I guess I'm going back.

Our plans for today didn't work out too much, but we did go to the Spanish steps. Unfortunately the obelisk in the middle was surrounded by restoration scaffolding which kinda killed the view, but the fountain was cool, and we got relief from the liquefying heat of the day in the shade off to the side. And no, I don't know what's "Spanish" about them.

Tomorrow we'll visit the tombs of the Popes at the Vatican before leaving, and me might (I hope I hope) get to Westminster Abbey on Sunday morning. But that's about it. I expect to post one last time about the things that I'm looking forward to upon my return.

I miss you all and will see you shortly. (Or longly, I suppose, for those of you whom I don't usually see often anyway. Sad, I know.)


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