Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rome, Day 2

This was an action-packed day. We got up bright and early and headed out, walking from our hotel to the Colosseum. We had prebooked a group tour of the colosseum/Palatine Hill and Roman Forum areas for 0830. We gave ourselves plenty of walking time, and made it there with time to spare. We did have a heck of a time figuring out how to get from an upper street area, until we figured out that the nearby metro station had an escalator down to the lower level. Once we were down there, we saw two prominent stairways that we had somehow missed in our earlier explorations. Whatever. We *do* have great senses of direction, but they failed us at times. At least we are good map readers!!

We were to meet our group and guide at the Arch of Constantine, situated right next to the colosseum. Ethan and I took pictures of the arch from every angle...and started to get a little worried when 0830 came and no one else was there. No guide, no one. Two or 3 minutes later, a man came running up to the arch and introduced himself as our guide. He was delayed on a metro train, it seems. And it turns out, we were the only ones to book the tour for this day. Private tour!! They charge a whole heck of a lot more for private tours than group ones, so we really scored a deal.

Our guide was the fastest speaking person I have ever met. Anyone who knows me knows that I am *so* not one to point this sort of thing out, being a fast talker myself.....but this was micromachinemannish. I will upload some videos of parts of our tour so you can hear. It took a few minutes before I was able to get my brain to move fast enough to understand what he was saying, but I got there in the end. The guide was British, and I believe the company itself is Irish-owned. Real Rome Tours, for those who are wondering. Anyway.

We started out learning about the Arch of Constantine. This is one of what was at one time over 100 triumphal arches. After massive victories abroad, they would build a commemorating arch and have a huge parade through the city, going through all of the arches. They displayed the booty they had acquired, along with the slaves and leaders of the conquered area (dead or alive). There were also massive paintings of the area that had been conquered, so the peasant Romans could see the land their government had gotten for them. The arches usually had a giant chariot on top, with horses pulling 'winged victory' (goddess of victory). This particular arch is mostly made up of sculptures/reliefs pulled from buildings or other monuments, since at the time when it was built, there were not many artisans left in Rome.

Palatine Hill and Roman Forum

From here, we headed over to the Palatine Hill area, learning about the origins of Rome and some of its fabulous history. Lots of ruins here that would not have made any sense to me without a guide. He really made those bits of stone and brick come to life. After this, it was over to the Roman Forum, where we saw more extensive ruins, and also some restoration work going on. There were several archeological digs going on, so a few areas were off limits, but we still got a lot of information on exactly what it was we were seeing.....and what we might have been looking at were we here a few thousand years earlier. There are still some temples that are used today as churches. My most favorite story was the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina--originally the Temple of Faustina, built by her husband the emperor when she died and was deified. When HE died twenty years later, his successor, Marcus Aurelius didn't want to be bothered making another he had Antoninus's name added on to this existing one. How tacky.

This temple's columns have deep groove marks near the top, when medieval people tried to tear them down. At that time, the temple was half buried underground, and they were not able to pull down those massive slabs of marble. So, they decided that this must be a holy place, and converted the pagan temple into a church.

The colosseum as seen through the Arch of Titus

The ancient Appian Way

The Colosseum

After the Forum, we headed at last into the colosseum. We beat the lines to enter here by using our Roma Passes, and took the elevator to the top, where our guide explained the history of the building. We told him that we had watched Rome:Engineering an Empire before we headed to Europe, which he loved. It was great, in depth documentary that gave us a good background on Roman history before seeing the real thing. We talked a lot about some of the info presented in that show, and learned which areas were a bit shaky on factuality. Once the colosseum was explored, our guide left us to take pictures and wander on our own. We took our obligatory photos, the headed out to find a restaurant to grab some lunch.

Arch of Constantine as seen through one of the arches of the colosseum

After lunch, we walked past the Forum to the Capitoline Museum, located sort of behind the Victor Emmanuel monument. This is billed as the oldest museum on earth, dating back to the 1400s. I was beyond excited to see the colossal hand of the statue of the emperor Constantine. It is huge--my entire hand just fits over his ring fingernail. This hand is pictured on a big poster here at Harborview, advertising for orthopedic hand surgery. It still gives me a little thrill every time I walk past the poster on the 6th floor east clinic wing. Anyway. They also have part of an arm and the head of this ginormous statue.

Statue of Marcus Aurelius--the only equestrian bronze sculpture to survive from ancient Rome (they thought it was the Christian emperor Constantine, so they left it alone whilst destroying all the pagan statues) This is actually a copy of the original, which is housed inside the museum and no pictures allowed.

We wandered through the museum looking at sculptures and paintings and artifacts, using an audioguide. After a few hours, we were museum'd out, so we returned the audioguides and headed back out into the glaring sunlight. Did I mention that it was raining when we were at the colosseum?? The weather in Rome changes even faster than the weather in Seattle.

One of the statues of Castor and Pollux (and their horses)--the twins that make up the constellation Gemini

We walked down the looooong set of stairs from the museum, then over to the front of the Victor Emmanuel monument. Locals mock this bright white building....but I liked it. We snapped our pictures here, then decided to walk to some churches nearby, making our way to the Pantheon.

The Pantheon

We ended up a block off from the church we were heading to, so we went straight in to the Pantheon. After all the ornate churches we had visited already, the Pantheon seemed subdued and understated. I love the simple geometric designs everywhere. The catholic church has set up their gilded altars and worship area, but this ancient building belongs to all faiths. We sat for a while on some empty pews, enjoying the different archetectural details. The earlier rain left behind some puddles below the oculus, so they cordoned off the center area of the building, which made it seem not so crowded in our nearby pews.

Santa Maria sopra Minerva

After resting our backs and feet, we went to a nearby church, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, for another religious experience. This church played a role in the life of the famous Galileo Galilei, and they had exhibits inside related to his scientific discoveries. There is also a short obelisk outside, with an elephant at it's base. Not quite sure what this is all about, but it was interesting nonetheless. As was the kook who came out of the church, flung holy water on an unsuspecting young woman, then ran off. Terribly entertaining. This church is one of very few decorated in the gothic style, and we enjoyed checking out all of the ornate details inside.

Torre Argentina

From here we decided to get some Italian gelato, then walk over to Largo Argentina, home of the Torre Argentina cat sanctuary. I have previously discussed this wonderful place on my blog, but it is just so very wonderful I must discuss it again. Staffed by volunteers, they care for several hundred cats every day. Cats that are left to die in the US, or are put to sleep. There are cats with three legs or no eyes or nerve problems. Cats who are very old, cats with open wounds and abscesses. Cats, cats, cats. Many are outside, free to come and go as they please. Others are kept inside until they are healed, or their vaccinations are complete. Some are segregated out because of infectious diseases. All are cared for, and cared about. We fell in love with a teeny tiny black kitty named Frank Sinatra, who is scared of his own shadow, and everything else.

We bought some trinkets at their thrift store and made a donation, then followed the advice of one of the volunteers and headed to the Trastevere area, across the Tiber river. Along the way, we stopped at Piazza Navona, and watched a street performer get out of a straight jacket that was padlocked shut. We walked for quite a bit, and found a little restaurant tucked along an alleyway and stopped for dinner. Delicious pasta and a wonderful carafe of wine. Just the teeniest sparkle to the wine. I loved it, and so did Ethan.

Piazza Navona

From Trastevere, it was a loooooong walk back across Rome to our hotel on the far side of Termini station

The Tiber river

Rome Day 3

Our plan for this day was to go to the Vatican Museum, then St Peter's Basilica. That is all. But.....we took the metro over to the Basilica, exited to a whole lot of rain, and saw a line that wrapped around the entire square, and then some. At this point in our vacation (the very last day), I was *so* not up for standing in the rain for an hour. So, we left. I know we will go back. I *will* get to see everything. I am unconcerned about having missed it.

We headed instead to the nearby Castel St Angelo. It has had many uses over the years (as a fortress, as a hiding place for popes, etc), and now houses a museum. We toured around, ending up at the very top, where we had fabulous views of Rome and St Peter's Basilica.