One of the main capitols of the ancient world. So much history and architecture that when you get there you can’t get your head around all that has happened here. A bustling, busy modern city whose namesake came from one of two brothers (Romulus and Remus) who were brought up by a she-wolf. An empire of the ancient world that I’ve wanted to see for a long time that ranks as a “bucket list” city for me, and after having a remarkable time in Pompeii, I was so excited to get out of the car and into the city.
I think that what was the most remarkable to me, at first, was the traffic. I’ve been down a road or two in my time, and, as many of you know, in a few crowded cities at that. Traffic in Rome was quite a crazy time. An adventure inside of and adventure. It’s an experience that in itself warrants it’s own page (and perhaps I will, though I am afraid I wasn’t able to take that many pictures, since I was white-knuckling the steering wheel)! After wrestling with traffic, our first stop on the itinerary was Vatican City. We were fortunate enough to find a parking spot close, so unlike our crazed driving through the city to find the Home of the Pope, once there, we had only a short stroll to get in.
We entered from the north, amongst a sea of souvenir vendors that lead us to the wall of the city and we walked through the large stone wall that surrounds the Vatican that led directly on to St. Peter’s Square. After all the tight spaces and crazy Rome traffic, it was beautiful to move into such an open space with immediate views of the obelisk and fountains in the center of the square with the Basilica overlooking everything on a perfectly clear sunny day.
The day we were there, and I am sure this is probably a daily occurrence, there were a lot of us tourists. It wasn’t packed in the square in the way I’ve seen it full when there is an event, but the wait to get into St. Peters Basilica took at least 45 minutes, so there were a fair amount of people. More basking in the hot Italian sun and drinking as much water as I could get my hands on!
In the pictures above is the route we took on our way toward St. Peter’s Basilica; the Largo de Colonnato of which there are hundreds of columns (obviously) and an army of statues on top. As in traditional LK travel fashion, we were on a rush mission to get what sites we could in for the day; and, as we were on a tight schedule, we planned to head out and make it to Pisa by the next day, so after a few glimpses of the square, walking to the obelisk and fountain, we made our way to the line to go into the Basilica.
There is security before being allowed into the church, so that is the first line you get into. You put your belongings through a scanner and, later, are checked to see if you are dressed reasonably respectfully. We got our cameras and bags through without a problem, and fortunately we all passed the dress inspection. I was a little concerned because we were dressed for road tripping, not exactly in our “Sunday’s best.” I was a bit worried that I didn’t have my black skirt and veil (ok, not really)… It is nothing like that. They just want you covered and I think the stipulation with women was no shorts. I had my jeans on and passed without issue, so they are pretty liberal in that regard. We still had a 15 minute wait, but the splendor that awaited ahead was well worth it.
So worth it. Walking into this iconic piece of history is yet another one where I am struggling to describe, but awe is a good start, though an understatement. There are THOUSANDS of things to look at, admire, absorb and reflect on that I may need to rethink my approach when it comes to vacationing: Yet another place that requires a number of visits and many days during each visit to get even a little understanding of all it has to offer! It’s a bit challenging to absorb 700 years of history in an afternoon. Unfortunately, it’s those schedules of the life I live now that both allow me to see these places and at the same time, the necessity to see them very quickly. But not a complaint by any means! We had a few hours to explore, so we walked to most of the places in and around the Basilica, determined to make the best of the time we had.
And the Basilica is so full of art that every last foot of it offers a new object, writing, relief or wall painting to marvel at. Marble everywhere. For me, the alter grabbed my attention first, looming large in the background as I entered the church. It is massive, which is a bit deceptive given the enormity of the place. You see people walking to the alter from the back of the church they keep getting smaller and smaller. I hope the picture above shows this a little bit; it was taken halfway down the main hall! Everything is at such a huge scale both in size and stature, that it is deceptive. I again noticed this when I was down near the alter; I was looking up at the top of the alter and saw people walking around viewing us from above in the Baldacchino (main dome) overlooking the Pope’s alter. They were specs against a railing that had to be at least a hundred feet up. I wanted to get up there to see the splendor from above. Unfortunately not to be; the line to do that was really huge, so we moved on to looking at the different halls (that are the sizes of churches in of themselves) within St. Peter’s.
I’ll include a shot of a statue that caught my eye (and by no means a favorite; to make a choice like that would be an impossible task). What is so cool about seeing these masterpieces are that, at one level, you are looking at a rock. A fancy, carved rock. The craftsmanship and talent that turned that rock into the statue mesmerized me. The draping of the statue is, like the statue itself, made of rock… But looks like a blanket. A soft, warm blanket that you could crawl under. Inspirational to say the least: I won’t be looking at a rock the same way: Picking one up now I think, in the right hands, it’s possible to turn it into a thing of beauty and gives you the insight that anything is possible with vision and will. Some people will throw the rock aside as just a piece of rubble while another will pick it up and see the beauty hidden within and know how to bring that out. I guess it’s all about perspective and how you see the world.
And that world, thankfully, I’m having the chance to see and, albeit usually in a rush, still able to take it in and have my world broadened. We’d toured the Basilica a bit more, finding our way down into the crypts behind a statue. A much different place. The final resting place of previous Popes. In contrast to the world above, the sanctuary below was serene and quiet. White walls and the crypts of the popes of the past. Interesting, but in a different way. We walked down a couple of the halls and found our way out, emerging back into the light outside the Basilica, right next to a water fountain. A welcome sight and about a gallon of water later, we headed out to battle the traffic and find our way to the Roman Colosseum.
We’d figured out at this point that much of Rome is circular, so a dozen or so traffic circles it was, eventually finding the arena a bit more efficiently than finding the Vatican. Now this won’t come as a surprise to many of you, but one would expect that the first thing that would catch my eye is the Colosseum, with it’s arches and aged stone and impressive prominence in that part of town and, of course it did, but what really caught my eye… Well, as the picture shows… A horse (of course). There were carriages and horses out front and I had to stop and say hello! He was an older, gentle horse, and he gave us a very nice welcome to the Arena of the Gladiators!
Again, more grandeur on a large scale. More lines to get it, but we found ourselves in the shade inside the colosseum and even waiting in line to get tickets, there were things that catch your eye. Particularly the huge hallway leading up to the seats. In many ways, it is very similar to modern sports stadiums and perhaps is the basis for the architecture of sports arenas that need to accommodate large numbers of people. In the case of the Colosseum, it could hold up to 50,000 people! Used for combat with the Gladiators and surprisingly, events like miniature sea battles and animal hunts. There was also public executions and re-enactments of battles from Roman history and myth.
We first went to the second level and started our way around, looking both up and down and getting the feel of this grand old structure. It’s another place where it is hard to get a sense of how big it actually is… until you start walking around it. It’s around 1700 feet in circumference so by the time you’ve walked all the levels, you’ll easily get a mile’s walk in–and probably more with the stairs, the displays inside, etc.
Here was my first view: In the back of the photo you can see where the original arena floor was, with structures below holding animals, prisoners and gladiators. It also had the infrastructure to support all that, from elevators and hoists, chambers and even… plumbing.
The floor itself was covered with sand and it’s where we get our English word for arena (the Latin word for sand is harena or arena), so my initial hunch that the Romans were the start of some of the architectural practices we use today wasn’t bad (yes, I’ve known about the use of the arch and their innovations in getting water into the city) at least when it comes to sport stadiums I can just imagine the events here, certainly more graphic and horrific than what we go into stadiums for today! No Monster Trucks for Cesar, but is sure appears that they could accommodate anything then for what we do today in both games and supporting the masses of people that came to see the events of the day.
So we made the loops around the Arena, spent some time inside looking at the exhibitions and as quickly as we arrived, it was time to get back in that now well driven car and head north to Pisa. It was a wonderful day and, though the last bit of excitement was seeing a car fire on the interstate on our way up to Pisa, we arrived at a hotel just south of the city for a night’s sleep before heading out to see the famous leaning tower.
Which I will leave for the next post. As always, work calls and getting in the time to write these is precious and few and far between, but I do want to give you a glimpse at what I’ve been up to in some of my travels, so although you aren’t going to get the top notch writing style of Anthony Bourdain, or a detailed description as you would in a Rick Steeves tour, I am hoping that writing these gives you a little sense of what I experienced during my time visiting. Talk to you soon.