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Published: February 16th 2019
With both of our birthdays in the same week in October we decided to take a few days away from Tsamaya and do a little in country traveling. We have been very happy with the people and facilities at the marina in Gaeta, the ability to walk around the town which is only steps away, but the extra bonus of this location is the ease of getting to the train station in Formia so you can be connected to anywhere. Just outside the entrance to the marina is where the bus stop is to catch the bus for takes for a short ride to the train station. Our plans were to take the train to Rome, stay there for a few days and then continue on to a hill town in Umbria called Orvieto.
We had been to Rome for a day on our way down the coast to Gaeta, but knew we would plan another trip as there is so much to see and learn in Rome. In planning our trip we found out that it is very beneficial to book many of the places we wanted to visit ahead of time and we were glad that we did.
The Mathematically Perfect Dome of the Pantheon
142 feet tall & 142 feet wide & 30 foot light opening
Trying to narrow down what we could fit in to a few days was somewhat difficult, but by the end, we found that we felt that we had done well with giving ourselves enough time to enjoy the booked places but still giving us time to wander and discover other parts of Rome that we didn’t even know about – a fun way to explore. One of the highlights we find with staying overnight in various towns/cities is the ability to enjoy the change that occurs during the evening hours. We would wander back to areas we had been during the day and enjoy the lighting and excitement that comes alive in the evenings.
The AirBnB that we booked worked out well for us as we could walk to various sites, but it was as close to a bus stop for using public transportation to save time in getting to numerous sites in the city. We arrived in Rome in the early afternoon which gave us time to check into the BnB and still have plenty of time to start our explorations. Fortunately with having been in Rome earlier in the year we had a head start of getting
our bearings. On our previous trip we explored the Forum and the Coliseum so we saved a whole day of sightseeing in order to see other sites in the city. We found that it was best (and sometimes mandatory) to get reserved tickets ahead of time so fortunately we had been able to do that making our days somewhat planned, but still left time for wandering on our own.
The first day we went to the Pantheon which is Rome’s best preserved monument. It is an engineering marvel with its mathematical precision. It was built in 27 BC to honor the gods (note not just one god but many). The dome is a perfect 142 feet tall and 142 feet wide. It may surprise you to know that it was built of concrete. The base is 23 feet wide and at the top it is 5 feet thick and made of a lighter weight material. When you look up at it there are circular rows of square indentations which helped to make it lighter weight. The only light that comes into the Pantheon comes through a hole at the top (it may not look too big but in fact
is 30 feet across). Marble was used on the floor and slants toward the outside edges for any rainwater to drain (remember that big 30 feet hole at the top of the dome!). Over the years the purpose of it changed from honoring the gods to a Christian church and was used continuously for 1,900 years. It is impressive to remember when viewing this structure that it was built in 27 BC and still stands as a major monument in the city today.
This area of the city was alive with activity and we had a chance to enjoy some street musicians, but many of them were not your typical busker – we had a chance to enjoy a wonderful opera singer and a woman that played the harp. Definitely class in the middle of Rome.
We wandered into a wonderful baroque style church, the church of San Ignazio which was built between 1626-1685. It is rich with carved figures, a ceiling fresco of San Ignazio, marble and gilded columns and its very unique feature – a circular painted “dome”. At first glance it appears that there is a dome overhead, but the more you look you see
that in fact it is an illusion created by an artist in 1685. Maybe they ran out of money for the real dome?
The day wasn’t over yet, so we wandered over to the Victor Emmanuel Monument. This was built to honor the first king of Italy on the 50th
anniversary of the unification of the country in 1870. You may question the date, but we learned that after Rome fell in 476 AD, there wasn’t an Italian nation for over a thousand years. Instead it was a land broken up into numerous principalities ruled by numerous foreigners. By the time we walked over to the Monument we found it was closing in 20 minutes so they only allowed us in the gate to be able to climb the stairs on the outside if we wished to take some photos. It gave us some wonderful views of the city in the evening light. Inside there is an elevator to the top of the monument for what is said to be spectacular views, but we were quite satisfied with what we were able to see.
At the front of the monument two soldiers stand guard at the Tomb of
the Unknown Soldier and there is an eternal flame and Italian flags flying nearby. The monument to the King is over 200 feet tall and 500 feet wide so is quite the landmark. Another outstanding feature is the equestrian statute with the King which stands at 43 feet long. Two statutes of winged Victory are located at the top and can be seen from quite a distance around the city. We understand there is a museum located inside, but as it was not open when we arrived and our next few days were busy we missed seeing that – as we keep telling ourselves, you can’t do it all so you do the best you can!
The next day we had booked our visit to the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s. For those of you that may not know the Vatican is not only the home of the Pope, it is in fact an independent country located completely within the city of Rome. This dictates that it has its own armed guards, post office, euro coin, and radio station. It is completely enclosed with a wall 39 feet tall which was built in the 9th
a result of damage to St. Peter’s done by pirates in 846 AD. One of the things we did do was to head to the post office in order to buy a Vatican stamp and sent a couple of post cards from there. We know it was a touristy thing to do, but figured it was worth doing (and fortunately my Mom saves all of the post cards we send so will see it again when we get back)
The first area that we visited was the Vatican Museum which can easily take a good part of the day to go through. When you first enter you start by viewing Egyptian mummies and wonderful Greek and Roman statues. The museum is housed in the popes’ former home so you have to occasionally stop and remember to admire the surroundings as well. Once you are through the museum you wind up in the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s masterpiece (sorry no photos can be taken there) and then on to St. Peter’s Basilica.
The rooms dedicated to Greek and Roman sculptures include many that most would recognize even without signage and many others that were new to us. Some of
the better known included that of Apollo, the god of the sun but shown in human form and another of Hercules. This one is located in a round room patterned after the Pantheon interior showing its grandeur. Not to be missed are the mosaic tile floor which had previously been located in an ancient Roman bath. Standing near the statute is a large Roman basin which was from Nero’s palace and made from a single block of marble. This particular marble is purple in color and comes from Egypt which increased its value and rarity.
You are taken through long corridors of the former palace to view numerous vases, statues, tapestries, stucco covered ceilings and past ancient maps. Walking through these rooms and seeing the grandeur it is easy to see why Martin Luther rebelled against the wealth of the Roman Catholic Church. The room full of maps from the 16th
C. was interesting as we were able to pick out some of the cities we had already visited and even spotted Gaeta where our boat is currently. We were told that these maps allowed the Pope to let visitors view the expanse of the various regions of Italy
all from the comfort of his home.
In the previous living quarters of the Popes over the years they hired well known artists to paint the walls and ceilings. One room in particular is striking in that Raphael was hired to paint the walls for Pope Julius II. “The School of Athens” fresco of Raphael’s was interesting to study as its subject was that of the Renaissance which included classical art, literature and science. He included the figures of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and Euclid. He used the faces of others to portray them - as an example Leonardo di Vinci is seen as Plato and he even puts himself into the painting. He had a chance to see what Michelangelo was doing in the Sistine Chapel as he was working at the same time he was so decided to add Michelangelo leaning next to a large block of marble.
We were able to enter the Sistine Chapel, but photography was not allowed. It is built on the older foundation of a chapel that had been here before. The current structure is one that had been re-built in 1477 by Pope Sixtus IV and therefore the Chapel was named
after him in case you were wondering where the name Sistine came from. Michelangelo was asked to paint the ceiling and refused as he viewed himself as a sculptor and not a painter. Eventually he agreed and he took 4 years starting in 1508 to complete the ceiling fresco. The Last Judgment, also by Michelangelo, is located behind the altar and was done when he was in his 60’s from 1536-1541. The Chapel is a very popular place for tourist to visit, but it is still used for official purposes. The College of Cardinals gathers here to make their decision on a choice of a Pope. The Chapel is quite plain from the outside, but the interior definitely is the shining light and the reason to visit here.
St. Peter’s Basilica is easily recognized by the dome that was designed by Michelangelo. The Basilica is located at this particular spot as St. Peter was crucified and buried here in 65 AD. Christianity was legalized here in 313 AD which was when Constantine decided to build a Church to honor St. Peter. The building we see today was started in 1506 and completed in 1626. Here is the famous Michelangelo
statute of the Pieta and the bronze canopy by the well known artist, Bernini. To get an idea of size within St. Peter’s the bronze canopy stands 7 stories tall as the church covers an area equal to 6 acres!
When you exit St. Peter’s you look out over St. Peter’s Square and the 90 foot obelisk that was originally erected in Egypt more than 2,000 years ago and later moved to Rome. It was moved to this location in 1586 and topped with a cross. No matter what your religious beliefs it is well worth visiting the Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel to take in the wonderful artwork that has been done over the centuries and are preserved here.
After spending most of the day indoors we decided to walk back across the Tiber River taking in the city lit up at night. We had read that some of the fountains around town would be lit up in blue lights to highlight the importance of water and the major impact climate change is having on this important resource. The signage indicated that the leaders of the countries where the major rivers of the world:
the Mississippi, the Amazon, Mekong, Yangtze, Congo, Volga, Danube, and Tanganika Lake would be attending a conference here in Rome. The lighting would be of numerous fountains found across the city of Rome so we decided to check a couple of them out. We wanted to go to the Piazza Navona as we read that it is a wonderful place for people watching and enjoying an evening stroll. The site of the Piazza had originally been a racetrack built in 80 AD for athletic competitions and the plaza today still has the outline shape of the track. There are three major fountains located here and the central one of the “Four Rivers” by Bernini was lit up in blue light. The sculptures that make up this fountain were done by Bernini in the 17th
C. and represented the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube and the Rio de la Plata. If you aren’t familiar with that last one it is located in Uruguay and some wonder how that one made it into the fountain – never did hear an answer to that one. There are two other famous fountains in this same Piazza – the Fountain del Moro (Moor) and the
Fountain of Neptune which was completed in 1574. The night we were there it wasn’t too crowded so we were able to get close to the fountains to see the amazing details of the sculptures. We understand that during the day this area becomes quite busy so it was nice to have a chance to wander without the crowds. Another reason to spend some time in a city to enjoy an evening walk.
The next day was Bob’s birthday and as a result we didn’t book any reservations anywhere so we could take the time to wander, enjoy a birthday meal in Rome and have some “down time” as the other days in Rome were quite busy. On our bus ride from the bnb into town we kept passing a church that looked quite impressive, but we didn’t know anything about it. We happened to see quite a few people in line to go in so at the spur of the moment we got off the bus and joined the line. We were glad we did as we found it was the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore. We were told it was one of the best preserved and
oldest in Rome (432 AD). It is dedicated to the Holy Mary and is one of four Papal Major Basilica’s. This one is actually located on Italian territory, but the Holy See still owns it. When the home of the Pope returned to Rome after it was located in Avignon the Papal home was in Santa Maria Maggiore for a time as the one located in the Vatican had been in ruin and needed to be repaired. The mosaics found here are magnificent and many date from the 5th
C. We signed up for a tour which would take us to a couple of areas that were not normally opened to the public. This allowed us to see a few other chapels with its magnificent sculptures and mosaics, but also to go upstairs to view many of the papal vestments that are kept there until needed. We also were provided the chance to see one of the mosaics that is located on an outdoor upstairs balcony and admire the detail and work involved. It turned out to be a bonus stop for us.
In asking Bob what type of cuisine he wanted for his birthday meal he decided on
Thai. Yes, we know we are in Italy, but even though we were in Rome we wanted a change from Italian. When in a city as large as Rome we knew that there would be wide variety of foods to choose from. After researching restaurants we started our walk to that area of the city enjoying our rambling. When we got to the restaurant we found that it was very crowded (it didn’t take reservations) and Bob decided he didn’t want to wait that long. We remembered that close by we walked past a Middle Eastern restaurant so thought that would be a good option as well. We were very happy indeed. We knew some of the offerings on the menu, but many we did not so we took the advice of our waitress. She brought us two very different plates with a variety of offerings – we enjoyed both of them with the dishes that we recognized as well as a few new ones! It was good that we ate at lunch time as we could try to walk off our meal as we went to see other sites in the City.
Many times we try to stay
away from the very popular tourist attractions due to the crowds, but then again, you also have to just go with it and take in those places that are iconic for a place. On our travels we came to the Trevi Fountain (along with what seemed to be everyone that was visiting Rome that day!) It is quite an impressive water feature with its sculptures designed by Bernini but completed by Nicola Salvi in 1740. After spending some time people watching there we made it over to the Spanish Steps. This area is very popular area for people to meet and today was no exception. The steps are filled with people sitting on them socializing; some groups stood on them and broke out in song while others enjoyed a “quiet” lunch. The wide curving 138 steps lead up to two Baroque church towers. When listening to our audio tape about the steps we found that they are called the “Spanish” steps as the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican is located here – funny how things get named! At the bottom of the steps there is another fountain which is the “Sinking Boat Fountain”. This one is by Bernini as well
The bronze statue of Hercules, Mosaic Floor
& Roman basin in a room remnant of the Pantheon
which is to tell of the legend of a fishing boat that was lost during the 1598 Tiber flood that landed the boat at this spot. Never know with legends how true this is, but it did end with another piece by Bernini.
Our last day in Rome started at the Borghese Gallery as we had booked tickets for it quite some time ago. We knew we wanted to visit here the last time we were in Rome, but found out that the openings were limited to specific day and time so had to plan ahead for this one. Cardinal Scipione Borghese villa is the home of the gallery which displays the art commissioned by him. He was the nephew of Pope Paul V and once he was made Cardinal by the Pope he was able to amass great wealth from Papal taxes and with some of those funds became a patron of the arts. For a few years, Bernini worked exclusively for the Cardinal and the collection includes many of these actually shown in the same room in which they were originally commissioned for. Many well known pieces by Bernini are housed here which include “Apollo and Daphne”
A Funeral Stele from 1640 BC
notice the amount of detail still visible
which when you see the delicacy of the work is hard to believe it is all made of marble. At the age of 25 Bernini decided to do a self portrait in the figure of “David”. Bernini brings realism to the piece and catches him in action. “The Rape of Proserpine” by Bernini illustrates Pluto as the King of the Underworld with the daughter of the earth goddess in his grasp. There are numerous other pieces, one more captivating than the next. For those of you in to the arts, it is well known that Bernini’s work is of the Baroque style wanting his works to be viewed from all sides which fortunately you are able to do with the space available in the Borghese Gallery.
One room is dedicated to the sculpture of Pauline Bonaparte (Napoleon’s sister) posing as Venus for the sculptor, Canova. This work was done in 1808 and created quite the scandal which Pauline seemed to relish. When viewing this piece with the smoothness of her skin and the details of the fabric it is so hard to accept that this was all accomplished out of white marble. We were fortunate enough to have to
return through this room later in the day and were able to see it in a less harsh light changing its looks dramatically.
There was an abundance of sculpture to enjoy, but fortunately there were numerous paintings on display as well. There were numerous paintings by Caravaggio, a Baroque painter, with his emphasis on realism and working with sharp contrast of dark and light.
Just like in other places we have been in Rome you have to remind yourself of the buildings these exhibits are in order to stop at times to appreciate the surroundings themselves. Here at the Borghese Gallery this is no exception. The rooms are magnificently decorated and the villa is surrounded by acres of wonderful gardens.
After taking most of the day to appreciate the art on display here we took some time to walk through a small part of the gardens. It is nice to see that the gardens themselves are a draw for people and seem to be used extensively for walking, bike riding and relaxing in the peace and quiet that is here so close to the center of a bustling City.
After spending four wonderful days in Rome
A Funeral Urn Holder of a Miller & His Family
with scenes & tools of his trade from 1st C. AD
we planned to take a few more days away from Gaeta and our home on Tsamaya to visit one of the hillside towns, Orvieto. As this blog entry ran quite long and had plenty of photos I decided to break this up into two entries so will include our next few days in a separate entry.
We are very thankful that we picked Gaeta as the location for Tsamaya this season as it allowed us to take wonderful trips such as this one to Rome quite easily with the train being so handy.
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