April 14, 2014

Rome - Appian Way, Catacombs and Pizza

Roman street musicians are always playing to
sidewalks full of wine and coffee drinkers.  In
this case, "Funiculi Funicula"!
Dar Poeta Pizzeria, down a little alley in the Trastevere
 neighborhood, is in a gritty part of town... we were
 about to give up when we found the best pizza in Rome. 

The emblem of Rome.  Legend has it that Romulus
 (for whom Rome is named) and Remus, twin boys born
 of the gods, were abandoned and raised by a she-wolf.
"Boy with Thorn" is a famous sculpture (no photos
 allowed of the original in bronze) from possibly
50 B.C. of a diligent Roman messenger who would
 not be deterred from his mission to deliver a
 message before removing a thorn in his foot.

Just for a sense of scale, imagine
how large the rest of this statue
King Neptune and I, relaxing by the pool,
right before the museum guard chewed me out
for sitting on a piece of art.  "Mama mia!  Basta!"

Until about 450 B.C., Roman law was centered around
 religion.  As priests were members of rich families,
the wealthy class had an enormous advantage over the
 working class.  When the "Plebians" rebelled, a code of laws
 called the Twelve Tables was drawn up and presented.
  Later adopted, the Twelve Tables were displayed in the Roman
 Forum.  From this we have such concepts as innocent
 until proven guilty, minimum legal age for a female
 to marry (12), and that if a father puts his son up for
 sale 3 times, the son no longer belongs to the father!
The lively Spanish Steps in Rome, where people gather
 to talk and sing.  Many a vendor tried to "give" me a long
 stemmed rose, quite a scam as they show up 5 minutes later
 asking for money.  A live band was trying to cover the
 "Happy" song, which didn't work too well
 with amateur clapping!

The famous Roman sandal, worn by
 soldiers, specifically designed to
 reduce blisters on long forced marches.
Many versions of today's sandal are available at
little Italian merchants like Gucci, Prada, Versace
and Armani.

Roman ruins along the Appian Way are now a
playground for children with Frisbees and soccer balls.
"All roads lead to Rome" is not only a common
catch phrase.  During the Roman Empire, every
road in the empire either led directly to Rome or
to another arterial that led to Rome, in a hub
and spoke pattern.  Trade routes could move
effectively and troops could move efficiently.

Pagan custom had been to incinerate the dead,
 but Christians wanted to bury the body to prepare
 for resurrection.  Thus the secret catacombs, where one's
socially ostracized minority religious practice could
 take place.  Vast underground passages held
 thousands of crude graves.

San Sebastiano Catacombs held not only graves,
but underground areas for funereal banquets.
All catacombs in Rome are the property of the
Catholic church.  Legend has it that the Holy
Grail (the chalice from the Last Supper) is buried
somewhere deep in the catacombs.

April 11, 2014


My first glimpse of the Vatican was high up on
Aventine Hill in Rome.  Looking through the
keyhole reveals a perfect tunnel view of the

 dome of St. Peters Basilica, the crown jewel
of the Vatican.
This is the view through the keyhole!  The garden
walls are trimmed to become a perfect frame.
From 3 miles away, this is the only time St.
 Peters Basilica actually looks "small". 

The Vatican is home to priceless historical works
of art.  "Sphere within a sphere" is a modern bronze
orb that was cast IN the Vatican courtyard, because
it would have been too large for any entryway.
One interpretation is that it represents the church
as the cogs that keep the earth turning.

The Vatican is a separate country within Rome.
Only 110 acres and 900 people, ruled by the pope.
  It is the smallest country in the world,
with its own stamps, passports and coins. A person

becomes a Vatican citizen by appointment (a job).
One their appointment ends, they revert to
Italian citizenship.

Swiss guards, responsible for the
personal security of the pope,  wear
 a unique uniform - unchanged since 1506.
During the middle ages, Switzerland
earned the reputation for having the most

 reliable soldiers, who were virtually
 unbeatable and extremely loyal.
Swiss guards serve as bodyguards, ceremonial guards
 and palace guards for the Vatican.  Guards
must be Swiss, Catholic, male, tall (at least 5' 9"),
have an "irreproachable" reputation and have
served at least 2 years in the Swiss Army.

They do NOT give tourists directions, ahem.

Vatican is home to the Pieta, a Rennaisance masterpiece
 sculpted by Michelangelo in 1499.  It is the only piece
of art he ever signed.   Mary is represented as a
 very youthful mother of a 33 year old son - her
beauty retained due to her incorruptible purity.
Detail of a huge Bernini marble
sculpture of "Truth Unveiled by
Time" in which the toe of Truth
is pierced by Protestant England.
Martin Luther had argued against
the church funding itself by selling
"indulgences" by which the church
would forgive sins in exchange for

St. Peters Basilica has letters over 6' tall around the top
 in  Latin which translate to "you are Peter, and o
this rock I will build my church". 
The names of all the popes buried
at St. Peters Basilica, including
St. Peter himself.

The papal conclave of 2013 had 115 cardinals
putting their heads together to elect the pope.

Only cardinals under the age of 80 have a vote.
They meet, discuss and pray during the conclave
in the Sistine Chapel.
The most famous painting in the Sistine Chapel,
by Michelangelo, showing God creating Adam.
The chapel is such a crazy quilt of paintings and
frescos, it took a while to find this one.  It
 represents probably only 1% of the painted
surface in the chapel.

April 9, 2014

Pantheon and Old Rome

Profusely blossoming wisteria wafted fragrance
through our walk.  The branches are so strong
and invasive, they're probably helping to hold
this arch up.
Ancient Roman ruins - including the Senate, the
Forum, formal gardens, city center, and palaces
for Julius Caesar and later Nero on the hillside.

Weather, vandalism and time have taken their toll.
Julius Caesar was murdered by Brutus here.

Vestal virgins were a handful of women, chosen at age 10
 for their purity and beauty.  They were required to serve
 until age 40, taking a vow of chastity in order to perform rituals
 involving the sacred hearth and fire.  Retired virgins
 were allowed to marry and given a large dowry at age 40,
 well beyond child bearing years.  Virgins who went
were given a torch and a loaf of bread and buried alive.
Ruins of an ancient gymnasium, a training facility
for competitors. Athletes competed nude, a
practice said to encourage aesthetic appreciation
of the male body, and as a tribute to the gods.

The Pantheon was built in 14 AD to honor the gods
of ancient Rome.   It is the best preserved of all the
ancient buildings, giving you a feel of what the
Roman ruins would have looked like were they
still standing.
Imagine this building, even larger than the Pantheon.

The coffered concrete dome has a
central oculus open to the sky.  It
is the world's largest unreinforced
concrete dome. When it opened,
Romans thought the gods made
any rain disappear before it hit
the floor.  In reality, it was the heat
from all the candles that vaporized it
before it hit the floor. 

Hard to believe that people have been walking on
these marble floors for over 2,000 years, and they still
look perfect.  Floors contain tiny drains built
in for rainwater.

With only natural light, the marble work is stunning.

April 7, 2014

Colosseum - one of the Seven Wonders of the World

Ruins expose the underground network of tunnels
used for both gladiators and a parade of animals
including elephants, lions, buffalo and crocodiles.
After a series of disasters including the eruption
of Mt. Vesuvius, a huge fire in Rome and the plague,
Emperor Titus thought the people needed distraction.
Free to the public, these were some of the

first "organized" sports.
The Coloseum was the largest amphitheater in the
Roman Empire.  Built in 80 AD, it could hold over
50,000 bloodthirsty spectators watching gladiator
games, executions and re-enactments of famous
sea and land battles.  Half a million people died here

 in the name of entertainment - many Christians.
  Every Good Friday, the pope leads a procession
 through Rome that begins at the Colosseum.

Gladiators who fought well and
survived could be granted their
freedom.   They were athletic

 celebrities.  Women wanted them
to father their children.
A few of the most popular
 could even make a living as a
gladiator coach, to train future
Marble columns like this one graced the Colosseum.
Earthquakes, weather and pollution havetaken their toll. 

Wouldn't you love to see the translation?
How did they turn the gladiator games
into a cheery children's book that comes
with 300 stickers?!
Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus), with Roman ruins above.
This is where chariot races took place,
like in Ben Hur.  Now it's a lovely green space.

April 5, 2014

Benvenuto en Roma!

Pope Francis is beyond popular in Italy, where 88%
of the populace are Catholic.  Even his figurines
outnumber "futbol" players and gladiators.
Pope Francis is the 266th to head the
Catholic church.  The first was St. Peter.
In fact 48 of the first 50 consecutive popes
were recognized as saints by the church. 

Handsome priests in this calendar
were photographed without giving
their name with the understanding
that the calendar was to promote
facts about the Vatican, which it
actually does.  No joke.
Original cobblestones in Rome are super sized,
making for treacherous walking.  They make the
smaller ones (from the more modern Middle

Ages) seem quite comfortable by comparison.

Lovely accordion music along the Tiber river.
The musician wanted a tip for a photo, so he's
wagging his finger at me.  Tsk!  Tsk!
Bocca della Verita, or the Mouth of
Truth.  Carved of marble from the 1st
century, it may be the first lie detector.
If a liar puts a hand in the mouth,
it is bitten off. 

Throwing coins over my shoulder,
making a wish at Trevi Fountain. 
Rome celebrated their taming of
 water with aqueducts by placing
fountains all over Rome.  Before

the aqueducts, they never had
this kind of water pressure.