A Rainy Day in Rome: Forum, Piazzas, et al.

1archWe had thought we’d not go to the Forum (already saw piles of ruins), but decided we’re here, we must, even if it rains.

And rain it did.

Started with sprinkles. My hubby held his hat over the camera but the pictures are dismal. The Forum needs blue sky. Plus, unlike the mass of Pompeii (see the model), it’s a pile of disparate columns and foundations, making it difficult to imagine. As usual, the details capture me: a ceremonial cow. A carved plaque.
1foro cow1foro detail
We bypass the Colosseum because the sprinkles have become a downpour. Luckily we have the plastic ponchos from the Dollar store, real life savers. We walk (wade) to a Basilica to see some of the ancient city underground but it’s closed. Since we wanted to go into the basement I could understand.
rainy forum
Back to the hotel to dry off and change. Our shoes are drowned. But it stops raining and we bus to Pantheon.

It’s so much bigger than I remember. They have cleaned the inner dome but basically the building is original. Walls 20’ deep at base, thinning out to 5′ in dome. Plus the squares are indented to make the ceiling lighter. If it the ceiling reminds you of the one at the Vatican (picture here), it’s because this dome, built in 126 AD, was the inspiration for the great Renaissance domes.

At the Fountain of Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona, they were cleaning. The god’s arm was huge when compared to the men, but on the fountain, it doesn’t seem outsized. 4fixing fountain

obelisk1On to the Piazza Colonna, the victory column of Marcus Aurelius. We don’t see the whole thing because about 3 metres of the base are underground. In 1589 the column was restored and adapted to the ground level of that time. So, Rome has risen 3 metres in little over 400 years. No wonder so much of ancient Rome is completely underground.

The following slideshow is of images that caught my eye. The whole column teems with life, or rather war and death. The carving of the men with their shields has me stumped. I thought it might be a phalanx of men, solid with their shields. Then I noticed the swords lying on top of the shields. Maybe the men are dead? (The internet failed me – I couldn’t find a picture of this specific detail.)

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Ended the day at the Trevi Fountain. Mob scene; awful. But there are public bathrooms nearby – a rarity in Rome. Loved the horse and the god blowing in a shell.
trevi fountaintrevi detail
We ate across the street from the hotel again – love the pizza with eggplant. Saw an interesting plate of food go by. The waiter said it was a supplì al telefono: fried rice balls filled with mozzarella. Research tells me that the name means “on the phone”, because if you open them when still warm, the cheese inside will stretch like telephone wire. Anyway we ordered one. Bleh.

I want to close with a thought about language. If I speak to a native Italian speaker, I am often surprised that they can make out what I mean despite my accent or grammatical mistakes. But then, if a non-English speaker tries English with me, I usually understand (except maybe for the Scots!) In your native language, accents aren’t a hindrance. But in my ballet company we were French, Romanian, Chilean, Yugoslavian trying to speak German to each other. Amazing we ever understood a word.

National Museum of Rome, Palazzo Massimo

After the long walk from the previous post, we needed lunch. Garmin says it’s a mile to L’Insalata Ricca and we want salad. Well,,,,we walk and walk. I’m sure it was closer to 3 miles. Ooo, my feet.

Bus and Metro back to the National Museum of Rome! We started with the coins. Who knew I would like them so much, but they contained little pix of Roman life. The early Roman coins were the “heavy” series – they were BIG. Before our sophisticated dating techniques, Roman coins could be accurately dated because a well was found into which coins were thrown for luck (think Trevi Fountain). 3 mugs

In the well they also found cups with itineraries engraved on the side. Convenience – a traveler knew where he was going, how far to each stop AND could get a drink. And sometimes a map was included. The picture of the cups have the map up top – note the long distances – and a facsimile of the engraving on the bottom.
1 doll 1 necklace
One of the more touching displays was of the contents of a child’s grave. She was a little girl, with a dolly and a necklace. I like groupings like this; it makes me think not just of the objects, but of the lives behind them. This was a much-loved child, buried by her parents with her treasures.

So that was just the basement. Three more floors awaited us, full of fresco murals and mosaics. 4 another room
The outstanding mosaic was of charioteers from the circus with their horses. Hard to believe the picture was made with bits of stone. circus mosaic2
old roomThe murals and mosaics were mostly discovered when modern Romans wanted to build something, such as a train station. Or fix the bank of the river. See the picture of what the dug into by the river and, in color, what they salvaged. Today’s Rome sits on ancient Rome which slows down development; every project has to have an archeologist advisor.
La Villa della Farnesina
One room, huge and mainly intact, had been situated partially underground, perhaps to provide a cool place to relax in the hot summers. Glorious color, filled with trees, bushes and flowers. The explanatory sign said each plant had a meaning, perhaps like the Victorian language of flowers, but my modern eyes saw only calm.




Another astonishing find: two ships, built by the emperor Caligula on Lake Nemi. There were many attempts too salvage the ships. Finally in the 1930’s the lake was drained, the ships raised and a museum built to house them. In WWII the museum burned. Only metal survived – decorative brass rings with the faces of wolves and lions and the ship’s railing.

I’ve saved until last my absolute favorite thing from the museum, perhaps from the entire trip: The Pugilist. It’s a 1st century B.C. statue of a boxer made in Greece. That it’s Greek surprised me; I think of their statues as ideals, while the Romans modeled warts and all (that’s what makes the Roman faces so interesting.) In any case, the weariness of the man is poignant. Look at his posture. As a ballet dancer, I’ve been there. My muscles were differently sculpted and I had toes shoes, not boxing gloves, but I know how this man of 2000 years ago feels. I think that’s a reason for art – to make us feel and perhaps empathize.

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Famous Rome, On Foot

campodoglio horseToday, for a change, I mapped out a long walk through Rome sites. First stop – the Victor Emmanuel monument. No picture. It’s a true example of more being less, although I did like the statue of the winged lion.campodolio griffin
Just around the corner, the Capitoline Hill with the Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo and reached by a shallow stairs that could be navigated by men on horseback. At the top, a plaza adorned by an equestrian statue, once thought to be of Constantine, the first Christian emperor (the reason it wasn’t destroyed) but now known to be Marcus Aurelius. On either side of the plaza, museums housed in palaces. Loved the guard ignoring the statue. god in door

The plaza was crowded with tourists and a wedding. The back of the plaza overlooks the Forum – we stood long, looking our fill. We probably won’t go back…Pompeii did it for us.

Nearby looms a statue of Savonarola, that dark Florentine priest, whose political activism, not religious views, became popular during Italy’s struggle for reunification and independence.savonarllo

A walk through the city’s streets, past churches, old houses, more archeological sites, takes us to the Tiber River, green and tree lined.
castel sant'angelo

We pass Castel San’Angelo, Emperor Hadrian’s Mausoleum, which became a fortress for the pope. Its bridge is lined with Angels and packed with tourists. angel on bridge

More walking, feet beginning to numb. By accident we see the Ara Pacis. A modern glass cube containing an altar consecrated in 9BC in honor of the peace brought to the Roman Empire by Augustus’ military victories. It had been buried for centuries and was only rediscovered in 1937.ara pacis

Walk to the Piazza del Popolo, which centers on an Egyptian obelisk. Weird that it’s even older than the Greek ruins. A cross on top saved it. We sat a on church steps next to a nice dog. The owner mentions that there’s a Caravaggio in the church. Inside we like the gorgon but don’t think much of the painting. Too dark. Mass starts. We leave.
Metro (ah, my happy feet) to the Capuchin Crypt, five rooms in a church which are decorated with the bones of monks. It was eerie and meant to remind us of our short lives. Hubby comments there are nuts in all professions. My thought is that human bones hold the earth together. Here’s a link if you want to read more about it. Because pictures weren’t allowed, real bones from the church in Piazza del Popolo.skull

Rome, Rather Vatican City

st peters roofBus to Rome, then off to Vatican City. The lines to Saint Peter’s Church were horrendous, so I took a picture of the roof – such workmanship and detail but so high you can’t see it with the naked eye!

Next we went to the Vatican museum.

Oh, no, not another museum…but did you know it has a huge a section on Egypt? I have to wonder why the popes had with such pagan stuff, but it’s fantastic. Now I hate mummies, which were once real people and shouldn’t be treated as objects, but I love Egyptian art. The mask on the lid of a sarcophagus. mask
A tiny man put in a grave to serve as a servant in the afterlife. closeup statuetteconcubinesAn array of concubines, ditto.



Their fascination with cats and ducks and how they turned animals into gods (my dogs would approve of that.) bird

People kept blowing by us with glances and disinterest. Where’s the Roman stuff? Their loss. Then we got to the Romans– of which we’d already seen a bunch, so WE blew by. Mostly.



Later on, halls of fantastic tapestries. My favorite was by Raphael, the slaying of the infants. Not the children dying, of course, but the sorrow captured in fabric. The blurry picture was caused by a bump from a visitor; the halls were crowded. But look closely. The image is beautiful, if sorrowful. I imagine how many eyes were ruined making them. Does that mean I’m allowed to appreciate them all the same?

tapestry angeltapestry sorrow
Toured Borgia’s apartments – didn’t know they had a pope, I think of them as evil. Filled with gold, art, decoration. The ongoing joke with my hubby: why doesn’t our house look like that? Nevermind, cleaning would be a nightmare. The ceilings throughout the museum were fabulous.

Finally the Sistine Chapel. Packed, no pix allowed. The guards kept yelling “No Pix” and “Silence” which rather ruined the mood. Michelangelo could only paint a ¼ of a panel a day because it had to be done before the plaster dried. The figures are of different sizes– when Michelangelo saw the first half from the floor, he thought them not strong enough, so he made the second set of scenes more heroic. The restorers left a couple of spots un-restored and they were totally black. I actually liked the bright colors.

Wobble home on stubs, exhausted. Had dinner across the street – the best pizza I’ve ever had — grilled eggplant — and the fabulous Italian beer. The place was empty when we entered at 7:30. When we left an hour later, it was packed with Italians. Not an English speaker to be heard. (Pix below: a lion who served as a leg under a sarcophagus. And a window well. Glorious details were everywhere. After a while your eye just goes numb.)

lion window seat

Naples: Archeology Museum

museumThe archeological museum in Naples is famous but although I’d been in Naples twice, I’d never seen it. After a day there, I could see why tours avoided it: it’s in an old palace, there are no elevators, it’s 40-50 steps up to each level and there are two levels on each wing. This day reminded me that going down stairs makes the muscles inside the knees sore…dancer2

Except for the dancer, irresistible to me, I am avoiding the frescoes – you’ve probably had enough of them. I’m simply going to give you three slide shows: sculpture, artifacts, mosaics. And don’t miss the scale model of Pompeii at the end. We spent 5 hours at this astonishing museum.

Sculptures (labeled when I remember who was portrayed): In the hall of the emperors, each bust a true portrait, unlike the Greeks who idealized… Caesar a modern CEO. A stout man who’d fit in on wall street. The woman (Agrippina) grumpy and aged. Other fun pieces — The bee goddess, symbol of fertility – head, hands, and feet not original but boobs everywhere. They could sculpt anything.  Horses, dogs, Hercules, leaning tired on a tree. The marble wounds on the warriors – a slit in the marble and incised “blood” running down. Note the detail of The Farnese Bull – the largest ancient sculpture discovered to date. The back was as intricate at the front.

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Artifacts: totally mind blowing. The Romans had glass! Locks and keys. Cooking utensils, including a colander, that looked just like ours. All the pieces were decorated. Take a look at the bat handle.  Casseroles in bronze. The painting of a face on a tiny bit of glass.  Their lives were just like ours, really.  Trying for comfort and a bit of glamour. Power for some. The duck lamp – I told B that it was a “brassiere” when I meant a “brazier.” More tired than I thought!

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Cabinet of the erotica. Penises everywhere and some very graphic paintings. I was interested in the bed – modern in shape but the mattress must have been hard. A French woman paused before what I thought a garden variety coupling and practically shouted: REGARDEZ! “Look!” Her surprise belied the French reputation. I have hidden one of the pictures I took among the artifacts. There was a variety of “positions”. Oh, and penises brought good luck to a house so they hung them, with bells on (literally) for decoration. Very bizarre. (But the pix are too much for a public blog.)

Mosaics – they painted with them. Lots of roosters to my amusement. These were on the floor! Think of the time spent crawling around placing the little stones.

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3 pompeiiIn the afternoon, a magic moment when we discover a section that was shut in the morning had opened. Full of frescoes but also a Pompeii model (1 to 100 scale) created in 1879. Look closely at the tiny walls; you can see the frescoes painted on them. Imagine what it would cost to make it now.

In the photo below, the empty space on the right is the basilica. The large cross-section is the forum.3 pompeii 2