We were up early this morning to start the day before the temperatures reach 100 degrees! Our first stop was the famous Trevi Fountain, which is right around the corner from our hotel. It is tucked away into a narrow backstreet but it is spectacular. The guidebook puts it this way:
The city’s largest fountain is said to reflect designer Nicola Salvi’s thirty years of hard labor (1732-1762). Giant stone gods (Neptune, flanked by Abundance on the left and Health on the right) and prancing horses frolic daily in the city’s cleanest water. Twin reliefs below the cornice tell the story of the Trevi’s origins which date to 19 BC when Augustus’s right-hand man, Agrippa, built an aqueduct that still supplies the Trevi’s water.
We continued our walk through the narrow streets and rounded the corner to Emperor Hadrian’s architectural contribution to Rome – The Pantheon. This structure was originally built by Marcus Agrippa in BC 27 to commemorate the victory of Actium over Antony and Cleopatra. Hadrian rebuilt it as a temple to “all the gods” between AD 118 and 125. It is built over the site where the original temple stood but was destroyed in AD 80.
The Pantheon has a perfectly proportioned dome that has been the inspiration of some of the world’s greatest domed buildings – St. Paul’s Cathedral (London), the Capitol Building (Washington, DC), and even St. Peter’s Basilica (Rome). It was converted to a Christian church in AD 609, a fortress in the 12th century, and even a bullfight arena in the 17th century. Today, it’s a church and services are held here regularly. It also contains the tombs of the artist Raphael and two Italian kings – Vittorio Emanuele and Umberto.
From the Pantheon, we made our way to the Column of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It is a 100-feet marble newsreel (dedicated in AD 193) and chronicles all of his war victories. His statue once stood at the top of the column but, in 1589, it was replaced with a statue of St. Paul (who was imprisoned in Rome for preaching Christ to the Roman citizens).
This is a close up view of the newsreel.
Piazza Navona was our next stop.
So many things to see along the way but we wanted to make it to St. Peter’s Basilica before the crowds started to gather. We passed the government buildings – the House of Deputies, the House of Senators, and the Hall of Justice. It was getting very hot and it wasn’t even noon yet so we thought we better get some lunch and make our way to St. Peter’s Basilica and Vatican City.
The first thing that catches your attention is the vast square – St. Peter’s Square – before you even reach the Basilica. This is the area where people congregate on Wednesday (to receive the Pope’s blessing) and Sunday (for Mass). The obelisk in the center is from the 13th century BC and was moved to Rome in 37 AD by Emperor Caligula. The Vatican Obelisk is the only obelisk in Rome that has not toppled since ancient Roman times. This is the view of the square from the terrace of St. Peter’s Basilica.
This is the view of St. Peter’s Basilica from the square. This is the largest church structure in the world, now much bigger than the Cathedral we saw in Florence (which was the largest before the Basilica was built). There is no way this picture captures the size and scope of this complex. And the history of the Basilica is fascinating – so many of Italy’s artists were involved in its design and creation.
As you enter the Basilica, it is overwhelming inside. You could easily spend a week walking through this “complex” filled with statuary, monuments, art, the tombs of the Pope’s and so much more. This is just one interview view.
One of the first things you see when you enter, located in one of the first chapels on the right, is Michelangelo’s Pieta. He finished this work in 1499 when he was only 25 years old – a true genius and a masterpiece. He was not yet very well known and this is the only work of art he created that actually contains his signature carved into the marble. It can be found along Mary’s neckline.
It is also said that St. Peter is buried directly under the giant copula in the center of the structure. This is a view inside the copula – if you look closely on the right side, you can actually see small dots (these are people) who made the climb up 335 stairs once they took the elevator to that level.
After walking through the Basilica, we walked another 20 minutes following the Vatican wall until we reached the Vatican Museums. We had originally gone only to see the Sistine Chapel, but you have to walk through the other museums to get to it. As you enter, the view is spectacular.
There is so much to see that it would take a week to see it all. That’s not an exaggeration. The Vatican recommends at least 3 days to see all of it. There are several rooms that contain only artifacts from early centuries – both BC and AD.
The hallways and ceilings are painted majestically….
There were several private chapels that belonged to each of the past Pope’s. One of the most beautiful was this one which, I think, belongs to Pope Pius V.
I wish I could show you pictures of the Sistine Chapel. It was breath-taking. It’s a large room located in the Vatican that is literally painted floor to ceiling. There are some 300 figures contained in the work and, according to the literature, the ceiling tells the story of Salvation from the creation of man to the resurrection of Christ to the Last Judgement. No photographs are allowed in the room in order to preserve the integrity of the work. Michelangelo painted from 1508 until 1512 laying on his back. The most amazing thing is that he had little experience painting.