Thursday 27th August
After recovering our car from the parking garage and having an Americano breakfast we do our best to avoid the motorways. Our GPS insists at one point but after five minutes on a motorway, we put it in its place and generally follow the SR222 route to Siena. This is great rolling Tuscany countryside with forests and olives and grapes. Are we following an ancient road into Rome? Perhaps so depending on how far back the phrase was coined that all roads lead to Rome. We go through Ferrone, Greti, Greve, Montefioralle (home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa apparently, I knocked at the door but was ignored) Panzano, Castellina, Croce Fiorentino, Fonterutoli and Quercegrossa stopping frequently for photos of the countryside. Took us about three hours, we could have spent a day or so in this area.
At Siena we are also in a rush. We park the car in a square which we think is handy to Piazza del Campo (the principal public space of the historic center of Siena, regarded as one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares) but find it is half an hours walk away down through the old town. We thought an hours parking would do it but after taking photos had to rush back to head off any conscientious Italian parking inspectors. Lilly buys some tasty pizzas on the way back and we have lunch in the car in a cool spot.
We take the motorway from Siena to Rome. Wish we could do otherwise and see the countryside but we have to get the car back into Europcar by 7pm. We travel into the city without any hassle and unload our suitcases at the apartment so that Lilly and luggage can wait for our apartment host.
I go to seek petrol and book the car back in. Finding petrol is a nightmare. The first two self-service depots are closed and the third looks disused and anyway I can’t find how to operate it. In desperation I stop at Europcar at the Railway Station and ask them. They point me to a self-service on the other side of the station. There is an Indian gentleman there who takes the money, no credit cards or change is possible. I give him 50 Euro which is the only money I have and luckily it seems enough for the tank to register full. Fortunately Europcar has directed me to another address for depositing the car back. There is always something amiss with Europcar drop-off addresses and we have also had trouble locating their offices. Why can’t they be clear about both? After being grossly overcharged last time because we did not have the tank absolutely full and given the rigmarole in finding today’s drop-off, I resolve this is the last time I will use the company.
Friday 28th August
After the stop-start and problem-ridden day yesterday, all goes smoothly today. Perhaps God is watching over us on our visit to the Vatican. We book tickets on-line for the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel and after a phone call the tickets are validated 20 minutes later.
We take the train from Cavour to Termini B and thence to Ottaviano. We have tickets so we avoid the queue and go straight into the Vatican Museums. There appear to be about 15 museums and there are numerous other halls, galleries and rooms. It is impossible (for us anyway) to get any more than passing impressions of the collection of all manner of art going back to the beginnings of civilization. The sculptures are amazing. These art museums receive more visitors than all but four others in the world (the Louvre being number one followed by the British Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY and National Gallery in London).
I read there are 54 galleries in total with the Sistine Chapel being the very last room within the Museum. The collections started in 1506 with the purchase by the pope at the time of the statue of Laocoön and His Sons. The collections are all well described and the auto guide is a worthwhile supplement. The little map showing the various museums is, however, not easy to follow. Many people around us were bewildered by the map and the sequence of galleries.
Ironically the map gallery, about 120 metres long, is much easier to follow. It was the creation of Pope Gregory XIII, who we know today for devising the Gregorian Calendar which we use today. His vision was that the entire world be under the writ and control of a Catholic Church bossed from Rome, and the map gallery started in 1578 was a bold attempt to map this dominion.
The Sistine Chapel is crowded and the guards have trouble keeping the noise down and controlling people who want to take photos and sit around on the steps. We listen to the guide. Today this chapel is the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. The fame of the Sistine Chapel, which was restored between 1477 and 1480 lies mainly in the frescos that decorate the interior, and most particularly the ceiling painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512 and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo, painted between 1535 and 1541. The image on the ceiling of the chapel of the near-touching hands of God and Adam has become an icon and has been reproduced in countless imitations and parodies.
The Vatican City with an area of approximately 44 hectares and a population of 842 is the smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world by both area and population. Besides the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums, the city features gardens, St Peters Square and St. Peter’s Basilica. We take many photos of the square and queue for about half an hour to see St Peter’s Basilica.
According to Wikipedia by catholic tradition, the Basilica is the burial site of its namesake St. Peter, one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ and, also according to tradition, the first Pope and Bishop of Rome. The pope is regarded as Peter’s successor as Bishop of Rome. Tradition and strong historical evidence hold that St. Peter’s tomb is directly below the high altar of the Basilica. For this reason, many Popes have been interred at St. Peter’s since the Early Christian period. There has been a church on this site since the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. Construction of the present basilica, replacing the Old St. Peter’s Basilica of the 4th century AD, began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626.
Although not as impressive from the outside as some of the cathedrals we have seen it is colossal inside and ranks as equal first in the world in terms of volume. It is absolutely awesome wherever you look, not just in its dimensions but as a work of architecture and in its lavish decorations with marble, reliefs, and sculptures. It is justifiably regarded by many as the greatest building of its age.
St Peter’s Square is the plaza located directly in front of the Basilica. The measurements of the square are impressive: it is 320 m deep, its diameter is 240 m and it is surrounded by 284 columns, set out in rows of four, and 88 pilasters. On special occasions such as the election of a new pope or on Easter, almost 400,000 people fill the expansive square.
Saturday 29th August
First stop a couple of hundred metres away is the Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli, a Roman Catholic church, best known for being the home of Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. First rebuilt on older foundations in 432–440 to house the relic of the chains that bound Saint Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem this church underwent major rebuilding from 1471 to 1503.
Past the university and Parco Tralano a rather unkempt park is the Domus Aurea. This site features the remains of a large landscaped villa built by the Emperor Nero. He built after the great fire in AD 64 had cleared away the aristocratic dwellings on the slopes of the Palatine Hill.
Down the road is the Colosseum, a massive structure that we pay 24 Euro + guide to enter. Built of concrete and stone, this the largest Amphitheatre ever built. It is considered one of the greatest works of architecture and engineering. It is impressive particularly given it opened for business in AD80 and has therefore lasted almost two millennia. It could hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators and was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions and re-enactments of famous battles. The Colosseum is generally regarded by Christians as a site of the martyrdom of large numbers of saints but that is disputed by some scholars. Most of the action in the stadium ceased about 600 AD and for the next 1000 years not much happened except parts were looted and others bits used to build other structures around the city. Today it is a major tourist attraction in Rome.
Across the road from the Colosseum is the Arch of Titus a 1st-century honorific arch. This arch was constructed in c. 82 AD by the Roman Emperor Domitian shortly after the death of his older brother Titus. It commemorated Titus’ victories, including the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Many triumphal arches erected since – perhaps most famously the 1806 Arc de Triomphe in Paris – used it as a model.
We climb the Palatine Hill nearby where Rome had its origins. Indeed, recent excavations show that people have lived there since approximately 1000 BC. This is where many affluent Romans of the Republican period had their residences. The ruins of the palaces of Augustus, Tiberius and Domitian, all before 100 AD can still be seen. Augustus also built a temple to Apollo here, beside his own palace.
We descend into the Roman Forum, a rectangular plaza surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of ancient Rome. This was for centuries the center of Roman public life. It saw triumphal processions, elections, public speeches, criminal trials and gladiatorial matches. It was the nucleus of commercial affairs. Located in the small valley between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, the Forum today is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and intermittent archaeological excavations attracting 4.5 million sightseers yearly. In this area surviving parts of buildings include, Tabularium, Gemonian stairs, Temple of Saturn, Temple of Vespasian and Titus, Arch of Septimius Severus, Curia Julia, Rostra, Basilica Aemilia, Forum Main Square, Basilica Iulia, Temple of Caesar, Regia, Temple of Castor and Pollux and Temple of Vesta.
Across the Viale di Fori Imperiali road from the Roman Forum are more ruins of indeterminate origin. The remains of the Basilica Ulpia are there just before Trajan’s Column. Completed in AD 113, this freestanding column is 35 metres high and is famous for describing the epic wars between the Romans and Dacians. Inside the shaft, a spiral staircase of 185 steps provides access to a viewing platform at the top. We don’t go up!
At the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II is an imposing structure located in the Piazza Venezia. It was inaugurated in 1911 to yield homage to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of Italy after its unification. This colossal monument is 135 meters wide and 70 meters high. It is comprised of scores of majestic columns and endless stairs, all carved in white marble. The monument was strongly criticised at its construction, since it was necessary to knock down other so-called valuable buildings to make sufficient space. Some Italian citizens did not agree with the idea of having such an eye-catching structure next to the other classical buildings.
After seeing all the ruins of ancient Rome the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II is a refreshing sight. Many of the former emperors of Rome rebuilt, remodeled and renovated. The municipality should take up the challenge again. It is a great pity that so much of the ancient city with such historical significance now just lies an unsightly and deteriorating ruin. By all means keep a reminder of former glories – perhaps the Colosseum and Palatine Hill – but why not reconstruct and revitalise the huge area of the Roman Forum and also the area across the Viale di Fori Imperiali road?
Further around the square is the Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven which is located on the highest summit of the Campidoglio. It is still the designated Church of the city council of Rome.
On the opposite side of Piazza Venezia which is the central hub of Rome is the Palazzo di Venezia, formerly Palace of St. Mark. The original structure of this great architectural complex consisted of a modest medieval house intended as the residence of the cardinals appointed to the church of San Marco. In 1469 it became a residential papal palace, having undergone a massive extension. It currently houses the National Museum of the Palazzo Venezia. Quite ordinary by comparison with the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II.
We make our way towards the Pantheon stopping first at the Santa Maria sopra Minerva one of the major churches of the Dominicans. They began building the present Gothic church in 1280, finally completed in 1453.
Our next stop is the Pantheon, a bit disappointing from the outside, given its fame. The granite columns are a dirty grey colour but I have to remember it is still functional almost two thousand years after it was built. The Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The building was completed by the emperor Hadrian and probably dedicated about 126 AD. It has been in continuous use throughout its history, and since the 7th century, used as a church. There is a service on when we arrive, but after a wait of about 30 minutes we are allowed in. It is an impressive structure inside. The crowd is noisy despite several warnings of Silenco in several languages.
We stop at the Church of St. Louis of the French which is the national church in Rome of France. It was built between 1518 and 1589 and is quite ornate and beautiful inside.
At the Piazza Navona we stop to admire some important sculptural and architectural creations, the famous Fountain of the Four Rivers (constructed in 1651), the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone (a 17th-century Baroque church), and the Pamphili palace (built about 1650).
We make our way home at about 7:30pm by bus to the Colosseum and a bit of a walk uphill to our apartment. It has been long hot day, we have walked a long way today and we are tired.
Sunday 30th August
We catch the train to Termini to get organized for our early start tomorrow. Just as well we do, the directions within the Metro and in the main station are incomprehensible. This is as bad if not worse than Paris. There are a lot of bewildered people milling about, including Italians. We follow the signs for the train to the airport and walk at least 200 metres in the wrong direction before having to double back. Can we find how to buy tickets? The guy on the main counter is abrupt and dismissive. We eventually find a ticket booth on the platform and buy them immediately instead of taking a chance tomorrow.
We go back into the Metro for the train to Republica and photos of the Piazza della Republica and surrounding buildings. At one end is the Planetario an ancient looking building and on the adjacent side is the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs. This basilica is more than 90 meters long, and 28 meters high. Does not look much from the outside but is massive and impressive inside.
In the middle of the piazza is the Fontana delle Naiadi. There are two quite grand buildings on the opposite side of the square but I was not able to establish their pedigree.
Moving right along we then stop at Barberini. At the centre of that piazza is the Fontana del Tritone. Another fountain is in the nearby Via Vittorio Veneto. Further along is
the Trevi Fountains. These were the largest Baroque fountains in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. Problem is they are currently undergoing renovation and there is just a puddle of water left. This fountain was finished in 1762 and officially opened and inaugurated by Pope Clemens XIII. It remains one of the most historical cultural landmarks in Rome and has appeared in several films.
On the way back we take snaps of the Quirinal Palace one of the three current official residences of the President of the Italian Republic. Built in 1583 by Pope Gregory XIII as a papal summer residence, it is located on the Quirinal Hill, the highest of the seven hills of Rome. It has housed thirty Popes, four Kings of Italy and twelve presidents of the Italian Republic. The palace extends for an area of 110,500 square metres and is the 9th largest palace in the world in terms of area.
Nearby is the Saints Vincent and Anastasius at Trevi, a Baroque church built from 1646 to 1650. Located in close proximity to the Trevi Fountain and the Quirinal Palace, for which it served as parish church, it is notable as the place where the embalmed hearts of 25 popes are preserved.
On the way back to our apartment, while searching for an ATM that has Euro, we come across the The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome. The present church was built under Pope Sixtus III (432–440) and retains the core of its original structure, despite several additional construction projects and damage by the earthquake of 1348. Pope Francis began his first full day as pontiff with a visit to the basilica on 14 March 2013.
Later we take the train metro to Spagna to the Piazza di Spagna and photograph this stairway of 135 steps which was built in 1723–1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish Embassy, and the Trinità dei Monti church that was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France. The steps are not a place for eating lunch, being forbidden by Roman urban regulations but there are crowds of people sitting on them, many of them eating. Not absolutely sure why so much is made of this stairway, I must be missing something.
Lilly takes snaps of the area, which is very pleasant.
We walk through to the Piazza Augusto Imperatore where we find the Mausoleum of Augustus a large tomb built by the Roman Emperor Augustus in 28 BC. The grounds cover an area equivalent to a few city blocks, and nestle between the church of San Carlo al Corso and the Museum of the Ara Pacis. The interior of the mausoleum is no longer open to tourists, as looting, time, and neglect have stripped the ruins of marbled elegance.
Lilly has lost her hat somewhere today. Pointless reminding her of her promise to eat her hat if she loses anything on this trip. We stop frequently as she tries on countless hats but for some reason they are all too small. I can’t resist making some salient points about the size of her head.
We cross the Tiber at the Ponte Cavour and walk along the river side to the Piazza dei Tribunali. Here is the Palace of Justice, the seat of the Supreme Court of Cassation and the Judicial Public Library. This massive building is popularly called in Italian the Palazzaccio (the bad Palace). The palace was finished in 1911, twenty-two years after construction began and the whole process was tainted by corruption. Next along is the Tribunale di Sorveglianza another huge structure.
Going back almost 2000 years and adjacent is the Mausoleum of Hadrian, usually known as Castle of the Holy Angel. This is a towering cylindrical building initially commissioned by Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum. Hadrian also built the Pons Aelius (St. Angelo Bridge) facing straight onto the mausoleum. The Ponte Sant’ Angelo still provides a scenic approach from the center of Rome and the right bank of the Tiber. It is renowned for the Baroque additions of statues of angels holding aloft elements of the Passion of Christ. (There is an even older bridge built in 142 BC, the Pons Aemilius, later named Ponte Rotto – broken bridge-. It is the oldest Roman stone bridge in Rome.)
We can’t find a bus to our next stop and as it is getting late we walk about a kilometre to the nearest metro and get home about 8;30pm.