After the day of travel from Florence (through Assisi), we were now ready to tackle the streets of Rome. This former capital of the great Roman Empire has a lot to offer for a visitor. It is a bustling metropolis where modern life mixes easily with the artifacts of days past. There is much history to explore around every corner. In the touristy area of the city, high-end fashion stores mix with temples from ancient times and churches and from the middle ages. There is always something new to experience as one explores the narrow byways and charming piazzas of the town.
Rome is a city full of tourists. The place was packed even though we were were arriving at the tail end of the tourist season. If you happen to be in a bigger tour group, it is especially difficult to keep track of your group in certain places. We found out that it is standard practice for tour guides in Italy to keep in touch with the people in their groups using radios. We carried one for the most part of the trip. We would listen to Alessandro or the local tour guides (all of them were excellent!) over the radios as they carried a sign for the group attached to a pole over their head and led us on while speaking into a microphone. Sometimes the sign on the pole was all you could see as you listened to your tour guide. It worked out very well, and was especially critical for our visits today.
Marisa, our local tour guide, arrived at our hotel to lead us to the Via del Corso, the main street along the historic center of Rome. As we left our hotel on the Via Cavour, we walked past an intersection where you could see the Colosseum which we were to visit the next day,and then we were on the Via dei Fiori Imperiali,a wide boulevard that runs from the Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum. The street still had some road traffic early in the morning, but it is open only to pedestrian traffic during most of the day. This road was built by Mussolini in his own honor. He considered himself as great as the old roman emperors and wanted to build a memorial for himself. He destroyed a bunch of homes and other buildings, and also ancient ruins. These ruins now lie on both sides of this street.We passed the Altare della Patria, the National Monument (also known as the wedding cake). You can see the soldiers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the top of the steps in front of the monument.At the end of the Via del Corso and in front of the Altare della Patria is the Piazza Venezia, the central hub of Rome. Next to it is the building and the balcony from which Mussolini used to give his fiery speeches to the Italian public.Traffic around the piazza is crazy!We entered one of the side streets paralleling the Via Del Corso as Marisa navigated the group towards the center parts of town.Our first stop was the Trevi Fountain, which is the terminal point for one of the aqueducts that used to provide water to the city.The place was packed with tourists. It is a practice at the Trevi fountain to throw a coin into the fountain and make a wish. (They do donate the money that ends up in the pool to charity.) From the Piazza di Trevi one can see the flags on top of the Palazzo del Quirinale, a complex that includes the presidential palace. One of the flags is the presidential flag. ( I believe the presence of this flag indicates that the president is around.) Then it was back on the side streets following Marisa.She showed us a vehicle that looked like a car but was not really a car. The Aixam 400 quadricycle only needs a moped license to drive it. It runs on an engine that is about 500 cc in size, and it is surrounded by cheap plastic. Apparently parents buys these for kids. Sounds dangerous!The next stop was the Piazza di Spagnaand the Spanish Steps.The place owes its name due to the presence of the Spanish Embassy that has been there since historical times. There are also other embassies in that area. You can see the Trinità dei Monti church at the top of the Spanish steps.Then it was on to the next stop. We passed by the Piazza Colonna and the Palazzo Chigi located there.The latter is the official residence of the Prime Minister of Italy. We went through the Piazza di Pietra and saw the remains of the Il Tempio di Adriano (The Temple of Hadrian) there. The temple is located to the right of the picture below.The last stop before lunch was at the Pantheon where we explored the inside of the roman temple that has been converted into a catholic church (this happened in many temples in Rome). The Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The doors are massive and have been in use since historic times without need for replacement.
The crowds were out at the Piazza Navona where we stepped into one of the restaurants by the side of the square to have pizza for lunch.After lunch we gathered at a corner of the piazza and headed down to the riverto be picked up by Aldo to be driven to the Vatican.Vatican City, the seat of the Roman Catholic church, has an interesting history. It used to be that the popes ruled all of Rome, but when the country of Italy became a republic, they had to withdraw to an area that eventually became the Vatican. They were only recognized as as city-state in 1929 by Mussolini.
The place was packed! We were able to get to the front of the line to get into the grounds because we were part of a tour group. Once inside, we walked to an open space in front of the Pinacoteca Vaticana (the Art Gallery) where they had pictures from the Sistene Chapel shown on a board.Marisa explained to us that since conversations were not allowed in the Sistene Chapel itself, the authorities had provided this resource in the garden so that guides could talk about the chapel before entering. Then it was time to get in line to go through some of the Vatican museums that led to the chapel. We walked past the Fontana della Pignaas we walked through the Cortile della Pigna to enter one of the museum buildings.
Once in the buildings, it became a greater challenge to stay together as a group and keep track of Marisa and her commentary. The place was jam packed, and often times the only sight of Marisa was the sign she was carrying at the end of the pole. Alessandro brought up the rear well behind us to make sure nobody got separated from the group and got lost. These are random pictures from the museums. (Click on one of the pictures to look at them in full size.)
We then entered the Sistene Chapel where no photography is allowed, and only whispered conversations. It was amazing to be in this place packed with so many people with relative silence! The works of Michelangelo on the walls and the roof tell many stories. The sheer volume of the space that was painted in such great detail takes your breath away.
The next stop was St. Peter’s Basilica. Unfortunately, there was some event being planned in the church for the next day. There was also some kind of a pilgrimage event going on and additional lines of people entering the church. There were chairs placed in the central portion of the church and we had to proceed along the sides where it was more crowded than usual. Here are a few random pictures. (Click on one of the pictures to look at them in full size.)
As we walked on to St. Peter’s Square after the tour of the basilica, we passed a location where there were Swiss Guards stationed. Their uniforms were covered by their cloaks.There were chairs all over over the square and one was not free to wander around freely. You could see the balcony from which the pope speaks to the people on special occasions.People wandered around the sections of the square that were not blocked off. The light was fading. All around the square were the colonnades with the statues on top.One could see the building of the Prefecture of the Papal household and the Residence of the Pope, all part of the Apostolic Palace.Pope Francis apparently chose to stay at the Vatican guesthouse instead.
We stopped at the Vatican gift shop for a while. It was dark by the time we made our way back in the bus and drove off into the night. We had to be dropped off a fair distance from our hotel because the roads nearby had been closed on account of some kind of protest going on closeby. The group straggled through the local roads and made it back safely.
After a short break at the hotel we went for Sunday vigil mass at a church within walking distance. The small church, Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Monti, was built in the 16th century and has a lot of history associated with it. You can see a bunch of historical artifacts in the church. The outside of the chruch also reflects its time. It was not in very good physical shape inside, and there were only a handful of older people attending the service. The priest had to soldier on on his own with minimal assistance. (He had a good singing voice!) There must be quite a few catholic churches in Rome, and I wonder how they are financed and manage to stay open. After mass, following up on a hankering for Indian food, we walked to an Indian restaurant, Maharaja, close by. The food was good. After dinner the women retired for the evening and the men stayed out a little while longer for gelato. And then it was back to the hotel rooms, and that was that for the day.
Read the next entry in this series of blogs on our trip to Italy here.