Our Italian Holiday – A Second Day in Rome

We spent the first day of our stay in Rome going on organized tours through the whole day.  We only had a morning tour scheduled for the second day.  Our destinations were the Colosseum and the Forum, both places that were close to the hotel.

This is what I noticed across the road that morning when we left the hotel we were staying at. These steps lead up to the Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli (the Basilica of St. Peter in Chains).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe church houses Michelangelo’s statue of Moses.  This place was not part of the tour and some folks were hoping to climb to the top of the steps later in the day, but we ended up not having time to do that.

Marisa led us on this tour once again.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were a lot of people already at the Colosseum early in the morning (but is was not as packed as when we left the place later!). Marisa took us up to a corner on the second level of the Colosseum to tell us about its history.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Colosseum was constructed in the first century AD.  It was essentially a place for free entertainment to keep the population occupied.  Marisa mentioned that the primary thing  notable about the structure of the Colosseum was its size, but its architecture itself was not unique. It was similar to other amphitheaters in design.  She also noted that many bits and pieces from the structure are missing because the Romans were good at recycling their building materials even in ancient times.  (You will notice such missing pieces in many other ruins in Italy.)  Another point she noted that stuck with me was that the kinds of fights between the gladiators that we are used to seeing in movies, fights that often ended in the death of one person or another, were not that common.  This is because gladiators were expensive to train and maintain, and in the end replace.  Also, the animals used in the fights had to be brought from other places, which could be an expensive proposition.  The Romans took care of their property.  They were quite practical in these matters.

After Marisa’s talk we had some free time to ourselves.  I had to make my way to the other end of the Colosseum to take pictures with decent lighting. (The panoramic pictures below are clickable!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is a picture from the side.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is a picture of the hypogeum, the space beneath the surface of the arena.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe did see the remains of what might have been the biggest temple in Rome, the Temple of Venus and Rome, from one of the openings in the second level of the Colosseum.Temple of Venus and Rome from the colosseum.jpgHere is a picture of the Colosseum as we were departing.PB134996.jpgWe then walked through the Arch of Titus OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAinto the area of the Forum. This is a rectangular plaza at the center of the city of Rome surrounded by the ruins of several ancient government buildings. This space was originally a marketplace.  Across the Forum we could see the City Hall on the Campidoglio (Capitol Hill), one of the seven hills of Rome.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see the Arch of Severus towards the right and in front of the City Hall in the picture above.  The Altare della Patria is to the right in the background next to City Hall. We saw ruins such as the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAa temple that was converted to a church later in its existence (something that happened to a lot of temples, including the Pantheon), and the remains of the House of the Vestal Virgins,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA among other historical artifacts.  The Forum was the last stop on our organized tours in Rome.

Marisa then guided us back to our hotel after giving us a couple of suggestions for things to do later in the day.  Some of us decided to take a walk to the Jewish area of the city (also called the Ghetto) for lunch.  The food there was highly recommended.  We walked from the hotel down the Via dei Fori Imperiali which was crowded by this time,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand went around the Altare della Patria to the steps that went up the Campidoglio to City Hall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the picture above you can see the much steeper steps to The Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven behind the steps that we took. The steps to the basilica are called the “Stairway to Heaven”!

There are two statues at the top of the steps that we took to the Piazza del Campidoglio in front of City Hall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is a statue of Marcus Aurelius on a horse in the piazza in front of City Hall. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe walked to the side of City Hall from where one could get a good “grandstand” view of the the Forum below us with the Colosseum in the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe remains of the Temple of Saturn and the Arch of Severus are to the left in the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Jewish Ghetto where we were headed for lunch was not too far away.  It was quite busy by the time we got there.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALunch was excellent.  We ordered the fried artichokes that are a specialty of the place.  After lunch we started walking towards the Tiber river.  We passed the Great Synagogue of Rome.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe walked across the  Fabricious bridgeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAto Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island) on the Tiber River.  There is, as you might expect, a church here, the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Island. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe crossed to the other side of river from the island over the Cestius Bridge.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe walked along the river for a short distance to the Garibaldi bridge,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and then crossed back to the side we had originally started on. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe got a good view of the island as we crossed the river.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe then decided to walk back to the Pantheon and the Piazza Novona to see if I could get more pictures, since Marisa had rushed us through the previous day.  We managed to find the Pantheon.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI took a picture of the obelisk in the Piazza della Rotunda in front of the Pantheon. (There are 13 obelisks all around Rome, all of which came from Egypt!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut we then got lost looking for the Piazza Novona even though we had maps in our hands.  We gave up the attempt and decided to try to find our way back to the hotel. We found ourselves on the Piazza Colonna once again with its column with a statue of Marcus Aureleus on top.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe finally managed to get on to the Via del Corso and the route back to the hotel.  We passed the Altare della Patria once again on the way back.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat evening the tour group was taken to the Le Terme del Collosseo restaurant near the Colosseum for dinner.  (We were told that this was the location of Nero’s residence in times past, but who really knows!)  Dinner was accompanied by musical entertainment – classical and operatic music for the most part.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had a nice time although this might have been only the second occasion in Italy during which the food was not completely up to snuff.  But there was enough wine and entertainment to save the day!

After dinner we were picked up by Aldo in the area of the ColosseumOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfor a night-time drive through the city to see the sights at night. It was a beautiful experience, but conditions were not very good for taking pictures.  Here is a picture of the Tiber with the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAldo dropped us back at the hotel after the ride.  We were all tired and ready for bed.

There were some in the group who were leaving the tour for home and other destinations after this stop. The rest of us had a morning departure scheduled for Pompeii and Sorrento.

Read the next entry in this series of blogs on our trip to Italy here.

Our Italian Holiday – The First Day in Rome

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,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand then we were on the Via dei Fiori Imperiali,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAa 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe passed the Altare della Patria, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATraffic around the piazza is crazy!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe entered one of the side streets paralleling the Via Del Corso as Marisa navigated the group towards the center parts of town.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur first stop was the Trevi Fountain, which is the terminal point for one of the aqueducts that used to provide water to the city.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Then it was back on the side streets following Marisa.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShe 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!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next stop was the Piazza di SpagnaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand the Spanish Steps.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was on to the next stop.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We passed by the Piazza Colonna and the Palazzo Chigi located there.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter lunch we gathered at a corner of the piazza and headed down to the riverOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAto be picked up by Aldo to be driven to the Vatican.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVatican 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMarisa 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 PignaPB124839.jpgas 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeople wandered around the sections of the square that were not blocked off. The light was fading. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll around the square were the colonnades with the statues on top.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne could see the building of the Prefecture of the Papal household and the Residence of the Pope, all part of the Apostolic Palace.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPope 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 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.