Category Archives: rome

Rome, Part 5

Percy Bysshe Shelleys grave.

Percy Bysshe Shelley's grave.

My last day in Rome was spent at a slower pace that the others. Partly because I was tired of sightseeing, mostly because my shoes were continuing to fall apart and my feet hurt terribly. So I spent a portion of the day sitting at a cafe drinking an espresso, then another at a juice bar having a seemingly endless smoothie. Both of these and other parts of the day were accompanied by people watching. But I also saw a few things I still hadn’t made it to, including the above the Cimitero protestante (Protestant Cemetery), containing the graves of poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats. The cemetery is located right next to the Piramide di Caio Cestio (Pyramid of Cestius), an ancient pyramid built in 30 BC as a tomb for a magistrate. Now it looms over the headstones of the many non-Catholic, mostly foreign born people who died in or near Rome and ended up spending eternity among the cypress trees.

John Keats grave.

John Keats' grave. Can you see the pyramid through the trees?

The story of Shelley’s death is interesting and strange. Shortly after claiming to meet his doppelganger, he drowned in a storm while on his boat, Ariel. After his body washed ashore in a state of bad decomposition, it was cremated, but his heart was saved from the funeral pyre. His wife Mary Shelley kept it her whole life and it was eventually buried with her. His ashes were then interred in the Protestant Cemetery, but the first plot wasn’t to his friends’ liking, so he was moved again to where he currently rests under a stone slab etched with a selection from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, spoken by the character Ariel.

While Shelley is against the old wall among the masses, John Keats is nearer to the pyramid across a more empty area of green grass. A bench is set up next to his tombstone so that English literature majors or admirers can sit and read the inscriptions or think about Grecian urns. However, when I was there a man was mowing directly next to it, so some of the peace was missing. Keats’ grave doesn’t have his name on it and instead he’s identified as a “Young English Poet.” However, a plaque on the wall and the signs that the cemetery put up direct you there. He died in Rome from tuberculosis in his home on the Spanish Steps.

I gatti della piramde (cats of the pyramid).

I gatti della piramde (cats of the pyramid).

I especially liked the “guardians of the dead” that patrol the cemetery grounds. The colony of cats has lived in the cemetery since 1850 and the 80 cats continue to be taken care of by volunteers. Maybe they were lured by the pyramid and memories of their high status in Egypt.

View from the dome of St. Peters Basilica.

View from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica.

After the cemetery, I went back to Vatican City to go to the top of the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica. I hadn’t had time to go up the first time I was there, but didn’t want to miss climbing up the steps to the tallest dome in the world. And there were plenty of steps, nearly 500 in fact, that are narrow and tilt along with Michelangelo’s dome. Here is a view from the halfway point which overlooks the inside of the Basilica. It is a good thing I’m not afraid of heights.

St. Peters Square.

St. Peter's Square.

After what seemed like forever, I was finally at the top. The view of the city was spectacular. Above is St. Peter’s Square and the boulevard leading to the river. It was fun to look across the city, thinking about all the places I had visited in the days before and spotting them in a city that was at first so unfamiliar.

View of Vatican City from the dome.

View of Vatican City from the dome.

As I walked around the dome, I could see into all of Vatican City, including the above building. It seemed so empty, but I guess everything feels less crowded after the Vatican Museum.

So there you have it, my visit to Rome! The rest of my last day was spent, as I said earlier, in cafes and piazzas with drinks or my iPod for entertainment. The next day I flew back to Lyon, completely worn out and dreading packing for going home. I only had two full days before I would be taking the TGV to Paris and the airplane to Oklahoma.

Rome, Part 4

Museo Nazionale Romano.

Museo Nazionale Romano.

I designated this day as my museum day, and started first by walking to the Museo Nazionale Romano (National Museum of Rome). It was a great way to start as it wasn’t too crowded and had some really amazing pieces, like a fresco of a garden with birds and pomegranate trees. The whole thing had been removed from its original building and placed in its own room.

Headless statue.

Headless statue.

Next I went across the street to the Baths of Diocletian (Thermae Diocletiani), formerly the largest of the imperial Roman baths. Part of them was transformed into St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs, which I visited on my first day, and other sections were changed into another church and the museum.

Rhino and Elephant Heads.

Rhino and Elephant Heads.

While the museum had a great collection of artifacts from the baths and other sites, I thought the most beautiful parts were the rose garden in front and the courtyard in the center, which contained giant stone heads of rhinos, elephants, and horses. However, when I got close to the heads I realized that their mouths were full of black and green, writhing lizards. It was kind of repulsive, but I guess that was the shadiest spot in the courtyard for them.

Elephant Obelisk.

Elephant Obelisk.

I stopped by the Palazzo Altemps to see the rest of the National Museum of Rome collection and then wandered around and happened upon the above Elephant Obelisk, officially called the Pulcino della Minerva. The elephant was designed by Bernini and is topped by one of the eleven Egyptian obelisks found throughout Rome, all of which have been Christianized by the addition of a cross or other icon at their peak. This obelisk is in front of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (Basilica of Saint Mary above Minerva), built over a temple to Isis which was mistakenly attributed to Minerva. It still seems to hold some its previous mystical history through its star covered blue ceiling.

Book Fountain.

Book Fountain.

There are endless fountains in Rome where you can refill your water bottle or just tilt your head for a drink. I thought the above was the coolest, with water pouring from books around a deer head.

Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary.

Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary.

Roman cats are the unpaid guardians of the city’s ruins, most notably at the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. About 250 cats live in the temple remains excavated there, stretching out in the shade of columns and steps. This is also the site of the Theatre of Pompey where Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC.

Centrale Montemartini.

Centrale Montemartini.

Next I went to the Centrale Montemartini, an old electrical power station transformed into a museum for ancient Roman statues.

Busts at the Centrale Montemartini.

Busts at the Centrale Montemartini.

The juxtaposition between the antiquities and the industrial machinery was fascinating. Rome itself is such a mix of old and new that I think displaying the works this way displays the history of the city much better than in a large empty room. I often felt in Rome that I wasn’t in one city, but many cities on top of one another. It’s not like Paris or Berlin or New York where you can look at any corner of the city and feel like you’re in the same place. The Centrale Montemartini really embodied Rome’s multiple incarnations.

Colossal Remains at the Musei Capitolini.

Colossal Remains at the Musei Capitolini.

From the Centrale Montemartini, I walked to San Paolo fuori le Mura and then got on the metro to the center of town. There was still one last museum I wanted to visit: the Musei Capitolini.

Capitoline Wolf.

Capitoline Wolf.

The museum is housed in the massive palaces around the Piazza del Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill. Many of the greatest works of Rome are there, including the iconic Capitoline Wolf, nursing Rome’s legendary twin founders Romulus and Remus.

Statue of Marcus Aurelius.

Statue of Marcus Aurelius.

When I entered the room containing the statue of Marcus Aurelius, there was a swarm of people dressed formally and news reporters and photographers scurrying around. All the activity was around the man in the sash in the picture above. I’m not quite sure who he is, but he must be important. Also, the man behind him seems to be trying the touch the statue. The bronze used to be outdoors on the Piazza del Campidoglio, but now a replica stands in its place.

Sunset on Capitoline Hill.

Sunset on Capitoline Hill.

And here is the sun setting before the replica. I was absolutely exhausted so I sat on the Piazza and watched the sun go down. Then I walked past the evening-lit Roman Forum and got a slice of pizza to take back to the hostel.

Rome, Part 3

Castel SantAngelo in Rome.

Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome.

I started my next day in Rome at the Castel Sant’Angelo on the shore of the Tiber River. It was originally built as the Emperor Hadrian’s mausoleum, but like most old buildings in Rome has gone through several lives since then. It was used as a fortress in the Middle Ages, which unfortunately destroyed most of its imperial decorations, although the top of one of the urns thought to be Hadrian’s ended up in St. Peter’s as a baptismal font. Later it was a papal castle, complete with a secret tunnel to Vatican City, and then as a prison. It gets its present name from the legend that the Archangel St. Michael landed on top of the mausoleum, sheathing his sword and ending the plague in Rome in 590 AD. Now it is a tourist site with a gorgeous view of the city, although it could have used some more directional signs. I think I made one too many loops around it trying to find the exit.

Polizia Robot.

Polizia Robot.

Across the river at the Piazza del Popolo, there was some sort of police celebration taking place. Above is where a police robot is being shown off. They also had all their fancy cars on display and the police dogs were being honored.

Ara Pacis Museum.

Ara Pacis Museum.

I was wandering around the river trying to decide what to do next when I came upon the Ara Pacis Museum. It happened to be in my guidebook, and I wanted to get out of the sun, so I went inside to see the Ara Pacis altar from 9 BC. There was also an exhibit of works by Italian designer and architect Alessandro Mendini, who I only immediately recognized from his whimsical corkscrews that are sold at Target. The building that housed it all was the most interesting, though, as it was designed by “starchitect” Richard Meier and was an interesting glass and stone contrast to the rest of the city. It also had a view of the mausoleum of Augustus, a circular structure covered in plants that once held the ashes of emperors like Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Augustus from whom it gets its name.

Gagosian Gallery.

Gagosian Gallery.

After the Ara Pacis, I was in an art mood, so I searched out the Gagosian Gallery, started by Larry Gagosian who has prestigious galleries of the same name in New York, LA, and London. While I was over a year late to see their exhibit of my favorite artist, Cy Twombly, they were hosting a really cool exhibit of metal books by German artist Anselm Kiefer. Absolutely no one else was in the gallery, so I spent some time recharging with the books in the silence of the oval gallery.

The Vittoriano.

The Vittoriano.

Back in the heat and the crowds, I walked to the Vittoriano, finished in 1911 in honor of the first king of Italy. My last day in Rome, I would see someone threatening to jump off the top (he didn’t), which was surreal. But this day I walked up the stairs where there were views of the city, including the nearby Colosseum. Apparently Romans are not especially fond of the monument, but I can never miss an opportunity to climb up hundreds of stairs.

Ceiling of Chiesa di SantIgnazio di Loyola a Campo Marzio.

Ceiling of Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio di Loyola a Campo Marzio.

Next I went to the 17th century Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola a Campo Marzio, (Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola at Campus Martius). The ceiling is an amazing trompe l’oeil. In the image above, the actual ceiling stops just above the windows and the feeling of height is extended by the fresco. There’s even a trompe l’oil painted to simulate a dome to the church.

Giolittie Gelato.

Giolitti Gelato.

In need of a break, I went to Giolitti’s, the oldest gelateria in Rome. The line was long, so I figured that it must be worth it. After paying for a “piccolo” I took my ticket to the ice cream counter. I was under the impression the 2 euros I’d just paid was for a small, so I’d only picked out one flavor: Mela Verde. But then the man behind the counter asked what else I wanted, so I picked limoncello. Then he asked what else I wanted, so I impulsively picked champagne. And then he asked if I wanted cream, and I said yes. And I ended up with the behemoth of gelato you see above. I don’t know if they got my order wrong or were trying to be nice because of my horrible Italian, but it definitely didn’t look like a “piccolo.” Nevertheless, I walked over to the fountain in front of the Pantheon and ate ALL of it. And it was the most delicious ice cream I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, I am a very slow eater, and by the time I was finished it was all over my arm. So, I forgot about pride and stuck my whole arm in the fountain behind me and continued on my way.

Trajans Column.

Trajan's Column.

On my walk through the area around the Pantheon, I saw Trajan’s Column, completed in 113 AD and covered in a spiraling detailed relief.

Party on the Piazza Nazionale.

Party on the Piazza Nazionale.

I walk walking back to the hostel when I encountered a huge crowd in the Piazza Nazionale. Loud Bob Marley music was playing over bad remixes of the Prodigy and people were dancing around trucks covered in speakers. I’m still not sure what the occasion was, although I heard it was Bob Marley day, but it was nice to see some of the alternative scene in Rome when I’d been surrounded by relics and tourists all day.

Circus Maximus at sunset.

Circus Maximus at sunset, with Palatine Hill in the background.

That night, I went to the Circus Maximus to watch the sunset. There’s not much left of what was once a massive entertainment center in ancient Rome, just the outline of the chariot racing track and a few ruins of starting gates. But it’s still amazing to sit on the grass and watch people walking their dogs or running on the track that was once rumbled over by chariots cheered by thousands of screaming people while shadows dance over Palatine Hill as the sun goes down.

Bocca della Verità.

Bocca della Verità.

On my way back to the hostel, I happened on the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth) outside the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The story goes that it bites off the hands of liars. I didn’t get to test my honesty, as it was closed, but then again maybe I didn’t want to risk it.

My camera is dying.

My camera is dying.

My day of photographing ended with this shot. I think my camera might be on its last legs, or it’s just tired of taking the same old pictures of blue sky.

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