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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.