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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.