14.07.2010 99 °F
Kev and I really enjoyed seeing the historical city of Rome, and had yet another great day. We are starting to realize that this incredible journey is finally going to end after a few more cities, so we’re eating up every moment that we have left! We started our day in Rome by pulling into the port of Civitavecchia, which means “Old City.” We drove 1.5 hours from there to the Coliseum with our tour group.
The Coliseum was finished in 80 AD, after 10 years of construction. I had always assumed that “Coliseum” came from “colossus,” describing the size, but actually, it was named after the Colossus, a statue directly across from the stadium. The Colossus was a statue of Nero rising over 100 feet, commissioned by Nero himself. Narcissistic much? Later in Roman history, the Roman government interred a lot of monuments and destroyed a lot of statues that were built to honor Nero, in order to give the Romans back what was rightfully theirs.
When the Coliseum was built, it held 80,000 people, and was used for fights between gladiators and animals until the 6th century AD. The animals were stored underneath the main stage (in the maze-like area that you see) and lifted up to stage by “elevators” rigged with pulleys. It was also flooded occasionally and used for mock naval battles. It also had a fabric sliding, retractable roof made of a ship sail! After the 6th century, it was used as a cemetery, then a castle, and between 1500 and 1700 was used as a shelter for thieves and prostitutes, who contributed to its destruction. Today, the limestone pillars and arches, and brick walls are mostly original material, despite lots of restorations that have occurred. The Pope still does the Stations of the Cross here every Good Friday!
After wandering around the Coliseum for a while, we negotiated our way through the streets of Rome (which are quite congested with the 3 million Romans who live there and the 16 million tourists who visit there every year!) to the restaurant where we ate lunch. The lunch was average (of course, we’ve been having incredible food, so I think our “average” rating right now will be off the charts in the positive direction once we are students next year!) and consisted of a pasta with marinara, veal scallopini, peas, and potatoes, followed by tiramisu. I actually psyched myself up to try veal for the first time, but Kev said it was really bad so I didn’t even try it – oops! The building also lacked air conditioning – which so many places in Europe seem to have in common – and Kev was especially hot. It hit about 99 degrees Fahrenheit when we were in Rome.
After lunch, we headed to the Vatican Museum, which was absolutely incredible. The line was about 2 hours long, but because we were with a reserved tour group, we got to slip right to the front. We started in the main courtyard (the “Pinecone Courtyard,” named after this bronze-enclosed actual pinecone that was found hundreds of years ago decorating the Thermal Baths of Rome), then walked through the Museum to the Sistine Chapel. The Museum is absolutely packed with gorgeous art works – you could spend 2 weeks there and not get to appreciate everything in the collection! Many of the galleries have walls and ceilings that are fully lined with beautiful paintings that would be considered masterpieces in any other setting, but kind of get overlooked here! This is the statue of Leochin (whose name I am 100% positive I am misspelling), who was a priest of Troy and was the only one that predicted that the Trojan horse was a trick rather than a gift. As he was trying to convince people of this, the goddess Athena sent snakes down to kill him, which this sculpture represents.
This is “The Torso,” a very famous sculpture, the last Greek sculpture found in Rome, and a famous bronze sculpture of Hercules. Also a few more pictures of the ceilings, which we just couldn’t get over. Several of the ceilings are painted as if they were 3-D but are actually flat, and they’re amazing! There are also several tapestries from mid-1500s Brussels, showing the life of Jesus and the life of the Popes. They were initially made for the Sistene Chapel but now reside within the museum. The “Map Room,” which is the last picture here,” was especially amazing because of the incredible ceilings!
At the end of the walk through the Vatican Museum, we came to the Sistene Chapel. This was inaugurated in 1483 after being commissioned by Pope Sixtus, and is a structural replica of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. At that time, they had just the side paintings, showing the life of Jesus on the left and the life of Moses on the right. You can see an example of those here.
In 1508, Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel. At this time, Michelangelo was only a sculptor and had NEVER painted before – this was his FIRST painting job! He spent years covering the 800 square meters with beautiful frescoes. The most famous pieces are probably the Creation of Adam (with the fingers pointing at each other) and the Last Judgment, finished in 1534. Several people criticized the Last Judgment for being too severe, because Jesus is shown with one hand up (sending people to Heaven) and one hand down (sending people to Hell). It was also criticized for the extensive nudity, especially by some government leader, who Michelangelo repaid by painting the government leader in the bottom corner of the picture, naked except for a snake which was biting his genitals. Payback! The Sistene Chapel was beautiful, amazing, and interesting, and we’re so glad we got the chance to visit it! By the way, pictures are not officially allowed in the Sistene Chapel, but the guards there were "looking the other way" if you took pictures with no flash.
After the Sistene Chapel, we got to go to St. Peter’s Basilica. I didn’t know that St. Peter was the first official Pope, and that the Popes originally lived in St. John’s (the oldest church in Rome, built in 315). In the 1300s, Christianity was legalized by Constantine, and St. Peter’s was started as a new home for the Popes. Because each Pope had his own priorities, budgets, etc., it was kind of a “rolling” project, and lasted 120 years before it was completed.In the 1500s, Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to make several improvements to it, which is why it looks so beautiful today. The dome is the tallest in Rome, but is not the biggest in Rome (the Pantheon is).
This door is a famous one that is only opened every 25 years, when several people on a Pilgrimage-type trip try to enter the 4 most holy cathedrals in the world, including St. Peter’s. Besides those rare occasions, the door is actually backed by cement, so its impossible to open!
The inside of the Basilica is absolutely outstanding – it’s done in the Baroque (“in your face, flashy beautiful” style), and every inch is adorned with a beautiful carving, mosaic, etc. Notice I didn’t say painting – there are no frescoes or paintings in the entire cathedral, so anything you see is actually a mosaic or a marble carving. Amazing!
Several Popes are buried here, and are marked with elaborate marble tombs such as these.
The most famous work of art in the Basilica is Michelangelo’s Pieta, which we couldn’t get super close to, but was still amazing to see.
You can see the altar here, as well as the Papal Throne. Can anyone tell me how the Pope gets up into it? I am baffled! It is said that Jesus will sit in this Throne on Judgment Day.
The Church was incredible, and just as amazing was standing on the church steps looking out into St. Peter’s Square, which you tend to see on TV during religious celebrations. It is huge! You can see the window that the Pope uses to greet anyone in the Square every Sunday – it’s the second one on the top right in the last picture.
After the Basilica, we had another 1.5 hour drive back to the ship. It was a long, tiring, HOT day, and we were wiped out, so we just acted lazy and had dinner at the buffet instead of sitting down at the restaurant. We later went to the musical production “Once Upon a Dream,” which was pretty impressive and entertaining, and then called it an early night, making sure to get enough rest for the next day’s trip to Florence and the Chianti Wine Country!!!