Weekend in Rome
On Friday I went to class and immediately after it ended I headed back to my apartment, grabbed my bag and headed to the train station with my friend to catch the bullet train from Florence to Rome. The trip is about 275 km but the train goes over 200 km/h at times so it only takes about an hour and a half. Before I got on the train I decided to grab some food for the train so I tried Italian McDonalds. Despite some odd menu items, the Big Mac and fries I got tasted essentially the same as it does in the States.
We arrived in Rome’s Termini Station and went in search of where to buy a Roma Pass. For €36 you can buy a Roma Pass that lets you into your choice of two museums, including the Coliseum and Forum, reduced price entrance to other museums and unlimited use of the metro and bus systems for 72 hours. Once we got out Roma cards we hopped on the metro and took it to our Airbnb. The apartment was located a little far away from the center of Rome but the metro and buses were easy enough to use that it wasn't a big deal. The apartment itself was really small but cool. The bed was lofted and had drawers that pulled out from underneath it that served as a closet. There was a kitchen, bathroom pull out couch and a balcony. The woman who rented us the apartment lived next door and was there to greet us. She even left us food in the refrigerator for breakfast the next morning.
We dropped our bags off in the room and went to get dinner in the old Jewish Ghetto. We went to a place called Trattoria da Giggetto because I had read that they had good Fried Artichokes, which is a Roman Jewish specialty. We started with an order of the Carciofo alla Giudia (Jewish Style Artichokes), and then I got Bucatini All’amatriciana which is essentially spaghetti with a hole in the middle in a tomato sauce with bacon in it. It was pretty good but the place we went the next night had better artichokes. At the end of our meal a guy started walking around the restaurant playing guitar and singing in Italian which was pretty cool!
After dinner we walked around the Jewish Quarter and right next to our restaurant we ran into some ancient Roman ruins. The sign said that it was the Portico D’Ottavia which after some googling I found out was built by Augustus in honor of his sister Octavia Minor. The facade was covered by scaffolding as it must have been undergoing restoration (as everything in Rome seems to be…).
After we left the Jewish Quarter we walked to Capitoline Hill which was the Citadel of the Ancient Romans. There are not many ruins up there now though as they are all covered by the buildings placed there during the Renaissance. The Pope at the time commissioned Michelangelo to design the piazza and the surrounding palazzi. In the center of the piazza is a famous statue ancient equestrian bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius. The one now standing in the piazza is a copy of the original which is now housed inside a museum nearby.
We continued walking and came across a massive building which I later found out was the Altare della Patria, or the Altar to the Fatherland. It is a monument to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of unified Italy. It also houses Italy’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The building is incredibly imposing in person. You can just see the wreath above the tomb of the unknown soldier in the middle, below the statue.
Next we walked by Trajan’s Column, a massive column located in Trajan’s Forum. The column depicts the Roman Emperor Trajan’s victory in a war through reliefs carved in a spiral pattern spiraling up the column.
Then we walked to the Trevi Fountain. It was enourmas and beautiful. My friend told me that it had been closed for the last few years to be restored and it shows. The marble is immaculate. There was a hoard of people surrounding it but if you could still get a good view! I threw a coin in and made a wish so hopefully it will come true!
Next we walked to the Spanish Steps which were annoyingly closed for renovation. Aside from them being closed they also seemed less impressive than I was expecting. They were definitely the most underwhelming of the “major attractions” I went to in Rome, but maybe thats because I couldn’t go on them.
After the Spanish Steps, we walked over to the Parthenon. It was closed so we couldn’t go inside that night but the outside was still pretty awesome!
After that we walked to the Piazza Navona where we saw the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, and Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of Four Rivers. The church has a beautiful facade and the fountain is absolutly amazing. The fountain represents the four continents to which Catholicism had spread with each figure representing a major river and continent: The Nile-Africa, The Danube-Europe, The Ganges-Asia, The Rio de la Plata-The Americas. The figures are huge and are very detailed. The giant ancient Egyptian Obelisk that stands atop the fountain is also very cool.
After walking a major portion of the center of Rome we headed back to our apartment to sleep as we were waking up early for the Vatican the next morning. On our way to the train we crossed the Tiber River and I got a great picture of St. Peters Basilica from a distance.
The next morning we woke up and went straight to the Vatican Museums at 10am. We had reservations so we didn’t have to wait in line and we got the audioguide so we would have some knowledge of what we were seeing. Once inside you realize the vast size of the Vatican Museums and that you could probably spend an entire day there and still not see everything. Basically its a collection of a bunch of stuff that the Catholic church has taken from various places over the centuries so there are tons of sculptures, pottery, and paintings from all different eras of history and places aorund the world. Every surface of every room is either covered in gold, marble of every color, a mosaic, or a fresco by some famous artist.
I can’t and won’t go through everything I saw but I’ll hit some of the highlights of the museums. The first thing I saw was the Apollo Belvedere which is a statue from around 100 AD. Its considered one of the best examples of sculpture from classical antiquity that exists today.
The Belvedere Torso is the remnant of a sculpture from the first century AD where only the torso remains. It is said that Michelangelo admired the sculpture so much that he modeled some of the figures he painted on the Sistine Chapel off of it.
There was an entire wing dedicated to the Etruscans, the civilization that preceded Rome in Italy, and there was a room of all of their pottery. I had learned about some of it in my art history classes and it was really cool to see in person, and to see how well preserved these vessels were after over 2500 years.
There is a hall in the Vatican Museums called the Gallery of Maps in which the walls are covered by large frescoes of maps of all of the major cities in Italy. At the end of the hall are two frescoes of all of Italy, one of antiquity and one contemporary (at the time it was painted).
The Raphael Rooms are four rooms painted by Raphael in the Papal Apartments. Raphael and his studio painted numerous frescoes adorning the walls and ceilings of the four rooms. Included in these frescoes is “The School of Athens”, one of the most famous frescoes other than the Sistine Chapel. In the center of the painting Plato and Aristotle are depicting discussing their views on philosophy. Each of their hand gestures is thought to depict their central philosophies, Plato pointing up referencing his ideal world of forms while Aristotle gestures towards the earth referencing his empiricist beliefs. In the painting Raphael included many of the great ancient philosophers and thinkers. It is also thought that Raphael used Leonardo da Vinci’s likeness as his model for Plato, showing his reverence for the great artist. Michelangelo is said to be depicted as Heraclitus, an ancient philosopher who is shown leaning on a block of marble. Raphael also included himself in the painting, at the very bottom right, looking out at the viewer.
Before entering the Sistine Chapel you walk through a newer addition to the museum which is their collection of contemporary art. Most of it was not my cup of tea but there were a couple paintings by Marc Chagall which was cool.
Then we made it to the Sistine Chapel. There is a lot of hype and the room is incredibly crowded but it is still an amazing experience. It is unbelievable to think how grueling and time consuming it must have been to paint those masterpieces on that scale. The hype and the crowds make sense once youve seen it. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take pictures in the chapel but I did manage to sneak one of “The Creation of Adam”. I saw a few people get kicked out of the chapel for trying to sneak pictures so I’m lucky I didn’t get caught because I wanted to spend as much time as possible in there. Hopefully The Swiss Guard don’t track me down not that its posted on the internet.
After finishing up in the Vatican Museums we grabbed some lunch and then headed over to see St. Peter’s Basilica. St. Peter’s is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The church is massive and every inch is covered in marble, gold or a priceless piece of art. The outside is amazing with the huge colonnades extending out from each side of the facade. Inside the basilica are Michelangelo’s Pieta and Bernini’s Baldacchino. A pieta was a common subject of sculptures and paintings where Mary is depicting cradling the body of Jesus after he has been removed from the cross. The detail in Michelangelo’s sculpture was amazing! Bernini’s Baldacchino is a large canopy that stands at the point where the main nave and the transcept of the church intercept. It is said to mark the place where St. Peter is buried. The canopy is enourmous and the pictures cannot convey how large it really is in person. After having learned about all of this in art history in high school it was amazing to see them in person!
After finishing up at The Vatican we headed over to the Coliseum and Forum but for some reason they had closed early that day and so we couldn’t get in. Also, there was a bunch of scaffolding cover the part of the coliseum where most people usually take their classic picture in front of it, which was pretty annoying. We walked around the outside of the Coliseum and The Arch of Constantine (built to commemorate one of Constantine’s military victories) and took pictures and decided to head back the next day to try to get inside.
We walked around the city some more, and since some of my friends had just come for the day we went back to the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon but this time the Pantheon was open so we could go inside. Before we went inside though we went to a gelato shop and I got a massive, 4 flavor cone from a shop that had over 100 flavors. The one on top was nutella and it was awesome!
Then we went inside the Pantheon which was really awesome! The dome was huge and it was incredible that they could engineer something like that over 2000 years ago but that they didn’t know how to do it 1500 years later (The Duomo in Florence sat for a very long time with a hole where the dome should have been because they didn’t know how to build a dome that size anymore. Somehow over the years, the technique had been lost and it took Brunelleschi to be able to figure out how to build a dome to cover that span.) The hole inside the dome is also really cool and I would really like to see what its like inside when it rains. Also Raphael, the famous artist, has his tomb inside The Pantheon, which was pretty cool.
After that my friends who were in just for the day headed for the train station and we went to dinner. We tried going to a few different places but they kept turning out to be closed so we ended up back at a restaurant in the Jewish Quarter that we had wanted to try the night before but it was kosher and closed for Shabbat. The girl I was traveling with was kosher so she was happy to get some kosher meat anyway. We had the fried appetizer sampler which had fried artichokes, fried zucchini flowers stuffed with fish and fried cod. The fried artichokes were amazing, better than the previous night. Then I got some ravioli stuffed with beef which was pretty good.
After dinner we headed back to the Airbnb because we were exhausted from the long day and we wanted to get up early to get to The Coliseum and Forum.
We started off the next day at the Coliseum, which was really cool! I got the audio tour which explained the history of the arena, how it had been used over the years and what each part was used for. The arena floor has been excavated to show the various rooms underneath that were used to house animals, gladiators and sets that could be raised up onto the stage floor through secret trap doors. Its pretty amazing how advanced they were thousands of years ago.
After we finished at The Coliseum we went to Palatine Hill and The Forum. Palatine Hill is said to be the location where Romulus and Remus were cared for by the She-Wolf. When they grew up they decided to build a city on the banks of the Tiber River. They had a disagreement about where to built it, Romulus killed Remus, and thus the city is called Rome after Romulus. One Palatine Hill are a lot of excavations of ancient temples, palaces and houses that belonged to former emperors, including Rome’s first emperor, Augustus. There is too much history and I don’t really even know most of what I saw but it was all beautiful and amazing so I’ll just post some pictures, haha.
After walking around Palatine Hill we walked down into the Ancient Roman Forum. The Forum served as the center of ancient Rome. Originally a marketplace, it became an important governmental and religious center with many temples and government buildings.
On one end of the Forum is The Arch of Titus which commemorates the military victories of the Roman Emperor Titus, including his siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The arch is famous for the engraving on the inside of the arch which depicts the roman soldiers carrying away the spoils of Jerusalem, including the Temple Menorah.
Most of the ruins in The Forum are not very complete as they were pillaged over the years for building materials for the Vatican and other building projects. Similarly to Palatine Hill, there is too much to tell about The Forum and I don’t even know enough about it myself so I’ll just post some pictures of some of the highlights.
After finishing up at The Forum we grabbed some lunch and then went to a couple of different churches to see pieces of art that I’d learned about and wanted to see.
The first one was Caravaggio’s “The Calling of Saint Matthew” in The Church of San Luigi dei Francesi. I had learned about the painting many times and the church actually had two other Caravaggio paintings in it as well. It was really cool to see it in person after having learned so much about it multiple times. One funny thing about seeing it was that the church has a coin operated machine next to the paintings and you have to put a Euro in to turn the lights on over the painting every few minutes. I guess its a smart way for them to make money.
After that we went back to the Piazza Navona for a few minutes to see The Fountain of the Four Rivers again but in daylight.
Next we went to the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria to see Bernini’s sculpture “The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa”. I had also learned about this many times as well and Bernini’s sculptures are amazing! It is also cool because he also sculpted the patrons who donated the money for the sculpture as if they were in a theatre, watching the action of the sculpture take place.
The last thing we did before heading to the train station was we went to see Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of Moses located in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli. The interesting part of the scupture, other than the fact that its amazing because its Michelangelo, is that Moses is depicted with horns. This derives from an old mistranslation of a bible verse that actually was talking about rays of light emanating from Moses’ head. This church also had the machines that required you to pay for the artwork to be lit up so i guess its a common thing in the churches of Rome.
After 2 and a half very packed days in Rome we headed back to Florence. Keep an eye out for my next post about my trips to see the David, the Uffizi and the Duomo.