Tuesday, 1 October 2013

No Binoculars in Rome; 26th - 30th September

Yes, a few days away without the bins, something I have not done for nearly thirty five years.  A few brownie points being claimed as well but the trip to Rome was indeed a mind blowing experience. Arriving Thursday evening, just in time to meet the group of nearly forty people......was this a big mistake. They all looked old but getting to know a few of them I realised some were younger than me! Anyway, we soon settled into the Hotel Ripa, in the Trastevere area, just over the River Tiber (Tevere, they call it) from the main centre of interest.
The next morning after a whistle stop coach tour around the city it was time to get out and see the sights, the first being the Piazza de Trevi and the famous 18th century fountain depicting Neptune riding on a seashell. 

Trevi Fountain

The whole facade is crammed into the tiny piazza which was thronging with people and busy ice cream shops and policemen blowing their whistles at tourists who dared put a foot over the wall into the water.

 Trevi Fountain

Next, walking through the busy streets we came to the magnificent Pantheon, 'Temple to All the Gods', built by Marcus Agrippa in 27BC but rebuilt by Hadrian in AD125. Inside, you can appreciate the huge dome 43 metres high and in diameter, we were told that the base of the dome was 18 feet thick and thinning to 4 feet, completely unsupported. On fine days the open hole in the roof sends a shaft of light into the windowless structure plus also lets in rain!

The Pantheon

  The Pantheon - huge, thick metal doors

The tombs of Raphael, his mistress, the architect Peruzzi and the first King of Italy lie within the structure. 

We walked on a little way to the large Piazza Navona which has been a prime spot for recreation since AD79, hence its oval shape. In the Middle Ages it was used for jousting tournaments and later in the 17th and 18th century spectacular water pageants.

  Piazza Navona - Bernini's 'Fountain of Four Rivers'

After lunch in the square most of chose to go on the optional tour of the Vatican and St.Peter's Basilica in the afternoon. During these tours we had a smart Italian lady guide who was a fountain of knowledge of all the ancient history of Rome. We were all given a receiver and earphone and she just talked into a microphone giving us all the information. 

The entrance to the Vatican Museums was free this day for some reason, crowded of course and over 4 miles of corridors and rooms of sculptures, paintings and art to marvel over we were told.  A selection of photos below give an idea of the grandeur of the building.

 Vatican museums

 The long corridor of the 'Map Room'

It got a bit OTT after a while, just so much and finally ending at the Sistine Chapel which was a bit underwhelming for me. The chapel had no lighting in it and was quite dim which didn't show off Michaelangelo's ceiling as well as other areas in the Vatican. The place was crammed with people all talking but being told to keep quiet by a couple of 'guards' standing on podiums but they had no effect, quite funny. Its in here where the Cardinals sit and select new Popes. No photos are allowed but with such low light it would not be easy to get a shot anyway.

We then moved to St. Peter's next door, the like of which puts our cathedrals into shade as regards to grandeur.  Begun in 1506 under Julius 2nd (replacing the previous church built in the 4th century) it was finished in 1626, although it has changed shape a few times since as demanded by various Popes.

 Entrance to St.Peter's Basilica
Michelangelo's 'Pieta' in St.Peter's, carved when he was 26 years old

 The High Altar
 No time to climb up to the base of the Dome but people are walking around it!
There they are!

We left the splendours of St. Peter's and made our way back to the hotel by bus and tram with the help of our tour manager who accompanied us on all trips. 

The next morning we left the hotel at 8.30 and a short coach ride to the Colosseum and Palatine. Built in AD72-80 the four tiered elliptical amphitheatre seated 50,000 spectators on stone benches according to their social status. Mornings were programmed for animal fights and shows, the afternoons kept for gladiator fights and contrary to popular belief there is little evidence that Christians were fed to lions here.

 Colosseum - next to a main road - our manager and lady guide 
 Small holes all over the Colosseum where iron pegs had been removed years ago

 The many arches led into the seating as a modern stadium
                 The number over this arch being Gate 53

Popes and princes stripped the Colosseum of its marble cladding and iron for their churches and palaces leaving it a complete ruin. Many parts have been reconstructed and two levels are accessible to the public. It is thought there was a sort of canvas canopy over the structure as to sit out in the heat of the day would be unbearable and post holes have been found to support this theory.

 Entering through the arches was just like a modern stadium
 The lower passage ways were under a floor where animals and men awaited their destiny
 Seating areas have all been removed or looted in the past
 A small section of seat reconstruction
Toilets would have been included for the 50,000, usually a communal affair where users would sit over a running channel of water!

A short walk of a few of hundred yards brought us to the Forum. Nothing really remains intact just remains of columns and arches and other walls etc. The Forum was the centre of government and was surrounded by the Palatine, Capitoline and Esquiline Hills, the draining water providing all their plumbing needs! Most of the area has now been excavated as it was abandoned after the barbarian invasions, plus floods, fires and earthquakes and recently, plunder by Renaissance architects reduced it to a muddy cow pasture.

 One of the many gates built in honour of the general when a great war had been won

 Remains of the Forum

Finishing our morning tour the group was then left to disperse go our own way, many of us heading over to the main street and cafes. Quite easy making your way round with the map, all the monuments right in amongst the streets. After lunch we made our way to the 'Spanish steps' which lie at the head of Via Condotti, the street with all the designer shops, the rich, would like to be rich, and lovely ladies strutting their stuff.

 Via Condotti
The Spanish Steppes
I couldn't see what was special about the Spanish Steppes but named after the nearby Spanish Ambassador's residence. There is a 17th century French church at the top of the steps. Slowly made our way back to the hotel, several stops in bars on the way as it took about two hours passing the monument below.

Monument to Vittorio Emanuele

Last day and a 8.15 coach ride out to the Villa Borghese where the avid and ruthless art collector Cardinal Scipione Borghese built a handsome villa on the east side of the park and home to his outstanding collection. Being nephew to Pope Paul V he was able to use his position to acquire some fine works of art. The collection includes some fine sculptures by his protege, Lorenzo Bernini and paintings by Raphael,Titian, Carravaggio and Botticelli.  Again, no cameras allowed so no photos, not that I needed any more of that sort. Many of the paintings have been restored and look as if they have had a coat of vanish which are full of reflections when seen under artificial light. Whereas, the originals were a more matt look and did not exhibit that problem. I have since read that many feel the paintings have been 'ruined' to which I agree! 

 Spent 15 minutes listening to the Police band on the Spanish Steps- excellent
 Castel Sant'Angelo
 The River Tiba or Fiume Tevere

Last view of St. Peter's Basilica
Leaving the Villa Borgehese late morning we walked through the park down to the Spanish Steps where the Police Band were on parade playing on the Steps to a huge crowd, an excellent band. Spent the afternoon looking wandering through the city and finally along the banks of the River Tiber passing the mighty Castel Sant'Angelo, a fortress built in the times of Hadrian. Finally reaching the hotel, an hours rest before out again for diner. 

Next morning left the hotel at 8.00 for our 11.00 Easyjet flight back to Gatwick getting home at 14.45. Good weather throughout, temperature c.24 deg C, didn't need a coat! An interesting trip with a lot to learn and appreciate. Hope you enjoyed the account.


Mike H said...

Great account Mike and remarkably similar to my trip for my wifes 5oth birthaday a few years ago. Would love to go back and do it again.

Greater Kent Birder said...

Very informative Mike. I have been to Rome on a business trip but like all business trips I spent to whole time in meeting rooms or airport lounges though. Looks an interesting place to visit with "her in doors" and get some brownie points though I think I would need to do it in a more leisurely pace that you. Age.