Thursday, March 15, 2012

How to See Rome in One Day

Arriving at the train station in Rome fairly early in the morning we walked the short distance to the same hotel  we had stayed in our first night, stashed our bags in the luggage room and boarded the Metro heading to the Vatican. The line to enter the Holy City was long but moved surprisingly quickly. We compared it to a three block stroll. It is fortunate that the line moves at the pace it does since beggars, some of them amputees displaying quite grisly wounds, pepper the sidewalk leading up to the gates. As you enter there is a sign showing the outline of a man in tank top and shorts in the middle of a circle with a slash across it. As it was November we were dressed modestly. I did, however, ponder what the wait in line would be like under a blazing summer sun in long pants and a long sleeve shirt. Short sleeves would probably be permissible, just keep those deltoids covered boys, no matter how attractive they may be.

As you enter you go through galleries filled with the art and treasures that the Catholic church has pillaged, excuse me, gathered, from ancient civilizations around the globe. Penises seemed to have either repulsed or excited the Holy Fathers as they have all been whacked off, excuse me again, chiseled off, of the priceless male nude statues displayed.

One space of particular beauty is the Hall of Tapestries. Every inch of wall space is covered with rich, lushly woven masterworks. My partner was enamored of one Tapestry depicting a map of Venice as we had been here just a few days earlier. He attempted to photograph it in the dimly lit hall without a flash. Light is restricted in this gallery to help prevent deterioration and fading of these fragile treasures.

Eventually one reaches the Sistine Chapel filled with the magnificent artwork of Michelangelo. The colors and figures depicted are rich and lustrous thanks to an extensive cleaning and restoration effort carried out over several years. Minute details, facial features and the folds and draping of clothing, long obscured by centuries of dirt and soot, look as fresh as they must have appeared during Michelangelo's time. The room is packed shoulder to shoulder with tourists snapping pictures and discussing the scenes on the walls around them and barrel vaulted ceiling above. Guards continually try to silence the crowd feeling that the chapel should be treated with quiet reverence. Fat Chance!

We exit the chapel and after a visit to St. Peters and Michelangelo's stunning Pieta, exit the Vatican and find our way to the Tiber river. We pause by the looming, formidable bulk of the ancient Castle Sant Angelo before crossing the river on a centuries old bridge. We briefly revisit the Pantheon, discover that we strode down the Spanish Steps on our first day in Italy and, quite by accident, come across the Largo Argentina.

It takes up a block of Rome. It is a place of significant historic importance but was forgotten and long buried deep under the layers of Rome, a place built, burned, pillaged and rebuilt over the centuries. It lies several feet down below the street, ground level at the time of it's construction. It contains the ruins of a complex of 3 temples, dating from around 300 B.C. and a set of steps which once led up to a bathhouse. The steps are where Julius Caesar was assassinated, hence their importance to the long history of Rome. Little is known of the temples, including which gods the were for or their exact date of construction. It is assumed they were destroyed, along with much of ancient Rome, in a large fire in 179 A.D. The ruins were built over and were discovered during demolition work in the 1920's. Scores of cats prowl the ruins or find warm, sun kissed spots to nap among the remains of the columns, steps and temple floors. The ruins contain the largest colony of feral cats in the city.

We had saved sampling Italian gelato for our final day. We purchased it at the same small restaurant where we ate our first night of the trip and enjoyed it on the steps facing the Trevi Fountain, watching the play of the waters and once again admiring it's beauty and romance.

Walking back to the hotel we passed an example of one of the things that make Rome such a special place. Along the street, next to a medieval church, stand two well preserved classical columns reaching up to the Italian sky.

We returned to our hotel, retrieved our luggage and went up to our room. We opened the door and took in our final lodging in Italy, a large room, with 2 equally large beds, a street view and beautiful green marble floors. A huge tub stood against one wall of the equally spacious bathroom. We soon decided, after the frantic pace of our trip, to spend this last night relaxing in this comfortable, inviting space. We walked to the train station, stopping and shopping at the various vendors carts along the way, picked up sandwiches and returned to the room and an evening of luxurious baths and Italian t.v.

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