Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Day 2: Rome

We didn’t get up as early as we would have liked (stunner!). We went to see the Holy City in the morning. First thing we went to St Peter’s Square. The Basilica is massive and decorated so beautifully. The rotunda is also massive with a huge obelisk in the center. Egyptian imagery is very prominent in Rome, even in the Christian monuments. The rotunda has columns extending out from the basilica in a circle with an opening at the entrance. The columns are topped by sculptures of saints which are absolutely amazing! Everywhere you look are amazing sculptures; the walls, the columns, everywhere. As it turns out, Pope Benedict XVI actually made an appearance that morning at 10:30, so we got the added bonus of seeing the Pope. After that we made our way over to the Vatican museum. Since the Pope was making an address the queue was very short and there was no wait to get in. That museum is awe-inspiring! There is so much art and history there it would take months worth of daily trips to fully appreciate what is on display. We went through the Egyptian wing first which could blow your mind all by itself. 3000 year old sarcophagi, mummies, ancient clay pots and cuneiform tablets, jewelry and bronze weaponry as well as huge sculptures of Pharaohs and gods were all included. The display was stunning! One mummy was wrapped in a beautiful net of lapis lazuli. The walls were mounted with several stone tablets with Egyptian hieroglyphics on them. Being able to see the ancient text up close was amazing. The museum had more sculptures of Sekhmet than any other god in the Egyptian pantheon. Horus was another prominent figure. The sarcophagus of Imhotep was on display (not the Imhotep from “The Mummy”!). He was high priest to the Pharaoh Djoser and designed and commissioned the building of the step pyramid at Saqqara. After the Egyptian wing we saw signs for the Sistine Chapel. What we found out is that the Sistine Chapel is basically the centerpiece of the Vatican museum and they make you walk through half the museum to get to it. We passed through a hall of animals which consisted of sculptures of animals and scenes of hunting. Then we hit a few smaller chapels, each adorned with centuries-old sculpture after centuries-old sculpture of Greek and Roman deities, Popes, Saints and other important figures in history and of the Church. Frescoes lined the walls and ceilings and beautiful mosaics and decorated tiles were everywhere. We finally entered the Sistine Chapel and we both just stopped and stared. The detail and brightness of the scenes, especially considering their age (they did get touched up in 1998 as we read), is stunning, absolutely breathtaking! No words can describe them. After the Sistine Chapel we were both overcome by the grandeur of everything on display; as Noel accurately put it, “My head esploded”. We made our way out of the chapel, only to realize we had probably only seen maybe half of the museum, but also realizing we couldn’t take in anymore. We purchased a few gifts and headed outside to think and get gelato. Later that afternoon, we ate at Di Rienzo’s Ristorante, just off a side street to the right of the Pantheon. We shared an excellent pasta carbonara, and after that, we went into the Pantheon itself. It is the only Roman building which is essentially the same as it was when built. Originally it was commissioned and designed by Marcus Agrippa whose name is inscribed on the front portico. Historians don’t really know how it looked then as it was destroyed by fire in 80 AD. The emperor Hadrian had it rebuilt and that is what is seen today. Most of the trim has come off the outside of the concrete, but the inside construction is the same. The decoration has changed since the transition from Pagan to Christian hands. The Pantheon has several columns and interspersed behind the columns are small recesses and large room-sized recesses. The small recesses held 20-30 ft tall sculptures while two of the large recesses held tombs of the first two Kings of Italy and another held the tomb of a saint. In the last recess there was made an apse with an alter and 12 wooden reliquaries. Services are still held there and it is known as the Church of St.Mary and the Martyrs to the catholics. I read that the proportions of the dome are so perfect that the building would be a difficult project even today. It is astounding that the Pantheon was even able to be built with the technology of the era. My only regret about visiting the Pantheon is that I would have liked to stand in the light from the oculus. Unfortunately we arrived too late in the day. That night we ate dinner at a small Trattoria/pizzeria close to the hostel. We ate a pizza, pasta and a grilled pork steak which was delicious. The owner gave us a traditional Italian desert gratis. It was small sweet biscuits that you dip into a sweet wine. I’m not a big wine fan, but it was pretty good.

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