Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Day 3: Rome

We got a late start today. We began with a delightful pot of tea at Babington’s Tea Room at the foot of the Spanish Steps. The tea was a blend gifted to Queen Elizabeth II upon her visit to Rome of Golden Monkey, softened by rose petals, with hints of bergamot oil, jasmine and vanilla (probably missed something or tasted something that wasn’t there) I think. Afterwards, I walked up and down the steps and we both refreshed ourselves in the fountain at its base. Huge numbers of people come here to relax, tourists and locals alike. Again there was an obelisk in a patio about halfway up the steps. At the top there is a huge church. All the churches in Rome are amazingly adorned with sculptures of angels and saints. After the steps we attempted to go to the Capuchin Monastery on the Via Veneto but it was closed, so we made our way to the catacombs of San Callisto. The stone is volcanic rocks which is soft until it comes into contact with the atmosphere when it hardens. According to the guide, there were half a million people laid to rest in this section of the catacombs in five levels and 20 kilometers of tunnels over 15 hectares of land. This was the main Christian burial area until Constantine legalized Christianity in the 4th Century. Many tombs were sealed with clay or marble with the secret inscriptions popularized today like the fish, shepherd and lamb, “ichthys” and the superimposed “chi” “rho” symbol. Several pieces of seals were mounted with the actual inscriptions to view. The tombs were carved single or double or full rooms, called “cubicles” where whole families were kept. The cubicles often contained frescoes with bible scenes. The main room was the “Region of Saint Cecilia” where several of the first popes, martyrs and a few saints killed during the persecution were buried. After the legalization of Christianity the area was decorated with marble columns and floors to celebrate the lives of the deceased. Many of their remains were moved as well. After the fall of Rome, the population fell to about 50,000 and the catacombs fell into disuse and were forgotten until about 400 years ago when a farmer came across a marble stone that was the tomb of a Pope and the catacombs were rediscovered. After we left San Callisto, we went to the Trevi Fountains. What a sight! I had no idea how large and grandiose a spectacle the Fontana de Trevi was. At the center was the god Oceanus flanked by two Tritons taming hippocampi. The fountain is massive and set into the front of a large building. When we left the fountain we climbed up the side of it back out onto the street and found a small café where we could eat in view of the fountain. I had some prosciutto and the best mozzarella I have ever eaten. That night we stayed up late resting and talking about all we had seen. We also met a group coming to stay at the hostel from Switzerland. They were all studying abroad and one of them was born in Gainesville, FL. Small world! We leave Rome tomorrow and I will really miss it. This has been a phenomenal three days!

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