Week 3 in Italy: 3-Day Trip to Rome
This week in Europe: An uneventful week leads up to a three day weekend trip to Rome.
Day 1 – Trevi Fountain, Pantheon & Night Stroll
The trip was organized by API, the program that I’m going through to study abroad. We all loaded onto buses at 7:30am Friday morning and made the four hour road trip to arrive at noon. We were split into groups and led by a professional tour guide to different historical spots around the city. It’s hard to name all of the places we went to, but the most notable was Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon.
Trevi Fountain was completed in 1762, and is the largest Baroque fountain in the city. After a few of us threw some coins into the water, we were given 20 minutes to find lunch, and then moved onto the next location.
We made our way down many narrow streets before we arrived into an open piazza, and there was the Pantheon, hiding in a relatively sheltered area of the city. It looked big from the outside, but I was even more impressed when I was standing under the dome, reaching 142 feet up to the top. The dome is designed in such a way that a sphere could fit perfectly inside, because it’s height is the same as the diameter. There is a hole in the top of the dome (called an oculus), which lets rain or snow fall to the floor, where a small drain carries it away. It is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world; hopefully there are no earthquakes while I’m inside.
One thing I noticed about Rome that I didn’t see very much in Florence was the number of water fountains. During my first day in Rome, I must have seen at least six, while I haven’t even seen one back in Florence. The colors of the buildings also vary much more here, the sidewalks are wider, and I never got the occasional stench of sewage like you get back in Florence. On the downside, the streets are generally more dirtier, and there’s much more traffic, mostly due to the fact that the roads are wider in the center of Rome, where as in Florence, most of them are one-way, and there is usually more people than cars traveling on them.
When the tour wrapped up, we loaded back onto the buses, and headed down a couple blocks to our hotel. The amenities where nice, but the location of the hotel wasn’t so nice. It was off of a small street with its entrance facing a construction site, and if you took the wrong road down, you’d find yourself in a poor area of the neighborhood. After a nice nap, my roommate and I headed back out to do some exploring. We headed along the river and over a bridge towards the Colosseum. We were planning to go there the last day of the visit, but we wanted to get a sneak peek during dusk. Across the river, there was a large open field with a gravel path that circled a raised area of grass in the middle. I didn’t know it then, but I later found out that’s where chariot races use to be held, with 150,000 spectators watching from the sidelines. Around another bend and a long straight, the Colosseum finally came into view. Its perimeter arches were bathed in light against the darkening sky. It is enormous considering that it was built between 70 and 80 AD. With the grandness of the exterior sinking in, I couldn’t wait until our tour of the inside on Sunday.
We started day two off by touring Castel Sant’Angelo. Completed in 139 AD, it initially served as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family, and was later used as a fortress for the popes. Today it is a museum. The fort looks very formidable, with thick walls filled with many winding dark passage-ways that snake their way from the lower levels up to the roof. Once we reached the top, panorama views of Rome and the Vatican awaited us.
After we left the gates of the fort, we made our way into the Vatican. Approaching from the side, the impressiveness of St. Peter’s Square didn’t come into view until we had passed under the stone colonnade. As we got closer and closer to the entrance, the massive stone structure seemed to get heavier and heavier. Our tour group all got wireless headphones so we could listen to our guide once we headed into inside. We passed through the narthex and into the cavernous nave. After so many references to this building in my art history classes, I finally got to see it with my own eyes. To the left, a shaft of light beamed through the window, and ahead lay the dome, 394 feet to the inside top. Off to one side, there was even a former pope lying in a glass coffin, with his body covered in wax.
Walking back towards the front doors, I thought about how huge this space was, and how small it made everyone seem. Remembering back, I wish I had spent more time inside, since I don’t remember what the alter area looked like because of diminishing time. The tour ended abruptly, and my friends and I headed over to the Vatican Museum, to see the Sistine Chapel. Luckily there wasn’t a long line to get in, and I had reserved tickets anyway. The first types of exhibits were ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art, which I didn’t find very interesting. The architecture of the building was more interesting than the stuff inside it. The one thing I knew I’d enjoy seeing was the Sistine Chapel. I also had studied this building in one of my art history classes, and now was the time to see it. When we finally made our way down a set of zigzagging narrow stairs, they opened up to the chapel. The space was smaller than I expected, but every inch of it was covered in paintings and ornament. We all spent a good 5 to 10 minutes just staring up at the ceiling. I wish I had known more about specific paintings that were up there, so I could appreciate them more. We edged closer and closer to the exit, and then I took my last glimpse of this remarkable room. When I got back to the hotel, I continued yesterday’s tradition and took a nice nap.
This was the experience that made this whole trip worth it. It was impressive from the outside two nights ago, but seeing it from the inside was different. Waiting through line inside, dimly lit passageways and steep stairs led us up to the second level. In terms of the original seating, almost none is still left, with only a few stone benches remaining on one of the lower tiers. The outer wall only circles around half the amphitheater, so you don’t get the full picture of how big this place was when it was fully intact. The arena floor has partially been reconstructed, exposing the network of subterranean passageways below used to transport animals and gladiators. To imagine that hundreds if not thousands of people died here for other people’s entertainment is quite the thought. The amphitheater is almost 2,000 years old, and it has deteriorated quite a bit. It’s sad to think that future generations will only see the Colosseum in worse shape than it is now, slowly collapsing to return to the way earth has always been. I’ll let the pictures fill in the rest of the details.
Luckily the weather for all three days was sunny in the 60’s, which made me forget the usual rainy weather back in Florence and wish I lived here. I’ll be passing through Rome at least twice to fly out from there, but I’m not sure when I’ll be back to visit. Hopefully not too long.
See all of my photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ddbrown/sets/72157640640691544/.