Monday, 26 August 2013

Weekend in Rome - Part 1

A short flight of a couple of hours finds me in Rome, in a country I'd never visited but always wanted to. A country as rich in culture and history as France. SPOILER ALERT: these blogposts won't be everyone's cup of tea, I write as I think and feel which may offend sensitive types.

These blogposts don't contain a lot of details on each monument because there's simply too much and too many. They are simply an introduction to what you might want to include on a visit. Generally speaking there are a lot of churches and ruins in Rome. The ruins are generally more interesting than the churches because, quite frankly, I got sick of looking at pictures of the Virgin Mary and all the religious blah blah. I had an appetite for something more secular. It went mostly unfulfilled.

Everyone talks about theTrevi Fountain. OK it is sumptuous. It was built by Nicola Salvi (1735) under Pope Clement XII. Restoration was completed in 1991 so it's looking as it did in its original condition. There was wall-to-wall tourists, the heat was 37 degrees celsius and my feet, unused to walking far, were protesting. I became adept at finding the smallest spot to park my bum for a brief respite and our guide was good at finding shade in which to stop and explain things (alas in Italian French).

The Pantheon is the city's only architecturally intact monument from Classical times. Its bronze doors are original. Light and air enters from the top of the cuppola. In the floor below are set holes through which the rain can drain. There are various tombs inside this monument, one of which contains the remains of Raphael (1483-1520). The exterior is grubby, the interior sombre but worth a look.

Piazza Navona is now occupied by print merchants. This is probably the largest choice of prints you'll find but beware- the same prints a hawked everywhere. This piazza  was once a great stadium where naval battles were staged.

We grabbed a cold drink and listened to a guy playing cover versions of guitar greats like Eric Clapton. He wasn't too bad but didn't seem to get a lot of tips. He did lend a pleasant atmosphere in this place of fountains and an obelisk.

There are several obelisks in Rome. This square is well worth visiting and is one of the largest in Rome.

On the Piazza di San Giovanni is the Lateran, residence of popes until 1309, when the papacy was transferred to Avignon, France. The building contains the Scala Santa which is thught to be the same flight of steps which Jesus ascended in the house of Pontius Pilate. It was brought back to Rome by Empress Helena. We didn't use them, just looked. Nothing of interest there.

What's left of the Colesseum was a little disappointing. It's a history of abandonment and neglect and plundering. Marble, which used to almost entirely cover it, was reused during the Renaissance. We didn't go inside and much of the structure is pasted together with bricks to stop it deteriorating further so it's not all 'authentic'. There's also a large hole in one side which was made to enable blocks of stone from the inside of the monument to be used to build St Peter's basilica. So many monuments in Rome were destroyed, defaced and recycled to build others-what a shame.

The arch of Constantine was shrouded in scaffolding when we visited and just alongside are the remains of a circular fountain existing from the time of Nero where the gladiators used to wash themselves.

We visited the Campidoglio with the monumental steps by Michelangelo which were built for the triumphal entry of Emperor Charles V in 1536. In the centre of the Piazza (Square) is an equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius.

The statue is a rather poor copy of the original bronze now housed in a nearby museum. In fact, copies of statues and paintings are to be found everywhere. Many of the originals are now in Paris at the Louvre. Michelangelo designed this Square and the two palaces on either side, busy boy.

The Roman Forum, the most famous place in classical Rome can be viewed via a short side street from Capitol Hill. It contains the Forum of Julius Caesar, consecrated in 45 BC; lots of temples, arches (much like the Arc de Triomphe); various basilica. You can see the Palatine Hill on the right in the distance and the Colesseum in the distance too.

One monument we didn't visit but which I wanted to see was the Castel Sant'Angelo, dating from the 12th century, linked to the Vatican and used by popes as a prison, place of torture, refuge. It has 5 floors and contains a ramp and courtyard of Pope Alexander VI (aka Roderigo Borgia). I've read academic works on the lives of the famous Borgias which are nothing like the salacious and silly stories like Dumas's Lucrecia Borgia-a total fabrication.

They were a handsome and intelligent family not worse than most and better than many of the times, who had such powerful and jealous enemies that what really happened is usually overlooked or completely lied about. I could easily imagine the handsome and brilliant Cesare Borgia riding in and out the Vatican City, organising this and that, leading armies and taking refuge in Castel Sant'Angelo when necessary. His links with France were strong too and it was ultimately the betrayal and dishonesty of the King of France that lead to his death valiantly fighting a rebel army single-handedly.

The next post covers the Vatican Museum and St Peter's basilica.


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