Saturday, November 6, 2010

When In Rome...

Due to a public transportation strike on Friday and All Saints Day on Monday, that meant Bree and I had a four day weekend. Allora, we decided to go to Rome! We took the fast train and got there in 3 hours.

Two nights before we left, we booked a room in a "Bed and Breakfast." It was perfect for what we needed. Cheap, safe and a place to lay our heads. It also had a cute spiral staircase, pictured below.

The first thing on our list was, of course, the Colosseum. The first picture below is literally what you see when you step out of the train station. It was very surreal.  

We bought the Roma Pass which is a three day pass for 25 euro that covers all transportation costs and offers free passage to some museums and sights. We decided to pay for a guided tour at the Colosseum so that we could learn some of the history while we were walking amongst the ruins. We learned that the Colosseum was originally named "Flavian Amphitheatre." It was later named the Colosseum after the "Colossus of Nero," a bronze statue that used to stand in front of the amphitheatre. The statue was at some point melted down to recycle the bronze. That was actually very common in Rome to recycle materials and this is why the ancient marble-covered Colosseum is no longer covered in marble. The thousands of holes in the building were caused by the bronze brackets being pulled out, as well, in order to melt them down and make weapons. 

There used to be a ceiling on the Colosseum made of sails, as in ship sails, to keep out the rain. The people standing next to the rail in the photo above, are standing on a recreation of the Colosseum floor that used to cover the whole arena. It was named "arena" which means "sand" because of the sand that covered the floor in order to soak up the blood left behind by injured animals and gladiators. The part under the floor was a maze of rooms and walkways where about 500 people worked during an event in order to organize the gladiators and animals. Wouldn't want them to kill each other where no one could watch....

The Emperor used to sit behind the large cross shown above. The gladiator games were special events and people would flood the Colosseum in order to watch the action. Gladiators were mostly slaves but also lower-class people who chose to become a gladiator for the fame and fortune. Sometimes the gladiators would fight to the death, but if the loser didn't die it was up to the crowd to decide whether to let him live for the great entertainment he provided or thumbs down for a bad fight. Off with his head.

From the Colosseum, we headed to the Roman Forum, which was a major gathering place in Rome and now contains ancient ruins and villas. 

The photo below is the first in a new series, in order to document the brioche con crema that I will eat in every city throughout Europe. 

The owner of the cafe, pictured below, asked me to take his photo and to which I happily obliged. He was a great character.

The cats of Rome are well known, they have calendars and dishes made in their honor. In the photo below, you can see four of the cats that inhabit this sight of ruins. The one on the ledge was sleeping and it woke up when I started petting it. He was happy about it though. 

The photo below is the famous Pantheon. There is a hole cut in the center of the domed ceiling which makes this one of the most complicated architectural designs ever made. If it were to have been made in modern-day cement, it would have collapsed long ago. The history of the Pantheon is quite interesting.

The photo below is the Trevi Fountain at night. The Trevi Fountain was made famous in Fellini's film, "La Dolce Vita."

We then crossed the bridge to head to Trastevere, for dinner.

Delicious lasagna. The people next to us were amazed to see me eat it all! 

I still had room for dessert, of course. I had the Torta Tre Scalini with a glass of Prosecco and Bree had the infamous local dessert, Tartuffo.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was the Via Sannio market, bursting with treasures. I may have happened to buy a fur's wolf!!

After the market, we headed to Via Appia Antica. It was the perfect day to visit the catacombs since it was Halloween! 

Unfortunately, I couldn't take photos within the catacombs. There are mandatory guided tours inside since one could easily get lost in the maze of tunnels or disappear in other ghoulish circumstances.... The history of the catacombs is very interesting. In ancient Rome, christians were being persecuted and therefore a Roman law was instated that the deceased could not be buried within Roman walls. In accordance with the law, christians dug intricate tunnels in which to place tombs. The Catacombs of Saint Sebastian are about 7 miles wide and it is only one of 60 catacombs located in Rome. They are still discovering artifacts in Rome all of the time.

The legend of Saint Sebastian is that Sebastian was a Roman soldier who was secretly a christian. He was converting pagan soldiers and sentenced to death for this crime. He was said to have been shot with several arrows but miraculously he didn't die. He refused to run from Rome and he was again captured by the Roman guard. He demanded to speak to the Emperor in an effort to end the cruel persecution. Instead, he was beaten to death and thrown in the sewers. It was then said that his spirit appeared to a woman and told her where to find his body and to bury it in the catacombs. His body is now located in the church above the catacombs. 

Below is the monument in Campo de Fiori which used to be a spot where they conducted public executions. Very fitting for Halloween.

Bree and I also stumbled upon a massive herd of Catholic children congregating for some reason. It made for an interesting sight to behold and a headache to maneuver.

The sign below is funny to me because it has a picture of Italy and then the Catholic school symbol and then "issimi" which all put together reads, "VERY Italian Catholics."

On the last Sunday of every month, this one happened to be on Halloween and Bree and I happened to be in Rome, access into the Vatican Museum is free. There was the hugest line I have ever seen to get into this place and it was only open for 3 hours. Bree and I made a wise choice and decided to take advantage of the independent tour guide companies and bypass the line AND learn some interesting facts at the same time. 

We were not allowed to take photos of the Sistine Chapel but it was much more interesting to see with the backstory told by the tour guide. He told us that Michelangelo was asked by the Pope to paint the frescoe on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and that Michelangelo turned him down immediately. He wanted to be a sculptor, not a painter. The Pope, being the Pope, would not take no for an answer and he sent his guards to Florence to bring Michelangelo to Rome in handcuffs. Michelangelo finally caved in and he spent every day and night for the next four years on the scaffolding under the Sistine Chapel ceiling. He ate there, he slept there, he took care of all matters on that scaffolding. It was backbreaking work since he couldn't lay down to paint a dome, he had to arch his back and neck with his arm over his head to paint this ceiling that was above the windows and therefore only lit by candlelight. When he was finished he wrote in his diary that he was unable to sit, stand, or lay down due to the excruciating pain throughout his body. At the age of 37, he wrote that he was just waiting to die. He lived to the age of 89.

At noon, Bree and I wandered out of the Vatican Museum on our way to get some lunch and just happened to walk into the piazza where the Pope was giving his blessings to the crowd from his window. Very surreal, indeed.