June 28, 2014

Rome, Italy

Aug 2006

Rome captured my imagination at several levels: from French comic writer Rene Goscinny’s “Asterix” to English historian Edward Gibbon’s “The rise and fall of Roman Empire”.  Rome was the epitome of civilization; and yet Rome was also the epitome of decadence.

The best place to start Rome is “outside” Italy.  Yes, Rome is a city that has an independent country as one of its suburbs:  Vatican!

St Peter’s Basilica is the cynosure for Catholics worldwide; is the largest church in the world; is the burial site of Apostle St Peter; and was designed by Renaissance artist Michelangelo.  Michelangelo does know how to impress.  Part of the trick to ensure grandeur is to provide a huge public square (that can house 60,000 people) surrounded by tall colonnades in front of the Church isolating its beautiful dome from the clutter of the skyline in the neighborhood.  The evening sun of a summer day and the cobblestones in the square create magic in the air.

St Peter's Basilica (from St Peter Square), late evening on a summer day

Getting into St Peter’s requires faith, hope and patience!  As soon as you enter, the beauty of Michelangelo’s Pieta strikes you.  As kids we were shocked to hear in 1972 a vandal throwing his hammer at this sculpture.  We were told of how the sculpture was restored by carving out a part of the Carrara marble from the back and use it to fix the broken nose of Virgin Mary.  No wonder, these days, Virgin Mary and the Christ on her laps are protected by bullet proof glass and visitors are kept more than a hammer’s throw away.

Michelangelo's Pieta

Can you imagine what millions of faithful hands touching it can do to a statue?  St Peter statue has no toes in the feet; all eroded by the touch of a million fingers over several hundred years.

Take the stairs and climb your winding way up to the top of the Dome.  You would get rewarded with a wonderful view of the square and the skyline of Rome in the distance. 

View of the Square, Vatican and Rome from atop St Peter's dome

 Vatican’s museum houses a rich collection.  As with all museums, some were gifts given with affection and some were taken away from their rightful owners with an even greater affection!

Vatican Museum

Start your tour of Rome where Rome started:  Foro Romano, the main plaza of ancient Rome, now in ruins.  The forum is awesome.  One can easily imagine Julius Caesar in triumphal procession through the plaza or wise Augustus issuing an inspiring speech on one of its platforms.

Foro Romano

Curia Julia, house of the Roman senate sits at one end of Foro Romano. 

Curia Julia, the Roman Senate Hall

The Arch of Constantine sits at the other end.  The Roman habit of celebrating military victories with imposing arches was soon adapted by several countries.

Arch of Constantine

 The Colosseum at the end of Foro Romano, is 1900 years old and in its days could seat 80,000 spectators!  The amphitheater is both an architectural marvel and an engineering marvel.  Under the floor, there are a series of tunnels and hydraulic elevators to move Emperors, Vestal virgins, Gladiators and caged animals to the right spot quickly!


The Trevi Fountain is a signature icon of Rome; all done in Travertine marble.  It is a tad smaller than what I had imagined from "La Dolce Vita" or "Roman holiday"; yet quite impressive.   Yes, we saw countless people take a coin in their right hand and throw it over their left shoulder into the fountain.  Let us hope their girl friends, bankers, and potential employers said “yes”.

Trevi Fountain, collects Euro 3,000 a day in small coins

 The Vittoriano is another signature icon of Rome.  Some hate it for changing so much at Capitoline.  Some like it for its modern architecture.  The locals call it, what else, “typewriter”.

Il Vittoriano, the national monument ("Typewriter" to locals)

Then you get to the Capitoline.  As you climb up the hills, an imposing statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius welcomes you.  His book “Meditations” was read by more people in 1992 (after the then new President Bill Clinton described it as his favorite bed time reading) than in the days when it was written. 

Emperor Marcus Auerlius (last of the five good emperors and author of "Meditations")

Two wise folks:  Marcus Aurelius and my daughter!

 The star attraction in Capitoline is Spinario, the sculpture of a boy extracting a thorn from the sole of his foot.

Spinario, the Hellenistic bronze of a boy who is flawless from head to toe, save the thorn he is extracting!

There is more to see:  Circus Maximus, Appia Antica, the Catacombs etc.   After you do all that, treat yourself to a nice authentic deep pan thick crust Pizza at Piazza Novono.

Piazza Novono

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