Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Touring Rome, Day 2: Mostly Ancient History

Touring Rome, Day 2: Mostly Ancient History
Friday, May 15, was the one cloudy day of my entire stay in Rome (so far, as I write this on the 19th), and we were pestered several times by rain showers. I said an early Mass this time so as to make sure I got the bus at 8:10. On my way down the driveway of the Pisana to the street, I encountered the Rector Major and his vicar out for a stroll together. I find it amazing that the RM recognizes confreres by name immediately, as he did me, without knowing they're going to be around. After all, there are about 16,000 of us! I suppose he doesn't know them all, and in our Interamerica Region we have a certain advantage with him since he was our regional superior for 6 years before he was elected RM. But still.... So we exchanged quick greetings and went our ways.

Your humble blogger with 2 friends--Fr. Pascual Chavez, the Rector Major of the Salesians (9th successor of St. John Bosco), and Don Bosco himself. Photo taken May 18.
Need I say that the bus didn't come at 8:10 this day, but at 8:15. At any rate, being a half hour earlier (than yesterday) made a great difference in the traffic, and we were down by St. Peter's in about 50 minutes. (It helped that the 881 bus stopped right in front of my 808 bus where several riders, including me, had to make the switch.) Rita and David and I had agreed to meet at Piazza Venezia on the steps of the great tomb-monument to King Victor Emanuel II, and I was able quickly to catch the necessary bus and so arrive there at 9:25, well before our agreed-upon 10:00. Thus I had time to go up the steps and learn that the monument is also the tomb of the Italian unknown soldier, say a prayer there, take some photos of both the tomb and the piazza below, and not a few photos of the entire monument.
Monument to Victor Emmanuel, first king of Italy (d. 1878), at south end of Piazza Venezia

Piazza Venezia, from the Victor Emmanuel monument, with tourists waiting on the sidewalk. Palazzo Venezia at the left.

When Rita and David arrived, we passed by another dug-up Roman forum, that of Trajan, and made our way to the church of St. Peter in Chains solely to see Michelangelo's Moses. We also looked at the chains under the main altar which are, supposedly, those in which St. Peter was held prisoner not in Rome but in Jerusalem, as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles. Shall I say I'm a bit skeptical?

Michelangelo's Moses, one of several treasures in the church of St. Peter in Chains
Then we went down to the Colosseum and over to the "real" Roman Forum with the Arch of Titus, the Via Sacra, the Curia or Senate (where Caesar was assassinated, tho that seems not even to be mentioned), and the ruins of many temples, basilicas (which were meeting places), etc. We went up the Palatine Hill, site of many palaces of the nobles, and now also of gardens, and got some fine views and slightly more refreshing air, and then broke for lunch at a nice little place on a side street.

Looking west on the Via Sacra in the Forum, toward the triumphal arch of Septimius Severus (d. 211). At the right is the Curia or Senate building, where Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. In the distance you can see the top of the monument to King Victor Emmanuel II (chariot with winged victory). Some cretin installed some "modern art" amid the ruins (the really white stuff visible on either side of the Via Sacra).

Detail from the triumphal arch of Titus, celebrating his victory in the Jewish War (66-70 A.D.), including the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem.

We hadn't planned to go into the Colosseum, but since it was included in the price of the Forum (despite the protestations of several people in the ticket line ahead of David), in we went, and had a good look around. The Romans really were marvelous engineers and architects. They apparently weren't geologists, however (no surprise--I don't think there were any geologists in ancient times), for they built the Colosseum partly on solid volcanic rock and partly on less stable dirt that seems to have washed down into this valley eons earlier. We've all heard how the arena was raided as a stone quarry in the Middle Ages, and think how awful it was that the Romans did that to build their palaces later. Well, we learned, actually in the 5th century there were a couple of earthquakes bad enuf to have knocked down parts of the Colosseum built on that unstable soil! So that's why those parts became a quarry. Made sense to David and me.
David, Rita, and the Colosseum Under the floor of the Colosseum was a rabbit warren of rooms and corridors for the gladiators, wild animals, and assorted gear for spectacles.
The cross in the Colosseum reminds us that many martyrs shed their blood for Christ here as "entertainment" for the Roman masses (with a small "m").
Allora, as the Romans say, frequently, when they don't know what else to say or want to move on with the conversation...the guide book description of the basilica of St. Clement looked very interesting, and I had vague memories from a 1986 visit to it; so we went there. It was a disappointment again that photography wasn't allowed inside the medieval upper basilica; all I could shoot was the cloister and a little of the outside. And it was a bigger disappointment that the ancient underground basilica cost 5 euros to enter. So we skipped that and went back to Bonus Pastor for some beer and R&R.
At Bonus Pastor, recuperating after a long day of hiking about the ruins of Rome--and using the bus map to plot our next adventure

At 6:15 we went back to the area of the Pantheon and picked out a restaurant up the street. This one was our one disappointment of the whole visit--very good antipasto, but the main courses not so good. Then we continued the nite tour that we'd broken off the evening before, going back to Piazza Montecitorio (that's the one whose name I couldn't remember in the previous post) and Piazza Colonna and the Trevi Fountain, and then zigging and zagging our way up to Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps, which are really stunning sights at nite.
The Spanish Steps

Rita and David kept saying that they wanted an early nite and didn't want me getting home so late again. Guess what? We tried to catch a bus that wasn't coming because it didn't run that late, then walked to get one that was running, got it, walked to another that got us across the Tiber (on which they could continue to Bonus Pastor, but I would have to get off and catch the 881). By then it was about 10:00 p.m. again. I got the 881 without any trouble this time, but then had another 45-minute wait at the head of via della Pisana for the 808 and got back to our gate at 1111 via della Pisana at 11:10. So much for early! But it was quite a good day, really, in spite of rain showers and humidity and an abundance of walking.

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