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  • on July 19, 2007 -
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For our full-day tour of Rome on June 19th we were picked up by our driver, Roberto, at Civitavecchia Port just outside the ship. Due to the high cost of tours in Rome, we arranged in advance to share our tour with a family we met on which worked out great! The drive to Rome was almost an hour and there wasn’t much to see along the way.

The Arch of Constantine, in front of the Colosseum.

Our first stop was the Colosseum — originally called the Flavian amphitheater. It was built in 10 years, from 70 A.D. to 80 A.D, and seated more than 50,000 spectators ( 70,000 after the fourth level was added in the third century). It looked a lot different than in the movie Gladiator, mainly because the travertine marble stucco facade has worn away in many parts, exposing the brick inner structure. After it fell into disuse in the 7th century, the Colosseum became something of a “used parts store” as marble, iron, and other valuables were taken to construct new buildings, including the Vatican. The many small holes seen in the walls of the Colosseum are where the valuable iron bolts used to hold the marble blocks together were extracted from. Inside, we could see the underground cells where the gladiators and animals were kept and raised up into the arena during events. It was a very impressive building to visit — we wish we could have seen it in its original glory!

The Colosseum’s intact inner wall (right), and part of the remaining outer wall (left).

A short walk took us to the Forum and the Palatine. The Palatine was the palace of the emperors of Rome. It’s a very large place to explore, and made an equally impressive view as we drove by it on the highway since much of the exterior is still standing. On the way towards the Pantheon we passed Circus Maximus, the stadium for the chariot races. There is no structure left, only a large oval grassy area sloped on sides where concerts are now held.

Our next stop was the Pantheon, the best-preserved building of the Roman empire, probably because it has been in continuous use since being built in the first century. Originally used for Roman pagan religion, it was later converted to a Christian church. The building was in perfect condition, inside and out. The interior is completely circular and very beautiful. There is a large circular opening at the top of the dome, which allowed light and air in — there are no windows.

Interior of the Pantheon.

We drove past Piazza Navona and the Spanish Steps. The Spanish Steps are simply a large stairway near the Spanish embassy. This area is considered very posh, akin to 5th Ave/Rodeo Drive. The Spanish Steps are used mostly as a social area where students hang out, especially at night. We couldn’t quite figure out why it’s a tourist attraction. We stopped at the Trevi Fountain for a brief, crowded, visit. The Trevi Fountain is a relatively recent addition to Rome, built in the mid-1700s, and is really large. Pictures don’t quite capture the scale of the statues, but you can see some people in the bottom-right of my photo to get some idea. The statues are intricate and very beautiful. Kathie would have loved to spend more time just staring at the Fountain but our schedule and the crowds made it impossible.

Trevi Fountain.

Next we headed towards Vatican city. Vatican City is the world’s smallest country with a population of 900. None of its citizens pay taxes but we suspect the tithing from Catholic churches around the world take care of the Vatican’s needs. The city is completely surrounded by a wall to mark its borders. Before starting our tour we grabbed a quick lunch in one of the small restaurants nearby.

Approaching the Vatican.

We met with our official tour guide before entering Vatican City. As with most of the European religious buildings we entered, shoulders and knees must be covered so we made sure to weat long pants and no tank-tops. The Vatican museum is an amalgam of all the works of art given to — or taken by — the popes over the years, including Roman relics that were excavated when the Vatican was built. The museum is immense – I have no doubt it would take a year to see all its treasures. To keep to our 2.5 hour schedule, our guide bypassed many pieces to show us the highlights. We were able to see gorgeous tapestries, statues that inspired Michaelangelo, frescoes, and paintings. Almost all the ceilings were beautifully painted, one room using a 3-D painting technique so the ceiling looked sculpted rather than flat. Much of the Vatican was built using existing marble from ancient Rome, including much of the original Colosseum.

The Trojan priest Laocoön and his sons being strangled by sea serpents sent by the Greek gods as punishment for attempting to warn the Trojans not to bring in the wooden horse. Early 1st century.

With the rest of the herd, we shuffled towards the Sistine Chapel where Michaelangelo worked for four years on the frescoes that described the story of Genesis in 9 scenes. He came back 25 years later to create the Last Judgment behind the high altar. The chapel is still used occasionally for baptisms or services, but only in special situations. The Chapel is quite breathtaking, the works of art are magnificent. Bringing binoculars is helpful in seeing the details of all the pieces but not a necessity. The chapel was extremely crowded and we’re all expected to keep a respectful silence. That’s almost impossible so the various guards were constantly shushing the crowds and making sure no one took photographs. It’s very easy to spend a lot of time at the Sistine Chapel just looking at each scene and all the details.

The Hall of Maps in the Vatican Museum

After the Sistine Chapel, we walked into St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world. The dome was designed by Michelangelo, the bronze altar canopy by Bernini, and St. Peter’s contains Michelangelo’s Pieta, the marble statue of Mother Mary holding her sacrificed son, Jesus. Pieta is indescribably sad, the sorrow apparent throughout the entire piece. There are amazing mosaics that look just like paintings on several walls of the church.

Michelangelo’s Pieta, carved when he was 23 years old (1499).

After a very full day, we headed back to port and called it an early night!

Inside St. Peter’s Basilica

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