Wrapping up Rome, buildings, beautiful, etcetera etcetera….
I realised this morning that it is ridiculous I am still writing about Italy because I’ve been back from there for almost a month, and now I have stuff to write about London, and Switzerland, do you know I’m currently in Bern, and was in Geneva yesterday, and tonight I’ll be in Lucerne? See! So much stuff to say, and that’s not even touching on the normal every day ramblings, that’s just listing what I’ve been doing.
Okay so we are wrapping up Rome today… an it will be a whirlwind…FULL of spelling mistakes.
Pont Sant Angelo is the bridge which crosses the Tiber and leads directly into the, again, circular building that is the Castle Sant Angelo, which is actually built on top of former emperor Hadrian’s tomb, yes Hadrian with the big wall cutting of Scotland, and the nice villa. Apparently pope Sant Angelo had a vision as he was walking across the bridge – bloody visions they pop up all over the place in Italy. I suspect it’s related to all the religious fasting, although admittedly one does not often hear about visions of charcuterie boards and antipasto. He’d been walking through Rome on a huge march with thousands of people saying prayers to stop the plague, when he saw an angel drawing a sword from a sheath. I remain sceptical, he could have seen a big bird carrying a fish that looked hazy and a bit fuzzy. It’s all down to interpretation, one man’s prophetic vision is another man’s weird dream after eating too much cheese before bed.
The bridge itself is lined with statues of angels, each one of them is holding a different artefact from the crucifixion of Christ. Now most of the time when I hear about the crucifixion, I think to myself, “Ah now that’s a horrible way to go”, the statues though make the mind leap from, “Ooh, bit nasty” to “BLOODY HELL THAT’S BRUTAL!”
You notice an angel holding the cross and another one the shroud, and what I think is a loin cloth, and a few other bits of miscellaneous bit of cloth that I didn’t quite understand. You nod to yourself sagely remembering hearing the story of the crucifixion around age 8 when people actually cared if you went to church or not. But then you notice the other angels… one of them is holding four whacking great big, sharp nails, another a cudgel the size of my leg. Don’t forget the thorn of crowns that is massively sharp and pointy. Let’s throw in some big old heavy ropes just for good measure, and lastly a big lethal spear (oh that’s why he’s always shown to be bleeding from his chest, I thought he’d just got a few scrapes along the way) and something that looks like a whip for flaying skin. If all that stuff is true, and historians say there is enough evidence to support this, then I’m more happy than ever that I lack any religious convictions.
Moving on, Joe took us to a modest little church which he said was one of the most important places in Rome, because it happens to house two impressive pieces of history. First up is one of Michelangelo’s three great statues: there’s the David statue where he’s naked, handsome and a bit vain looking; the one that no can remember; and this one is of Moses. He’s depicted with fantastic curly hair that if you stand at the correct angle makes him look like he’s got horns. I wonder if that was deliberate, Michelangelo had quite the wicked little sense of humour going by his other works.
The interior of the church is pretty dark, and the statue is protected by a railing and 20 feet of space so it’s quite hard to see. One of our party noticed a little box where you could put in 1 euro for light, which she then did, and suddenly not only was the statue bathed in light, but we were mobbed by a flood of people, cameras in hand.
Moses in marble was supposed to be the first of fifty two commissioned pieces from Michelangelo, but after that initial statue had been paid for the patrons decided that actually, Mikey was a bit pricey, and besides one looked far nicer than fifty two.
The other thing inside this church are the chains that were used to restrain St Peter. They are big, heavy, and they look painful. By all accounts, Peter didn’t have a good time of it after Jesus died, when he was sentenced to death he said he didn’t want to be killed in the same manner as Jesus because he wasn’t worthy of the same death. The Romans still crucified him, but they crucified him upside down… somebody there had a spiteful streak.
Next up, the Coliseum. Difficult to write about the coliseum because it’s all been said before – it’s enormous, amazing and phenomenally well preserved after all this time. I wish those contractors had been around to do my living room and my kitchen. It was actually built on top of the lake that Nero had put in, and it was completely free for the public because the government felt that all families of Rome should be able to have access to a weekly dose of guts and gore and fighting to the death. There were many different styles of gladiator, and although they were former slaves or POWs they were apparently regarded by the public as rock stars, the most popular being the guys armed only with a trident and fishing net, and without any armour!
Our particular tour was catered for children, so we got to hear about some of the less savoury details, such as the way that the coliseum had it’s own air circulation system of large flags, to help ease the stench of blood and sweat rising up from the sand covered floor. People could also buy cloves to breathe in to mask the smell.
Each one of the enormous arches on the ground floor is an entrance/exit met by excessively steep stairs, really I’m surprised there aren’t stories of people being trampled after they fall down them. This design meant that building could be completely emptied within 20 minutes. Imagine 6000 people spewing forth from the exits, and you can see why the exits came to be known by Romans as the vomitarium. The really rich and decadent Romans ( the ones you’d want to hang out with) had rooms called vomitariums in their homes, specifically for throwing up during feasts so you could imbibe some more wine and food.
Let’s see, what else? Lots more obelisks around the city, I got quite excited each time I saw one., much to the irritation of some of the younger, cooler members of the tribe. “God Ro, we’ve seen about a million of them.” Er no actually, there are only thirteen of them, and look at that one, that’s got an elephant at the bottom – be impressed goddamnit.
Ooh then there was Emperor Antonius’ column, easily 100 feet high, with delicate carvings spiralling all the way up to the statue of him at the top, that depicted his entire life story! I don’t know what his life story is – I did not bring my binoculars or a ladder.
We did go and take a look at the Fontana di Trevi, because you’re in Rome and you have to, it is the tourist law. I feel we didn’t get the momentous impression of it that most tourists do because it had been drained of water and was surrounded by a fence for renovations. That’s like seeing Santa Claus in a T-shirt and boxers doing the ironing.
And finally, because Joe and Jenny know tourists inside out, they took us to one of the finest gelaterias in Rome, it’s been listed in the LA times it’s so good. The endlessly patient man behind the counter (he has a ticket system because the shop is so busy) dishes out huge helpings of gelato in a range of flavours from traditional chocolate to the exotic, such as peach with lavender and honey, or raspberry with sage. If you’re going to Rome you’ll be wanting the name and directions to this place … so it’s a shame I can’t remember either of them.
All of that took place in one day, in four hours! Seriously, golf cart tours are the way forward.
The next day, we went to the Vatican City. We were there at 8 in the morning and the queues were already immense, fortunately we booked ourselves on a private tour that had skip the lines privileges – oooooh check us out, being all VIP and fancy. I really did enjoy the Vatican, and I wasn’t sure I would because my Catholic upbringing petered out after my first communion (which by the way was just plain dumb: me being the only kid, in a ghastly pink outfit wearing a veil no less, because we’d missed the earlier mass where the fifty other kids dressed up like paper doilies had paraded down the aisle together. It’s no wonder I was cripplingly shy for years, I kept being lured into traumatically embarrassing situations. AND I was really big for my age so I looked less like a First Communion kid, and more like Barely Preggers Tween Bride dumped at the altar). I remember being very unimpressed by the whole concept of going to confession; the services got really boring once I was past the age of being allowed to sit on the floor with toy cars; I’d much rather be at home learning how to cook a Sunday roast; and there seemed to be some ideas about marriage and pre-marital habits that I just knew weren’t going to be my cup of tea.
But I did like the Vatican. For me it was the statues, and the hall of maps that did it. St Peter’s Basilica was overwhelmingly huge, and actually I didn’t like seeing preserved dead bodies, that was creepy, like being in Madame Tussaud’s but with the sense of something being really wrong. I’m not a fan of taxidermy either. The statues though, quite often related to both Greek and Roman mythology which I studied a lot in my childhood, and it is lovely to look at things and know the story behind them! I’m not going to go through the individual sights of the Vatican, there are so many that all I’d be able to do is merely list them and that’s quite boring: “And then there was the torso of Hercules, that actually turned out to be the torso of Aeneas; and the statues of Asclepius with the snakes, and all the statues had blanks eyes except Athena that were made of glass. And there was a hall of animal statues, put your hand in the mouth of the lion and it will bite your hand off if you’re a liar. And then there were the maps of different parts of Italy with bees. And the basilica with the dome, and the statues and the gallery, and the letters that were 30 feet high; and the big spinning ball and Constantine’s pine cone statue, and the piazza with the fountains…” See? It goes on and on. You can read about all that in a good book.
Just to focus briefly on the Sistine Chapel (I was expecting a completely separate building, but it’s not, it a rectangular chamber inside a much bigger building), it is splendid to look at. I am amazed the colours have stayed so vibrant, I believe they did quite an intensive cleaning/restoration job on it a few years ago. However the thing that has really stayed with me is that Michelangelo, by the end of the job, was 60 years old and mega pissed off with a cardinal who was giving him a hard time, so he included the cardinal in the painting as a demon with his penis in a snake’s mouth (so much more hard-core than David Cameron and the dead pig). Michelangelo also put himself on the ceiling. His melted face is to be found on the flayed skin of a tormented soul. A subtle hint that he wasn’t very happy in his work, perhaps.
Later that afternoon we went on a walking tour through the ruins of early Rome which, and had a wander through the forum, by which time we were all beginning to feel slightly exhausted by statues, columns, massive cobblestones and interesting facts. We headed to the big park that is the Villa Bhorgese, rented bikes and segues, and let off some steam racing around, watching dancing roller-skaters, listening to a band playing Beatles songs on the terrace, overlooking the city under a rising full moon, and the last of the sun’s rays glinting off the dome of St Peter’s in the distance.
We had such a wonderful time in Rome that I’m not going to foul the memory of it by telling you how the following morning, six of us missed the flight home by minutes even though we’d arrived at the airport an hour early. I’ll save that for another time, when I feel like a I need a really good cry.