After a short train ride from Naples and a change of trains on one side of Rome to travel to the other side, we arrive close to our home for the next 5 days just a 10-minute walk from Vatican City. Since we arrived on a Sunday, it is off to find a grocery store for the basics and resting up for the week of sightseeing.
The last and only other time I was in Rome was 1994 when I brought my daughter to Europe for 18 days after high school and before going to college. I made the mistake that time of driving around France, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany, which is not a mistake I made again. The first time I am not sure if it was the driving, or that it was a horribly hot summer, but Rome was not a place I really enjoyed, and I was hoping this time would be different; I have to admit I was. Since Rome is a big city, I decided that we needed some plans so plans were made to include a trip to St. Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican Museum, and a 3-hour vespa tour, and like all Italian cities, a lot of walking!
Since we had booked our vespa tour while still in Naples, it was the first scheduled event in Rome. The daughter of our Naples tour guide, is a friend of one of the owners of Scooteroma, so they came highly recommended. While originally scheduled for Thursday, they rescheduled to Wednesday, our first day, as it was expected to rain on Thursday. Wednesday morning at 10:00 Cristiano and Richardo met us outside our apartment for our 3-hour tour. We weren’t too close to any ocean so I wasn’t that worried (sorry had to throw in a Gillian joke) that we wouldn’t return from the tour! Since I was trying anything to get my grandson engaged, I opted for the ‘shuffle’ tour which included a bit of all of their tours into one.
I will have to say, it was a good choice! Until this tour, neither my grandson or I had ever been on a vespa and given the traffic in Rome, I was a little worried. However, the guys were great drivers and except once when a driver tried to run us over, the ride was actually a lot of fun! With a big city like Rome and a lot to see, we drove by a lot of sights that Cristiano explained to me but didn’t do a lot of stopping. We did stop, however, near the Coliseum with listening to our guide tell us the history of the sight and the sights around it to include the Arch of Constantine. While I have seen both before, there was much of the history that I didn’t know and was interesting to hear. One of the reasons that I took the ‘shuffle’ tour was that it included seeing street art. I have to say that I was hoping that would be something my grandson would enjoy and I would be along for the ride; WOW, I was amazed at some of the art we saw some of which is included here. After seeing some of this wonderful art set in its outdoor galleries we headed on to take a different view of the city.
One of our final stops on the tour took us to the highest point of the Janiculum hill and Piazza Garibaldi. While in the piazza you will not only see a bronze statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi portraying the hero riding a horse, you will also see some beautiful sights of the city of Rome from above. What a wonderful sight to end our tour before heading back to our apartment! I say to all, if in Rome, go on a vespa tour with Scooteroma.com!
While my grandson has no interest in churches, St. Peter’s Basilica is too important a church not to make him at least venture inside and see it once in his lifetime. I have been in more churches in my travels that most have been to in their lifetime, but I have never seen anything like St. Peter’s. The size, the ornateness of it, and the history makes it a house of worship that no one, if able, should not see. The Basilica is full of history that dates back over 16 centuries. The current basilica was built to replace the aging Old St. Peter's Basilica, built in the 4th century by Constantine the Great. Construction of the present basilica began on 18 April 1506 and took 120 years to build being completed on 18 November 1626. Having never been inside of the Basilica before, I am not sure I was prepared for the grandeur of it all.
While I was looking forward to seeing the inside of the Basilica, I was most excited about the seeing the Pieta by Michelangelo. Lots of folks have their favorite artist, mine happens to be Michelangelo. From the beauty of his work that I had already seen in the Sistine Chapel, the statue of David, his second Pieta, the Disposition, his original Pieta has always been a bucket list item for me. To see the original sculpture in person instead of in a picture was amazing. To think a young man in his twenties carved such a masterpiece from a single piece of marble is mind boggling ; a magnificent work of art was commissioned as a memorial for the tomb of French cardinal Jean de Billheres. A memorial that experts believe today is worth over $300 million!
Did you know that there are almost 100 popes buried at St. Peters, from St. Peter himself to Pope John Paul II? While most are buried in the Grotto, which you can visit, one in particular is on display in the near the main altar in the Basilica. When Pope John XXIII’s coffin was opened 38 years after his death prior to being moved from the grotto, it was said that his body looked like “it was as if he died yesterday,” even though the body was not embalmed at death. When exhumed to be moved, the body was treated to preserve it to include wrapping the face and hands in wax before being placed in the glass coffin where it can be seen today.
As you enter or exit the church it is hard to miss the large bronze doors, the Holy Doors which are one of the three entrances into the Basilica. The Roman Catholic Church maintains that you will be given a free general indulgence from sin if you walk through those doors! The problem is the doors are only opened in a holy year which is every 25 years! Your next chance is in 2025 and fortunately they are open for over 300 days each Holy Year so make your plans now.
Our last full day in Rome was packed with sights and steps; my Fitbit clocked over 19,000 steps by the time we returned to the apartment to finish packing and preparing to travel to Firenze the next day. We started our day walking to the Vatican Museum which took us past the Vatican guard and through St. Peter’s Square. Regardless of the time or day of week, this piece of real estate is a beauty to see.
As I mentioned earlier, it was 1994 the last time I was in Rome and saw the Vatican Museum. We were lucky enough then to see the Dead Sea Scrolls there when they were on loan to the museum. Today they are located between the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum, and the Jordan Museum in Amman.
As you enter the enter the museum, you can either take the escalator or walk up the spiral staircase; we chose the staircase and its display of model boats from around the world. The walk up was easy and the boats interesting.
While my grandson didn’t make it through the entire museum, we did manage to see Pius-Christian Museum founded in 1854 by Pius IX intended to house evidence of the Christian communities of the first century. The museum contains numerous sarcophagi that are so detailed on the exterior that these death boxes truly are works of art. Some seemed large enough to hold several bodies while others it seemed were made for children.
Another exhibit that we visited was the Pio-Clementino Museum containing numerous Greek and Roman statues. The carving of these statues so many generations ago is a testament to the enduring fascination with understanding and admiring history. These kinds of statues are always some of my favorites in any museum. While we did make it through some more exhibits in the museum, it seemed that the only piece of it that held more than a fleeting interest to my grandson was the Sistine Chapel. This might be because I have had a part of that masterpiece (The Creation of Adam) hanging in my house for the last 20 years so he spent some time looking for it within the beauty of the ceiling. If any of you have been to the museum, you know that there is so much art that it really is too much to take in during a single visit even if everyone in the party is interested. The wonder of the museum ends for us by walking down another circular staircase and out to the street to get a bit of lunch and continue our exploration of Rome.
After leaving the museum and having what I didn’t think possible in Italy, a horrible lunch, we continued our walk toward the Pantheon, Trevi Foundation, Castel Sant'Angelo, and the Bridge of Angels. While we didn’t enter the Pantheon or the Castel, we did spend time walking the areas around these sights to take in the sights of place and people. Everywhere one walks in Italy you are surrounded by history; Rome as one can imagine is more the rule not an exception. The ancient buildings or the frescos on the sides of buildings turn a simple walk into a museum stroll. When walking around one should always look up as there is so much more to see than you can find at an attraction with a ticket price. When visiting Rome the last time, I didn’t visit any of the sights we saw this time on our walk. Our stop at the Trevi Fountain proved that in pictures it is truly a sight that should be seen, but the real fountain is so much more than the pictures. It seemed that the fountain was on a lot of folks sightseeing tour that day as the bodies completely filled the piazza so much that it was hard to walk through the square. In a time of Covid, it was a bit scary just seeing the sight. Fortunately most, included us, were wearing masks. We were able to get close enough to throw coins in the fountain. For those unfamiliar with the it, according to the legend, tossing one coin into the Trevi Fountain means you'll return to The Eternal City (Rome), tossing two coins means you'll return and fall in love, and tossing three coins means you'll return, find love, and marry. Just to be clear, we each only tossed in one.
Our walkabout also took us to the Pantheon; while we didn’t go inside, the size and history of the building was enough to take the walk. Built in 27 BC, rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian and probably dedicated in126 AD, and a catholic church (Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs) since 609. Did you know that the dome of the Pantheon is wider than the one atop St Peter's Basilica by almost two meters (though St Peter's rises higher)? As it is exactly as high as it is wide at 43.3 meters in diameter it forms a perfect sphere and the dome remains the world's largest unreinforced concrete structure of its kind to this day.
As we continued our walkabout, we start to head back to our apartment by way of the Ponte Sant’Angelo or the Bridge of Angels and Castel Sant'Angelo. Castel Sant'Angelo was built in the 2nd century as a mausoleum by order of emperor Hadrian. Why is the structure called the Castle of the Holy Angel? In 590, Rome was suffering from a devastating plague that had been raging through the region for about 50 years. Pope Gregory, I led a penitential procession to drive away the infestation. The procession passed right by the castle. And in that moment, the pope had a vision of the Archangel Michael above the castle, sheathing his sword. Coincidentally, after this event, the plague ended. Naturally, the Pope took it as a sign that his vision had divine meaning. As such, the fortress was now referred to as Castel Sant’Angelo – Castle of the Holy Angel. Like the Castel, the bridge was also built in the 2nd century by Emperor Hadrian in order to connect the center of ancient Rome with his newly built mausoleum. In 1669, Pope Clement IX commissioned the making of the sculptures that today are along the bridge by famed Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini who decided to perfectly fit the statues with the bridge’s name and purpose.
Also, in the shadow of Castel Sant’ Angelo stands a statue of St Catherine of Siena, carved by the sculptor Francesco Messina (1900-95) to mark the 500th anniversary of her canonization. One could almost miss her as she is positioned near a busy intersection. Our trip to Rome coming to a close, we head back to the apartment to rest for our trip to Firenze tomorrow, but for now arrivederci from Rome!