Friday, January 2, 2015

'Driving Tour' of Rome and our gadabouts

Fr. John, Judy and Bill.  Standing on hill above site of the Circus Maximus with ruins of the Emperial Palace
on far hill behind us.  That was one HUGE palace.

 As always, click on any image for larger view.

Bernini fountain of Triton
This blog posting should have been written a month ago when everything was fresh in my mind.  Instead, because I waited so long and have been so busy (and failed to take notes while touring Rome, shame on me), now that there is time to write a few blog postings I have already forgotten many of the details of what we saw and did while in Rome.  

On our second full day in Rome we had scheduled a private driving tour with The Roman Guy.  We heartily recommend this tour.  It was really a delight and very informative.

No idea what this building was.
 No signs anywhere.
I had in my mind that this tour was to start at 12:20 and knew the piazza where we were to meet the guide.  If it had been just Bill and myself, we would have walked the 3 miles or so to that piazza and enjoyed seeing things along the way, but John's legs were giving him a lot of pain and he was already experiencing difficulties walking so much on those old cobblestone streets.  Those uneven stones really are hard on a person's joints.  So we took a taxi and arrived at the piazza early at 11:00 with plans to eat a very early lunch before the tour started.  Except I screwed up!  Another tour on a another day was scheduled for 12:20 -- this driving tour was scheduled for 3:30 this day.  Oh my!  We were there REALLY early!  

Mussolini would stand on that tiny balcony on 5th window
from right and talk for hours to people standing in the square

What to do with all this extra time?  Well...let's go sightseeing for a few hours, of course.  Apologies, John; we will take it slow and catch taxis if your legs get too painful.  But at least at first the walking would all be downhill rather than uphill.  We started out at one of the famous Bernini fountains.

Fountain meeting place for tour--The Fountain of Triton

They have Black Friday in Italy?
Thought that was an American thing
This was the first of many fountains that we visited which were designed by several men of the Bernini family.  We walked for several hours until John could not take it anymore and I was also developing arthritic hip pain; then we caught a taxi back to the Bernini fountain and enjoyed a nice late lunch, finishing just in time to meet our guide for the driving tour.
Trevi Fountains under
reconstruction but can still
make a penny wish at
this statue in front
During our meandering those hours we visited these places:

  1. Vittorio Emanuele Monument (called the Wedding Cake by local Romans). The Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), also known as the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II or "Il Vittoriano" is a monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy in 1861.  Construction began on this monument in 1885 and was completed in 1925.  Remember that Italy was comprised of city states up until the time Vittorio Emanuele II unified the country.
  2. The square and building where Mussolini gave many speeches during his reign.
  3. Trajan's Column
  4. Trajan's Forum
  5. Nerva's Forum
  6. Statues of Julius Caesar and of Nerva
  7. Trajan's Agora (built to hold back land on hill when excavated area for forum)
  8. Old Roman Forum of Julius Caesar's time period
  9. Temple of Vesta  (Vestal Virgins)
  10. Coliseum in distance (we would tour this in a few days)
  11. Trevi Fountains (under major reconstruction)
  12. Large columns with no signs as to what this was or when
The Wedding Cake.  Very large and very ornate.  Shame it was not a sunny day so could get better photos.

Trajan's Column

We hailed a taxi and returned to the area of the Bernini fountain.  There were several restaurants in the vicinity and many local families enjoying lunch on this Sunday afternoon.  It was wonderful to get to sit for awhile and lunch was good.  Within minutes of arriving back at the fountain after lunch, our guide arrived and we were whisked away in a nice small van-type vehicle.  All the while listening to stories of the Bernini family and the famous sculptors of that family and their various works strewn around central Rome.
Closer look at Trajan's Column.  The carvings
encircling the tall column tell the story of
his life and accomplishments.

Trajan's Agora was built in that semi-circular
area in background.  He ordered earth removed
to equal the height of his column; then the agora
was built to act as a retaining wall for the hill.

On Sundays the street is closed to vehicles and people
enjoy the area like a park.  In the heart of the old
Roman forums and ruins.

Our tour took us back to many of the places we had just visited on our own.  Only this time the guide provided lots of history about each place.  It honestly is too much to absorb and retain; too much, too quickly.  After again viewing the old forums near the Wedding Cake and Trajan's Column, we were driven around to the back side of Palatine Hill to see the Circus Maximus.  

Our driver and van, waiting patiently.

Our guide explaining the Circus Maximus

A small part at the end of the Circus Maximus under renovation.
Someone asked about the 'MTV' graffiti in this sign.  Please
see the postscript of this blog posting for explanation.

Ancient drinking water fountain still functions

Then up to the top of another of the famous hills of Rome (Aventine, maybe?) with nice view of the Tiber River.  In the gardens at the top of this hill stood an ancient water fountain which still spewed drinking water.  It was decorated with the head of a wolf, honoring the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus.

Looking at Trajan's Forum and
Agora and Column
And right across the street from the
Trajan stuff stood the ruins of older
Roman forums and houses.
I cannot remember half of the places we visited on this tour.  It has become a blur over the past month.  One place of note was the Jewish Ghetto.  This was larger than I would have expected and we were surprised to see Italian Kosher restaurants lining the streets in the walled-off ghetto area.  

Sad reminders of Jews slain by Nazis.
On the sidewalks were small bronze plaques honoring the Jews who were taken away and killed by the Nazis during WWII.  If I recall correctly what we were told by the guide, more than 1200 Jews were taken by the Nazis and only 6 people lived through the war to return to Rome.  Such a horrible, despicable time of history.  It is nice to see these bronze plaques embedded in the sidewalks and streets in front of the buildings in which these people lived.  A way of keeping their memory alive despite their tragic and senseless deaths.

Ruins of building honoring

self explanatory
Adjacent to the ghetto area stood a large building ordered built by Emperor Augustus Caesar (Octavian) in honor of his sister Octavia.  I would have liked to wander a bit through that area but it was quickly getting dark and there were lots more things to see on this tour.

Palace of Pope Septus IV, still owned by Vatican

And the next place was of special interest even though none of us had ever heard of it.  It was owned by the Vatican.  Even though situated well away from Vatican City, this remote building in old Rome is not part of Rome.  When one enters the doorway, one is legally in the Vatican.  This was the palace of Pope Septus IV.  And here is where we learned a tidbit about Julius Caesar that surprised all 3 of us.

Julius Caesar was not killed on the floor of the Senate House!   He was killed in a different place!!

We had been taught that Caesar was killed in the Senate House, not on the steps as shown in many movies but inside on the floor of the curia, the area where the Senators gathered before being seated in the Senate. turns out that, yes, he was killed on the floor of the curia -- but it was not the curia of the regular Senate House.  Julius Caesar had ordered that the Senate House be enlarged and renovated.  While that work was being accomplished the Senate was meeting temporarily in another location.  The Senate meetings were temporarily being held in  the Curia of Pompey, a meeting place within the larger Pompey's Theater built by Pompeii the Great.  Julius Caesar was assassinated on the floor of that theater which had been built by his friend and later enemy, Pompeii Magnus.

Piazza Navona.  One of the beautiful fountains.
The exact spot was discovered just a few years ago when a statue was unearthed, upon which was engraved wording that this statue marked the "killing spot of Julius Caesar."  This statue was erected by order of his nephew Octavian, Emperor Augustus Caesar.  The location of the murder was opened to the public in 2013.  This spot was very close to the palace of Pope Septus IV that we visited.  We did not get to visit the exact spot of Caesar's murder because it was already well past dark and there were still other destinations on our tour.

In front of one of the spectacular fountains
in the Piazza Navona

Next we visited the beautiful Piazza di Navona.  I would have liked to see this place during daylight, although our guide said that most tourists prefer to visit this piazza during evening hours when everything is all lit up.  There are 3 very large fountains in this piazza and it is just beautiful.  And crowded when we visited.  Cannot imagine how crowded this place is during high tourist season.  Glad we were here during early December instead of August.

Floor of the Pantheon, drain holes are imperceptible.
Gorgeous original marble floor. 

Next was the absolute highlight of all we saw in Rome -- the Pantheon.  We were more impressed by this building than any other.

This building is amazing.  It actually is the third Pantheon and had the original dedication inscription above the entry which states "M. AGRIPPA.L.F.COSTERTIUM.FECIT" which translates to "Marcus Agrippa son of Lucius, having been consul three times made it".  

Inside Pantheon
The first Pantheon was built in 27 B.C. to honor Agrippa, friend and faithful military commander to Emperor Augustus Caesar (Octavian).  (BTW, there also is a large amphitheater situated at the base of the hill where the Parthenon is located in Athens that also was built in honor of Agrippa.  We visited it several years ago.)  The original Pantheon burned to the ground in 80 A.D.  Another Pantheon was constructed and it too very soon burned to the ground.  The Emperor Hadrian built the current Pantheon and once again dedicated it to Commander Agrippa.  The current Pantheon was built and dedicated between 118 A.D. and 125 A.D.  This structure was originally built as a temple to the pagan gods worshiped by Romans.

Inside Pantheon
The only reason this building was not sacked and destroyed was that it was changed to be a church as soon as Christianity was adopted by the Romans.  It is a most unusual building. It is huge.  The top of the dome is an open circle called an oculus.  Rain falls inside onto the marble floor, which is slanted very-so-slightly toward the center where numerous tiny drain holes are in place.  The floor is original, exposed to the elements for 1900 years and still in perfect condition.  The exterior of the dome was once covered in bronze, but that was raided for other construction elsewhere (Vatican?) centuries ago.  In fact, many of the old Roman ruins were assisted in becoming ruins because bronze and marble were removed to be placed in other newer buildings, many in the Vatican. 

Look closely and can see arches constructed in the brick
exterior walls of the Pantheon.
We found this building fascinating as well as beautiful  The large Christian statues displayed all around the interior were breath-taking.  The exterior brick walls were interesting and we wished it had been daylight so we could have studied these more closely.  The exterior walls were constructed with arch after arch placed all the way around the circular building, offset with other arches as one looked higher and higher up the walls.  These brick arches provide the strength that keeps the building intact.  The construction is simply fascinating.  Definitely the highlight of our visit to Rome. Even more-so than St. Peter's Basilica or the Vatican.

Another famous statue by  Bernini
After the Pantheon we drove by a few more statues and then to the Spanish Steps.

At the bottom of the Spanish Steps is the 'best' shopping district in all of Rome.  Not my thing but others were shopping like mad.  This was of no interest to us.

The guide said goodbye to us here and kindly asked the driver to take us back to our apartment rather than us having to find a taxi.  We were all very tired after our mid-day walking and then the tour.  I cannot imagine seeing all that we saw without having that nice guide and driver and comfortable vehicle.  This driving tour allows one to see the most while expending a minimal amount of physical effort.  And yet all 3 of us were exhausted.

At the apartment we snacked and shared a bottle of Prosecco.  I have come to really enjoy that beverage.  After resting and getting wined up, we once again walked the neighboring narrow streets to find a restaurant for dinner.  I do not remember the name of this one, and the food was not as good as what we had eaten the previous evening at Ristorante Il Fico; but it was a lot of fun because there was a table of 3 priests seated near us.  John especially enjoyed visiting with them and sent over complimentary drinks.  One of them plans to come to Texas in the not-too-distant future and John might connect with him again.  As I have mentioned previously, Bill's brother John is a priest; so these guys have lots in common.  It was a fun evening.  After a tiring day.

P.S.: Someone asked about the 'MTV' graffiti displayed in the photo above of the building reconstruction in the 'end zone' of the Circus Maximus.  I suspect that the MTV graffiti is placed in that location because the ancient Circus Maximus was used to host a rock concert.  I do not know if MTV was actually involved in organizing this concert or not.  Heck, the person who painted MTV on there might not know either. Last summer The Rolling Stones performed in the Circus Maximus, with their stage being erected at the opposite end of the field from that barricade behind which the ancient buildings are being renovated.

Can you imagine sitting or standing up in the ruins of the Emperial Palace at the top of that hill, looking down on the crowd and stage!  Our guide said she was higher up and enjoyed that view.  Who cares about the quality of sound in this venue!

There was a lot of criticism evoked by the renting out of this ancient site for this concert.  The Rolling Stones paid only 8,000 Euro to rent the Circus Maximus.  And the concert supposedly generated 6,000,000 Euro revenue.

Wish I understood Italian.  This video mentions Lady Gaga and sort of implies she might have been the opening act for The Rolling Stones for this concert.  But the image of the papers shown near the end indicate that John Mayer was to be the opening act.  Do not know which performed.

There are a number of videos on YouTube of parts of the performance at this concert.  Here is one.

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