Rome, Italy - Day Four
Welcome to Rome WELCOME TO ROME

I knew just how he felt.

Click on each image to enlarge.
Museum Sculpture Vatican art is not all ancient. This work tries to capture the spirit of Pope John Paul II.
Gallery Ceiling Frescos in the Vatican Museum Gallery Ceiling Frescoes in the Vatican Muesum (recently restored).
Museum Sculpture Much of the Vatican art collection is of Roman origin.
Museum Sculpture And much of Roman sculpture is of Greek origin.
A Fresco proclaiming the Immaculate Conception This fresco depicts the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception during the nineteenth century.
Immaculate Conception Detail Here we see a detail from the above work.
East Doors (detail) I believe this enormous canvas had something to do with St. Lawrence.
Sistine Ceiling Diagram This visual aid serves as an instant primer on Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling. Absolutely no photography of any kind is permitted in the chapel. A Japanese firm, owns the photographic rights in return for their work in cleaning the ceiling frescoes several years ago.
Last Judgment Diagram The same company recently completed the cleaning of Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" as well.
Details of Restoration These images graphical illustrate the dramatic improvement cleaning made in the fresco.
Jubilee Doors These doors to St. Peter's Cathedral (one of three sets), opened only by the pope, only during Jubilee years. Actually they open up to reveal a solid brick wall, to which the pope adds his signature. The doors are once more closed and sealed at the end of the Jubilee year.
Michelangelo's Vatican Pieta Michelangelo's Vatican Pieta is all but obscured behind layers of people and bullet-proof glass.
Raphael's Ascension Raphael's Ascension of Christ appears to be a painting, but is really much more of a mosaic, composed of millions of minute pieces of glass and semi-precious, finely ground stones. It adorns the wall behind one of the cathedral's many altars.
The Apse, High Altar, and Baldecchino The high altar, centered under the dome and directly over the tomb of St. Peter is used only by the pope to celebrate mass on special holidays.
The High Altar Here we see the back of the high altar. A set of ceremonial steps directly in front of the raised platform lead down to the crypt directly to the tomb of St. Peter.
Michelangelo's Dome And above it all, Michelangelo's dome seems to float over the cavernous interior of the Cathedral. Both are the largest such structures in the world.
Piers supporting the dome. Four massive piers, like the one seen here, support the dome and feature niches containing monumental sculptures, each figure relating to a religious relic contained in the carved reliquary just above them. These enormous piers were among the first parts of the Cathedral to be constructed. Each contains a circular stairway leading to the base of the dome.
A papal tomb One of many papal monuments housed within St. Peter's, this one memorializes Pope Pius VII who died in 1823. It's by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen.
John XXIII This memorial honors a more recent pope, John XXIII.
A Crypt Skylight These grated floor openings allow light from above to permeate the dark interior of the crypts below where popes, cardinals, and other high officials of the church are entombed.
The floor of St. Peter's The polished marble floor panels of St. Peter's are as striking as every other part of the Cathedral.
The Central Balcony of St. Peter's Seen from below, this central balcony which dominates the facade of St. Peter's is used only rarely, such as in introducing to the world a new pope.
The Papal Palace The papal apartments are located on the top floor of the central building seen here. The pope appears at the third window from the right to bless the crowds in St. Peter's Square. The scarf on the end of the antenna is to mark the location of each tour group's guide in preventing tour members from getting lost in the crowds.
The Facade of St. Peter's The Baroque facade of St. Peter's was cleaned only recently for the first time in several hundred years in preparation for the Jubilee celebration last year. Originally, bell towers were to rise from each end of the facade. The one on the left was completed before it was realized that the foundation below was not sufficient to support its enormous weight. It began to sink. It was torn down before it could damage the rest of the structure. The one on the right was torn down midway through constuction.
St. Peter's Square Obelisk The Egyptian obelisk marking the center of St. Peter's square was moved their from the center island of the Roman Circus of Nero which originally occupied an area just to the left of the present cathedral. It was there St. Peter was martyred, crucified upside down (at his own request). Legend has it he was buried just outside the walls of the circus in a cemetery atop Vatican Hill, precisely beneath the present dome and high altar. The entire cemetery was incorporated into the base for the Cathedral and became the present day crypt.
St. Peter's Square Bernini's double row of columns form the giant arms which all but encircle St. Peter's Square.
Looking down the colonade Here one gets some indication of their massive size.
An Artists in St. Peter's Square No matter where you go in Rome, there's never an artist far away.
Along the Tiber This surprisingly modern looking bridge contains much of an ancient Roman bridge across the Tiber. Only the right end of the bridge appears to be new. It continues carrying traffic across the river some 2000 years after it was first built.
Trajan's Column The Roman emperor Trajan's enormous victory column, depicting his exploits as a Roman general spiraling upward from it's base. The Renaissance church at left was designed and built by Bramante, the original architect for St. Peter's.
The memorial to Victor Emanual From the nineteenth century, this elaborate, Classical momument to Victor Emmanual, the founder of the modern Italian Republic, dominates much of the landscape of central Rome.
Temple of the Vestal Virgins Though bearing traces of reconstruction, the ancient Roman Temple of the Vestal Virgins is surprisingly intact.
Baths of Carcalla Bordering the original Roman forum on the north, we find the ruins of the Baths of Carcalla, the largest of several such bathing facilities in and near the central part of ancient Rome.
The Arch of Constantine and the Roman Forum beyond. Several Roman triumphal arches have survived. This one, as seen from the Colosseum, honors the Emperor Constantine. A portion of the forum can be seen in the background.
The Colosseum. During the Middle Ages, the Colosseum fell victim to numerous earthquakes and eventually became a convenient source for high quality marble for the construction of other building in Rome. The builders of St. Peter's "borrowed" freely from its walls. This image shows modern day efforts to shore up the walls, thus preserving them.
The Colosseum. The north side of the Colosseum is largely intact, giving a feeling for how elaborate and enormous the original structure was.
The Colosseum. Today, the ancient and the modern coexist tenuously. Modern day engine exhausts may do to the ancient stone structure what the hoards of invaders from the North were unable to. Actually, Romans themselves have always been much harder on the Colosseum than any foreign invaders. One pope, during the sixteenth century, wanted to raze the entire structure and build a grand avenue the length of the ancient forum and straight through the area where the Coloseum now stands.
The Colosseum. Such landmarks as these put the "eternal" in the Eternal City.
The Colosseum up close. Here we can see the degree to which much of the southern portion of the Coloseum has been systematically destroyed over the past 1,500 years. In some areas stone to a depth of as much as 20-30 feet has been peeled away and used for other purposes.
Roman soldiers at the Colosseum. Today, the "ancient" Romans are for photographic purposes only. But don't take their picture unless you have a few thousand Lira to contribute to their "cause."
The Interior of the Colosseum. Over the centuries, it has been the once lavish marble interior of the Colosseum which has suffered the greatest damage. A bridge and wooden platform, constructed just last year, give some idea as to how the floor of the Colosseum must have looked. Just beyond the platform, a small section of marble seats have also been reconstructed.
The Interior of the Colosseum. Here you can see the reconstructed seats better. As large as it is today, experts say as much as one third of the amphitheater's original stone has been carted off.
The bowels of the Colosseum. What startled me in seeing it was the tremendous depth of the area once beneath the floor of the Colosseum.
Deep inside the Colosseum. The subterranean portions of the Colosseum extended down two levels. Originally the site had been a marshy lake, a portion of an imperial palace. Scholars continue to debate today stories that sea battles were once a part of Colosseum entertainment. Some experts speculate that the maze of interior walls and arches supporting the floor were built only AFTER the rest of the structure, allowing such naval engagements to be played out on the lake BEFORE it was drained. What I want to know is, how did the get the boats through the gates to the water?
Roman Brick. Stone and Marble were used only in public areas of the Colosseum. Elsewhere, the building material of choice was good old Roman brick.
Paint-L goes to Rome. Paint-L goes to Rome. Russell Crowe, eat your heart out!
The Forum as seen from the Colosseum. The forum as seen from the Colosseum. Arrivederci Roma!

Rome has been more fortunate than Florence.  Rome has been sacked so many times over the course of history they've long since given up trying to LIVE in their historic district.  Instead they've planted grass, flowers, graceful Mediterranean pines, spruced up the ruins as best they could, and then let the rest of the city keep pace with modern times.  It's a genuinely beautiful city - big, yes; old, definitely - but also bright and lively; and if it is congested at times, at least it's a thoroughly modern form of congestion, rather than one stemming from a misguided devotion to Medieval nostalgia.  The city of Rome has left the Renaissance to gracefully reside across the Tiber in Vatican City where the ecclesiastical way of life is much slower, much gentler, much more suited to such ancient surroundings.  In Rome, they prefer the powerful image of the Roman Empire to that of the quatrocento.  In Rome, the predominant color is a luscious, vibrant, lively green, not the browns, grays, and tans of antiquity.

I'd always pictured my entry into Vatican City as a long march up the middle of St. Peter's Square, up the steps, sweeping majestically through the giant church doors, and straight down the cavernous nave of the magnificent Baroque cathedral.  Instead, we kind of sneaked in through a back door to the Vatican Museum from the north side, where those of the clergy who know tourists best have wisely chosen to install a modern day visitor reception area, its ambiance lodged somewhere between that of an air terminal and a department store.  With its adjoining bus parking garage, computerized turnstiles, information kiosks, and long, gliding escalators, it's typically Roman - never allowing antiquity to stand in the way of efficiency.

The Vatican Museum is bright, airy, and FULL, as much with people as art - a marked contrast to many American museums.  We didn't really visit the museum, we merely trouped through a small part of it.  I saw only some stone sculpture (okay, EVERY stone sculpture ever unearthed in Rome), a lot of beautiful ceiling frescoes featuring amazing tromp l'oeil effects, some pretentious, mural-size paintings, and a lot of uniformed guards apparently more interested in preventing flash photography as opposed to warning people about touching their antique treasures.  At one point, in fact, I caught myself resting my elbow on a Roman marble from the first century AD.  No doubt looking guilty as sin, I peered about.  No one seemed to have noticed.

The path we trod through the museum made a beeline for the Sistine Chapel.  We entered through the same door used by the pope, below and to the right of the Last Judgment as if joining the legions of the damned just over our heads in seeking refuge from the gates of hell.  Although afterwards, I vaguely recalled reading that Michelangelo's Last Judgment had been restored, I was not prepared for the awesome power this work conveys in its now pristine state.  Over the years, I've studied the Sistine ceiling in minute detail, and it's certainly impressive.  But it's also some 70 feet straight up.  The Last Judgment is nearly eye-level at its lowest point, and its anguished figures, played out against Michelangelo's gorgeous, bright blues, are so real and overwhelming as to make his retelling of Genesis seem architectonic by comparison.  Painted some 22 years after the ceiling, his Last Judgment, demonstrates that the man certainly knew how to do an encore.

The meager twenty minutes we were allowed to spend in Michelangelo's art gallery would have been sad except for the anticipation of seeing St. Peter's itself just down the steps and around the corner. The floor of the Sistine Chapel is, by the way, at least one, maybe two, stories higher than that of the Cathedral.  Out of curiosity, I asked what was under the Sistine Chapel.  I was told the area housed the Vatican's modern art collection - how ironic.  Inside the Cathedral itself, there is nothing human about the scale of anything (there, or in any other of the public areas of St. Peter's).  It's a humbling experience, as was intended by everyone who had a hand in fashioning it.  Not just in its scale, it's humbling, too, finding oneself in the lingering presence of the creative genius of those who helped fashion it. Forget about getting close to Michelangelo's Vatican Pieta just inside the front doors. Just SEEING it is difficult over the heads of the thousands of others hoping to do the same.  Even though everything is in plain sight, like the museum, there's simply too much to see.  One's eyes take refuge from the overwhelmingly magnificent by focusing on the mundane.  There are grated openings in the marble floor looking very much like manhole covers to allow light into the crypts below.  On one side, a line forms leading down to them, while on the other side, a longer line awaits those fit enough for the strenuous climb to the dome.  Alas, we had time for neither.

If the ghost of Michelangelo dominates the interior of St. Peter's, outside is the realm of Gianlorenzo Bernini, who dramatically set the stage for this most important church in Christendom.  His comforting colonnades embrace St. Peter's Square with a surprising degree of warmth and love, given their staggering size and cold, hard stone.  The saints arrayed around the top, each individually illuminated at night, look down upon worshipers, clergy, and tourists alike, as if blessing us, much as his Holiness does regularly from the third window from the right, top floor of the Papal Palace, which also overlooks the square.

Souvenir shops, lunch, and a scenic bus ride along the Tiber and across town are anticlimactic after all this, even if what awaits us at the end is the Flavian Amphitheater, better known as the Colosseum.  Old never looked better.  The ancient, park-like, Roman Forum spreads out scenically before it for almost a mile like a giant mall, just as I'd always imagined. This former stone quarry (whence came much of the stone for St. Peter's) which once was the scene of horrific, senseless, human carnage, now seems benign and romantic in the late afternoon sun.  Modern Romans, dressed as ancient Romans, work the crowds, posing for pictures, then demand a modeling fee.  Inside, the ever practical modern Romans have boarded over about a forth of the gaping, underground area (two stories deep) where lions and Christians alike once waited to entertain the clamoring masses, up to 55,000 at a time, all of whom could exit the structure through its circle of arches in just fifteen minutes.  My exit from the Colosseum, and Rome itself, took considerably longer than that.  Exhausted from my nine-hour fling with the eternal city, I slept during all of the 90-minute bus trip from the grandeur of Rome to the port of Civitavecchia and the Grandeur of the Seas.