Monica had pre-booked a walking tour with “Walks of Italy” called Rome in a Day. It would be an all day adventure so up early and downtown to meet our guide at the Colosseum. Marie Therese was wonderful, so knowledgeable on the history and really added to the day with her lyrical animation of the stories she told.
We started with the Colosseum and Marie Therese took us back 2000 years ago to a time when human slaughter was grand entertainment for the 70,000 citizens who filled this stadiom… animal fights in the morning, executions at lunch, and gladiator battles in the afternoon. This structure is massive and the technology and engineering to build it back then was astounding. The fact that Emperor Constantine raided and destroyed Jerusalem and pillaged all the riches and citizens as slaves to build the Colosseum and work/die in the pits, casts a dark veil over this magnificent Wonder of the Ancient World. When the Roman Empire fell and Christianity became legal, the Colosseum was forgotten for centuries and much of the rock and marble was pillaged to build churches like St. Peter’s.
Continuing on, we walked past the Roman forum. Surprisingly, the ancient forum was only discovered in recent times during subway excavations. It extends for miles but now lies many meters under modern Rome as each new emperor tried to wipe out the memories of the previous one and build upward bigger and grander to glorify themselves.
Next our walk took us past several landmarks like Bernini’s elephant obelisk at the Santa Maria soprano Minerva church. Interestingly, the ancient Romans stole 11 obelisks from Egypt (trophies of war). They now stand in front of 11 churches in Rome and we saw 4 of them today including the one at our next stop, the Pantheon…oldest completely intact building in Rome dating to 2nd century BC. It is simple but beautiful. The sun was streaming through the oculus in the ceiling illuminating some of the statuary. Of special interest is the tomb of Raphael. We also saw the ruins of the ancient senate where Julius Caesar was murdered by the 23 other senators who feared his popularity.
After a gelato break, we continued on past the parliament buildings and the huge column depicting the life of Marc Anthony, the general of Julius Caesar who is known for helping to establish the Roman empire. The column is exquisitely carved with scenes from his life… there are thousands of images.
Our group along with several other groups continued along the narrow cobblestone streets past high end shopping stores toward the Piazza di Spagna to see the Spanish Steps. Built in the 1700’s, the 135 white marble steps are currently under cleaning restoration. At the foot of the steps is Bernini’s boat fountain and at the top is Trinita dei Montei church (with obelisk).
Next and just around the corner, we came to the world’s most famous fountain, Trevi Fountain. Built in the mid 1700’s by Nicole Salva at the junction of 3 roads (tre vie) where and ancient aquaduct brings water into the city, is is a stunning white marble masterpiece depicting Neptune flanked by 2 tritons on merhorses. The crowd there was hugh so we couldn’t get great shots or get close enough to toss a coin for luck.
Lunch time! It felt good to sit down and relax for an hour. Because, the next 2.5 hours were to tour the Vatican.
We started in the Vatican gardens behind the Pope’s apartments and then toured the museums. Of the 22 museums in the Vatican, we saw only the 3 most important ending with the Sistine Chapel. We learned so much and I can’t possibly relay it here. Suffice to say it is beyond wonderful, beyond magnificent, beyond important to human culture and history. It tells the story of Christianity in all its glory and all its shame. Exiting the museum, we entered St. Peter’s Square (huge obelisk in the center) and toured the basilica, one of the largest churches in the world. I don’t have an adjective that would property convey the grandure. It is special.
That took us till 5:00 and concluded the tour. Our guide was amazing and deserves a healthy tip. I highly recommend taking such a walking tour. We will do another one with “Walks of Italy” tomorrow (stay tuned… it should be a hoot) and again later on our trip in Sienna.
Tired and hot, we bussed home to chill before a fantastic dinner at Trattoria Osteria just up the street from us.