Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rome if you want to, Rome around the world!

Guess what city we were in:

Did you guess it? I hope so. I don't want to be friends with any idiots!

Rome was pretty cool. It was a smooth trip into and out of Rome so that's always a plus! Our favorite thing about the city was all of the amazing history. Beyond amazing! The ruins were awe-inspiring. Our first stop was the Colosseum. We downloaded Rick Steves audio guides before we left and luckily he had one for the Colosseum. That's why you'll see us in photos with our headphones in. We weren't listening to music!

We walked around the Colosseum with our mouths gaping. They built this thing 2000 years ago! And it's so huge! It's just amazing. To think of the work it took to build it, and the history within it... it was crazy to be there.

Andrew looking around in awe (and listening to Rick Steves).

The inside. The former floor has been removed so what you see are the passageways underneath. That's where all the Gladiators and wild animals and their victims would be shuffled around before making their first (and last) stage debut!

More of the interior.

Us inside.

Here you can see the passageways more clearly.

and here

Some of the old seats with wording engraved on them.

The view from inside the Colosseum - that's the Arch of Constantine which marks military triumph, but also marks the beginning of the reign of Christianity in Rome... so instead of Christians being killed in the Colosseum, now the Christians were doing the killing.

More views from inside the Colosseum. These ruins lead to the Roman Forum.

We were on the top level of the Colosseum now, so you can see more of the floor.

They had some artifacts on display - things excavated from the site (what little that didn't get ransacked during the dark ages). This mosaic was big and in pretty good shape!

Explanation of the mosaic above.

One of these heads is not like the other. One of these heads doesn't belong.

This was really cool. Ancient graffiti! The folks in the stands would etch scenes from what was going on in the stadium.

A dude with a spear.

Andrew and I with the Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum behind us.

After we left the Colosseum, we walked over to the Roman Forum, just an ancient stone's throw away. We had a Rick Steves audio guide for this too. Tons of great info. We weren't sorry at all that we didn't take a formal tour.

One of my favorite photos. This was in the Roman Forum. One of the Caesars built this in honor of his dead wife. He made her a god when she died. I expect the same. Andrew better get to planning!

Another shot, same thing.

They had all of these old pieces of buildings and pillars just sitting around. Often people were just sitting on them, taking a rest. That's crazy, right? I thought it was crazy. In a cool way.

This is the site where Julius Caesar's body was cremated (under that pointy tin roof which is a modern addition).

The exact spot under that tin roof. People have left flowers.

This bronze door is the ORIGINAL bronze door from 2000 years ago. And it still works. That's good Roman craftsmanship for you.

Some more rubble.

There were some great carvings around. I don't think I could ever have the patience to carve something out of stone, especially some of the intricate stuff they did.

Those 3 columns are what is left of the temple of Castor and Pollux, the legendary founders of Rome.

The remains of the once circular Temple of Vesta. One of the early buildings of the forum. It housed important documents and the sacred fire of Vesta. The Romans believed that as long as the fire burned, the city would stand. They even commissioned a group of Vestial Virgins from the age of 13 to 30 or 40, I think. Their entire job was to protect the temple and the flame.

I forget which temple this is, but I still like the photo!

They had some statues and artifacts inside one of the buildings on the site. This was awesome. Part of a huge Asian army found on site.

More of the Asian army with a cool lion in the foreground.

Andrew - we know he loves lions!

Okay, they had these amazing scenes sculpted into the stone. Intricate details - people and animals acting out stories. The pieces have all been broken but they are on display, pieced back together like an ancient jigsaw puzzle.

We had to take a photo of the 2 of us in front of a building before we left.

And Andrew wanted his photo in front of the Caesar symbol. This was one of the broken pieces just lying around!

One of my favorite buildings in Rome - The Pantheon. Originally a Pagan structure, now claimed by the Christians. Still looks so amazing and new and beautiful. The square panels on the inside of the dome make something so ancient look modern. I really loved it! From the inside, that is. From the outside, it's been built around so much, you can't even get to a spot where you can really see the dome.

Pantheon - Still lovin' it!

Me and my love - the Pantheon.

At the Trevi Fountain. Andrew waiting for me to set up the camera.

Us in front of the fountain.

Wonderful night shot of the Colosseum with wonderful us in front of it.

We tried to go to bed early after this first, full day. We were headed to Naples the next day to eat pizza. Oh, and to see the Naples Archaeology Museum too. But that was just a way to kill time before lunch when the pizzerias opened.

At the Archaeology Museum. Look how huge this head was. And the statue head is huge too! (Also cute how it looks like Andrew is giving a kiss to the statue on the left.)

This statue was of animals devouring people. Morbid. Andrew liked it.

These busts were very realistic!

These pieces were huge and the carvings had wonderful detail.

Andrew having a chat with some of the residents of the museum.

Cool serpent and lady statue. I know this had more meaning but I can't remember what it was.

Andrew wants to play ball with the statues, but they won't hand it over!

This was amazing - it was huge with horses and dogs and people. The pic doesn't do it justice.

Here we are in the Pompeii rooms - one of the paintings taken from a wall in Pompeii.

After the museum we did what we originally came to Naples to do. Eat pizza! We started with an appetizer:

This was frita Italia. A plate of fried Italian goodies. We had already eaten some before we thought to take the picture. The big thing is just a fried pizza dough ball. The little things that look like fries were strips of eggplant and zucchini with this light batter on them that was so thin and crisp, almost like tempura. The little round snacks were fried cheese and this sausage thing. Another one was kind of a mystery but it was delicious nonetheless.

Andrew's pizza topped with roasted tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella, and basil that was so aromatic and fresh you could smell it coming across the room.

My pizza - a classic margherita.

It was excellent. Thin but tender crust, great cheese and savory sauce. We would have come to Naples just for that! After the museum and pizza, we got on the train to Herculaneum. It wasn't the easiest of trips. We got off the train and expected to see signs directing us where to go, as this is a pretty important site. But we saw no signs and the people in the adjacent bar didn't speak much English. We used our iPhones but that led us astray. We ended up wandering a bit. I was getting worried we wouldn't make it because we had to get back to Rome before the last train left that afternoon. Just as I was losing hope, Andrew asked a few people on the street (again, not much English in this small town) and we wandered down the street to find a sign directing us to the site. We made it just in time. It's a smaller site with the same story as Pompeii. Buried in volcanic ash after Mt. Vesuvius erupted, discovered hundreds of years later. It's a very well-preserved site. Here are the pictures. Some of the buildings are almost entirely in tact, others just have their foundation left, and the red you see on the walls are remnants of paintings... some tile floors were left in tact too:

Andrew cooking in the kitchen.

The site made me want to visit Pompeii too, but we didn't have enough time. We went back to the train station to wait for our train to Rome. And the view from the train station? OMG! So amazing! Just a humble view of Italy's west coast. I took a few pictures. A few HUNDRED! Here's a sample:

Will adjust this one a bit in Photoshop.


We got to watch a beautiful Italian sunset.

The water looked like a Monet painting! I have a couple dozen photos like this.

I could have stood there for hours.

The next day was Vatican day. But we stopped to see the Spanish Steps first. I thought it was funny how there was a McDonalds at all the major historic sites:

Mc D's on the Spanish Steps.

At the Vatican we paid for a tour. It was well worth it! There's so much history and art there. It's great to have someone guide you through it all and point things out to you. We met at a church around the corner from Vatican City and walked over all together (small group, only about 8 of us). The first set of photos are all from the Vatican grounds and museum of stolen... I mean "acquired" (but mostly stolen) art.

The old city walls. They were built upon over the years but the base of it (that slanted part) is original.

A giant head by Michelangelo. Done before the David, but there's quite a resemblance with the hair and the soft face.

Crazy death-star-like sculpture in the middle of Vatican City. The most modern (and out of place) thing there.

Close up of the giant pre-David sculpture.

This had an interesting story behind it. This sculpture was placed in a temple and revered in it's day (2000 years ago) but then one day it went missing. No one had any idea what happened to it. Fast forward to Michelangelo's time, a palace of Nero's (a Roman emperor from 60AD) was being excavated, and they stumble across this statue. The story of it's disappearance was famous so they automatically knew what it was. Nero was apparently kinda crazy and he stole a bunch of statues he liked. What's even more interesting is that the right arm of the main figure was missing below the elbow. So some sculptors were commissioned to restore the arm. There was argument about how the arm was positioned. One particular sculptor won the argument and the arm was restored extending up and out. Michelangelo was pissed off because he thought the arm should be bent back based on the rest of the statue, body position and muscle tension. Well eventually the original arm was found. And someone took a look at the arm Michelangelo created for the statue. Turns out Michelangelo was right! That arm was supposed to be bent to the back. The original arm was restored and Michelangelo maintains his self-proclaimed status of genius!

This ancient statue was an inspiration to Michelangelo and Raphael (and all those other guys) because it had a different position than classic Greek, standing and posed statues... a natural position. And it was meant to be viewed from all angles, which is how M & R sculpted. There is a copy of an amazing drawing done by Picasso next to this statue, but the photo didn't come out. The drawing looks like a pro's, but Picasso was only 9 years old when he did it!

This is "Nero's Bowl." Look how big it is! You can see how small the people are next to it (on the right). It's made out of a granite that's so hard, it takes a diamond tip to cut it. How did they make this in Nero's day (60AD)? That is a complete mystery! Crazy, huh? Lots of cool stories at the Vatican.

More of that same "How did they carve it?" granite.

I learned this on our tour - most all of those ancient Greek and Roman statues had glass eyes on them to make them look realistic. But all the glass was taken from the statues in the dark ages (they forgot how to make glass when they forgot how to read so they took other glass and just melted it down), that's why you never see them on statues. Only a few remain with their original eyes. I think they just look creepy!

Dramatic, gruesome tapestry. And huge - about 20 feet. It depicts the murder of the innocents, baby boys being slaughtered at random in the hopes of slaughtering baby Jesus.

This was my favorite hall in the Vatican museums, but the photos didn't turn out so well because of the lighting. The walls were entirely covered (floor to ceiling) with giant paintings of maps. This was used for military purposes by the Vatican hundreds of years ago and it still remains accurate. Apparently about 900 men were sent out to survey the land and make these maps. They were lining a long hallway and each region and city were drawn from the perspective of Rome so some were upside down or sideways. It was very cool. I want it at home!


The full map of Italy.

After the museum, we went into the Sistine Chapel. You can't take any photos in there so I don't have any to post. I was a good girl and followed the rules. There were some others who didn't. You're not supposed to speak inside the chapel either. It's the Pope's personal chapel. It's a sacred place to tons of Christians and Catholics, but a bunch of jerks were blabbing and taking pictures anyway. No respect. We've all seen the posters of what is painted there so taking pictures can't provide anything better than that to show your friends. But let me tell you, it's just as amazing as it seems! What's even more amazing are the stories behind it. No, not the bible stories. I mean the stories of the paintings creation.

First of all, Michelangelo did not want to paint the Sistine Chapel. This is a well-known fact. He considered himself Michelangelo the Sculptor. Not a painter. But you don't say no to the pope. So he took on the job, but he was a little annoyed about it. Just keep that in mind as I point out a few things.

Here is an image of the Sistine ceiling (you might have to click on it to open it larger in another window):

It's panels down the center tell the story of the book of Genesis (the creation of the earth) starting at the bottom. There's lots of things going on in the photos. Michelangelo painted it starting at the end of the stories (the top of the image). You'll notice that those paintings have a lot more going on in them. Well, he got tired of the project dragging on and as he paints the rest of the ceiling, he decides to paint fewer people and imagery. Look at the Garden of Eden:

Pretty barren and boring and un-amazing.

And Noah, drunk and passed out has been painted here. He's nude and his sons are trying to cover him up without looking at him nude. But they're also nude and they are looking at each other. That can't be a mistake. He was no dummy... a little joke for Michelangelo, I think:

THEN, as if it wasn't crazy enough in his time to be painting God's image (it was), in the scene of God creating the stars and the sun, he paints God's rear end showing as he's flying away. Again, this is no mistake, everything done was intentional:

I don't have an image of this one, but in the side panels of the ceiling, Michelangelo has painted a bunch of Saints. Well, one of the Saints is giving a very crude hand gesture for the era, basically flipping everyone off.

Years later when Michelangelo is older and well-known, he is asked to come back to paint the main wall of the chapel. The pope wants a scene that will scare the crap out of everyone. Again, he doesn't want to paint it. But he can't say no without consequences. Here is the wicked scene:

Jesus is in the center, super buff and pissed off. Apparently heaven is similar to prison in that there isn't anything to do but work out. I wonder if he has some greenish black tats too? And knuckle tats, perhaps? In actuality, Michelangelo painted everyone buff because he was showing off. It takes more skill to paint individual muscles. But check out Bartholomew holding his own skin (he was skinned alive). The face is said to be Michelangelo's - he used the skin to be his own self-portrait. Pretty gross. The angels are all on a rampage. Pulling corpses up to heaven to be judged on the left, as some are cast into hell on the right. Pretty spectacular. Oh, and Martin Luther is there. Being cast into hell! The pope was mad at him because Martin was unhappy with the Catholic church. In order to raise money, the church allowed people to pay for the pope to cleanse them of their sins. So all of the rich people were sin-free and had entry to heaven, but those who couldn't afford it didn't. It was a sort of capitalist Christianity and a lot of people didn't like that. Martin Luther led the reformation, thereby pissing off the pope.

While Michelangelo was painting this wall, he had some disagreements with the pope's camerlengo. The guy was sneaking into the chapel to see the paintings before anyone else. Then he started complaining about Michelangelo painting so much nudity. But the pope didn't care about the nudity so nothing came of it. That didn't stop Michelangelo from being upset that the guy peeked at his work and then went to tattle on him. So, what did Michelangelo do? He painted the guy right in front of the pits of hell, about to be drug into the pit, with donkey's ears on him (basically calling him an ass), stark naked, a serpent wrapped around him, and biting him in the goodies:

The message? Don't mess with Michelangelo!

We found all of this so entertaining. And I really like Michelangelo, I have to say. Such a crazy and interesting, spirited and talented dude! And he's given us so much in terms of beauty AND entertainment! Love him. There's another story about him toward the end of all this (which you are nearing soon).

After we left the Sistine Chapel, I caught a cool view down this big extravagant hallway designed by Raphael with a Swiss Guard at the end of it:

Our tour ended out side of St. Peter's Basilica. The guide couldn't take us in because they don't allow tour guides while a mass is going on and there were a couple of masses in the chapels inside St. Peter's. But he told us all about what we would find in there. First, he explained that the Basilica is built on what is believed to be St. Peter's grave site. And an excavation of the site does show a male is buried there who lived and died at about the same time and the same age as St. Peter and died in the same way. They also looked at the DNA of the body. There is this wonderful technology that can detect where in the world a person is from based on the minerals there in the water and the pollutants and the vegetation, etc. It gets into our teeth and skin and bones. I don't know much about it so Google it if you're interested. But they did this test on the body and it is from the same region that St. Peter is said to be from. So that's a lot of evidence proving it's his grave. Which makes the Basilica all the more special.

All of the pope's are buried in the crypt under the basilica. With the exception of a few who are in the basilica, on the main floor, in glass cases for all the world to see. No joke. These popes are here at their own request, in the hopes that they will one day become saints. But in order to do that, they need to create a miracle from beyond the grave. So, their bodies are here, visible, on display for pilgrims to pray to for their own personal miracle. The most recent pope in the basilica died in 1960, I think. He's looking pretty good, I must say. But the popes who have been there for a hundred years or more... yeah, they're kinda green. It was too dark for my photos to come out and not be blurry, so I don't have any to post. But trust me, it's kinda gross. I think the tour guide said they were covered with wax to help preserve the bodies so they don't look all that real. But still gross.

The last story I have to share about Michelangelo is about the Pieta. First of all, it is absolutely amazing. The expression on that beautiful face and the way her head is tilted. So gorgeous. Our tour guide told us that Michelangelo wanted this to be very realistic. He wanted to paint a young Mary so he got a young model. He went down to the Jewish ghetto to get this model. They were Jews, after all! And for the body of Christ? It's quite likely he used a cadaver. That's because the sculpted Jesus clearly has collapsed lungs. Michelangelo definitely studied cadavers and that's how he was able to do things like The David with such accuracy... each muscle perfectly carved. He knew anatomy from first-hand accounts.

This sculpture was unveiled when Michelangelo was only 24. Young and feisty! He was still unknown in Rome so he walked through the crowd listening to comments. One viewer thought another sculptor created the Pieta. Michelangelo didn't like that at all! So he broke into the chapel later that night and carved on a sash across Mary's chest, "Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this". How much ego do you have to have to do that? Quite a bit, I think. It makes him all the more interesting to me. To this day the Pieta remains the only work of Michelangelo's that he ever signed. Here's my photo of it:

We couldn't get close to it. It's behind bullet proof glass. It used to be out in the open, but one day some crazy guy came at it with a hammer, breaking some pieces off that were later restored. He said God told him to destroy it.

This is the big dome over the entrance to the crypt where St. Peter and the popes are buried.

The entrance to the crypt. They do tours of the crypt but you have to book about a year in advance.

St. Peter's square. They were all set up for the Pope's mass that weekend so there were hundreds of chairs.

A shot as I turned back and looked at the basilica. We had to rush out of their to catch our plane to Barcelona. We got caught up and didn't realize what time it was.

And the Swiss Guard - remember the photo I took of that long hallway? This is the view from the other end of that hallway.

So, what else can I say? Rome was spectacular. It was mostly the ancient and interesting sights that made it so cool. The city itself? Well, it's a little crowded and dirty and loud and extremely aggressive. We were talking with our Vatican tour guide, this big, tall Irishman. And even he had that opinion of the Romans. That they are a bit pushy and aggressive. He said he expected the same thing when he went to New York. But it wasn't the same at all. Rome was worse, by far. We also didn't have a meal we really liked in Rome. Florence was much better. Even the gelato was better in Florence! But there's so much to see. We'd be happy to go back and explore even more in Rome. Our next stop was Barcelona. I could get lost in that city and hope to never be found!

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