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Gypsy's Travels

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The National Museum - Written July 2013

Breakfast as usual, coffee / hot chocolate and pastry at the "Bar." The man behind the counter seems to be a little friendlier each day. David and I sit outside today and enjoy the coolness of a shaded table by the sidewalk. As we leave, we are focused on our planned visit to the National Museum. I vaguely register a disturbance from the area we left, so I quicken my pace hoping to avoid any trouble. Every day on our way here, we pass what we think is an embassy. We don't know which one and don't recognize the flag but there are always one or two armed military and a military vehicle stationed in front .
The shouting gets louder and David turns to see what is happening. Rushing along behind us is our "friend from behind the counter of the coffee shop." He is breathless, clearly annoyed, and shouting at us in Italian. We notice the man is waving David's camera in the air and clearly berating us. We don't understand any of his words, so David calmly retrieves his camera, we smile and say 'thank you'. Later, I theorize the man was concerned that we were very vulnerable to the thieves and  pickpockets that prompt all the warning signs. We'll see how he responds to us at breakfast tomorrow.

We tried to see the Capitolini Museum yesterday, but arrived too close to closing time. There was a huge crowd of people gathered in the Piazza so we waaited to see what was happening. After a long while, we asked around and discovered the Mayor of Rome was scheduled to speak to the assembled group. David took this photo:

Mayor of Rome, Italy
The National Museum is filled with statuary and artifacts dating from before Christ. It still amazes me that everything can be so old and well preserved. David states later that "everyone in Rome must have run around naked" because all the statues are naked or barely clothed. He is getting quite an education! We saw duplicate statues of a hermaphrodite in two different museums. She is lying on her side, only partially exposed. The difference is in presentation. One museum puts the art form in a central position where it can easily be seen from all sides. The other museum places the form at an angle near the wall that requires some serious neck-craning to get a full view. I wonder why.

Not being an artist, I find it difficult to maintain an interest in marble, carved heads. Then I notice a focus on hair styles, which are apparently useful in dating and identifying statues. Some of the men sport women's styles, especially the male sports figures.
Feminine style on male athlete

Style favored by matrons

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Roman Forum

The Forum is an area of serious ruins. Over the centuries it has been pillaged and vandalized, yet it retains its air of aristocracy. Lone pillars mark the spots where proud buildings once towered. It was originally a marketplace but it grew into "the most celebrated meeting place in the whole world, and in all history." The Forum was a place where the people of Rome could gather for commercial. political, judicial, and religious pursuits. I was struck by the ostentatious life styles some of these people must have led and their sophistication.

A tradition of speaking to the public from the rostra was established early (prior to 361 BC). About 44 BC, Marc Antony delivered his famous funeral oration for Caesar from the New Rostra, and 2 years later displayed the severed head and right hand of Cicero, his mortal enemy.

Although Julius Caesar was cremated after his death and his ashes scattered, this grave site behind a low wall at the Forum is still honored by the populace.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Palatine Hill

I believe we were dealing with temperatures in Rome similar to the ones we left in Texas. The only difference was Roman temps were in Celsius compared to our Fahrenheit, which made the Celsius seem cooler. So, 32*C does not sound too hot before it is converted.  As a rule of thumb, David tells me, 28* C is about 82* F. We were not really thinking about temperature conversion and heat index, we were just plain hot and walking under a bright, bright sun. Nevertheless, we were drinking in every possible moment along with plenty of water.

Following the crowds from the Colosseum, we wandered across the street to Palatine Hill. This was a less crowded area with some shady spots along the way. This place, according to Roman mythology,  was where a she-wolf found Romulus and Remus and kept them alive. Palatine Hill stands at the center of the "seven hills of Rome" and is thought to have been inhabited as early as 10th century BC. There is archaeological evidence of a Bronze Age settlement. Palatine Hill became a fashionable place to live and, at one time, was covered with imperial palaces.

On Palatine Hill, amid the sheltering trees and centuries -old ruins, we had a lunch scavenged from our backpacks - cherries and bananas bought at a street market near the hotel and a packs of crackers/ snacks left from the airplane.

Somehow, Palatine Hill is impressive. Maybe it  has something to do with the view or the lack of crowds, but it holds its head high and says"accept me for what I am, and was."

We were met at the top of a lengthy set of stairs by a man offering bottles of water - 2 bottles for 1 Euro.

 We had depleted our water supply and were miserably thirsty, but I had not seen water that cheap anywhere else in Rome. Red Flags went off in my head - too cheap means trouble so, as thirsty as we were, I declined his offer. He had met us just before we hit the top step so he must have been a pro, knowing how thirsty the tourists would be. We had not gone 100 steps further when we discovered a water source in a nearby grotto. People were happily drinking and filling their bottles, so we joined them. The water was good and quite cold. We drank our fill and refilled our water bottles. I can only imagine that the man offering to sell us water had refilled some empty bottles of unknown and questionable source.
We continued traversing the extensive grounds, trying to visualize the life of affluent occupants from ages past. The "Hippodrome" was once a garden area with columns, statues, landscaping, and fountains. Currently, several displays of various art forms give a modern touch to the ancient ruins.


Continuing on the upper level of the Hill, we discover remnants of "palaces" built by the affluent citizens of Rome. Here the air was cleaner, they could dodge the diseases of the common people, and they had beautiful views of the countryside.

The area consists mostly of ruins and excavated parts of buildings from which archaeologists continue to piece together the history surrounding the people of the area.

The Palatine Museum houses artifacts, excavated from the area,  dating as far back as the Middle Paleolithic Period, and works of art.
A fresco

There is much of interest here and it deserves more time, but the brain can only absorb so much at one time and the body can only endure so much heat. We reluctantly leave to find our way to the Roman Forum.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Exploring Rome - The Colosseum and Arch of Constantine

David is proving to be a good traveling companion. He doesn't complain, he likes to see everything, he tries the different foods, is enthusiastic, and pops right out of bed in the morning ready to go and experience all we can during the day. Can't ask much more from an 11 year old.

Breakfast is served a couple of blocks away from the hotel at a "Bar." This turns out to be a little "coffee shop" where a voucher from our hotel allows us a pastry and drink. There is a choice of pastries but we don't know what is inside them. The man behind the counter is clearly annoyed at our indecision. I finally settle on one that is filled, as surmised from the conversation, with eggplant. I am truly curious how a population considers eggplant, in a pastry, worthy of the breakfast menu. David is happy with his hot chocolate and lemon-filled pastry and I enjoy a sip of "American coffee" as I approach the tasting of my "eggplant pastry". Surprise! It is NOT eggplant. It is apple! We were really lost somewhere in that translation. A roll and coffee - the traditional Italian breakfast.

Plenty of camera action

Our destination this morning is the Roman Colosseum. I think David has allotted 1 1/2 hours, based on the info in the book, but I know we both like to explore a little more in-depth than most tourists.We have no time limit and David has a new camera. He is giving me a different viewpoint than I would have otherwise.

We bought a 3 day Roma City Pass which allows us unlimited rides on the Metro and buses plus ( a semi-complicated tier of) admissions to museums and sites for 3 days. The Metro is simple - only 2 lines, a North /South and an East /West. The buses are more complicated. David has learned some basic Italian phrases, but I am finding that my Spanish will serve me pretty well.
The Metro is uncomplicated
I have always pored over photos of the Colosseum, but seeing it in person is unbelievable. As with all the wonders we see on paper, the photo just doesn't compare to the real thing. The foundation was laid 70 - 72 AD and the building was completed in 80 AD.
Formerly known as the Flavian Amphitheater, it was the largest ampitheater ever built in the Roman Empire. It is a free standing structure with a base area of  about 6 acres. Today's ruins are primarily the result of earthquakes and stonerobbers.
Roman Colosseum
 Originally, this elliptical amphitheater, with a seating capacity of about 50,000 spectators, was used for  gladiatorial contests and public spectacles, such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles and dramas based on Classical mythology. The last recorded games were held in the 6th century, but gladiatorial fights were last mentioned around 435 and animal hunts continued until at least 523. There is no evidence to back the popular supposition that Christians were martyred here. The Colosseum has seen a variety of uses since that time, including a church, housing, and workshops.

   There were special boxes in the Colosseum, at north and south ends, for the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins, providing the best views of the arena. A portion of flooring has been added to one end to show how the original flooring covered the hypogeum (the underground area). Multiple underground  tunnel, elevators, and pulleys allowed access for presentations. At least one tunnel allowed access by gladiators from a nearby training school.

About 1740, the Pope forbade quarrying of the Colosseum stone and erected the Stations of the Cross around the arena. Every Good Friday, the Pope leads a procession to the amphitheater.
The Arch of Constantine
from the Colosseum
The Arch of Constantine is one of three remaining triumphal arches. Situated between the Colosseum and  Palatine Hill, it was erected by the Roman Senate to commemorate Constantine I's victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312. Constantine ended the persecution of Christians because he believed his victory resulted from help by the Christian God.
The Arch of Constantine

"I want to see everything!"

Friday, July 5, 2013

An Afternoon Expedition Continued - Santa Maria Maggiore

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, on Piazza del Esuilino, is located in Italian territory but belongs to the Vatican State and enjoys the same benefits as an embassy. It is currently one of only four "major basilicas."
The core of the present church was built 432- 440 when Rome was considered not only the center of the Roman Empire, but the center of the Christian world. The foundation stone for the fa├žade was laid on March 4, 1741. The external architecture of the Basilica is a stark contrast to our previously visited S.M. dei Angelei.

The interior was constructed according to Vitruvius' canon of rhythmic elegance and immediately inspires awe on entering. Frescoes, statues, carvings, and 5th century mosaics decorate almost every surface. The symbols and crests of some influential patrons are mixed with the religious work.


Even the most beautiful churches have a "drawing card" and since there is no line for the 5th century mosaics, we follow the people to discover the relic . The line leads down the stairs to a small chapel. It is almost dark, only faintly lit by overhead lights. This area represents the "cave of the Nativity." The focus, and primary source of light, emanates from a niche at one end of the room. There, pilgrims kneel in ardent prayer and adoration.

In the brightly lighted area, there is an ornate container, a crystal urn trimmed in silver,  of obvious importance. This is the "celebrated" relic known as the Holy Crib.
Close inspection reveals four boards of sycamore wood believed to have been brought to the church by pilgrims 640-649. They are believed to be from the manger of the Christ Child.


 Again, I am drawn to the beautiful patterns on the floor of the church. Intricately inlaid stones pave the way like gorgeous carpets. These were designed by the marble masters of the Cosmati family in the thirteenth century. The patterns would make splendid quilts!

This is the end of our first day in Rome. It is hard to believe we have seen so much in just one afternoon. We buy some salami, bread, cheese, and drinks, for dinner in our room. It is an early night at the end of our 48 hour day......