The One with Rome, Italy

Friday, December 5, 2014

For being such a HUGE city with a bajillion things to see and do, I deserve an award or medal or plaque or SOMETHING for having "only" 130 photos/collages to share of our trip to Rome :)

THANKSGIVING DAY - Thursday November 28th 2014
We celebrated Thanksgiving the Sunday before because we knew we'd be gone on actual Thanksgiving Day. We woke up before the sun rose (which, could mean we slept in because the sun doesn't shine until about 8:30am! But we were up at 5:30am.) and drove to the Munich airport. We got there, parked the car, walked to the train, got on the train, walked to the check-in counter, went through security, all without a hitch. And we had 3 hours until our flight... oy vey. I guess I'd rather be early than stressed to miss our flight! We found a little Haufbrauhaus stand and got the BEST pretzels and fries we've had in Germany yet!
Our plane was off the ground 10 minutes early even woohoo!
We landed in Italy just over an hour later. A nice and short flight.
There wasn't an easy way to get to our apartment using public transportation so we took a taxi for the flat fee of €48. Yeah, that's a lot. But taking the public transportation route would have cost almost as much and would have been MUCH more of a hassle/taken MUCH longer. So a taxi was wonderful. 
We stayed at Alberto's apartment that I found on airbnb for €42 a night.
Fox and Jane getting their wiggles out before going inside.
The apartment was on the top floor with a pretty flowered balcony and wonderful views.
We unpacked and rested for about an hour before heading out on our first Roman adventure!

Rome. Where do I even begin?

Rick Steves says, "Rome is magnificent and brutal at the same time. It's a showcase of Western civilization, with astonishingly ancient sights and a modern vibrancy. But if you're careless you'll be run down or pickpocketed." We weren't pickpocketed but we did get in two very loud and scary fights with Italians... "And with the wrong attitude you'll be frustrated by the kind of chaos that only an Italian can understand." Like the packed-as-sardines public transportation trams, buses, and subways. MAKE 'EM BIGGER YO! IT WAS NUTS to the NTH DEGREE! It probably would have been much easier if we didn't have a ginormous stroller and two toddlers. But anyway. We're used to it. We have learned through our travels that Europe is not family-friendly. But I digress. "Two thousand years ago the word "Rome" meant civilization itself. Everything was either civilized (part of the Roman Empire, Latin-or-Greek-speaking) or barbarian. Today, Rome is Italy's political capital, the capital of Catholicism, and the center of the ancient world, littered with evocative remains." 

Rome can be divided into six "neighborhoods":
Ancient Rome: In ancient times, this was home for the grandest buildings of a city of a million people. Today the best of the classical sights stand in a line from the Colosseum to the Forum to the Pantheon.
Pantheon Neighborhood: The Pantheon anchors the heart of Rome. It stretches eastward from the Tiber River through Campo de'Fiori and Piazza Navona, past the Pantheon to the Trevi Fountain. 
Vatican City: Located west of the Tiber, it's a compact world of its own with two great, huge sights: St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museum. 
North Rome: With the Spanish Steps, Villa Borghese Gardens, and trendy shopping streets, this is a more modern, classy area. 
East Rome: This includes the area around Termini Station with many hotels and public-transportation connections. Nearby is "Pilgrim's Rome" with several prominent churches dotting the area south of the station. 
South Rome: South of Vatican City is Trastevere, the seedy, colorful wrong-side-of-the-river neighborhood that provides a look at village Rome. It's the city at its crustiest, and perhaps most "Roman." 
Within each of these neighborhoods there are elements from many layers of Rome's 2000-year history: the marble ruins of ancient times; tangled streets of the medieval world; early Christian churches; grand Renaissance buildings and statues; Baroque fountains and church facades; 19th-century apartments; and 20th-century boulevards filled with traffic. Since no one is allowed to build taller than St. Peter's dome and virtually no buildings have been constructed in the city center since Mussolini got distracted in 1938, Rome has no modern skyline. 

Rome probably has more history than any other city on earth and I simply can't write it all :)

So. We walked a few blocks to a tram station and bought tickets and hopped on. It's amazing how much old stuff there is everywhere and the city is just built around it. 
The tram brought us to the bus station and then it started raining and we didn't have our umbrella or stroller cover because the weather said it wasn't supposed to rain. We found the bus we needed but our stroller wouldn't fit (see - not family friendly) and as we were taking it apart the bus left... We figured it wouldn't be long until the next one. Literally 45 MINUTES LATER the bus still hadn't come!! We were sooo frustrated. AND, we had a timed entry to the Borghese Gallery and we'd be SOL if we missed it! We found a different bus since the one we wanted just wasn't coming. And then this new bus wasn't coming! After waiting for a stupid bus for over an hour, finally one we wanted came and we hopped on. We literally could have walked to the gallery and back again in the amount of time it took for a bus. Sigh. I'm not bitter :) Once we got off the bus it was pitch black and we booked it for the gallery, 20 minutes past 5pm, our entry time. Thankfully, so thankfully and gratefully, they still let us in. 

Yay, we finally made it to the Borghese Gallery - all is well!
This plush museum, filling a cardinal's mansion in the park, offers one of Europe's most sumptuous art experiences. There's a collection of world-class Baroque sculpture as well as paintings by Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, and Rubens. The villa was built in the early 17th century by the great art collector Cardinal Scipione Borghese who wanted to prove that the glories of ancient Rome were matched by the Renaissance. 

We walked in and our jaws dropped to the floor. Wow. Just, wow. 
Bernini's The Rape of Proserpina. 
This is carved marble, not a real man grabbing a woman's thigh/bum, I promise. But it looks SO REAL! How oh how does one carve marble so exquisitely?
More divine sculptures. 
Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath, 1606 
Caravaggio's Madonna of the Palafrenieri, 1605-06
Snippets from inside the Borghese Gallery.
Painting on the ceiling.
Bernini's Apollo and Daphne.
This is my favorite sculpture. EVER. IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. AND I SAW IT WITH MINE OWN EYES!!!
Bernini's David.

I remember seeing this in Art History 201 way back in 2004, sitting next to Chris Evans, my future husband. I love David's expression. And hair. And muscles. Anyway...

Evans family in front of Bernini's David on Thanksgiving Day 2014. Nowhere else I'd rather be!
Details of various ceilings. 
Each and every room is so ornate and beautiful. I wish we could have stayed for hours.
But alas, our minions were up to no good.
We left about an hour after arriving because the children were wailing and gnashing their teeth. We walked through the dark park and found a tram to take us back to our apartment. I do hope we get to go back sans children or when they're more grown up so we can stay longer.
Man. They PACK these things. SO MANY PEOPLE. We were a couple blocks from our apartment when Jane had a massive tantrum and some drunk guy on the bus yelled at us. Luckily a guy standing in front of me yelled at the mean guy, thank you very much for that. But we were upset so we got off at the next stop and walked the rest of the way.
We found a little convenience store and bought some milk for cereal the next morning.
And that was our first day in Rome!

DAY TWO (or rather three because on day two we went to The Vatican City, but this was day two of Rome). We hopped on a bus literally right in front of our apartment. Woot woot! How handy!
And it took us straight to THE Colosseum!
Built when the Roman Empire was at its peak in AD 80, the Colosseum represents Rome at its grandest. The Flavian Amphitheater (the Colosseum's real name) was an arena for gladiator contests and public spectacles. When killing became a spectator sport the Romans wanted to share the fun with as many people as possible so they stuck two semi-circular theaters together to create a freestanding amphitheater. The outside was decorated with a 100-foot-tall bronze statue of Nero that gleamed in the sunlight. In a later age the colossal structure was nicknamed a "coloss-eum," the wonder of its age. It could accommodate 50,000 roaring fans. 
This 2000 year old building is the classic example of Roman engineering. The Romans pioneered the use of concrete and the rounded arch which enabled them to build on this tremendous scale. The exterior is a skeleton of 3.5 million cubic feet of travertine stone. Each fo the pillars flanking the ground-level arches weighs five tons. It took 200 ox-drawn wagons shuttling back and forth every day for four years just to bring the stone here from Tivoli. The Romans stacked stone blocks (without mortar) into the shape of an arch, supported temporarily by wooden scaffolding. Finally, they wedged a keystone into the top of the arch - it not only kept the arch from falling, it could bear even more weight above. Iron pegs held the larger stones together - hence the pockmarks on the sides visible in some photos. 
I spy Jane. 
Our family inside the colossal Colosseum. 
Fox and Jane. They don't even know how good they have it!
Tourist shop built into a niche.
While the essential structure of the Colosseum is Roman, the four-story facade is decorated with mostly Greek columns - Doric-like Tuscan columns on the ground level, Ionic on the second story, Corinthian on the next level, and at the top, half-columns with a mix of all three. 
Originally, copies of Greek statues stood in the arches of the middle two stories, giving a veneer of sophistication to this arena of death. 
This was where ancient Romans watched Gladiators, criminals, and wild animals fight to the death in every conceivable scenario. The bit of reconstructed Colosseum floor gives an accurate sense of the original floor and the subterranean warren where animals were held then lifted up in elevators. Released at floor level, animals would pop out from behind blinds into the arena - the gladiator didn't know where, when, or by what he'd be attacked. Gross. I hate the movie Gladiator, by the way.
The only remaining section of original seating.
We walked in several loops on the first and second floors, called it good, then made our way to the next place. But before I get to that, we took more photos of the Colosseum from across the way at the front of the Forum. 
Me in front of the Colosseum. I rarely have just pictures of me!
Super duper impressive.
After the Colosseum we walked a few feet to the Arch of Constantine.
This arch marks one of the great turning points in history: the military coup that made Christianity mainstream. In AD 312 Emperor Constantine defeated his rival Maxentius in the crucial Battle of the Milvian Bridge. The night before he had seen a vision of a cross in the sky. Constantine - whose mother and sister had already become Christians - became sole emperor and legalized Christianity. With this one battle a once-obscure Jewish sect with a handful of followers became the state religion of the entire Western world. In AD 300 you could be killed for being a Christian; a century later you could be killed for not being one. Church enrollment boomed. The restored arch is like an ancient museum. It's decorated entirely with recycled carvings originally made for other buildings. By covering it with exquisite carvings of high Roman art - works that glorified previous emperors - Constantine put himself in their league.
Looking down the tree-lined road that leads to the Arch of Constantine.
Then we started the Rick Steves' "Roman Forum Walk". The Forum was the political, religious, and commercial center of the city. Rome's most important temples and halls of justice were here. This was the place for religious processions, political demonstrations, elections, important speeches, and parades by conquering generals. As Rome's empire expanded, these few acres of land became the center of the civilized world. 
The Arch of Titus commemorated the Roman victory over the province of Judaea Israel in AD 70. The Romans had a reputation as benevolent conquerors who tolerated the local customs and rulers. All they required was allegiance to the empire, shown by worshipping the emperor as god. No problem for most conquered people who already had half a dozen gods on their prayer list anyway. But Israelites believed in only one god and it wasn't the emperor. Israel revolted. After a short but bitter war the Romans defeated the rebels, took Jerusalem, destroyed their temple (leaving only the foundation wall - todays' revered "Wailing Wall") and brought home 50,000 Jewish slaves... who were forced to build this arch and the Colosseum.
We walked to the front of the Forum and looked over at Palatine Hill - the hill overlooking the Forum is jam-packed with history - "the huts of Romulus," the huge Imperial Palace, a view of the Circus Maximus - but there's only the barest skeleton of rubble left to tell the story. We get our word "palace" from this hill where the emperors chose to live. The Palatine Hill was once so filled with palaces that later emperors had to build out. 
Temple of Venus & Rome where we got great views of the Colosseum pictured above.
Ancient ruins.
Gazing over the valley of the Forum. Stubble and ruins and really really cool. 
It's impossible to capture how MASSIVE the Basilica of Constantine is on camera. Here's a pic from the WWW:
Yes, those are big arches. And they only represent one-third of the original Basilica of Constantine, a mammoth hall of justice. The arches were matched by a similar set along the Via Sacra side (only a few squat brick piers remain). Between them ran the central hall which was spanned by a roof 130 feet high - about 55 feet higher than the side arches here. The hall itself was as long as a football field, lavishly furnished with colorful inlaid marble, a gilded bronze ceiling, and statues, and filled with strolling Romans. The basilica was begun by the emperor Maxentius but after he was trounced in battle the victor Constantine completed the massive structure. No doubt about it, the Romans built monuments on a more epic scale than any previous Europeans. 
Looking back at the Francesca Romana church. 
Villa across the hill.
We strolled deeper into the Forum, walking downhill through trees and over cobbledy basalt stones that nearly broke our stroller. Redeeming feature: Caesar Augustus himself walked on these stones 2000 years ago! 
We passed the only original bronze door still swinging on its ancient hinges. Wicked cool.
Temple of Antoninus Pius & Faustina
The original Forum, or main square, was this flat patch about the size of a football field, stretching to the foot of Capitoline Hill. Surrounding it were temples, law courts, government buildings, and triumphal arches. Rome was born right here. According to legend, twin brothers Romulus (Rome) and Remus were orphaned in infancy and raised by a she-wolf on top of Palatine Hill. Growing up they found it hard to get dates so they and their cohorts attacked the nearby Sabine tribe and kidnapped their women. After they made peace this marshy valley became the meeting place and then the trading center for the scattered tribes on the surrounding hillsides. The square was the busiest and most crowded - and often the seediest - section of town. The Forum is now rubble, but imagine it in its prime: blindingly brilliant marble buildings with 40-foot-high columns and shining metal roofs; rows of statues painted in realistic colors; processional chariots rattling down the Via Sacra; tribunes in togas.
Thanks to savvy artists, perhaps this is what the Forum looked like back then:
It may just look like a pile of rocks, and in some places it is, but just think of what those stones have seen in 2000 years!
Column of Phocas - Rome's Fall: this is the Forum's last monument (AD 608) a gift from the powerful Byzantine Empire to a fallen empire - Rome. Given to commemorate the pagan Pantheon's becoming a Christian church; it's like a symbolic last nail in ancient Rome's coffin. After Rome's 1000 year reign the city was looted by Vandals, the population of a million-plus shrank to about 10,000, and the once-grand-city center - the Forum - was abandoned, slowly covered up by centuries of silt and dirt.
We made our way to another arch - the Arch of Septimius Severus (so many Harry Potter names I tell ya!).
In imperial times the Rostrum's voices of democracy would have been dwarfed by images of the empire such as the huge six-story high Arch of Septimius Severus (AD 203).
We had to carry the stroller up a ridiculous amount of steps and it wouldn't fit through the turning gate so we had to pass it up and over fence. OMG. Anyway. We continued our walk and saw a bunch more old stuff! Including the semi-circular brick complex of Trajan's Market. It was likely part shopping mall, part warehouse, and part administration building, or maybe mostly government offices.
Zoomed in a bit.
Seriously, old things everywhere, it's amazing. Rome was built in layers - almost everywhere you go there's an earlier version beneath your feet. I spy Trajan's Column.
This grand column is the best example of "continuous narration" that we have from antiquity. More than 2500 figures spiral the 140-foot-high column telling of Trajan's victorious Davian campaign (circa AD 103, in present-day Romania), from the assembling of the army at the bottom to the victory sacrifice at he top. Today St. Peter is on top. 
My favorite building in Rome: The Victor Emmanuel Monument.
This oversize monument to Italy's first king, built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the country's unification in 1861, was part of Italy's push to overcome the new country's strong regionalism and create a national identity. With its gleaming white sheen and enormous scale, the monument provides a vivid sense of what Ancient rome looked like at its peak - imagine the Forum filled with shiny, grandiose buildings like this one. Pretty amazing.
Cool Italian building #1.
Cool Italian building #2.
Cool Italian building #3.
 This is the world-renowned Trevi Fountain:
And this is what we saw. WAH WAH to the max. But we knew about it beforehand so we were prepared. It's expected to be closed until October 2015.
In any case, the Trevi Fountain is supposed to show how Rome took full advantage of the abundance of water brought into the city by its great aqueducts. The watery Baroque avalanche by Nicola Salvi was completed in 1762. Salvi used the palace behind the fountain as a theatrical background for the figure of "Ocean" who represents water in every form. The statue surfs through his wet kingdom - with water gushing from 24 spouts and tumbling over 30 different kinds of plants - while Triton blows his conch shell. 

Lunch break. Burger King for the win. Ya'll, the kids love chicken and fries and we'll do just about anything to keep them happy on these trips.
And then it started raining. We brought our stroller cover today though! But we didn't even bring an umbrella on this trip so I bought one from one of the million street hagglers. When it's raining they have umbrellas and ponchos and when it's not raining they have "selfie sticks". "Selfie" wasn't even a word two years ago. Anyway, this is such a lovely Italian street.
Then we started on another Rick Steves walk, but we did it backwards because of where we already were. We passed through MANY piazzas/squares. This one is the Piazza Mignanelli.
Continuing on, we found the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican which has been here for 300 years.
The Spanish Steps. Under construction. Piazza di Spagna has been the hangout of many Romantics over the years: Keats, Wagner, Openshaw, Goethe, and others.
This is what the Spanish Steps are supposed to look like:
Pedestrians only lane with fancy shops.
The Piazza Mignanelli from the other side.
Fruit and snacks stand.
Passing through the Galleria Alberto Sordi shopping mall. Swanky!
Piazza Colonna features a huge second-century column like unto Trajan's Column. Its reliefs depict the victories of Emperor Marcus Aurelius over the barbarians.
Walking down the wide Via in Aquiro.
Piazza Montecitorio with a sixth-century BC Egyptian obelisk taken as a trophy by Augustus after his victory in Egypt over Mark Antony and Cleopatra. The obelisk was set up as a sundial.
Italy's Parliament building where the lower house meets.
Just some pretty buildings leading to....
...the Pantheon!

The 40-foot, single piece (WOW!) granite columns (biggest in Italy, shipped from Egypt... HOW?) of the Pantheon's entrance show the scale the ancient Romans built on: big. 
Because the Pantheon became a church dedicated to the martyrs just after the fall of Rome the barbarians left it alone and the locals didn't use it as a quarry. The portico is called "Rome's umbrella" - a local gathering in a rainstorm which we found to be true.
Inside is a domed room that inspired later domes including Michelangelo's St. Peter's and Brunelleschi's Duomo in Florence.
The dome, 142 feet high and wide, was Europe's biggest until the Renaissance. Michelangelo's dome at St. Peter's, while much higher, is about three feet narrower. The brilliance of this dome's construction astounded architects through the ages. The concrete dome gets thinner and lighter with height - the highest part is volcanic pumice.
This wonderfully harmonious architecture greatly inspired Raphael and other artists of the Renaissance. 
Raphael along with Italy's first two kings chose to be buried here. This is the tomb of Raphael himself.
Since the dome is open at the top the rain was coming in and flooding the ground. A fence blocked people from splashing around in it - I'm sure Fox and Jane would have loved that.
The Pantheon is the only ancient building in Rome continuously used since its construction.
There are literally hundreds of churches in Rome.
Churches and neat buildings on every corner!
Rain rain go away, come again some other day, little Janey wants to play, rain rain go away!
She was so darling swinging around "her" umbrella!
Jane much prefers to walk than sit. Fox much prefers to sit than walk.
Next stop - the Piazza Navona. This oblong square retains the shape of the original racetrack that was built around AD 80 by the emperor Domitian. Since ancient times the square has been a center of Roman life. In the 1800s the city would flood the square to cool off the neighborhood. 
The Four Rivers Fountain in the center is the most famous fountain by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. 
Four burly river gods (representing the four continents that were known in 1650) support an Egyptian obelisk. The water of the world gushes everywhere. 
Behind the fountain is the Church of St. Agnes - worked on by Bernini's former student-turned-rival Francesco Borromini. His concave facade helps reveal the dome and epitomizes the curved symmetry of Baroque.
We ended at the Camp de'Fiori - one of Rome's most colorful spots, this bohemian piazza hosts a fruit and vegetable market in the mornings, cafés in the evening, and pub-crawlers at night. 
In ancient times the "Field of Flowers" was an open meadow. Later Christian pilgrims passed through on their way to the Vatican and a thriving market developed. The statue in the center is Giordano Bruno, an intellectual heretic who was burned on this spot in 1600.
One of everything please!
On the bus ride back to the train station we passed so many neat things. Simply not enough time to see it all!
We had a couple more things to see before heading back to the apartment. After we got off the bus we walked through the Piazza della Repubblica.
Loving the curved buildings.
Destination: Baths of Diocletian. 
Around AD 300 Emperor Diocletian built the largest baths in Rome. This sprawling meeting place - with baths and schmoozing spaces to accommodate 3000 bathers at a time - was a big deal in ancient times.
While much of it is still closed, the best part is open: the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.
This church was built upon the remains of the vast and steamy Roman bath complex. The church was partly designed by Michelangelo (1561) who used the baths' main hall as the nave which was later turned into a long transept. The eight red granite columns are original from ancient Rome.
Last stop of our Roman adventure: Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. 
Quite lovely.
Gilded ceilings. 
Why we came to this church: to see Bernini's St. Teresa in Ecstasy. Teresa has just been stabbed with God's arrow of fire. Now the angel pulls it out and watches her (steamy?) reaction. Bernini, the master of multimedia, pulls out all the stops to make this mystical vision real. Actual sunlight pours through the alabaster windows, bronze sunbeams shine on a marble angel holding a golden arrow, Teresa leans back on a cloud and her robe ripples from within, charged with her spiritual arousal.
We headed back to the apartment and rested from a wonderful day. The next morning we relaxed, packed up, headed to the airport (and got in a huge fight with the taxi driver who wanted us to pay 80 euros when it clearly says the flat rate fee to the airport is 48 euros on the side of the car...), flew to Munich without a hitch, took a subway to the parking lot, then drove our car two hours home. Traveling is quite the process. Every time we're out and about traveling we say we're never going anywhere ever again. But we just have to see these things!

That's Rome in a nutshell! A really really really BIG nutshell :)

Up next and our final adventure of 2014: The Vatican


  1. Outstanding recap! When in Rome!

  2. really glad you enjoyed your time in my beautiful country!
    there are just soooo many beautiful places in Italy :)

  3. Wow wow wow!! What an amazing trip!! LOVING all the photos!! I just know that those Jane umbrella photos will end up on a gorgeous page soon!!!!!!!

  4. This brought back a lot of fun memories from my trip to Rome in high school :) I remember waiting FOREVER for a bus in Rome...and that was 12 years ago, so I think crazy public transportation is a long-term thing.

  5. Holy COW, Paige! What an amazing recap of an amazing city. Your photos are beautiful. I wish I'd have been there with you.

  6. Oh gosh, I really hope to go there some day! SO pretty!!!!

  7. OH. MY. GOSH!!!! These pictures are incredible. I remember so many of these things from Art History and I can't believe you guys got to see them IN REAL LIFE!!

    P.S. I love your shoes!!


Paige Taylor Evans © // Quinn Creatives DESIGN