Sunday, November 26, 2006

September 2006 - Rome, Italy - The Colosseum, Moses, & Santa Maria

This week we went on a couple of field trips with 2 of our classmates - Corinne and Montse.Our first stop was the Colosseum - the massive ancient arena which seated between 60,000 - 80,000 people. The Colosseum, built for the common people on the site of Nero's (a particularly horrible emperor) golden palace, was used for all kinds of competitions between and among gladiators and animals. The Colosseum was built between 72 - 80 A.D. by Emperor Vespasian and finished by his son Titus. The last known use was in 523 A.D. during the reign of Theodoric. Subsequently, the structure was pilaged and stripped of all of its marble and stone decoration. Many of this stone was used to build St. Peter's Basilica and various other churches and Palazzos. In the 18th century, the Colosseum was consecrated to the Christian martyrs (the enslaved gladiators) who lost their life in this arena. There is a large cross that was erected in the arena and this stopped the pillaging of the structure. The Pope still prays at the Colosseum every Easter.

After our visit to the Colosseum we stopped in Monti (a trendy area just north of the Colosseum) for a Roman lunch (we can't actually eat a full roman lunch which consists of an antipasto, a primo piato, usually pasta, a secundo piato, usually a meat dish, dolci and caffe). Whenever we sit down for the 2 hours required to move through all these courses, we share this huge lunch. The Romans find it quite odd that we divide and share what they consider to be a meal for 1, and there is always confusion about us only wanting one dish for each course.
Monti has small winding streets lined with shops and restaurants. It is a little off the beaten path for tourists and so we were able to escape the masses for a short afternoon break. After lunch we headed to Buddy's (Kenny's maternal grandfather) favorite church - San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains). Kenny was able to impress Corinne and Monste with his knowledge of the history behind this modest but important little church. I know he learned it all from Buddy but I didn't give him up to girls.

The name St. Peter in Chains is derived from the Church's main treasure displayed below the high alter - the chains used to shackle St. Peter in the Mamertine prison prior to his crucifiction.

The other major treasure housed in this tiny church is Michelangelo's masterpiece - a statute of Moses. Moses was the centerpiece of the tomb of Pope Julius II. The Moses and the dying slaves (since moved to Paris & Florence) were completed, but Moses is surrounded by a group of figures that are incomplete as a result of Michelangelo being called away from this project by Pope Paul III to begin painting the Last Judgment on the wall of the Sistine Chapel.

In order to properly finish off this day of religious sight-seeing, we hit Santa Maria in Maggiore. This enormous church is part of the Vatican properties but is located north of the Colosseum and north of Monte.
Santa Maria is considered the most successful blend of many different styles of architecture in one church. The construction of the church spans from the 5th century B.C. to the baroque style of 1743 popular when it was completed. Pictured above is mass in the Cappella Paolina. While the baroque architecture cannot be missed, Santa Maria is most famous for its preserved mosaic tile floors laid in the 5th century B.C.

Beneath the baroque high alter, Santa Maria contains a beautiful and elaborate crypt area.
Also noteworthy, in the Capella Sistina, there is a reliquary containing the pieces of Jesus' manger and behind it is the tomb of Pope Sixtus.

This week we finally slowed down the sightseeing and started behaving more like Romans. We went out for a drink with our classmates and discovered a wonderful Indian restaurant (Jaipur - a north Indian style, family-run spot) in our neighborhood. I think we're going to be regulars.

Pictured above from left to right are Corinne, Barbara and Montse. These girls are even more picture crazy than we are. Happy hour with them is more like a photo shoot. Lucky for us, the Romans are accustomed to and unphased by tourists because of the massive numbers present in Rome everyday. It does not seem there is a low season and a high season here. Tourists are ever-present in most neighborhoods of central Rome.

Here is Kenny with the only other boy in our class - Frederick.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

September 2006 - Rome, Italy - The Catacombes, Baths of Caracalla & Circus Maximus

This week we started school and made some new friends. On our first weekend we took a class trip on the Appian Way to the Catacombes of San Calisto, Terme di Carcalle and Circus Maximus. We visited the Catacombes of San Calisto dating back to the 1st century A.D. where Catholic martyrs and other members of the Catholic community were buried underground in graves carved into earth which consists of tufa (cooled and hardened volcanic rock). After walking about 6 meters underground we walked through rows of graves while a priest gave us the history of the catacombe's inhabitants. Creeeeppppppyyyyy!!!!
Here is Casandra with our classmates from left to right: Casandra, Corinne (Swiss banker), Barbara (Italian gardener from Trieste, a german-speaking region), Frederic (French Canadian translator), and Montserrat (Spanish secretary).

Here we are on the road to the Porta San Sebastian (shown below) into Rome. This is the gate that leads into the city on the Appian Way. This is the largest and best preserved gate on the Aurelian Wall (the wall built by the emperor Aurelian in the end of the 3rd century A.D. that encloses Rome and its 7 hills).

We stopped to visit this humble little church on the Appian Way called the church of Domine Quo Vadis? which marks the spot where Saint Peter was said to have met Christ when fleeing Rome and where Peter returned to give his last sermon before he was crucified.
We then stopped at the Church of San Sebastian to see Bernini's unfinished statue of Gesu (shown below).
As we enter the Terme di Caracalle (a large ancient Roman bath house and leisure complex), Kenny stops to take a picture of himself and "coincidentally" catches Casandra with a stupid but genuine look of awe on her face.
Rome always has the most amazing blue skies.

The Terme di Caracalla were the largest public baths facilities in Rome. They were built for and open to the masses after the fall of Nero (a particulary oppressive Roman emperor) to show the people that the new emperor (Caracalla) would take better care of them. The baths were built close to the Palatine (discussed below) and in particular close to Nero's golden palace. The baths used by 1600 people as once was a true leisure center containing the normal bath facilities plus an enormous open air swimming pool, a large gymnasium, a stadium, conference and meeting rooms, libraries and art galleries. The facilities were used by the public as well as by the gladiators to train for competition as well as to relax.

After visiting the Terme we strolled over to Circus Maximus which offers spectacular views of the ruins on the Palatine. This hill was inhabited by Rome's wealthies citizens primarily senators and other members of government. Their palaces were builts up on this hill which was thus named the Palatine.

The grassy area which is now a park used by Romans as a local hangout, a soccer field, a dog run and a playground was once a track used for chariot races. Many charioteers and horses met their death on this very narrow, long oval track.
We decided to walk home and enjoy the sunset views over the Tiber river. Here is the pink sunset behind Rome's beautiful white synagogue.
We stopped for a picture of Rome's oldest working bridge which links Isola Tiberina across the Tiber river.We crossed Ponte Garibaldi to return to our apartment in Trastevere. This bridge offers some of the best sunset views. We stopped for a spectacular shot of the Tiber reflecting the pink sunset with Ponte Sisto and St. Peter's Basilica in the distance.

September 2006 - Pompeii & Mt. Vesuvius, Italy

We ended our trip to the Amalfi Coast with an educational field trip to the ancient ruins of Pompeii, once a thriving commercial port with Greek and Etruscan roots. Pompeii was left in ruins as a result of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. At that time, this ancient society of 20,000 with very modern comforts had faced more than its share of disasters. First it had been conquered by the Romans after several years of war. Then in 62 A.D. Pompeii experienced and earthquake which devastated the city. The city was rebuilt only to face the eruption of Vesuvius 17 years later. Most of what is known about ancient Roman society was discovered through analysis of these ruins which were discovered in the 1600s but not excavated until 1748. This is a picture of the entrance to the ruins which create a large city that took us the whole day to walk around.

The center of Pompeii contained a large square bordered by all types of businesses such as food markets, weights and measures, and government offices. The center of the square contained statues and temples to the Roman Gods. The remains of the temples can be seen in the next 4 pictures. Here is Kenny with Mount Vesuvius in the distance behind him.

Here is Casandra standing in the ruins of Pompeii's Supreme Court. Judges sat high above the crowd in the courtroom (in the stand above the columns) so that they could make a quick getaway after sentencing criminals.

Archeologists in 1748 discovered that there were bodies preserved by the ashes buried in Pompeii. They poured plaster over the bodies and created these molds of the victims of Mount Vesuvius. Their fear and agony is clearly visible.

This picture shows the ruins of Pompeii's largest home. This would have belonged to a member of the government and his family. The home contained a large interior courtyard with a fountain and a bronze statue showing the family's wealth and luxurious lifestyle. Behind the home were gardens in a small yard - also a luxury for a family living in the densely populated Pompeii.

Frescoes like this one were commonly painted on the interior walls of the homes of Pompeii's wealthiest citizens. They are amazingly well-preserved.Particularly this famous fresco which is located inside the former home of two very wealthy bachelors (I think they told everyone that they were roommates or cousins . . .). The HUGE penis was intended to celebrate their manhood. We think they were dudes that liked dudes. Judge for yourself.

Among some of the best preserved ruins is this bath house which shows how much the residents of Pompeii enjoyed their baths. This modern and co-ed bath house is comprised of changing rooms (shown above), steam rooms, a central pool, and frigidarium (cold water pool), and a tepidarium (warm room).Here we are in front of what used to be the central pool of these baths.

Here is Casandra in front of Pompeii's largest brothel - it is, after all, the world's oldest profession. A brothel like this was only frequented by the lower-class men and slaves. The wealthier men used call-girls or slept with their servants. The pornographic frescoes displaying various sex positions shown below are on the interior walls of the brothel.

Because its citizens clearly enjoyed all kinds of entertainment, Pompeii contains several large amphitheatres like this one where citizens of all classes watched plays and other circus-like spectacles.