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.

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