All entries for September 2006

September 29, 2006

Rome Part III–the final chapter

Follow-up to Rome Part II from Rosemary's blog

Thursday 28th September
Today we went to the Villa Borghese to see the art gallery. This juxtaposes Classical and Baroque sculpture, including a beautiful Apollo and Daphne, in the setting of a noble villa decorated in the late eighteenth century. It also has a series of mosaics of gladiatorial combat. The Pianoteca, which one is unfortunately only allowed half an hour to visit-entrance numbers as a whole are very tightly controlled, has some beautiful paintings, including several Raphaels, Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love, and Cranach’s Venus and Cupid with a Honeycomb. There are lots of lovely paintings; in a very lovely setting-the family park is now open to the public.

Friday 29th September
On our last day in Rome we spent a morning tying up loose ends before meeting Caspar for one last tour. We started on the Captoline hill, where there is a piazza designed by Michelangelo, incorporating the buildings of the contemporary town council whilst giving them a classical twist, and a perfect exemplar of his reluctance to use arches. Next we visited the Gesù, home of the Jesuit order. It is the archetype of all Jesuit churches, and as such typical of Counter Reformation church design. The nave ceiling is a trompe l’oeil, creating the impression of the ceiling opening up to reveal heaven. Another such work, this time incorporating the whole barrel vault in a masterpiece of single point perspective on the subject of the apotheosis of St Ignatius Loyola, is the church of Sant’Ignazio. There is another canvas over the crossing, creating the effect of a cupola, which is very realistic.
Next we saw a real dome, namely the concrete structure of the Pantheon, last rebuilt by Hadrian, where Raphael is also buried. The hole in the ceiling, which is a perfect hemisphere, lets a lot of light in. This building, particularly the coffered dome, inspired many Renaissance and Baroque architects in creating their own examples. We stopped in the courtyard of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza to admire the Borromini cupola, which makes interesting use of curves, before finishing in Piazza Navona. Unfortunately there was some scaffolding around Bernini’s Fontana del Quattro Fiumi, showing the four great rivers of the world. The figure representing the Nile has his face hidden to represent its unknown source. The obelisk on the top is Roman in origin. It is a lovely design that like so many things in this city was built for a Pope, namely Innocent X. We stayed in Rome in the evening to celebrate our last night here, having drinks in Campo de’ Fiori, and pizza in a nearby restaurant, before making our way to the Trevi Fountain area for one last delicious icecream.

Rome Part II

Follow-up to Rome Part I from Rosemary's blog

Sunday 24th September
In the afternoon we visited the ancient Roman port of Ostia, now cut off from both sea and Tiber. We walked through the Necropolis, where they buried their dead, saw yet more lovely black and white bath mosaics, this time of Neptune, and the theatre. Then we walked round the square, with a temple to Ceres, goddess of the harvest at the centre, which housed the offices of the foreign merchants, each identified by their mosaics, including several ships, and even an elephant. We also saw a bar, a Mithraeum, or temple to Mithras, and some lovely wall paintings, and a house with an opus sectile floor and marble still on its walls, giving an idea of how grand it must once have looked.

In the evening we went into the centre of Rome to celebrate someone’s birthday. We had pizza in a very nice pizzaria down a backstreet near the Spanish steps. Afterwards we joined the crowds that throng the steps at night whilst eating chocolate cake.

Monday 25th September
Unlike the blazing sun of the previous day, this was a grey morning. Fortunately the Colosseum metro station sells coffee, and even one of the fake Roman soldiers who stand outside the Colosseum for photos was having one. We walked to San Clemente, a multi level basilica. The modern level is twelfth century, and has a lovely wall painting showing early perspective. Then we descended into the fourth century building, which also has some surviving frescos. Below this there is a well-preserved Mithraeum, an underground stream, and the remains of what may once have been the imperial mint-it is very thick walled. After this we nipped briefly into San Pietro in Vincoli, which has a reliquary containing the chains that bound St Peter at various points and the tomb of Pope Julius II, which features statues by Michelangelo of Moses, Rachel and Leah. The next two churches: Santa Prudenziana, and Santa Prassede, have, like San Clemente, beautiful mosaic apses, in the iconography of which the Last Judgement features heavily. Santa Prassede also has a lovely decorated side chapel. Unfortunately the mosaic at Santa Prudenziana has been cut down by later decoration of the apse. Finally we visited Santa Maria Maggiore, which has a fifth century interior in an eighteenth century shell, with mosaics of the Old Testament, the life of Christ, and a fine late thirteenth-century apse mosaic of The Coronation of the Virgin and later papal tombs in the side chapels.

In the afternoon I went to St John’s Lateran, which is not dedicated to St John. It is the Cathedral of the Pope as Bishop of Rome. This also has an apse mosaic, although most of the decoration stems from the 1600 remodelling for the jubilee year. The heads of SS Peter and Paul are housed in a large structure in the crossing, and there is a lovely cloister. When it finally reopened after lunch I went to the Baptistery, where the font seems a little like a bath. However, it was also raining very hard in the afternoon, and my shoes got rather wet trying to circumnavigate the large puddles outside the Basilica.

Tuesday 26th September
This morning we took the metro across the Tiber to Castel Sant’Angelo. This building originally started life as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian, and was later converted to a fortress by the papacy, indeed the pope lived in some beautifully decorated rooms on the upper floors during the Sack of Rome, and it was also used as a prison. As there is currently an exhibition on the baroque in some of the rooms, we toured this-Bernini was obviously fond of self portraits-and it was very interesting. The view of St Peter’s from the roof terrace was wonderful. We then made our way to the back streets round St Peter’s for lunch, followed by joining the Vatican museums queue, which fortunately wasn’t too long. However, once we had got through the courtyards, the tour groups did become very noticeable, especially in the Gallery of Maps. This has wonderfully accurate sixteenth century maps of Italy-Venice is on the wall as you leave the gallery, with pictures of saints and events from the different regions. Unfortunately, the direction one walks through the gallery makes it impossible to properly admire the ceiling, but the guides are hurrying you through. It is also the hall used by tour groups to explain the Sistine chapel. From here one can enter the Raphael stanzae. Having seen many of the preparatory drawings and prints of the frescos, especially for the Stanza della Segnatura. The Raphaels are beautiful, and as ever, nothing beats seeing a painting in the flesh. I preferred these paintings to the Sistine Chapel because I thought that had too many different images to really work as an overall decorative scheme. Finally we reached the Sistine Chapel, which is a large and stunning room, if somewhat crowded. It really helped to find a seat round the edge of the room to contemplate the pictures without serious neck ache. The following rooms also included some interesting works-Roman mosaics, a variety of ancient globes, and two maps of the world c. 1530. Finally we came to the Vatican library with its impressive ceiling, before heading for a VERY crowded metro, so we stopped off for ice cream near the Trevi Fountain until the rush hour crowds had died down.

Wednesday 27th September
Today we went to Travestere courtesy of the metro and the bus, stopping off en route for coffee. We visited the Tempietto of St Peter, constructed by Bramante over what was then thought to be the sight of his crucifixion, on classical lines carefully adjusted to fit the needs of a church. The classical frieze contains symbols connected with the Eucharist, and it is a charming little building, which stands in the courtyard of St Pietro in Montorio, with some lovely paintings, including a Flagellation by Sebastiano del Piombo. We then descended to Santa Maria in Travestere, which contains some more medieval mosaics, showing the slow progression towards the use of space in art.

Next we visited the Villa Farnesina, built by Agostino Chigi, one of the papal bankers, as his suburban villa near the Vatican. It was designed by Peruzzi, who was responsible for a lot of the decoration, which has references to classical mythology. In one of the rooms there is a large head and scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses by Peruzzi, a picture of Polythemus by del Piombio, juxtaposed with Raphael’s Triumph of Galatea. However most of the decoration is later pastoral scenes, giving it a very odd look. Another room has a Raphael–designed ceiling fresco of Cupid and Psyche. Upstairs there is a room with an early example of trompe l’oeil, showing Rome, although the perspective is a little odd, and a Sodoma cycle of the life of Alexander the Great.

Finally we made our way to St Peter’s basilica. This is one of the world’s largest churches, and took over 100 years to build, the influence of the many changes of architect showing in the Latin cross plan. It is ornately, perhaps too ornately, decorated inside, mainly by Bernini, who is responsible for some dramatic statues. However the most famous statue is the Pietà by Michelangelo.
The central dome is dramatic, and the ornate baldacchino underneath it is in part decorated by bronze taken from the Pantheon. The most interesting tomb is that of Alexander VII, with the Pope kneeling on carved marble drapery, which has ensnared a memento mori skeleton with an hourglass. After lunch I went to the Vatican bookshop, to the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, which has a statue of an elephant carrying an obelisk outside and a Michelangelo sculpture of Christ Bearing the Cross inside, and went window-shopping at the ecclesiastical outfitters. In the evening some of us went to a very nice local bar for a drink.

September 24, 2006

Rome Part I

Greetings from Roma, courtesy of a university halls internet connection. I arrived on Wednesday, and have been seeing the sights ever since.

Wednesday 20th September
The food on BA flights is better than Swiss Air, but the views of Alps were wonderful, and unforgettable, especially with all the lakes and glaciers. I also saw the Dartford crossing, Thames windfarm, and Sheppy and Thanet. Rome is warm, and distances seem even longer with a heavy suitcase, although mine was by no means the heaviest. The rooms at the residenza are nice, and the food filling, if a little predictable-lots of pasta with tomato sauce for starter.

Thursday 21st September
Headed into town with three friends, and discovered a road junction flanked by four fountains representing the Tiber and Anenine rivers and Strength and Fidelity, and a lovely little church by Borromini, before we reached the Palazzo Barberini which has a wonderful painted ceiling of The Triumph of Divine Providence. Fortunately they provide large seats in the middle of the room so that you can lie back and admire it. Unfortunately renovation works limits what one can see, but they have a Caravaggio Judith and Holofernes, as a rather gruesome highlight amongst some lovely religious paintings, a Holbein portrait of Henry VIII, and Raphael’s La Fornarina.

Following this we made our way to the Trevi fountain to toss in our coins, and admire what is a massive work of art hidden away in a small square, which also has a very nice deli that does good pizza slices. To complete the day’s selection of ‘must see tourist sights” we strolled to the Spanish Steps, which are one of the big places to hang out in Rome, and there are a lot of them, beautifully set off by a boat shaped fountain at their foot. The last sight of the day was Piazza del Popolo, a large square with an obelisk at its centre, unfortunately covered in scaffolding, but at least the scaffolding had an image of what lay underneath. Here we visted Santa Maria del Miracoli, and ice creams were consumed whilst waiting for Santa Maria del Popolo to reopen for the afternoon-many churches are closed 1-4. It was worth it for the lovely chapels, including one with a pair of Caravaggios, that apparently caused a stir when first painted, due to their dramatic subjects and chiaroscuro. We then caught the metro back to Gulio Agricola to avoid rush hour, as the Rome metro can be very crowded, although the most modern trains don’t have partitions between the carriages. In the evening the whole group went into town again to see the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, and Piazza Nuovo by night, the fountains especially being beautiful when lit up. The journey home was a little more of a challange though, as the metro is currently replaced by buses in the late evening, and we did a lot of searching to find a bus, eventually having to run to catch one at the Piazza Barberini.

Friday 22nd September
We four decided that although we wanted something a little more restful after our excursion yesterday, we still wanted to see the sights, so we headed for Piramide metro station, which is named after a large white marble pyramid, which is accompanied by one of the old gates in the city walls. Then we headed for our destination, the Baths of Caracalla. Unfortunately we went the long way round trying to find the entrance, but discovered just how big the site was in the process These took 9,000 workers 5 years to build (started by one of the shorter lived emperors) and could take up to 9,000 bathers a day by having two identical sets of rooms, although only 1 olympic sized swimming pool. From what remains of the columns, one can tell that the roof would have been enormous, and beautifully decorated, judging from the mosaic fragments propped against some of the walls. Unfortunately the Farnese family removed the most important sculptures, some are now in Naples, but it is still a lovely place to spend time, surrounded by trees, on the Aventine hill.

In the afternoon we met up with everyone else for the first of our guided tours, with a young British lecturer, named Caspar, from one of the American universities in Rome-apparently there are two rival institutions.

The Palatine hill overlooks the Forum and the Circus Maximus, and the Domus Flavia was originally built by the Emperor Domitian. It is a large complex, still with some of the original coloured marbles that would have decorated the palace dotted around, giving some idea of what the interiors, which are now plain brick, would have looked like, and it would have had large courtyard gardens, one of which even has the remains of a sixth century private ampitheatre. The statues found here are in a small museum, including several imperial heads, and there are also some intricate frescos. There is also the remains of an extension that Nero made to one of the aqueducts for his Domus Aurea. Caspar is a very good guide, explaining the history of Rome, although he was somewhat foiled by the hoardes of tourists on the terrace overlooking the Forum.

Then we wandered down to the Arch of Titus, which although completed after his death, shows images of his Triumph having defeated the Hebrews. This brought back memories of the Cambridge Latin course at school, but it has some lovely carving, although it has had to be somewhat restored-the new bits are in a pit-marked undecorated limestone, so you can tell the difference. We then walked through the Forum, seeing the various temples and public buildings, mostly rebuilt after a fire in the third century AD.

Finally we walked back along the anciet Via Sacra to the Colosseum, as all the tour groups were going home for the night. This, although not the best preserved ampitheatre, was by far the largest, and it is possible to gain some idea of its awe-inspiring size, and the complexity of the underground tunnels that held the animals and moved them around under the arena floor. The stories of Nero and his exploits brought back fond memories of Tacitus and A Level Latin.

It was lovely to revisit some old haunts and be a classics vulture again, although a little too hot-I was very grateful for the water fountains dotted around Rome.

Saturday 23rd September
We descended on the city en masse again in the morning, walking to Campo di Fiori, the vegetable market, via Largo di Torre Argentina, which has at its centre yet more ruins. The market was buzzing and it was interesting to see all the colourful Italian fruit and veg. I also had a lovely white peach. We then had coffee-I tried expresso for the first time, before heading through the Jewish ghetto towards the Tiber. The river still smells a little, but has been cleaned up considerably. We then walked back past another couple of temples to the Vittorio Emanuele II monument, a massive white marble concoction, although some of the murals are very nice, and the views, especially of the Roman sites, are fantastic. The café on the terrace at the rear of Il Vittoriano is a little expensive, but the views are worth the price. We eventually walked back towards the metro via Trajan’s column, finally finding a working bancomat or hole in the wall machine.

In the evening some of us went to a performance of La Traviata at the American church in the centre of Rome: St Paul’s within the Walls, a Neo-gothic, stripy, building, with a Burne-Jones apse mosaic. The performance was very good, although the soprano couldn’t reach all the high notes. The journey back involved another instance of running for the crowded metro replacement bus in unsuitable shoes-this is unfortunately becoming a habit it seems.

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