Rome, Day Five / Cruise Day Four
The Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum
Our first stop was the Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum. It’s was a very hot, very crowded day at the Colosseum. While we were waiting our guide told us a bit about the Arch of Constantine. This triumphal arch was built in 315 to celebrate Constantine’s 312 victory in the Battle of Milvian Bridge. It is the latest of the triumphal arches in Rome. The arch is fenced in, so you cannot get up close to appreciate the relief carvings that were reused from 2nd Century monuments.
From the outside, the Colosseum looks quite worn down as a result of earthquakes and looting, despite the restoration efforts that have been going on for years. And why wouldn’t it? It was build between 70 and 80 AD, this is nearly unfathomable. Once we were inside, the views were spectacular and imagination took over. We envisioned the days of Gladiators fighting in this HUGE amphitheater that could host between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators. The Colosseum lies in the very center of Rome, which made it a wonderful first stop for our tour.
Once we entered the Colosseum and climbed up several flights of worn down stone stairs, we had a breath-taking view. The floor was missing, which allowed us to see the maze of corridors and holding pens (for animals as well as Gladiators) and the stone hallways that lie underneath it. At one end of the amphitheater the floor is being reconstructed, to give visitors an idea of how it would have looked in its’ time. In the above photo, you can see at the far end of the oval, the beginning of the new floor and the infrastructure beneath. Imagining this place filled with 80,000 screaming fans for a Gladiator battle was incredible. The idea that the Colosseum is almost 2000 years old and in such “good shape” is also mind boggling. She does look great for her age!
Our guide explains to us that the Gladiators were often prisoners, criminals, or slaves. She tells us that the animals they fought in the ring could have been lions, bears, deer, and each other. We stood where the emperor sat to watch the games and our guide explained the possible origin of the thumbs up or thumbs down symbol. The emperor would give a thumbs up if he wanted a gladiator to have the opportunity to live and fight another day, and a thumbs down for his death. Another interesting fact we learned was that the word “arena” comes from the Latin word “harena,” a particularly fine sand used to absorb blood on the floor of the Colosseum.
Kinda like kitty litter I guess. Gross.
Next stop on the tour was the Vatican, I had shivers just thinking about finally getting to view the Sistine Chapel. Shivers, in 90º glaring down summer sunshine. A little history lesson for those of you who (like me) don’t know much about this place… The Vatican City was established as an independent city-state in 1929. My sister-in-law likened it to Washington DC when she tried to explain it to me. It’s a walled enclave of 110 acres within the city of Rome, and the smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world.
In the city, there are cultural sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. Some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures are collected here. We learned that the city is totally financially supported by the sale of postage stamps and tourist mementos, fees for admission to museums, and the sale of publications. The tours poured in, the people just keep coming, all day long. At first we were not sure we would even be allowed access to the Sistine Chapel as the crowd was pushing capacity. The Chapel entry way was roped off and the Italian guards were nodding their heads “no” to our tour guide who was diligent in inquiring about our entry.
OMG if I did not get to see those frescoes I was going to lose it, right there in the marble lobby.
Finally, The Sistine Chapel
Our tour guide eventually managed to gain access for us, she said that being from the cruise ship on an organized tour helped us immensely. Thank GOODNESS! Whether it was, Karma, the Universe, or Divine Intervention, I was a happy camper.
The Chapel was built in 1481 and the walls were decorated by a number of Renaissance painters who were among the most highly regarded artists of the time. The Chapel was further enhanced with the painting of the ceiling by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512 and by his painting of the Last Judgement in 1541. That’s a LOT of years painting ceilings. When I thought about it, I figured that kind of steady work for an artist was a pretty good gig, laying on scaffolding and painting over head considered. The gorgeous tapestries on the lower level of the Chapel were painted by Raphael from 1515-1516, which makes them the most recent addition. I have to say that the patterns in the fabric and the masterful shading gave an incredible Trump l’oeil effect. I felt like I could wrap myself up in them if the guards would not tackle me on my way over to touch them.
Our guide had explained to us prior to entering the Chapel (there is no talking in the Chapel itself. Ssssssh) that some of Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling are amongst the most notable works of western art EVER created. OMG I was never going to leave! At first the guards were like “keep moving, keep moving” and I said to Doug, “What if I don’t WANT to move?” I mean really, I just wanted to STAND perfectly still and soak in such greatness. Maybe it would rub off on me, maybe it would inspire me, maybe it would go down as one of my best life experiences ever… you have to steep yourself in these possibilities.
We were able to move to the outer edge of the room in order to linger, we just could not stand still in the center area. Fair enough. Picture taking is forbidden, probably because many people make use of the auto focus on their camera which utilizes a small flash of light to focus, even when the flash is disabled. Doug managed to shoot a few shots from the hip, he never uses auto anything on his camera. Don’t ask me how he managed to focus from his hip, genius. There was plenty of light for photography, natural light flooded through the windows overhead and the newly installed LED lighting helped to further illuminate and intensify the color of the frescoes.
Eventually we did have to leave the Chapel, of course I was the last person out. I told Doug as we were leaving that I really could just have stay there all day. He’s very familiar with this scenario. Ask him sometime about the day I took the guided tour of the Salvador Dalí Museum twice. He looked at me and said “I’ll meet you in the car.”
St. Peter’s Basilica
After the Chapel we visited the inside of the St. Peter’s Basilica. Doug and Connor found the interior of the Basilica more impressive than the paintings of the Sistine Chapel. I loved being in the presence of Michelangelo’s amazing work, but I must also admit that the architecture and the adornment of the space inside the Church was incredible. After all, it is one of the most renowned works of Renaissance architecture and the largest church in the world. I now can say that I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited all three of these qualifying churches, St. Peters, the Florence Cathedral, and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
By Catholic tradition, the basilica is the burial place of St. Peter himself. St. Peter’s tomb lays directly below the brass canopy sculpture or baldachin which is directly over the high altar and can be seen behind Gary and Tricia in the above photo. The baldachin is at the center of the structure’s architectural crossing and directly under the dome of the basilica.
The basilica was filled with Crepuscular rays of light streaming down through the windows at the base of the dome. We marveled at the way these light rays illuminated the space. Crepuscular rays are also known as God rays, they stream through gaps in clouds or between objects to form columns or shafts of sunlight. These rays are regularly seen at St. Peter’s Basilica at certain times of the day, Doug captured them in many of the photos he took.
Outside the Basilica we enjoyed the sculptures, fountains, and bright green grass adorning one of the many courtyards and gardens of Vatican City. I admired the peacock sculptures that adorn both sides of the Fontana della Pigna “The Pine Cone” fountain decorating a niche in the wall. We learned from our guide that Christians adopted the symbol of the peacock to represent immortality. This came from an ancient legend that the flesh of the peacock does not decay. It is also associated with the resurrection of Christ because the peacock sheds its’ old feathers and grows newer, brighter ones every year. I love peacocks as imagery in art nouveau, but you learn something new every day!
All day long I have been feeling overwhelmed by the important role art and architecture play in human culture. It fills my heart with joy to be able to share this with my children and for them to experience it up close and in person. I linger and always hate to leave, because art fuels my heart and soul. Our daughter Emilie will be taking AP Art History when she returns to high school (the day after we return from our trip!), and I encourage her to consider just how wonderful it is that she has been able to experience things first hand that she will later study in school. After all, no classroom experience can ever appeal to the senses like color, light, and three dimensional space does in person.
What an amazing day.
Tomorrow we tour the Amalfi Coast.
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