Friday, September 26, 2008

Via Appia Antica

After a few full days of sight seeing, we were ready to go a little further afield. We caught a bus out to the Appian Way. One of many highways built to provide quick transportation of Roman Legions, the Via Appia was built over three hundred years before Christ.

That thought was certainly in my mind as we walked down the road, dodging cars! Imagine, modern roads require resurfacing and repair every year, yet here we have a road that has been in use for well over two thousand years.

Also in the area is the catacombs of Rome. While they weren't as gruesome as the Parisian variety, with their grinning skulls and piles of bones, the Roman Catacombs were still fascinating. Dug out of the volcanic soil for the burial of early Christians, the extensive tunnels and caverns are amazing. We had a hilarious Indian guide who was not going to take any guff from the tourists. He had mentioned that there was a Roman law that forbade the desecration of any religions graves that was passed in 300 BC. He noted that this law protected the Christians just like everybody else, so that even when the religion was proscribed, the catacomb complexes were safe. One of the tourists took that to mean that the catacombs were from 300 BC.


The guide looked at this guy like he was from outer space, and said "Think about what you are saying.. these are a Christian site, how can it be from 300 BC?!?!"

We went ahead and followed the road back towards Rome, passing by the ancient (I'm using that word a lot, aren't I?) Aurelian Walls, which were built in 275 AD.

365 Days of Denver, CO of the USA

A year ago today I went from this:

To This:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Musei Vaticani

As we made our way back from central Rome towards our accommodations, we decided to swing by the Vatican Museums again, to see if the line had shrunk at all in the morning. Shockingly enough, the line had ceased to exist. We took immediate advantage, and plunged into the overwhelming collections of the Catholic Church.

Having been to the Louvre before, I thought I was prepared, but this was perhaps the most overwhelming museum I have ever encountered. The Louvre, while huge, is very well organized and divided, but the statues and works of art in the Vatican Museums seemed less organized (to the tourists perspective, I'm sure the administrators know exactly where everything is.)

That doesn't take away from the glory of the collection. It was rather humbling, to be so submerged in art and statuary, most of it from the ancient Greek states, Egypt, and of course the Roman Empire.

It was fascinating to see the detail on some of the pieces, especially considering the technical base that the artisans were working from. While any of this is easily feasible now, I find it interesting that public art in our society leans more towards the abstract and the 'thought provoking' than the beautiful.

I'd like to swap out the giant blue horse statue that now graces Denver International Airport for a giant version of this ancient dog!

Half the art of the museums seems to be integral to the buildings themselves. The history, wealth, and power of the Vatican really comes through in the ornate decorations that adorn some of the display areas.

The Gallery of Maps really impressed me, stretching 120 meters, it took the artist three years from 1580 to 1583 to paint the series of maps, ancient and 'modern'.

The final stop on any visit here is the Sistine Chapel. Alas, photography is distinctly NOT allowed, so I have only my memories, and nothing concrete to take away from what is a jewel of western art. While bits and pieces of the Sistine frescoes have successfully made it into the popular lexicon, really the whole thing must be experienced. To sit and just gaze and the intricate details covering the interior is the only way to truly appreciate the work of Michelangelo, Raphael and Botticelli.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Roman Holiday

Departing from the Vatican, we followed a walking tour set out in my increasingly battered copy of Lonely Planet Italy. The tour was set up to follow the events of the film Roman Holiday, and covered just about every major landmark the city offers.

While neither of us had seen the film, we figured that being in Rome was more important than any Hollywood background material.

Strolling around Rome in July really made me appreciate going on holiday in the winter. Cities like Paris and London are relatively underpopulated in December, so while you may miss Christmas, you don't have to worry about hordes of tourists. The Trevi fountain was besieged by tourists! Despite this, seeing all the famous and gorgeous landmarks was still pretty amazing.

Our last stop on the tour was the Pantheon of Rome, the best preserved Roman building left in the city. Constructed in 125 AD as part of a rebuilding plan of Emperor Hadrian, the exact purpose of the building remains a mystery. It is surmised from the name that the Pantheon was a temple to all the gods.

In 609 AD the building was given to the Church, and became a house of Christian worship dedicated to Mary and the martyrs. This act is primarily responsible for the current preservation, as the Pantheon was protected and maintained by the Catholic Church, while much else that was left over from ancient Rome was actively demolished by Church heirarchy.

And of course the structure is one of my four great domes, the oldest and in some ways the grandest of them all. While it is not as towering as the Duomo, nor as ornate as St. Peters, the Pantheon, with its endurance and age, speaks to the achievements of the ancients. The achievement is enhanced by the simplicity of the structure and the fact that the only light source is the oculous that pierces the apex of the dome, drawing all eyes upwards.

We took time for a brief, and well earned, rest, pausing at a cafe for some lemonade and a beer. I took the time to frame an adjacent table's wine glasses with my zoom lens. Then, we were off for some late afternoon museum viewing, at the extensive collections of the Vatican.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Inside St. Peter's

Our second day in Rome was spent filling in the other must see sights. We started off by strolling downhill to the Vatican. We checked out the line into the Vatican Museum, and it was so epic that we decided that it could wait. I had no desire to start my day off with two hours in line!

Since it was right around the corner we headed inside St. Peter's instead. I suppose knowing that St. Peter's Basilica is among the very holiest and grandest places in all Christendom should have prepared me for the sheer spectacle of the inside, but it really didn't.

While I pride myself as a photographer, this is one case where photos just cannot capture the grandeur and glory of Michelangelo's work. It really was both utterly awe-inspiring and a tad overwhelming.

In their quest for the most impressive building yet built, the designers of St. Peter's looked to both the Roman Pantheon and Brunelleschi's recently completed dome in Florence. Really, the construction of the Basilica marked a return to the grand Roman tradition of architecture. While obviously different in style, the structure is just as impressive and massive as the greatest Roman buildings of earlier times.

Ironically, I didn't find out that you could go up in the dome until after we left, so while I did surmount two of the great four, I did miss seeing Rome from the top of St. Peters. (This simply means that I'll have something to look forward too when I go back to Rome. Always keep something in reserve.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Dome of St. Peter's

The view from our accommodations was utterly spectacular. Something about the glorious bulk of St. Peter's drove me to shoot, and shoot, and shoot some more. I've collected some of this vast number of photographs right here. It is an interesting study in how composition and light can alter the look of the same subject. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

First things first

The very first thing any proper Gladiator fan has to do in Rome is make a bee-line for the Colosseum. While the weather shock between rainy and mild Ireland and hot and muggy Italy was pretty severe, I wasn't going to let that stop me, or even slow me down.

The Colosseum was everything I'd ever thought it could be. Huge. Impressive. Ancient. Beautiful. Packed. The line was pretty long, though it moved a good clip. I got to wondering if people in the future will ever wait in line to take a tour of a modern stadium. Somehow, I rather doubt it, but you never know!

After we left the Colosseum we headed to the Palatine and the Forum. This was also pretty interesting, but rather hamstrung by the fact that the ruins are so much more... well, ruined. The Colosseum is in pretty bad shape, but you can really see what it once was. The remains dotting the hill of the Palatine are in various states of preservation, but few are much more than a few bits a pieces of statuary and broken columns. I have a pretty good imagination, but after a while all the broken columns start to look a little bit alike.

Poor Nick hadn't been in a real Summer since he left Japan two years ago, so he was not at home in the intense heat and humidity of Rome. He held up pretty well despite that, though I can really see why Rome has so many fountains dotted all over. If we hadn't been able to refill our water bottles so often, we both would have keeled right over.