no matter where you go, there you are

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Northwest Rome: Castel Sant'Angelo, Piazza del Popolo, the Spanish Steps

After leaving the Vatican, my next stop was the Castel Sant'Angelo. Fodors cites this is as being known as the place in Angels and Demons where Langdon finds the hidden passage leading to St. Peter's. The Castel was much more expensive than Fodors had told me, therefore more than I anticipated, so I hoped it was worth it. Upon entering and purchasing my ticket, I got lost. I began to follow signs towards the exit, not the entrance because that's the direction groups were supposed to enter from so I was greatly mistaken. But I fixed my error and went in the correct way.

I have absolutely no idea what the Castel Sant'Angelo was used for. I think it might have been a prison...I'll just wikipedia it. And I'm completely wrong. The Castel Sant'Angelo was built as a mauseleom for the former Roman emperor Hadrian and his family. It was later used as a fortress and now as a museum.

The building is pretty much just a big stone cylinder. The entrance leads you right onto the ramp running along the interior of the cylinder until you get to the first level. There are a few exhibits here and they consist of a variety of artwork from hundreds of years ago. I don't know what centrury. As a whole, the Castel Sant' Angelo had no English signage and no introduction to the place. Therefore, I had no idea where I was, and what I was seeing.

Though I enjoyed the exhibits and whatever history I absorbed from them, the exterior levels were the most interesting part of the building. There were multiple levels to explore, along the perimeter of the Castel. At the top level, though not as high as St. Peter's cupola, the views were awesome! The view of St. Peter's was gorgeous and I finally saw the building as a whole. It was so big that the "big picture" of it was lost on me when standing in the piazza. The top level also had signs pointing to the various landmarks in the city so it was really easy to see where the Colosseum and Pantheon were.

Once I'd spend a good deal of time looking out upon the beauty of Rome, I headed down towards the exit. There were some cool things like cannons and small displays of war things that were pretty cool. Overall, Castel Sant'Angelo was very interesting, especially for the views of the city it offered, but other than that I think it was one of the more overpriced attractions I visited. But it was still a good experience nonetheless. From the Castel I walked past, and successfully avoided, all the vendors hanging out front before crossing the Tiber river and walking north along it towards the Piazza del Popolo.

The Piazza del Popolo is pretty big and really spacious so it wasn't crowded at all which was very nice. The main attraction was the obelisk in the middle of the piazza, and looking up at it with the clear blue sky in the background was gorgeous!

The other attraction of note was the piece of architecture on the eastern side of piazza. I have no idea what it was but it was very beautiful. It had some sort of look-out element to it as I could see people atop it, but it was getting late and I honestly didn't want to bother finding the access point and then hike up the hill or stairs leading to it. But it was gorgeous to look at especially with the beginnings of the setting sun illuminating this mysterious landmark.

Walking from the piazza, I made my way down a narrow shopping street in the direction of the Spanish Steps. For an extremely famous site, I was greatly unimpressed. As a local hangout for the Romans, I see the appeal in the steps; although, since it is a big tourist site, if I were a Roman I would find somewhere else since it was pretty crowded when I got there. And it wasn't even the height of tourist season or the prime time of day. Anyway, at the base of the steps there is a small fountain (Fontana della Barcaccia) that looked like an overlarge bathtub. Nothing really that spectacular about it.

Looking up the steps though was really nice though and probably is what attracts so many people. The Trinita dei Monti is built at the top of the steps with another goregous obelisk. I can't say for certain that the Trinita has a Spanish influence but the architecture was very different from the other buildings I'd seen so far in Rome.

The interior of the church was nice...nothing fancy or terribly different or outstanding compared to the others I'd seen by that point. The view from outside the church at the base of the obelisk was another wonderful view of the city and I could see a silouhette of St. Peter's in the distance. The day was coming to an end and as I still had at least one more stop to make I set off towards the Santa Maria della Concezione...or what I call the Capuchin Monkey crypt.

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