no matter where you go, there you are

Sunday, May 16, 2010

experience, travel - these are as education in themselves – euripides

Though I had finished my adventures through Ancient Rome and had returned to the present and modern buildings, it hit me that even the "modern" architecture of Rome was still really old and beautiful and so completely different than the style of American cities. I loved it. I loved that aspect of Europe when I was in London in 2002 and I continue to love it today.

I pass through the Circo Massimo and head north towards Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. I walk along the Tiber river and pass by the Sinagoga with it's giant menorah displayed on the front lawn. From here I cut through to the Fontana della Tartarughe (Tortise Fountain). Between my map and the google map image I had in my head, I originally thought this walk would take awhile as there were so many streets. Little did I know was that I had stepped into the Roman Ghetto and it was more a series of connected alleys than the city streets I thought they were. Twas' very interesting and a new segment of the Roman culture to explore within this vast city. I found the Tortise fountain easily and it was interesting, but nothing spectacular. I guess the good thing to come out of wanting to find it was that I got to see the Ghetto.

I soon hit a main road again and while only a few blocks south of my destination I discovered yet another wonderful facet of the city of Rome. While there are ruins that are isolated tourist attractions such as the Roman Forum and Colosseum, there are also ruins excavated and sitting amongst the modern buildings for the enjoyment of the passerby. All of a sudden I was looking at a small area of what appeared to be a ancient temples (just a guess based on layout) and I immediately thought I'd missed something from the guidebooks. Nope, it's just the inherent coolness that is Rome.

Piazza Navona was a great walk-through. Another obelisk stands in the center shooting towards the sky and there are a couple of interesting fountains as well. The Palazzo Pamphilj sits to the west side and towers over the piazza in all its grandeur. It's so wonderful and I can imagine this to be a very popular place in the high tourist seasons, or even just a warm summer afternoon.

Only a few minutes from Piazza Navona is the Pantheon, a former temple for the Ancient Gods of Rome built in the early 2nd century. It has the perfect dimensions of 141 ft high x 141 ft wide and is one of the best preserved monuments in Rome; it's large, original bronze doors are still intact. It is HUGE and surrounded by tightly built smaller buildings so it sticks out like a sore thumb. Not that it is ugly or anything, but its very unique. Another obelisk sits in the center of the piazza out front.

The inside of the Pantheon very simple. It's a large circular space with various chapels and tombs along the sides with an altar directly across from the entrance. Raphael is buried here along with former kings of Italy. The dome is HUGE, entirely symmetrical, made of carved stone and the largest built up until the 20th century. It is gorgeous! The 30-ft opening in the center acts as a natural skylight and illuminates the large space well. Despite all the other tourists, I was able to place my camera in the middle of the floor and take a picture the famous dome.

After the Pantheon, it was a few minutes more til Sant'Ingnazio, a Jesuit church well known for it's nave ceiling. Instead of an actual dome, the ceiling was painted so that at the perfect angle looks like a grand cupola that isn't there. Combined with the stunning ceiling along the main part of the church, Sant'Ignazio is certainly unique. A wonderful place to stop by while traipsing about the streets of Rome.

After Sant'Ignazio I walk towards the Trevi Fountain detouring slightly, stopping in the middle of a crazy intersection to admire the Vittorio Emmanuele II monument. It is massive and the sun illuminates it beautifully while the cloudless sky is a perfect backdrop.

When I arrive at the Trevi Fountain, it is packed. The area itself, like most I'd seen in the last couple hours, was small and enclosed by tons of streets and alleys. The fountain is really big and feels like the Pantheon a little. I'd use the sore thumb metaphor again, but the fountain blends into the surrounding architecture much more than the Pantheon did. I sit and observe all the people throwing their coins into the water and snapping pictures while doing so. I toss a Euro penny in and luckily there is no need to make wishes as I'm not good at that sort of thing.

Its getting to be around 230 or so and my stomach starts to growl. There are plenty of shops around the fountain but the gelato one on the corner pulls me in. I'm a sweet tooth by nature and ice cream is one of my favorites so it only took one bite into the creamy deliciousness for me to fall in love. Mmmmmm.

When planning my day, I purposely took a route that would land me at Palazzo del Quirinale at 3:20 for the guard change. I'd read about it as a sight to see as every day at the same time, the change of the guard occurs. When I get there around 3 not many people have gathered but as there are barricades up, you know they're expecting some crowd. Quirinale has another obelisk, which are slowly becoming a trademark of Rome to me, and I admire and wait for the march to begin. Like watching a parade, I hear the drums of the marching band in the distance. Like clockwork, right at 3:20, the marching band and around 50 guards dressed in black with red capes march up and enter the piazza. They stop and the brown uniforms with green capes march from inside the palace to join them. The ceremony continues and the leaders of each group come out and march with their swords. They then switch sides and their groups follow suit. Finally, an anthem of sorts, most likely the Italian National Anthem, is played and the crowd sings along. It's quite the show. Finally, the black and red guards march inside the palace while the band and the brown and green uniforms turn and march back out of the piazza. Only a 20 minute ceremony but the fact that this occurs every day is really outstanding.

Palazzo del Quirinale sits atop a hill and with one more stop on my list, I head back down towards the Vittorio Monument and the Colosseum. I pass by another section of ruins though this one is much larger and part of an actual tourist spot I think. There is no sign so I can't be sure. My favorite piece from this section and one I still am in awe of was a column, or monument of sorts, with detailed carvings telling a story (I have no idea what story) as it spirals up. It was beautiful and so so so so so detailed that it was really neat to look at.

As the sun begins to set, I finally arrive at San Clemente a church famous for the layers of archaeological history beneath. San Clemente is a 12th century church built on top of a 4th century church which was originally built on a 2nd century pagan temple. Though the admission price was on the more expensive side, I got a free tour of sorts because there was an English school group getting a tour so I just listened to the tour guide and learned about San Clemente's history. It was a little jarring at first because one of their leader people came up to me while I was reading one of the info panels and told me all about something I had no idea what he was talking about. But when we made it to the lowest and oldest level I enjoyed learning about the lifestyle of the people and the natural water source that still flows through. Very cool.

Instead of taking the Metro back to the hostel, I opted for the walk across the city. After learning that what may look like a long distance on the map actually isn't, I didn't mind the 15-20 minute walk back. I got to see a residential neighborhood which was neat and it was cool seeing how the city changes at night. Back at the hostel, I repacked my bag for the next day and prepared for the rest of the week in Italy.

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