Rome in 4 days (Oct 2018)

Day 1

In October 2018, Mythili & I spent 4 days in Rome mostly visiting historical hotspots. A lot has changed in 10 years since my last visit. More crowds and a bit more expensive. But it is still a delight to see places and eat terrific Italian cuisine. We landed at the Fiumicino airport from Paris at around 11am. After collecting our checked luggage, we picked up a Italian prepaid SIM at the Telecom Italia shop and a 3-day ROMA pass at a Tourist Kiosk and boarded the Leonardo Express train to Termini. I always stay at a clean but cheap hotel within a 5-minute walk from the Termini. By 1pm, we reached the hotel & checked in.

After an early dinner near our hotel, we walked to Colosseo. Also called the Flavian Amphitheater, it was built of travertine limestone, tuff (volcanic rock), and brick-faced concrete. It was the largest amphitheater ever built at the time and held 50,000 to 80,000 spectators. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72 and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir, Titus.

Colosseo during Blue Hour
41°53’28.7″N 12°29’34.4″E
Colosseo facade @ Nite
41°53’26.4″N 12°29’27.5″E

Next to the Colosseo is the Arch of Constantine. It is a triumphal arch dedicated to the emperor Constantine the Great. The arch was commissioned by the Roman Senate to commemorate his victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in AD 312. The arch spans the Via triumphalis, the route taken by victorious military leaders when they entered the city in a triumphal procession. Dedicated in 315, it is the largest Roman triumphal arch, with overall dimensions of 21m high, 25.9m wide and 7.4m deep. It has three bays, the central one being 11.5m high and 6.5m wide and the laterals 7.4m by 3.4m each. The arch is constructed of brick-faced concrete reveted in marble.

The three bay design with detached columns was first used for the Arch of Septimius Severus in the Roman Forum (which stands at the end of the triumph route) and repeated in several other arches now lost.

Though dedicated to Constantine, much of the sculptural decoration consists of reliefs and statues removed from earlier triumphal monuments dedicated to Trajan (98–117), Hadrian (117–138) and Marcus Aurelius (161–180).

Arch of Constantine @ Nite

After strolling around the area we took the Metro to get back to our hotel.

Day 2

Colosseo (Colosseum)

After a quick continental breakfast at the hotel, we took the Metro to Colosseo. As it was quite early, the street hawkers and pick pocketers were missing in action. We used the Roma Pass to bypass the line to go inside the magnificent amphitheater.

Spectators were seated in a tiered arrangement that reflected the rigidly stratified nature of Roman society. Special boxes were provided at the north and south ends respectively for the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins, providing the best views of the arena. Flanking them at the same level was a broad platform or podium for the senatorial class, who were allowed to bring their own chairs.

The tier above the senators, known as the maenianum primum, was occupied by the non-senatorial noble class or knights (equites). The next level up, the maenianum secundum, was originally reserved for ordinary Roman citizens (plebeians) and was divided into two sections. The lower part (the immum) was for wealthy citizens, while the upper part (the summum) was for poor citizens. Specific sectors were provided for other social groups: for instance, boys with their tutors, soldiers on leave, foreign dignitaries, scribes, heralds, priests and so on. Stone (and later marble) seating was provided for the citizens and nobles, who presumably would have brought their own cushions with them. Inscriptions identified the areas reserved for specific groups.

Another level, the maenianum secundum in legneis, was added at the very top of the building during the reign of Domitian. This comprised a gallery for the common poor, slaves and women. It would have been either standing room only, or would have had very steep wooden benches. Some groups were banned altogether from the Colosseum, notably gravediggers, actors and former gladiators.

Allocate 1.5-2 hours to see the amphitheater.

Inside Colosseo
Inside Colosseo
Top of the Arch of Constantine & Palatine Hills viewed from Colosseo

Foro Romano (Roman Forum)

Next to Colosseo is the Roman Forum, also known by its Latin name Forum Romanum (Italian: Foro Romano). It is a rectangular forum (plaza) surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings. Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace, as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum. The ancient street called Via Sacra (Sacred Street) connects Colosseo to Capitoline Hill bisecting the Forum.

For centuries the Forum was the center of day-to-day life in Rome: the site of triumphal processions and elections; the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches; and the nucleus of commercial affairs. Here statues and monuments commemorated the city’s great men. The teeming heart of ancient Rome, it has been called the most celebrated meeting place in the world, and in all history. Today is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and intermittent archaeological excavations attracting 4.5 million or more sightseers yearly.

Many of the oldest and most important structures of the ancient city were located on or near the Forum. The Roman Kingdom’s earliest shrines and temples were located on the southeastern edge.

Arch of Titus is the first monument you will see when you enter the Forum from Colosseo. It was constructed in 81 AD by the Emperor Domitian shortly after the death of his older brother Titus to commemorate his official deification and his (Titus’s) victory together with their father, Vespasian, over the Jewish rebellion in Judaea. The arch contains panels depicting the triumphal procession celebrated in 71 AD after the Roman victory culminating in the fall of Jerusalem. It became a symbol of the Jewish diaspora, and the menorah depicted on the arch served as the model for the menorah used as the emblem of the state of Israel.

Arch of Titus
41°53’26.8″N 12°29’18.8″E
The panel in the Arch of Titus depicting the triumphal procession celebrated in 71 AD after the Roman victory culminating in the fall of Jerusalem
41°53’26.8″N 12°29’18.8″E

Next major monument we saw was the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. It was constructed by the Emperor Antoninus Pius, beginning in 141 AD. It was initially dedicated to his deceased wife, Faustina the Elder. Because of this, Faustina was the first Roman empress with a permanent presence in the Forum. When Antoninus Pius was deified after his death in 161 AD, the temple was re-dedicated to both Antoninus and Faustina by his successor, Marcus Aurelius.

The building stands on a high platform of large grey peperino tufa blocks. The later of two dedicatory inscriptions says, “Divo Antonino et Divae Faustinae Ex S.C.” meaning, “For the divine Antoninus and for the divine Faustina, by decree of the Senate.”

Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
41°53’32.5738″ N 12°29’4.0042″ E
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
41°53’32.8326″ N 12°29’8.1948″ E

Opposite to the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina across the Via Sacra is the House of the Vestal Virgins (Italian: Casa delle Vestali) that was the residence of Vestal Virgins. In ancient Rome, they were priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth. The College of the Vestals and its well-being were regarded as fundamental to the continuance and security of Rome. They cultivated the sacred fire that was not allowed to go out. The Vestals were freed of the usual social obligations to marry and bear children and took a 30-year vow of chastity in order to devote themselves to the study and correct observance of state rituals that were forbidden to the colleges of male priests. They were put in charge of keeping safe the wills and testaments of various people such as Caesar and Mark Antony. In addition, the Vestals also guarded some sacred objects, including the Palladium, and made a special kind of flour called mola salsa which was sprinkled on all public offerings to a god.

Today what remains in the house are line of statues most headless, destroyed over the centuries. There was one statue relatively undamaged.

A Statue in the House of the Vestal Virgins
41°53’29.2″N 12°29’12.2″E

In the center of the Forum is the Temple of Castor and Pollux (Tempio dei Dioscuri). It was originally built in gratitude for victory at the Battle of Lake Regillus (495 BC). Castor and Pollux (Greek Polydeuces) were the Dioscuri, the “twins” of Gemini, the twin sons of Zeus (Jupiter) and Leda.

During the Republican period, the temple served as a meeting place for the Roman Senate, and from the middle of the 2nd century BC the front of the podium served as a speaker’s platform. During the imperial period, the temple housed the office for weights and measures, and was a depository for the State treasury.

The archaic temple was completely reconstructed and enlarged in 117 BC by Lucius Caecilius Metellus Dalmaticus after his victory over the Dalmatians. Gaius Verres again restored this second temple in 73 BC.

In 14 BC a fire that ravaged major parts of the forum destroyed the temple, and Tiberius, the adopted son of Augustus and the eventual heir to the throne, rebuilt it. Tiberius’ temple was dedicated in 6 AD. The remains visible today are from the temple of Tiberius, except the podium, which is from the time of Metellus.

Temple of Castor and Pollux with Arch of Titus behind it
41°53’33.4292″ N 12°29’4.12″ E

The Temple of Caesar was begun by Augustus in 42 BC after the senate deified Julius Caesar posthumously. Augustus dedicated the prostyle temple (it is still unknown whether its order was Ionic, Corinthian or composite) to Caesar, his adoptive father, on 18 August 29 BC, after the Battle of Actium. It stands on the site of Caesar’s cremation and where Caesar’s testament was read aloud at the funeral by Mark Antony.

Caesar was the first resident of Rome to be deified and so honored with a temple.[2] A fourth flamen maior was dedicated to him after 44 BC, and Mark Antony was the first to serve as Flamen Divi Julii, priest of the cult of Caesar.

The Temple of Caesar
41°53’31.5135″ N 12°29’9.5087″ E

The Basilica Julia (Italian: Basilica Giulia) was a large, ornate, public building used for meetings and other official business during the early Roman Empire. Its ruins have been excavated. What is left from its classical period are mostly foundations, floors, a small back corner wall with a few arches that are part of both the original building and later Imperial reconstructions and a single column from its first building phase.

The Basilica Julia was initially dedicated in 46 BC by Julius Caesar, with building costs paid from the spoils of the Gallic War, and was completed by Augustus, who named the building after his adoptive father.

The Basilica was partially destroyed in 410 AD when the Visigoths sacked Rome and the site slowly fell into ruin over the centuries. Part of the remains of the basilica was converted into a church in the 7th or 8th century. The building consists now only of a rectangular area, levelled off and raised about one metre above ground level, with jumbled blocks of stone lying within its area.

Basilica Julia in front of Temple of Castor and Pollux
41°53’33.4292″ N 12°29’4.12″ E

Close to the other end of the Roman Forum is the church, Chiesa dei Santi Luca e Martina. It was initially dedicated to Saint Martina, martyred in 228 AD during the reign of Emperor Alexander Severus. In 625 Pope Honorius I commissioned construction of the church. Restored first in 1256 during the reign of Pope Alexander IV, it was a simple rectangular structure surrounded on three sides by other constructions until it was rebuilt by the painter and architect, Pietro da Cortona, in the seventeenth century.

Chiesa dei Santi Luca e Martina
41°53’32.8326″ N 12°29’8.1948″ E

We concluded the Roman Forum walk at the The Arch of Septimius Severus (Italian: Arco di Settimio Severo) . It is a white marble triumphal arch dedicated in 203 to commemorate the Parthian victories of Emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta, in the two campaigns against the Parthians of 194/195 and 197–199.

Arch of Septimius Severus
41°53’33.6233″ N 12°29’4.1393″ E

It took us about 2.5 hrs to complete the walking tour of the Forum. If you start at the Colosseo at about 8, by lunch time you can complete the morning tour ending with the Roman Forum by lunchtime.

The Pantheon

After lunch we returned to the hotel for a a short siesta. At around 3pm, we took a bus from Termini to the Pantheon. It is a former Roman temple, now a Catholic church (Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs) commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD). It was completed by the emperor Hadrian and probably dedicated about 126 AD. Its date of construction is uncertain, because Hadrian chose not to inscribe the new temple but rather to retain the inscription of Agrippa’s older temple, which had burned down.

The building is cylindrical with a portico of large granite Corinthian columns (eight in the first rank and two groups of four behind) under a pediment. A rectangular vestibule links the porch to the rotunda, which is under a coffered concrete dome, with a central opening (oculus) to the sky. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 43m.

It is one of the best-preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings, in large part because it has been in continuous use throughout its history and, since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been in use as a church dedicated to “St. Mary and the Martyrs” but informally known as “Santa Maria Rotonda”. The architecture has influenced the design of the domes such as Michaelangelo’s of St. Peters Basilica in the Vatican and Brunelleschi’s Duomo in Florence.

Since the Renaissance the Pantheon has been the site of several important burials. Among those buried there are the painters Raphael and Annibale Carracci, the composer Arcangelo Corelli, and the architect Baldassare Peruzzi. Two kings of Italy are buried in the Pantheon: Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as Umberto’s Queen, Margherita.

The Dome of Pantheon
41°53’55.1″N 12°28’36.6″E
Statue Above the Tomb of Raphael

Piazza della Rotonda is roughly rectangular, approximately 60 meters north to south and 40 meters east to west, with a fountain and obelisk in the center and the Pantheon on the south side. In the center of the piazza is a fountain, the Fontana del Pantheon, surmounted by an Egyptian obelisk. The fountain was constructed by Giacomo Della Porta under Pope Gregory XIII in 1575, and the obelisk was added to it in 1711 under Pope Clement XI. The obelisk, originally constructed by Pharaoh Ramses II for the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis, had been brought to Rome in ancient times where it was reused as a shrine to the Egyptian god Isis that stood to the southeast of the Pantheon. It was rediscovered in 1374 underneath the apse of the nearby Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. In the mid-15th century, the obelisk had been erected in the small Piazza di San Macuto some 200 meters east of the Pantheon, where it remained until its 1711 move to the Piazza della Rotonda. It is still called the Obelisco Macutèo after its previous location.

Macuteo Obelisk @ Piazza della Rotonda
41°53’56.8″N 12°28’36.3″E

Day 3

The Vatican Museum Tour

We had purchase a pair of Early-entry Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel tickets before we left US that enabled us to enter the Vatican Museums without having to stand in a line about an hour before it is opened to the public. On display are works from the immense collection amassed by popes throughout the centuries including several of the most renowned Roman sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. The museums contain roughly 70,000 works, of which 20,000 are on display.

Dome of St. Peters Basilica Viewed from the Vatican Museums Entrance
41°54’20.4″N 12°27’13.1″E

The Fontana della Pigna or simply Pigna (“The Pine cone”) is a former Roman fountain which now decorates a vast niche near the entrance to the Vatican Museums facing the Cortile della Pigna. Composed of a large bronze pine cone almost four meters high which once spouted water from the top, the Pigna originally stood near the Pantheon. It was moved to the courtyard of the Old St. Peter’s Basilica during the Middle Ages and then moved again, in 1608, to its present location. The courtyard where it stands was originally part of the Cortile del Belvedere, designed by Donato Bramante to connect the palace of Pope Innocent VIII with the Sistine Chapel. When Bramante died, architect Pirro Ligorio finished the project and added the wall and niche to close the courtyard. Construction of the Vatican Library divided the Cortile del Belvedere into two areas. The upper part of the courtyard, the Cortile della Pigna, takes its name from the fountain. The bronze peacocks on either side of the fountain are copies of those decorating the tomb of the Emperor Hadrian, now the Castel Sant’Angelo. The original peacocks are in the Braccio Nuovo Museum.

Fontana della Pigna
41°54’22.2″N 12°27’16.5″E

Pope Julius II founded the museums in the early 16th century. The Sistine Chapel with its ceiling decorated by Michelangelo and the Stanze di Raffaello decorated by Raphael are on the visitor route through the Vatican Museums. In 2017, they were visited by six million people, which combined makes them the 4th most visited art museum in the world. There are 54 galleries in total, with the Sistine Chapel, notably, being the very last one within the Museums.

The Gallery of Maps is a gallery located on the west side of the Belvedere Courtyard containing a series of painted topographical maps of Italy based on drawings by friar and geographer Ignazio Danti. The gallery was commissioned in 1580 by Pope Gregory XIII as part of other artistic works commissioned by the Pope to decorate the Vatican. It took Danti three years (1580–1583) to complete the 40 panels of the 120 m long gallery. The decorations on the vaulted ceiling are the work of a group of Mannerist artists including Cesare Nebbia and Girolamo Muziano.

Gallery of Maps Ceiling
41°54’14.4″N 12°27’15.2″E

After the tour of the Museums, we passed the marble statue of Saint Gregory the Illuminator that was inaugurated by Pope Paul II in 2005. He is the patron saint and first official head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. He was a religious leader who is credited with converting Armenia from paganism to Christianity in 301. Armenia thus became the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion.

The almost 18 feet high statue was placed in the last remaining empty niche along the walls leading to St. Peter’s Basilica–which house the statues of famous saints.

Statue of St. Gregory the Illuminator

St. Peters Basilica

St. Peters Basilica with framed pictures of people that were going to be canonized on Oct 14.

After the tour of the Vatican Museums, we entered St. Peters Basilica at around 1030am. As always, our first stop inside the Basilica was at Michaelangelo’s Pieta. The statue was commissioned for the French Cardinal Jean de Bilhères, who was a representative in Rome. Michaelangelo was just 23 when he finished the masterpiece. The sculpture, in Carrara marble, was made for the cardinal’s funeral monument, but was moved to its current location, the first chapel on the right as one enters the basilica, in the 18th century. It is the only piece Michelangelo ever signed. This famous work of art depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion. The theme is of Northern origin. Michelangelo’s interpretation of the Pietà is unprecedented in Italian sculpture. It is an important work as it balances the Renaissance ideals of classical beauty with naturalism. The Madonna is represented as being very young for the mother of an approximately 33-year-old son, which is not uncommon in depictions of her at the time of the Passion of Christ. Various explanations have been suggested for this. One is that her youth symbolizes her incorruptible purity, as Michelangelo himself said to his biographer and fellow sculptor Ascanio Condivi.

Subsequent to its carving the Pietà sustained much damage. Four fingers on Mary’s left hand, broken during a move, were restored in 1736 by Giuseppe Lirioni, and scholars are divided as to whether the restorer took liberties to make the gesture more “rhetorical.” The most substantial damage occurred on 21 May 1972, when a mentally disturbed geologist, the Hungarian-born Australian Laszlo Toth walked into the chapel and attacked the sculpture with a geologist’s hammer while shouting “I am Jesus Christ; I have risen from the dead!” With fifteen blows he removed Mary’s arm at the elbow, knocked off a chunk of her nose, and chipped one of her eyelids. Onlookers took many of the pieces of marble that flew off. Later, some pieces were returned, but many were not, including Mary’s nose, which had to be reconstructed from a block cut out of her back. After the attack, the work was painstakingly restored and and is now protected by a bulletproof acrylic glass panel. As the Pieta is behind the acrylic panel and the chapel is understandably not well illuminated, it is tough to photograph it. It is also quite crowded (but not as bad as the crowd at the Mona Lisa exhibit in the Louvre, Paris) and I had to patiently wait to move to a good spot to capture the image with minimum reflections.

Michaelangelo’s Pieta
Michaelangelo’s Signature on the Pieta

Bronze Statue of St. Peter

An ancient statue of St. Peter, portrayed as he gives a blessing and preaches, while holding the keys to the kingdom of heaven is famous throughout the world. Most scholars have attributed it to Arnolfo di Cambio (1245-1302).

Pilgrims who come to the Basilica traditionally touch and kiss its foot, so that it is literally worn thin. In the Middle Ages pilgrims who reached Rome, touched and kissed the foot of the statue and prayed to St. Peter asking that he be merciful and open the gates of heaven for them if they died during the pilgrimage.

Bronze Statue of St. Peter

The Dome

The dome of St. Peter’s rises to a total height of 136.57m (448.1 ft) from the floor of the basilica to the top of the external cross. It is the tallest dome in the world. Its internal diameter is 41.47m (136.1 ft), slightly smaller than two of the three other huge domes that preceded it, those of the Pantheon and the Duomo Of Florence. It has a greater diameter by approximately 9.1m than Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia church, completed in 537. It was to the domes of the Pantheon and Florence Duomo that the architects of St. Peter’s looked for solutions as to how to go about building what was conceived, from the outset, as the greatest dome of Christendom.

Bramante and Sangallo, 1506 and 1513

An engraved picture showing an immensely complex design for the façade, with two ornate towers and a multitude of windows, pilasters and pediments, above which the dome rises looking like a three-tiered wedding cake.
Sangallo’s design

Bramante’s plan for the dome of St. Peter’s (1506) follows that of the Pantheon very closely, and like that of the Pantheon, was designed to be constructed in Tufa Concrete. With the exception of the lantern that surmounts it, the profile is very similar, except that in this case the supporting wall becomes a drum raised high above ground level on four massive piers. The solid wall, as used at the Pantheon, is lightened at St. Peter’s by Bramante piercing it with windows and encircling it with a peristyle.

In the case of Florence Cathedral, the desired visual appearance of the pointed dome existed for many years before Brunelleschi made its construction feasible. Its double-shell construction of bricks locked together in herringbone pattern (re-introduced from Byzantine architecture), and the gentle upward slope of its eight stone ribs made it possible for the construction to take place without the massive wooden formwork necessary to construct hemispherical arches. While its appearance, with the exception of the details of the lantern, is entirely Gothic, its engineering was highly innovative, and the product of a mind that had studied the huge vaults and remaining dome of Ancient Rome.

Sangallo’s plan (1513), of which a large wooden model still exists, looks to both these predecessors. He realized the value of both the coffering at the Pantheon and the outer stone ribs at Florence Cathedral. He strengthened and extended the peristyle of Bramante into a series of arched and ordered openings around the base, with a second such arcade set back in a tier above the first. In his hands, the rather delicate form of the lantern, based closely on that in Florence, became a massive structure, surrounded by a projecting base, a peristyle and surmounted by a spire of conic form.

Michelangelo and Giacomo della Porta, 1547 and 1585

Michelangelo redesigned the dome in 1547, taking into account all that had gone before. His dome, like that of Florence, is constructed of two shells of brick, the outer one having 16 stone ribs, twice the number at Florence but far fewer than in Sangallo’s design. As with the designs of Bramante and Sangallo, the dome is raised from the piers on a drum. The encircling peristyle of Bramante and the arcade of Sangallo are reduced to 16 pairs of Corinthian columns, each of 15 metres (49 ft) high which stand proud of the building, connected by an arch. Visually they appear to buttress each of the ribs, but structurally they are probably quite redundant. The reason for this is that the dome is ovoid in shape, rising steeply as does the dome of Florence Cathedral, and therefore exerting less outward thrust than does a hemispherical dome, such as that of the Pantheon, which, although it is not buttressed, is countered by the downward thrust of heavy masonry which extends above the circling wall.

The ovoid profile of the dome has been the subject of much speculation and scholarship over the past century. Michelangelo died in 1564, leaving the drum of the dome complete, and Bramante’s piers much bulkier than originally designed, each 18m across. Following his death, the work continued under his assistant Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola with Giorgio Vasari appointed by Pope Pius V as a watchdog to make sure that Michelangelo’s plans were carried out exactly. Despite Vignola’s knowledge of Michelangelo’s intentions, little happened in this period. In 1585 the energetic Pope Sixtus appointed Giacomo della Porta who was to be assisted by Domenico Fontana. The five-year reign of Sixtus was to see the building advance at a great rate.

Michelangelo left a few drawings, including an early drawing of the dome, and some details. There were also detailed engravings published in 1569 by Stefan du Pérac who claimed that they were the master’s final solution. Michelangelo, like Sangallo before him, also left a large wooden model. Giacomo della Porta subsequently altered this model in several ways. The major change restored an earlier design, in which the outer dome appears to rise above, rather than rest directly on the base. Most of the other changes were of a cosmetic nature, such as the adding of lion’s masks over the swags on the drum in honor of Pope Sixtus and adding a circlet of finials around the spire at the top of the lantern, as proposed by Sangallo.

A drawing by Michelangelo indicates that his early intentions were towards an ovoid dome, rather than a hemispherical one.[44] In an engraving in Galasso Alghisi‘ treatise (1563), the dome may be represented as ovoid, but the perspective is ambiguous.[51] Stefan du Pérac’s engraving (1569) shows a hemispherical dome, but this was perhaps an inaccuracy of the engraver. The profile of the wooden model is more ovoid than that of the engravings, but less so than the finished product. It has been suggested that Michelangelo on his death bed reverted to the more pointed shape. However, Lees-Milne cites Giacomo della Porta as taking full responsibility for the change and as indicating to Pope Sixtus that Michelangelo was lacking in the scientific understanding of which he himself was capable.[25]


Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana brought the dome to completion in 1590, the last year of the reign of Sixtus V. His successor, Gregory XIV, saw Fontana complete the lantern and had an inscription to the honour of Sixtus V placed around its inner opening. The next pope, Clement VIII, had the cross raised into place, an event which took all day, and was accompanied by the ringing of the bells of all the city’s churches.

In the mid-18th century, cracks appeared in the dome, so four iron chains were installed between the two shells to bind it, like the rings that keep a barrel from bursting. As many as ten chains have been installed at various times, the earliest possibly planned by Michelangelo himself as a precaution, as Brunelleschi did at Florence Cathedral.

Around the inside of the dome is written, in letters 1.4m high. Beneath the lantern is the inscription:
(To the glory of St Peter; Sixtus V, pope, in the year 1590, the fifth of his pontificate.)

Dome of St. Peters Basilica
41°54’10.5″N 12°27’28.6″E
Dome of St. Peters Basilica
Dome of St. Peters Basilica

Swiss Guards

Swiss Guards are the Swiss soldiers who have served as guards at foreign European courts since the late 15th century. Foreign military service was outlawed by the revised Swiss Federal Constitution of 1874, with the only exception being the Pontifical Swiss Guard stationed in Vatican City. The modern Papal Swiss Guard serves as both a ceremonial unit and a bodyguard. Established in 1506, it is one of the oldest military units in the world. It is also the smallest army in the world.

I photographed a guard on duty while exiting the Basilica.

A Swiss Guard on Duty
41°54’06.5″N 12°27’18.9″E

We then walked around St. Peters and captured a few more images prior to lunch.

Papal Apartments
41°54’09.5″N 12°27’21.5″E

The Egyptian obelisk at the center of the square was brought to Rome by Emperor Caligula in 37 AD. It originally stood in his circus on a spot to the south of the basilica, close to the present Sacristy. Pope Sixtus V moved it in 1586 to the current spot. It is also a sun dial, its shadows mark noon over the signs of the zodiac in the white marble disks in the paving of the square. While we were there, preparations were going on for the canonization of St. Paul VI and others and you can see the chairs nicely laid out throughout the square.

The Obelisk @ St. Peters
41°54’06.6″N 12°27’25.6″E

After lunch we walked along Via della Conciliazione towards Castel Sant’Angelo.

A Building along Via della Conciliazione
41°54’08.6″N 12°27’43.3″E

After crossing Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II, we walked along the Tiber river capturing the beautiful architecture on our route.

St. Peters Basilica shot from under Ponte Sant’Angelo
41°54’04.8″N 12°27’59.8″E
St. Peters Basilica shot from Ponte Sant’Angelo
41°54’06.1″N 12°27’59.2″E

Castel Sant’Angelo (Castel of the Holy Angel) is the only building that has followed the development of the city of Rome for about 2000 years. it was built in the year 123 AD as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian and his family. In 403 it lost its original function and became a military fortress to defend Rome and at the beginning of the eleventh century happened to be the state prison. In the 19th century it returned to its prison role, until 1906 when finally it became a museum.

Castel Sant’Angelo shot from Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II
41°54’03.3″N 12°27’53.0″E

We walked along the Tiber river until we reached Corte Suprema di Cassazione (The Italian Supreme Court) built between 1888 and 1910.

Corte Suprema di Cassazione shot from the banks of River Tiber
41°54’07.5″N 12°28’15.9″E

We returned to our hotel room for a siesta. Then after an early dinner, we went to checkout the famous fountains of Rome. First stop was at the Trevi Fountain.

In 1730, Pope Clement XII organized a contest in which Nicola Salvi initially lost to Alessandro Galilei – but due to the outcry in Rome over a Florentine having won, Salvi was awarded the commission anyway to design and build the Trevi Fountain. Work began in 1732. Salvi died in 1751 with his work half finished. Four different sculptors were hired to complete the fountain’s decorations: Pietro Bracci (whose statue of Oceanus sits in the central niche), Filippo della Valle, Giovanni Grossi, and Andrea Bergondi. Giuseppe Pannini was hired as architect. The Fountain made from Travertine stone was finished in 1762 by Pannini and officially opened on 22 May by Pope Clement XIII.

There were a zillion people at the Fountain and it required a lot of patience to photograph it with no people visible.

Trevi Fountain Tourists – need to find a good spot to setup my tripod
Trevi Fountain at dusk
41°54’03.3″N 12°28’59.1″E
Trevi Fountain at dusk
41°54’03.3″N 12°28’59.1″E

From The Trevi Fountain, we walked to the Pantheon to photograph the Fontana del Pantheon in front of the Pantheon at the Piazza del Rotonda. In contrast to the Trevi, this place was bereft of tourists and so it was much easier to photograph this fountain. Also note the acronym SPQR in the middle of the fountain that is found everywhere around Rome. It stands for for Senātus Populusque Rōmānus aka “The Roman Senate and People”. It appears on dedications of monuments and public works.

Fontana del Pantheon
41°53’57.8″N 12°28’36.1″E

It was close to 11pm when we left the Pantheon. We caught a bus back to the hotel.

Day 4

Heart of Rome Walking Tour

We used Rick Steves’s audio tour guide that we had downloaded into our phones to do the tour in the morning of Day 4. We started the tour at Campo de Fiori and ended it at the Galleria Alberto Sordi. The map below shows the tour.

Map of Rick Steves’s Heart of Rome Walk

Stop 1: Piazza Farnese & The Palazzo Fernese. After early brekfast, we took the bus to Campo de’ Fiori and walked to the Piazza Farnese. The piazza is dominated by the Palazzo Farnese, a Late Renaissance palace commissioned by cardinal Allessandro Farnese, who would later become pope Paul III. Construction started in 1514 after a design by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger. When he died in 1546 Michelangelo took over the project and added several new elements to the design such as the three meter long cornice. After Michelangelo died in 1564 it was finished by Giacomo della Porta in 1589. It took 75years to build it. Much of the structure was built with materials taken from the Baths of Caracalla and the Colosseum. After the Farnese line died out in the eighteenth century, the palace fell into the hands of the Bourbons. In 1874 the French Embassy moved into the palace and it is still there.

A Building at Piazza Farnese
41°53’43.5″N 12°28’16.0″E

Stop 2: Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, commonly known as Corso Vittorio, is a wide east–west thoroughfare that courses through Rome. It connects a bridge over the Tiber, Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II, to the Via Torre Argentina. Marco Minghetti’s statue is located in the middle of the road. He was Italy’s Prime Minister in 1863.

Marco Minghetti’s Statue
41°53’48.7″N 12°28’22.4″E

Stop 3: Piazza de Pasquino: The Pasquino statue considered to be the oldest in Rome dating back to 3ed Century BC is located in this piazza. It was unearthed in the 15th Century where it is currently located. The statue is known as the first of the talking statues of Rome, because of the tradition of attaching anonymous criticisms to its base.

Piazza Pasquino
41°53’52.4″N 12°28’20.2″E
Pasquino Statue
41°53’52.4″N 12°28’20.2″E

Stop 4: Piazza Navona: Piazza Navona is an awesome piazza that a visitor to Rome should NOT miss. It is built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian. It was transformed into a highly significant example of Baroque Roman architecture and art during the pontificate of Innocent X, who reigned from 1644 until 1655. It features important sculptural creations: in the center stands the famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers (1651) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, topped by the Obelisk of Domitian, and the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone by Francesco Borromini, Girolamo Rainaldi, Carlo Rainaldi and others.

Piazza Navona has two other fountains. At the southern end is the Fontana del Moro with a basin and four Tritons sculpted by Giacomo della Porta (1575) to which, in 1673, Bernini added a statue of a Moor, wrestling with a dolphin. At the northern end is the Fountain of Neptune (1574) also created by Giacomo della Porta; the statue of Neptune, by Antonio Della Bitta, was added in 1878 to create a balance with La Fontana del Moro.

Sant’Agnese in Agone and the Obelisk of Domitian
41°53’57.2″N 12°28’23.3″E
Fiumi Fountain and the Obelisk of Domitian
41°53’55.9″N 12°28’23.2″E
Fiumi Fountain
41°53’55.9″N 12°28’23.4″E
Fountain of Neptune
41°53’59.0″N 12°28’23.0″E
Piazza Navona
41°53’56.6″N 12°28’22.4″E

Stop 5: Pantheon: After having spent 90 minutes including a gelato break, we reached Pantheon again. As it was super crowded, we decided not to go inside but look around the area.

Pillars of Pantheon
41°53’56.7″N 12°28’36.5″E
Piazza della Rotonda framed by the Pantheon pillars
41°53’56.7″N 12°28’36.5″E

Stop 6: Piazza de Monte Citorio: The piazza contains the Obelisk of Montecitorio and the Palazzo Montecitorio. The Obelisk of Montecitorio (Italian: Obelisco di Montecitorio), is an Egyptian, red granite obelisk of Psammetichus II (595-589 BC) from Heliopolis was brought to Rome in 10 BC by the Roman Emperor Augustus. Besides its function as a solar clock, the obelisk was oriented in such manner so as to cast its shadow on the nearby Ara Pacis on 23 September, Augustus’s birthday, which coincided with the autumnal equinox.

Built in the middle of the 17th century, the Palazzo Monte Citorio, with the Unification of Italy in 1861 and the transfer of the capital to Rome in 1870, Montecitorio was seized by the Italian government and chosen as the seat of the Chamber of Deputies.

The Obelisk of Montecitorio and the Palazzo Monte Citorio
41°54’02.1″N 12°28’43.1″E

Stop 7: Piazza Colonna: It is named for the marble Column of Marcus Aurelius, which has stood there since AD 193. The piazza is rectangular. Its north side is taken up by Palazzo Chigi, formerly the Austria-Hungary’s embassy, but is now a seat of the Italian government. The east side is taken up by the 19th century public shopping arcade Galleria Colonna (since 2003 Galleria Alberto Sordi), the south side is taken up by the flank of Palazzo Ferrajoli, formerly the Papal post office, and the little Church of Santi Bartolomeo ed Alessandro dei Bergamaschi (1731-35). The west side is taken up by Palazzo Wedekind (1838) with a colonnade of Roman columns taken from Veii.

Palazzo Chigi
41°54’03.8″N 12°28’45.9″E
Column of Marcus Aurelius shot from Palazzo Wedekind
41°54’02.5″N 12°28’48.4″E

Stop 8: Galleria Alberto Sordi: At around 130pm, we completed the walking tour of the historic Rome at the Galleria Alberto Sordi, a high end shopping complex. It was designed in the early 1900s by the architect Dario Carbone and constructed on the Via del Corso as Galleria Colonna. In 2003, following an accurate restoration, it was decided to rename the Galleria after the popular Roman actor Alberto Sordi, deceased that year, as Sordi had started his career in Teatro Galleria, which was part of the building. We did a bit of window shopping and I captured the interesting ceiling of the galleria.

Ceiling of Galleria Alberto Sordi
41°54’04.8″N 12°28’51.4″E
Ceiling of Galleria Alberto Sordi
41°54’04.8″N 12°28’51.4″E

Capitoline Museums

After grabbing a quick lunch, we took the bus to the Capitoline museums. The history of the museum can be traced to 1471, when Pope Sixtus IV donated a collection of important ancient bronzes to the people of Rome and located them on the Capitoline Hill. Since then, the museums’ collection has grown to include many ancient Roman statues, inscriptions, and other artifacts; a collection of medieval and Renaissance art; and collections of jewels, coins, and other items.

The three main buildings of the Capitoline Museums are:

  • Palazzo Senatorio, built in the 12th century and modified according to Michelangelo’s designs;
  • Palazzo dei Conservatori, built in the mid-16th century and redesigned by Michelangelo; and
  • Palazzo Nuovo, built in the 17th century with an identical exterior design to the Palazzo dei Conservatori, which it faces across the palazzo.

The statue of a mounted rider in the center of the piazza is of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It is a copy, the original being housed on-site in the Capitoline museum.

Copy of Emperor Marcus Aurelius Statue in front of Palazzo Nuovo
41°53’35.8″N 12°28’58.6″E

Like the Smithsonion and the British Museum, the Capitoline Museums is massive. If you really want to see the whole enchilada, plan to spend at least 2 days. As we had only 3 hours, we hit just the highlights.

The Capitoline Wolf (Italian: Lupa Capitolina) is a bronze sculpture depicting a scene from the legend of the founding of Rome. The sculpture shows a she-wolf suckling the mythical twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. According to the legend, when King Numitor, grandfather of the twins, was overthrown by his brother Amulius in Alba Longa, the usurper ordered them to be cast into the Tiber River. They were rescued by a she-wolf who cared for them until a herdsman, Faustulus, found and raised them.

The age and origin of the Capitoline Wolf is controversial. The statue was long thought to be an Etruscan work of the 5th century BC, with the twins added in the late 15th century AD. However, radiocarbon dating has found that the wolf portion of the statue is likely to have been cast between 1021 and 1153.

The image of the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus is a symbol of Rome since ancient times and one of the most recognizable icons of ancient mythology. The sculpture has been housed since 1471 in the Palazzo dei Conservatori.

Capitoline Wolf

The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius is an ancient Roman equestrian statue. It is made of bronze and stands 4.24 m (13.9 ft) tall. Although the emperor is mounted, it exhibits many similarities to standing statues of Augustus. The overall theme is one of power and divine grandeur—the emperor is over life-size and extends his hand in a gesture used by emperors when addressing their troops. He is riding without the use of stirrups, which had not yet been introduced to the Roman Empire.

Although there were many equestrian imperial statues, they rarely survived because it was a common practice to melt down bronze statues for reuse as material for coins or new sculptures in the late empire. Indeed, it is one of only two surviving bronze statues of a pre-Christian Roman emperor. In the medieval era it was one of the few Roman statues to remain on public view. In the 8th century it stood in the Lateran Palace in Rome on a pedestal provided by Sixtus IV, from where it was relocated in 1538, by order of Pope Paul III to remove it from the main traffic of the square. It was moved to the piazza during Michelangelo‘s redesign of the Hill. Though he disagreed with its central positioning, he designed a special pedestal for it.

The Original Statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius

The courtyard of the Palazzo Nuovo has an incredible reclining statue of Marforio, a River god sculptured in 1st Century AD. In 1645, it was enclosed in the current location.

The reclining statue of Marforio, a River god

The Church of the Gesù (Italian: Chiesa del Gesù) is the mother church of the Jesuits. Although Michelangelo offered, out of devotion, to design the church for free, the endeavor was funded by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, grandson of Pope Paul III, the pope who had authorized the founding of the Jesuits. It was consecrated in 1584.

The dome of Chiesa del Gesù shot from a window of the Capitoline Museums

At around 5pm, we left the Capitoline Museum and headed to Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. The bus stop to the Basilica was next to Piazza Venezia, in front of Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), aka Typewriter Building :-). There is an amazing Equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II in front of the building. We spent a few minutes around the building before catching the bus to Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.

Equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II
41°53’40.4″N 12°28’53.2″E

While the bus was stopped at a traffic light, I grabbed an image of the Chiesa Santa Maria di Loreto, Chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Maria al Foro Traiano, and the Trajan’s Column.

Chiesa Santa Maria di Loreto, Chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Maria al Foro Traiano, and the Trajan’s Column
41°53’43.8″N 12°29’00.3″E

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

The Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Italian: Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore) is a Papal major basilica and the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome. It is one of the only four that hold the title of “major basilica”. It was built under Celestine I (422–432) who consecrated it on the 5th of August 434 to the Virgin Mary. The church retains the core of its original structure, despite several additional construction projects and damage by the earthquake of 1348.

When the popes returned to Rome after the period of the Avignon papacy, (1376 AD) the buildings of the basilica became a temporary Palace of the Popes due to the deteriorated state of the Lateran Palace. The papal residence was later moved to the Palace of the Vatican in what is now Vatican City.

The basilica was restored, redecorated and extended by various popes, including Eugene III (1145–1153), Nicholas IV (1288–92), Clement X (1670–76), and Benedict XIV (1740–58), who in the 1740s commissioned Ferdinando Fuga to build the present façade and to modify the interior. The interior of the Santa Maria Maggiore underwent a broad renovation encompassing all of its altars between the years 1575 and 1630.

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore & Obelisco Esquilino
41°53’54.5″N 12°29’49.4″E
Basilica Ceiling
Frescos of the Basilica
Frescos of Basilica

4 responses to “Rome in 4 days (Oct 2018)”

  1. Very beautiful my friend. I am now working at The Home Depot in Redmond. Stop by when you are in town.

    Mark Bjorndal *Joshua 24:15… But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.*

    *Got JESUS?* *Telephone*: 1-425-326-2326 Mobile Always ready to document your business or ministry through Photography (Call or Text for sample portfolio)

    *We support our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus.* **

    On Mon, Apr 6, 2020 at 7:49 PM Murali Narayanan Photography wrote:

    > Murali Narayanan posted: ” Day 1 In October 2018, Mythili & I spent 3 days > in Rome mostly visiting historical hotspots. A lot has changed in 10 years > since my last visit. More crowds and a bit more expensive. But it is still > a delight to see places and eat terrific Italian ” >


  2. Murali – Thanks for sharing. As always your photography is beautiful and this with your writing. I am happy that you bave spent time with Mythili, we have a plan to visit Rome soon when schedule persists with my 2 boys (Sujith and Sanath) I have taken a lot of pictures on my iPhone during a trip to Rajasthan, but need to learn photography from you.


    Liked by 1 person

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