The Italian countryside between Roma and Firenze is whipping by as I write this. It’s only my second time on a high speed train, but the process is beginning to feel familiar.
On day 9 of our trip, Cara, Erica, and I enjoyed a basic breakfast at the restaurant connected to our hostel (looking back, the hostel was very nice, I shall have to give them a good review). Sitting there, we knew little of what we would see over the next 48 hours, and we also knew little of how much we were going to sweat over that same period.
After breakfast, we made our way to Termini station and took the Metro line to the Colosseo (named in reference to the colossal statue of the emperor Nero, beside which it was built) where we skipped the line (already had our tickets from last night, remember?). The building was a spectacular sight and also included some rather interesting museum exhibits about ancient libraries and the colosseum in general. The Flavian Amphitheatre, as it is also known, began construction in 72AD and was completed in 80AD (though many modifications were added over the years). Throughout the years of its use, it saw gladiatorial matches, sport hunting, naval battles (yes, naval battles), and public executions (often damnatio ad bestias, or death by beasts); while in its later years, it was also used by the Roman Catholic Church as a site in remembrance of Christian Martyrs.
We left the Colosseum around noon, and, under the hot midday sun, ventured into the Roman Forum. Some of the structures within the Forum are quite well preserved, while others are barely recognizable. The audioguide we purchased to narrate our tour was poorly organized and confounded by many construction and restoration projects that changed the normal tour route. It was an interesting, though frustrating experience.
We were glad to find the shade of the homes and palaces of Palatine Hill (beside the Forum), where our audioguide miraculously started to make sense. The Hill’s history was very interesting and included sights of the oldest settlements (the Romulean huts, believed to be the precursor to what would become Roma), all the way up to the grand imperial palace (home to the emperors from Augustus onward, involving many expansions through the years). By far, the imperial palace was most interesting, primarily for its immensity. Though its better years are many centuries past, the grandeur associated with such an enormous place was easy to imagine.
Dinner followed the Hill, and then, despite a desire to see the Colosseum lit up at night, we couldn’t bring ourselves to go back out, so we called it a night.
We were up early the next day so we could make the most of our last day in Roma.
First, we took a bus out of the main tourist center of the city to a church housing the Catacombs of Priscilla. Disclaimer: photography was not allowed. A guide took us through the catacombs (scaring us a bit by how much he bundled up, but our Canadian constitution held up in the cold found 10m beneath the earth). These catacombs were interesting in particular because they were a Christian catacomb (the practice of burying bodies inside the city of Rome was illegal for both sanitary and superstitious reasons). There, over 40,000 tombs are located. Inside these catacombs, on wonderfully preserved frescoes, archaeologists found what are considered to be the oldest artistic representations of the Madonna and of the Three Kings of biblical lore. These representations are over 1800 and 1700 years old, respectively, with the fresco of Mary and the baby Jesus being only approximately 200 years displaced from his actual existence.
Following our tour, we visited the enormous public park surrounding the Villa Borghese, enjoyed the scenery, and then took the Metro back to our hostel to prepare for the afternoon.
Prepare? We were headed for the Vatican, and as such, needed to be sure to abide by the various rules, including a dress code.
A short Metro ride brought us to the Vatican Museum where we enjoyed a number of non-Vatican related collections first, and then explored the more related collections. These included rooms filled with enormous tapestries, an entire hall adorned with gigantic maps illustrating parts of the Italian peninsula, the rooms painted by Raphael (amazing), a collection of papal vehicles (carriages, Berlins, automobiles), and the Sistine Chapel. In reflection, this part of the Vatican was very grand, and we felt that it echoed the Imperial palace we had seen the day before (if only it had been kept up and maintained all these years). In this way, we were better able to picture the grandeur of what we’d seen the day before.
We then entered St. Peter’s Basilica, which is beautiful beyond description. If the Vatican Museum was grand, then I struggle to find a word that can better convey its vastness, its exceptional grandeur, and dare I say it? It’s excess. The Basilica is truly a gem that could only be constructed, outfitted, and maintained by one of the oldest and richest organizations in the world. We walked its marble floors; we admired the gargantuan statues of pontiffs, saints, and angels; we visited the altar to St. Peter, the first pope; and descended into the basilica’s grottoes to observe the tombs of pontiffs past, as well as the tombs of guests of the Vatican (usually those in exile there).
After the Vatican, we found dinner in Trastevere, rested briefly as the sun disappeared, and then finally managed to see the Colosseum lit up by night. This was a great way to say good bye to the city.
Now, as I mentioned, we are on the train, heading for the city that I, perhaps, am most excited for: Florence. We haven’t decided on everything we are going to see, though the Duomo, the Boboli Gardens, the Ponte Vecchio, and the Academia dell’Galleria (where the Statue of David is housed), are all on the list. We may also have to pay homage to Dante Alighieri of Florence, author of The Divine Comedy.
Until next time, take care!