#85 Roma: The Eternal City

I wouldn’t say I hated Rome – I think hate is much too strong of a word. Heck, here I am in one of the most historically rich and important centers in the world. I have trouble feeling secure in large cities. It’s not so much about personal safety, but I think it has more to do with feeling lost and claustrophobic. So no, I wouldn’t say I hate it, but I certainly don’t find myself waxing poetic about it either. I did, however, experience some fantastic highlights while in Rome

Nighttime Stroll: Fontana di Trevi, Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti, & Piaza di Spagna

My mom and I decided to wander around and see what major attractions we could find – and after successfully navigating through Venice, and again in Florence, I felt as though I could navigate anywhere. Off we went.

One of the first things we happened upon was the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II – or the Altar of the Nation. If you’ve ever been to Rome, you can attest to the gigantic size of this monument. After all, it does commemorate the first King of Italy and the Unification of the country. Featured in this monument is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the accompanying eternal flame. Even though many Romans scoff at this monolith, Mama Bear and I couldn’t help but love it. We continued our nighttime trek down the Via del Corso – one of the most colourful, busy streets in Rome – and headed for the next sight to behold.

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The first time I learned about The Trevi Fountain  was in Mario is Missing! (a staple in any home of a child of the 90’s). Nintendo has taught me a lot of life lessons, but it in no way prepared me for the sheer size of Rome, and the Trevi. It’s simply massive. It measures in at 85 feet high and 65 feet wide. I thought it was absolutely breathtaking and beautiful from all angles, but – as with the rest of Rome – the hoards of vendors and tourists surrounding it detracted from the moment of quiet appreciation I tried to have with Oceanus, the fountains central figure. After walking away, I had a “Sorry Mario, your princess is in another castle” moment.

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Next we hit the Piaza di Spagna where we climbed the Spanish Steps (complete with a giant Christmas tree in the centre!). After catching our breath (somehow all of the delicious carbs & wine I was indulging in was not helping my fitness?!) we admired the view of the Trinita dei Monti church and the Piazza di Spagna from the top. Of course, at the base of the steps we were also taken with the Bernini fountain Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Unfortunate Boat).

Some of my favourite places that we visited while in Rome are the Jesuit churches. We paid particular attention to IlGesu and Sant’Ignazio. In the latter church, there is an optical illusion cupola. It is painted to appear as though it is a real cupola, but due to dried up funds, the church was never able to complete the architectural piece. It is an extremely believable illusion, and a must-see for fellow architecture fans or anybody wandering around of Rome!

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Can you spot the optical illusion?

Tom Hanks: Okay Not Really…

If you don’t already know, I’ve had a life-long obsession with Tom Hanks. Since 2002 I’ve seen every film that he has released in theatres (with the exception of Captain Philips and Saving Mr. Banks) and I own about 97% of all of his work. I even got the chance to see him perform on Broadway last year in New York (more on that later…) But, I digress.
As a Hanks devotee, I had to visit as many of the places featured in the movie adaptations of the Dan Brown novels in which Hanks stars. Aside from the Hanks-factor, the Castel Sant’Angelo, the Piazza del Popolo, and the Santa Maria del Popolo were some of my favourite places to visit in Rome.

Before reaching the Castel Sant’Angelo, we walked across a stunning pedestrian bridge called the Ponte Sant’Angelo which spans the Tiber River. It features Bernini statues of angels – and they are all remarkable to see. The Castel Sant’Angelo itself was built as a tomb for Hadrian in 135AD, but was transformed into a fortress in the 6th century.
The Piazza del Popolo felt very hip and alive. Street performers and costumed buskers surround you in one of the largest piazzas in Rome. Groups of young people blared music, sat with each other on benches, and in circles on the ground, smoked their cigarettes and laughed. At the centre, they looked up at a 3,200-year-old obelisk. I loved the juxtaposition of the old with the young. It all felt very surreal.

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Castel Sant’Angelo – notice the angels guiding your path to the castle.

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Such life in the Piazza del Popolo!

We opted for a better vantage point, climbing up to a park that overlooks the piazza and much of Rome. It was noticeably quieter, and apparently more romantic in this area. A number of couples opted to stare out at the city here.

Before leaving the Piazza, I had to sneak a peek at the Santa Maria del Popolo – which is home to the Cappella Chigi or an Altar of Science in Angles and Demons. To my chagrin, the church was holding service and was off limits to tourists. Cue my Hanksian-heartbreak.

Vatican

I won’t say much about the Vatican. I simply adored learning about the Sistine Chapel, I loved walking down the halls in the Musei Vaticani, and I was quite astounded at the size and opulence of the Basilica di San Pietro. Nothing I read could have prepared me for the experience of the Vatican. Nothing I write could ever prepare you.

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I did have an emotional experience viewing the Sistine Chapel. As we know from the time that I saw the Davide – I feel moved when I am in the presence of such famed art. (I was a wreck the first time I saw Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and don’t get me started on that time I got to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s homestead in Chicago). So of course, knowing that I was in the Vatican, underneath one of the most famous and beautiful pieces of art in the history of mankind was a little too much for me.

I took a long time scanning the centre panels first, paying particular attention to the scenes from the Book of Genesis where God separates light from dark, where God creates the sun and the moon, and of course, where God gives life to Adam. Regardless of what your personal beliefs are – this ceiling embodies the literal definition of awesome.

My favourite part of the Sistine Chapel was the fresco The Last Judgement on the altar wall. I was personally taken with the scenes of the passion, St. Peter holding the keys, and the terrifying depiction of hell. I also loved seeing Michelangelo’s self-portrait hidden in the flayed skin of St. Bartholomew.

In my next post, I’ll discuss my experience in Old Rome, my tour of the Colosseum & the Roman Forum. Rome, after all, can’t be discussed in a day.

Until next time, keep wandering,

W

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