Saturday, March 28, 2015

In my quest to find Utopia, I believe I have stumbled very close to its final piece...spectacular food...fresh & tasty as god intended it to be. If Rome offered food of this kind, I can only imagine what the country side can bring to bear. I did not do justice to pictures of the food only because we were busy appreciating its taste....still a few here are for the fond memories.

The Foods

Left: The salad had no dressing accentuating the natural flavors of Argula, Carrots and Tomatos. The Bruschetta bread competed with the toppings but yet they both melted in harmony in my mouth.

Right: At the Saturday farmer's market near Circo Massimo. That Prosciutto validates that even the pigs in Italy eat healthy and are other reason why it is incredibly delicious.

Left: That Kale based vegetable pie was something else but we polished of the Argula before touching it.

Right: To me good wine was Shiraz till I met these two, the Sangiovese blew my mind. Italian wines to me were a cliche but that myth has been put to rest now. Highly recommended. 

These restaurants be it inside an older and wiser dwelling or outside on the sidewalk had the sort of ambiance that forced you to sit back, take a breath and enjoy the finer but simpler things in life. 



Papa Frances
I have been a fan of the current Pontiff and had to go pay him a visit. Our schedule did not allow for anything but the distant view of the Papa on a the Sunday Angelus. While I did not understand a word he said, his voice, his infectious happiness to see so many people in St. Peters square brought joy to my heart. He is a man for the times and appears to be focused on the right things and wish him and his flock the very best.

St' Peters and the Apostolic Palace below Papa's window awaiting his sermon
People milling around the square despite the sub-optimal weather
It appeared every one had a selfie stick but I used my long arms...still not long enough to get a closer picture of the Papa.

We started the morning by getting to St. Peter's about 9.30am in pouring rain about 2.5 hours ahead of the Angelus. We then proceed to stand in the line for Sunday mass in the basilica that was wrapped around the square before we saw people milling below the Apostolic palace across from us. Quick research indicated we should be amongst those vs. in line. We found a prime position to view papa. I loved the quiet atmosphere though it was drizzling until just before Papa came on and stopped during his sermon...can we count that as a miracle?
While the square was closed after Angelus, there were some celebrations for a while that we witnessed. Overall wonderful was to spend a Sunday morning.

The sites
Rome is an open air museum and has done a yeoman's job at preserving the relics given the violent history of the last two thousand years that included the crusades and two world wars that destroyed so much.

Colosseum or the Flavian Amphitheatre: A gladiator arena built around 80AD or so for a variety of entertainment events including gladiators fighting each other and animals. 


The holes in the facade are due to the removal of the metal joints that held the blocks together. Apparently over the years as Rome expanded and metal was scarce, people would often harvest the Colosseum walls for metal. Also the Colosseum was named for the Colosseus of Nero that was built outside the arena which has it own story around its disappearance and the hatred for Nero.

Outside the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine. Now there were several Constantine's but this gate was built by the senate to commemorate Constantine I's victory in 315AD. The arch spans the Vian Triumphalis, a path taken by emperors when they entered the city after victories in triumph. 



The Forum: This is the heart of the Roman empire, this small area of 250x170 meters in the valley between the Palentine and Capitoline hill. The rectangular plaza with Via Sacra cutting right through it has some famous ruins on it including the senate, royal residence or Regia, several temples and other structures. One needs to have vivid imagination to visualize how it would have been 2000 years ago.

Looking out from the Capitoline towards the Colosseum and then down from Palentine hill at the senate building and the Capitoline.

The other structures in the forum include  Temple of Saturn, Temple of Vespasian and Titus, Arch of Septimius Severus, Curia Juliam or Senate, Basilica Iulia, Regia, Temple of Castor and Pollux and Temple of Vesta. Try and match structures to the pictures.


Vatican city and its treasures: The worlds smallest city it may be, but with over a billion faithful, it sure packs a large punch. We went through the Vatican museum, Sistine chapel and St. Peter's basilica. We were impressed with the under-stated elegance and the history. 

Our expectations of the museum were much higher than the exhibits we saw. There were interesting fresco's by Raphael and Michelangelo, Belini and Bernini, and more...The Sistine chapel ceiling met its star billing. His genius must be divine given that Michelangelo was in his twenties when he worked on it. Also amusing was his sense of humor...on the entrance wall of the Sistine chapel is a fresco that shows heaven, hell and purgatory with naked characters. Apparently this was the first time nude was being painted and so when the Pope's assistant had a preview he hastened to complain to the Pope. Michelangelo was upset and so painted in a character looking like the assistant in purgatory with a serpent about to bite his privates.

St.Peter's Basilica is the largest basilica in the world with the most understated elegance to it. This basilica was completed in 1626 that replaced the 4th century AD basilica. It was primarily designed and decorated by Michelangelo, Bernini, Maderno and more. There are no fresco's in the basilica but ceramics and several sculptures including a famous one of the Madonna by Michelangelo unique in that Jesus is older in this version.
The Swiss guards protect the Pope and consider the role to be a calling. We were fortunate to see the changing of the guard.

Other Basilicas
St. Mary of Maggiore

St. Giovanni of Laterno has fascinating ceilings and sculptures. This was the first of the papal churches and was given space by Constantine at the outskirts of ancient Rome and preserves its seniority and archbasilica status.
Scala Sancta is where it is thought that St.Helena brought the steps that Jesus climbed up to Pontius Pilate to hear his sentence.

Other interesting items
Capitoline museums are a complex art and archaeological museums that has perhaps the best kept sculptures we have witnessed.  It has the head of the colossal statue of Constantine I, Marcus Aurelius on a horse, Romulus and Remus suckling their wolf mom and Capitoline Venus aside from some of the best views of the Roman Forum.

The terraces were very cute and we saw some of them that were particularly inviting.

Spanish steps were a must visit till we got there, then not so much. Still one that must be visited...
...the Trevi fountain is another popular destination. The fountain was designed and built by Nicola Salvi in 1762, which is a relatively modern structure compared to many of the other sites in Rome. Fountains in Rome were built in the 17th and 18th century at the end of the many aqueducts. Also like the Spanish steps, this is a Baroque design. We could not view it in its entire glory as it was under construction.

& the Pantheon...this 2000 year old monument was initially built between 27 BC and 14 AD by Agrippa then rebuilt in 128AD by Hadrian. The dome apparently is the worlds largest reinforced dome and the structure has a varied history. It contains Raphael's tomb which I found interesting given it has been a church since the 7th century.

& Piazza Novona whose history I think is very fuzzy, a function of two thousand years of asymmetrical evolution.

We have been avoiding Rome for years for a variety of reasons....I dont care for Italian food, the wine's are a cliche, there are pickpockets, too busy and so on. Well the joke is on us!!! The city has a classic Mediterranean hallow to it with its quiet dignity, the peace on a Monday morning at 9.00am, the lack of crowds except at the tourist locations, the restaurants, the foods and drinks and the generally friendly and welcoming Italians. Rome was amusing, calming, teaching, fascinating and  then it seduced us to the fullest....the sounds of the city were musical and smells magical. We loved Rome and cant wait to get back there...Arrivederci!