If Venice is serene, romantic, peaceful, and fragile, Rome is just the opposite, noisy, bustling, and strong. The traffic of Rome is legendary. And how about those double parked cars in front of the Police station that never get ticketed or towed. I must be missing something! But I would add that the noise is more of a concern than the traffic itself. Cobble stone streets and solid stone faced buildings mean that traffic noise does not dissipate easily. I suffered from this the first night as my room faced a seemingly quiet street, but noise from the nearby streets echoed in and into my room. I got another room for the remainder of my stay that looked onto a courtyard and made the stay here more pleasant than it otherwise might have been.
My first day, I visited the Vatican museum. This has one of the world’s largest art collection and is a must for anyone wanting to know about western history. It also has the Sistine Chapel. This is of course noted for its frescoed ceiling painted by Michelangelo over a four year period. The ceiling was cleaned about 10 years ago, so for those of you who might have seen this before then it is probably worth another look. A small corner of the ceiling was left untouched to show the difference. Centuries of burning oil lamps in the chapel resulted in a buildup of soot on the ceiling. This has been removed, and the colours that show are very vivid. The ceiling frescoes has nine stories from Genesis and stories about the twelve apostles and the prophets. In fact most of the frescoes and other Biblical artwork were done as a method of teaching the Bible stories to the illiterate masses. Today, literate but ignorant tourists are relearning the stories by visiting the museums.
Next stop was St. Peter’s Square. This is the largest square and Church in the world. The Pope occasionally appears from one of the front windows of the Atrium of the Church, which itself is larger than most churches. The inside of the Basilica was incredible. Words cannot describe it. The use of perspective design in making the church feel rather intimate is only obvious when you go the bottom of the main dome and look down on the main altar. From the ground level the top of the canopy above the altar appears to be not that far below the bottom of the main dome. However, looking down from the main dome you can see how far down the canopy really is. It is this design ingenuity that really impressed me more than anything else. All of this was done before any CAD programs etc existed. Wonder how many of us could do designs like this today manually! From the inside of the dome I climbed the 330 stairs to the top access point, which brings you onto a small walkway that encircles the outside of the dome – a 360 panorama of Rome. What a site!
Sunday I visited the Borghese Museum. This is probably the best value for your Euro in terms of the art, the statues and the building marble work itself. I rate this a must see on par with the Vatican only because there is about 2 km less walking in the Borghese! Each room had incredible ceiling frescoes that also had dramatic 3D effects. Realistic marble statues showing great detail in the human body complemented the realistic Renaissance work done on the Canvas. Again Bellini is a featured sculpturer.
Today, was the turn of the Ancient Rome Tour. The Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill took up most of the day. Again, I was most impressed by the design work given that this happened over 2000 years ago. There has been remarkably little change in the overall design of stadiums of today from the colosseum design including the rock hard seats! The Forum was also very interesting as you could get a sense of what ancient Rome must have been like wandering around the site. The Palatine Hill is a definite must as this has a commanding view of the Forum and Circus Maximus as well as lots of interesting ruins of its own.
Tomorrow I am off to Florence for the Grand finale of the Renaissance.
In case you are wondering I am typing this at an internet cafe that is part of a laundromat – now that is multitasking. I have left out a lot of details of the museums themselves and the artists because typing costs money and you will be much more informed reading a guide book. I would recommend Rick Steve’s Mona Winks and the Eyewitness Guides to Italy or the individual cities themselves.