Sailing our boat in Mexico has opened the doors to many friendships with people from all different walks of life, languages, traditions, and countries. We had the pleasure of meeting up with our friend Alan in Roma, Italy. You may remember he did some sailing with us South last season on his sailing vessel Sequoyah. He, like ourselves, was avoiding the hot Mexican summer, hurricane season, and relishing in both Italian cuisine and countryside.
It was great to meet up with our friend Alan who had lived in Rome for a few years, many years ago. Alan introduced us to his best Italian friend Gab who was a delight and took it upon himself to give us an exclusive behind the scenes VIP tour of Roma at night. It was exciting to see so many architectural sites that each tell a history all their own, from the back seat of Gab’s distinctive propane powered car.
The highlight of the unofficial Roman night tour, was a sight seen only by the glance through a special keyhole (the “hole of Rome”) at the gardens of the Villa del Priorato di Malta on the Aventine Hill. Originally built in 939 as a Benedictine Monastery, the grounds are now associated with the Knights of Malta. A peek into the keyhole revealed the perfectly lighted Cuppolone designed by Michelangelo resting on top of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Just Scratching The Surface
After walking with Alan throughout a fair amount of the city, we quickly realized that by the time we left Rome, we would barely be able to scratch the surface! While there are many amazing historical sites in Rome, during our visit we saw the following highlights:
Trajan’s Column: Dedicated by the Roman Emperor himself in 113 A.D., the column is astonishingly well-preserved for its age. The column is made up of one long 600 ft freize that commemorates Trajan’s victory in the Dacian wars. The Kingdom of Dacia was located north of the Danube river in what is now Romania. After Trajan, the region became a Roman province for almost 200 years and its significant gold mines helped finance the Roman Empire and its future expansion. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V restored the column and placed a statue of St. Peter on top.
Monument of Victor Emmanuel II: “Alter of the Fatherland” – Also known as Il Vittoriano, this enormous marble monument celebrates the first King of Italy after unification in 1861. It is worth the trip just for the views of the city it offers and features statues, columns, and grand stairways. There is also a museum of Italian Unification located there as well.
Pantheon: The best preserved Ancient Roman structure, the jury is still out on its original purpose. The name implies it could have been built to honor multiple gods, but now it honors just one. Its was converted into a church in 609 AD after it was gifted to the Pope. Famous Italian kings lie to rest here, not to mention one of my favorite Italian painters Raphael. I noticed their tombs could all use a good dusting.
The dome on top of the structure is sure to impress. The 58 foot wide oculus at the top of the dome, is not your standard sun roof. It’s open to all of the elements 24-hours of the day. Perfect symmetry is found from the floor to the oculus, and across the diameter of the dome all equaling 142 feet. It is an utterly enormous building!
Roman Forum: We walked a long way to get to the forum. Heat and hunger got the better of us. By the time we reached our destination we were already loosing daylight, so – we never paid to go inside but admired the perimeter. These crumbling ruins would definitely be worth a closer look in the future.
Vatican City: This city state is the smallest sovereign state in the world located on one of the original seven hills of Rome. [Correction! Vatican hill is NOT one of the seven hills of Rome: Quirinal, Aventine, Caelian, Viminal, Capitoline, Esquiline, Palatine.] The area is 108.7 acres and is the territorial seat of the papacy. The vatican has a secretary of state and maintains diplomatic relations with other nations. Most nations are represented on the papal court.
The Swiss Guards are part of the Vatican’s own special armed forces. The members of the guard are all of nobel decent, bachelors between the ages of 18-25 and a minimum of 5 feet 11 inches tall. Their colorful Renaissance style uniforms were designed by Michelangelo. The guards protect the personal safety of the pope and keep watch over the main gates of the Vatican.
It is interesting to think the Vatican City State is the world’s smallest country and operates among other things, a mint, post office, astronomical observatory, and a world class radio station. The vatican remains strictly neutral in political matters as outlined in the Lateran Treaty signed between the Holy See and Italy.
St. Peter’s Basilica: The basilica was erected over the tomb of St. Peter the apostle. Today, after many make overs, it is the largest Christian Church. Constantine first erected a basilica over St. Peter’s tomb in the 4th Century, and a succession of popes continued adding to it. After the church fell into decay a series of architects including Michelangelo helped design the building into what it is today.
The inside of the church is meant to take your breath away and inspire. The whole building comprises an area of 163,182 square feet and can fit up to 60,000 people inside. Mass continues to occur in many of the small chapels while the main nave remains open to the public.
The most fascinating larger than life statues are on display throughout the space as well as Michelangelo’s famous Pieta. The Pieta is so special that it is on display behind bullet proof glass. Even observing from afar you can easily see this famous sculptors talent. The life he gives to the piece is so remarkable. It is one of the only statues actually signed by the artist!
Copies of famous biblical scened paintings fill the Basilica. Get a little closer and see that all of the paintings are actually MOSAICS! Tiny painted glass pieces are cut out and glued back together to replicate the paintings. The paintings were made into mosaics so they don’t have to restore them as canvas tends to deteriorate over time.
With all of the bronze we have on Maluhia, we have a new found appreciation for bronze sculpture. Every time we stub our toe on one of our boat cleats, or hit our heads on our portholes we’re reminded just how durable of a material it really is. Even corrosion and salt take a long time to get through bronze!
Bernini was commissioned to do the canopy sculpture over St. Peters grave, which is in the inside of the church. This canopy looks like it is carved out of wood with fancy gold highlights, but it is in fact BRONZE. It is thought the original bronze was stripped from the ceiling of the pantheon and repurposed here.
The sheer size of this building complimented by the art inside, reminds us of how important the visual message is to the literary word because both tell a story that complement each other!
St. Peter’s Dome: Michelangelo designed the dome that rests on top of St. Peters Basillica. We took a closer look, and by closer I mean we climbed the stairs all the way up the top of the dome. The summit of the dome is 435 feet from the ground with a diameter of 138 feet.
I’m normally not afraid of cramped spaces, after all we live on a boat. But, this really did it for me. I nearly had a panic attack as the climb to the top of the dome became narrower and narrower. As we walked around the outside of the dome, we were trapped like a bug in a rug between two walls that were no wider than shoulder width. Soon, the walkway started to slant about 10 degrees past center. There were a few windows but nothing significant. It was hot up there with no air flow.
The constant stream of people from behind meant there was only one way out and that was straight ahead to the top. Just when we thought things couldn’t get much narrower, they did! Walls were closing in on us. The rate of incline now shifted 90 degrees, as if climbing a ladder. After ducking under a final door into a much narrower cylinder, we climbed the last small cast iron circular stair case to the top.
On the roof at last we could breath easy and take in a spectacular view of Rome. You’ll really get to know your neighbors at the top, you’re practically holding hands and kissing them to move about. There are some custom seats built into the dome where you can sit back in take in the view. Not to mention the disgusting graffiti written on the stone. Seriously, if you’re that immature to write you name on Michelangelo’s dome as a way to remember that “you were here,” don’t bother visiting.
St. Peter’s Square: Twice a week the Pope holds a papal audience in the square. All visiting pilgrims are welcome and if you’re one of the big groups visiting they will announce your city, state and country to the crowd. Guess who designed the square? Bernini, not only a sculptor but an architect. The square is surrounded on two sides by semicircle colonnades that Bernini says represents the arms of the church. Up to 400,000 people can fill the square.
In the center is an Egyptian obelisk brought to Rome in 37 AD. It was installed in the spina of the Circus of Caligula (later known as Circus of Nero) which was discovered after excavations uncovered the necropolis under the Vatican grounds. The necropolis is where it is said the remains of St. Peter and his tomb were found. The obelisk is also known as “The Witness” because it is thought to have stood witness to the crucifixion of St. Peter.
Vatican Museum: We signed up to do a private tour at the Vatican Museum. Our guide met us at the entrance and gave us a quick low down of the Sistine Chapel, the last stop on the tour. The noise level in the chapel is to remain low. (No photos are allowed in the Sistine Chapel.)
The Vatican Museum contains over 9 miles of art and on average sees over 20,000 visitors daily. Which is why hiring a guide isn’t a bad thing. Think you can see everything but haven’t done the math? They say if you dedicated 1 min to viewing every piece in their collection it would take you 13 years.
We didn’t have 13 years, so our guide whisked us through the museum pointing out the important things on her list and ours. The Vatican Museum includes the old papal apartments of Julius II and Leo X frescoed by genius painter Raphael and his assistants. The popes were among the first sovereigns who opened the art collections of their palaces to the public thus promoting knowledge of art history and culture.
My favorite Raphael fresco is School of Athens where he depicts the synthesis of worldly Greek and spiritual Christian thinking. In this room each wall represents one area of thinking: Theology, Poetry, Philosophy, and Justice, all corresponding to the main fields of scientific knowledge. The fresco represents natural Truth, acquired through reason.
Sistine Chapel: The last stop on the Vatican Museum tour is the famous Sistine Chapel. It is the icing on the cake for any art major and something I had always wanted to see in person. The entire ceiling was impressively painted by Michelangelo, as well as, the Last Judgement which is the entire back wall of the chapel behind the altar. It is breathtaking to be surrounded on all 4 walls, plus the ceiling by this imagery, even if painting wasn’t Michelangelo’s forte. I could spend hours dissecting the imagery but instead I’ll send you here for more info.
The Art of Italian Cuisine
It makes sense that in a country where some of the greatest artists of all time made a name for themselves, that eating a full Italian meal can also be considered a work of art. The art of a good meal in Italy starts with the ingredients that bring out the flavor of the food. A sauce is not meant to disguise the flavor of a dish but to compliment.
The typical Italian meal from start to finish looks like this:
- Antipasti (appetizer)
- Zuppe (soup)
- Primi (pasta only dish)
- Secondi (main course – includes fish or meat)
- Postre (dessert)
- Espresso (coffee)
- Grappa (sipping liquor)
We shared a very delicious and memorable Italian dinner made by Gab during one of our last nights in Rome. From the antipasti to the grappa Gab presented it all in true Italian form. With so many food courses a three hour dinner is common. The key is learning to pace yourself (skip lunch) and enjoy the evening entertainment of what is dinner. Linger over each course, engage in conversation, and appreciate and learn from those around you.