On April 17 we docked in Port Hercules in the middle of Monaco (legend has it that Hercules passed through here & made the area habitable by getting rid of all the wild beasts). Monaco is the world’s second smallest sovereign state (after the Vatican), covering less than a square mile. But it is also the world’s most densely populated state with some 37,000 residents (just about a third of whom are citizens). It is only about 5 miles from Italy but is surrounded by France on all land borders, and by treaty France is responsible for the defense & foreign policy of Monaco. Although not a member of the European Union, the Euro is Monaco’s official currency. Monaco is, of course, famous as a playground for the rich & famous, so the harbor is full of (big) yachts, the streets are full of fancy cars & everything is expensive.
It was a gray rainy day, one of the very few we have had on this trip. Mary was still feeling pretty bad from the illness she picked up in Dubai, the previous two days in Rome & Florence had been pretty taxing & we were planning a big day in Barcelona the next day. Monaco really wasn’t a priority for us, so we decided to take it easy & just took the HOHO bus tour around the city/country. We didn’t hop off the bus at all, though, so all the pictures in this episode were taken either from the open top of the bus or from the ship. Thankfully the heavy rain didn’t begin until just after we got back to the ship.
Our first stop was at the Casino of Monte Carlo. Monte Carlo (Mount Charles) is one of the five districts of Monaco. The casino was first built in the mid 19th century because the ruling family was in dire financial straits. It worked: they aren’t in any danger of bankruptcy any more. You have probably seen James Bond walking up the steps to the entrance in Casino Royale or Never Say Never Again. The back part of the casino, facing the harbor, is the opera house, built a few years later. And on one side of casino square next to the casino is the Hotel de Paris, built in 1863, very ritzy & expensive. The tennis ball decorations are to celebrate the 110th Monte Carlo Masters tennis tournament (actually held over the border in France), the final day of which was the day of our visit.
We rode through the narrow, sharply curving & hilly streets of the city to the Palace.
The Prince’s Palace was first built in 1191, but has been expanded, renovated & enhanced many times since then. Built on top of a huge rock overlooking the Mediterranean, it was initially a Genoese stronghold & you can still see some of the more castle-like walls at the edge of the rock. The Grimaldi family, Genoese noblemen who were on the losing side in a struggle for control for Genoa, captured it in 1297 & have ruled here most of the time ever since. The princes were absolute rulers until 1910, when a rather ineffectual parliament was established under a constitution granted by Prince Albert I in response to public unrest. But even today Prince Albert II is the dominant political power in Monaco & his offices & residence are in the Palace. His predecessor (& father) was Prince Rainier III, who famously married the movie star Grace Kelly (Albert’s mother) in 1956.
From the Palace grounds there were some stunning views of the harbor & the mountains. Next to the Palace on the edge of the rock cliff is a statue called “hommage aux colonies étrangères,” built in 1914 to honor the 25th year of the reign of Prince Albert I. Across the square from the Palace were some interesting buildings that look like they date from the 19th century. We drove on, down through an arched road, to St Nicholas Cathedral. It was built at the turn of the 20th century; Prince Rainier & Princess Grace are buried there.
We passed by the Oceanographic Museum. It was built in 1910 by Prince Albert I, who had an avid interest in the subject, and presided over from 1957 to 1988 by Jacques Cousteau. The collection inside has a first rate reputation, including an aquarium with more than 4,000 species of fish, but of course we didn’t see the inside. Outside the museum was a very colorful exhibit, but we have no idea what it was about.
The Monaco Grand Prix auto race was first run in 1929. It is a challenging course through the streets of the city, with hairpin turns, changing elevations & a tunnel. The 2016 race was to be at the end of May & they were already preparing when we were there, building viewing stands in several places on the water front. One of the excursions offered by HAL was to walk the course of the race (it might be a lot cheaper to buy a map & walk it yourself). We saw several of the viewing stands that were under construction (built anew every year).
Well that’s it for our short bus-top tour of Monaco. We returned to the ship & it then began raining pretty hard for most of the afternoon. We will leave you with a few pictures taken from the ship.
April 16 found us in the port of Livorno, the access point for a number of cities in Tuscany. Since neither of us had been to Florence in decades we decided to spend the day there. We signed up for a bus transfer that would drop us off & pick us up about 6 hours later, much as we had done in Rome the day before. Again this worked out very well for us.
The Renaissance began in Florence around the beginning of the 15th century. It was characterized by a new interest in science and classical Greek & Roman culture, along with a more humanistic worldview softening the church’s domination of culture. Florence was an independent city state that would come to be dominated by the Medici family, bankers who were among the richest families in Europe. The Medici’s (and other wealthy families) became patrons of Florentine art during the Renaissance period, which helped enable the artists to expand from the previous focus on religious art to decorate religious buildings.
Leaving our transfer group in Piazza Santa Croce, we walked up to the Piazza del Duomo to see the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (usually called “Il Duomo” because of its spectacular dome), the largest building in Florence & one of the most important architectural achievements of the Renaissance. Construction of the cathedral began in 1296 on the foundation of an earlier cathedral. The original model for the cathedral included an octagonal dome some 144 feet wide, with no buttresses, but no one knew how to build one. Thus in 1418, with a huge hole in the roof of the cathedral, a competition was initiated to select an architect to build this, particularly difficult because there was not enough wood in Tuscany to build a scaffolding to hold it up during construction. The story is told that Brunelleschi won the competition by proposing during a meeting that anyone who could make an egg stand on end on a piece of marble should get the commission. The egg went around the table with everyone failing, then Brunelleschi smashed one end of the egg on the marble & placed it there upright. “We could have done that,” the others protested, but Brunelleschi replied “You could have, but you didn’t. You could build the dome as well, if you knew my secret plans for it.”
The dome was completed in 1436. Brunelleschi essentially invented the engineering techniques that together enabled it to be built without scaffolding & ensure that it did not collapse of its own weight for lack of external supports. Notable were the double dome design, in which the thicker internal dome was used to support a thin outer dome; the circular supports embedded in the dome at regular intervals; and the herringbone design of the brickwork that helped support it as it was built. He also invented a new type of pulley apparatus to lift the heavy stones to the top along with other novel tools. This is still the largest masonry dome in the world & has influenced the building of innumerable later domes, including the U.S. Capitol. The marble lantern on top of the dome, also designed by Brunelleschi, was completed in 1469. The original 14th century façade was dismantled in the late 16th century, but was not replaced until 1887. This neo-gothic façade is made of red, green & white marble & is dramatic in effect, though some think it too busy.
Before visiting the cathedral itself, however, we visited the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (Duomo museum) across the street behind the cathedral. This museum is devoted largely to artifacts from the Duomo & its Baptistry, moved here either after being displaced by renovations or for preservation. The museum building was originally constructed in the 14th century to house offices and workshops connected with the construction work on the Duomo & several Renaissance artists created well known sculptures there. It has been a museum since the 1890’s, but was reopened in October, 2015 – just 6 months before we visited — in a greatly expanded & updated form. It is well worth a visit, even if you have been there before this expansion. As you can see from the pictures just above, there is an outdoor viewing space on the museum’s roof with a fine view of the cathedral’s dome.
On the first floor is a long room that has been built on one side as a duplicate of the original pre-Renaissance façade of the cathedral that was torn down in the 16th century. The façade replica is all gray, but many of the original statues & decorations have been placed in their original positions on the façade. The original façade only covered the first story of the building, so this reproduces just about all of it.
The wall on the other side of the room contains the gilded bronze doors from all three of the entrances to the Baptistry of the cathedral. The first set of doors was made by Andrea Pisano in the mid-14th century (these do not appear to have been installed yet in the space reserved for them). The second set was made by Lorenzo Ghiberti, who won a competition (against Brunelleschi & Donatello, among others) in 1401, at the age of 21, and spent the next 21 years completing the doors. Some historians date the beginning of the Renaissance from the panels submitted by Ghiberti & Brunelleschi for this competition. In 1425 Ghiberti was commissioned to create the third set of doors, which make extensive use of perspective to give a new depth to his reliefs. All of these doors were replaced with copies on the Baptistry itself in 1990 to preserve them from further damage after 500 years of exposure to the elements. Some of the individual panels had been on display individually in the museum, but now they have been restored to their full glory in three fully reconstructed sets of doors.
Ghiberti’s first set of doors consist of 28 panels. The first 20 panels depict the life of Jesus & the lower eight show the four evangelists & Saints Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory & Augustine. The figures look natural in their movement in a way that was new * characteristic of the Renaissance. These doors made Ghiberti a celebrity. Note that the doors are behind glass that reflects the room, so the pictures are not very clear.
Ghiberti’s second set of doors depict stories from the Old Testament. The gilded bronze panels on these doors are much larger and the relief extends to the edges of the rectangles, rather than being confined inside a decorative outline as on the more traditional first set of doors. Moreover, they move in time in that some panels include more than one episode from the story they depict. There is also a new depth to the scenes, created using perspective & different depth of relief for the figures & the backgrounds. Michelangelo said these were fit to be the “Gates of Paradise,” and that is generally how they are referred to today.
Each door had a set of three sculptures above the entrance. Above the Pisano gate was “The Beheading of St John the Baptist,” sculpted in 1521 by Vincenso Danti. Above the Gates of Paradise was “The Baptism of Christ” sculpted by Andrea Sansovino in 1505. Above Ghiberti’s original prize winning gate was “John the Baptist Preaching to a Pharisee & Sadducee,” completed in 1509 by Francesco Rustici with the possible assistance of Leonardo da Vinci. The originals are all now mounted above their respective gates in the museum.
. Other things in this room of the museum include some Roman sarcophagi that stood in the square between the cathedral & the baptistry for centuries & some other statues. There are also windows from the upper floors from which you can get a closer view of some of the elevated statues. Altogether, this room makes for quite an experience.
Upstairs we saw Brunelleschi’s wooden model for the dome & his later one for the lantern. There is also a wooden model for the proposed new façade of the cathedral made in the late 16th century by Bernardo Buontalenti, but never actually built.
There were many more ancient artifacts in the museum, including architectural details replaced by later renovations & even some early 16th century hand drawn sheet music decorated with painting.
Two of the most striking sculptures in the museum to us were by Donatello & Michelangelo. Donatello’s wooden “Penitent Magdalene” was sculpted in the mid 1450’s when Donatello was in his 60’s. At that time it was unprecedented for its realism, eschewing the usual portrayal of Mary Magdalene as a beauty for a haggard depiction. It once stood in the Baptistry & may have been commissioned for it. It was damaged in the flood of 1966 and has been beautifully restored for placement in the museum.
Michelangelo’s “The Deposition,” also known as the “Florentine Pieta,” is entirely unlike the one in Rome that he sculpted in his 20’s. He began this sculpture at the age of 72 & worked on it for 8 years. Supposedly he intended it for his tomb. The face of the standing figure (Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea) is thought to be a self portrait. The other three figures are Mary, Jesus & Mary Magdalene. Then one night, for reasons that are unclear, he destroyed it in a fit of frustration, breaking off limbs & other parts. It was purchased by one Francesco Bandini who hired a young apprentice sculptor to restore the piece. Working from Michelangelo’s models he reattached the limbs of Mary Magdalene, the fingers of Jesus’s mother, and Jesus’s left arm, elbow & left nipple. He did not reattach Jesus’s left leg (which originally lay over his mother’s lap) or finish the uncompleted parts that still have chisel marks, but he did add the Mary Magdalene figure. The work spent time in several museums before ending up in this one.
Leaving he museum we walked around to the front of the cathedral and joined a moderate line to enter the interior. It took a little longer than it should have because irritatingly, guides with groups of tourists were allowed to bypass the regular line & gain almost immediate admittance. But it wasn’t too long before we were inside.
The cathedral, or Duomo, is more than 500 feet long and 125 feet wide while the top of the lantern is more than 375 feet above the ground. The bronze doors were made at the turn of the 20th century Above each door is a semicircular mosaic and at the top of the façade is a row of niche sculptures of the apostles flanking a sculpture of mother & child. The piazza was pretty crowded, & across from the cathedral we could see the 13th century Loggia del Bigallo which was something of an orphanage, where lost & unwanted children were accepted for care.
The interior is vast, the supporting arches stretching 75 feet high. There is a liturgical clock over the entrance with one hand, divided into 24 hours that went from sundown to sundown. This is how Italians kept time until the 18th century. The marble floor is colorful and varied in pattern. In the crypt below the cathedral you can see the archaeological remains of the previous cathedral on this site (built in the 5th century) along with other interesting exhibits. When we were there a mass was in progress in the chapel on one side of the transept.
The inside of Brunelleschi’s great dome is covered with frescos depicting “The Last Judgment,” finished in 1570 after 11 years’ work by Giorgio Vasari & Federico Zuccari. The painting covers almost 39,000 square feet. It was restored in 1995 but we saw some alarming looking cracks when we were there.
Next to the Duomo, to the right of the doors as you face them, is the bell tower originally designed by the painter Giotto. This free standing campanile is covered with red, green & white marble decoration similar to that of the cathedral, although it predates the cathedral façade by 500 years. It is more than 275 feet tall and you can climb to the top for a panoramic view of the city (we didn’t). Only the first story was finished when Giotto died in 1337 and it was completed by Andrea Pisano and later Francesco Talenti (the top 3 stories). by 1359. The top 3 levels with windows were designed using perspective, so that each level is larger than the lower one. From the ground, this makes them all look about the same size.
Across the piazza from the front of the Duomo is the Baptistry of St John, for which the three sets of gilded bronze doors shown previously were made. Constructed from 1059 to 1128 on the foundations of a Roman building, this is the oldest building in Florence. It is octagonal Romanesque in design & has a green & white marble design that harmonizes with the cathedral & Giotto’s tower. Once the Cathedral was built the Baptistry served as (obviously) the location for baptisms, and all Catholics in Florence were baptised there until the end of the 19th century. Newly baptised Catholics could proceed directly across the piazza to participate in their first Eucharist. Somehow we neglected to take a separate picture of this remarkable building (doh!), but here is one that includes part of it in the foreground along with the Duomo & Giotto’s tower in the back, showing how the three buildings form a harmonious whole around the piazza..
On the inside of the Baptistry is an apse with an altar & lined with 13th century mosaics. There is a gallery around the inside above the main floor with windows also decorated with mosaics.
The ceiling is covered with mosaics, begun in 1270 and completed in the 14th century. Venetian craftsmen created the mosaics in Venetian glass based on designs by local artists. Various religious scenes are included, including the story of Adam & Eve & the punishments of hell (part of the Last Judgment) shown below. Thankfully, there are chairs arrayed in front of the altar that enable a visitor to sit down & lean his head far enough back to take in the whole ceiling.
We walked down Via de’ Calzaiuoli to Piazza della Signoria, considered the civic center of the city. This main street connecting the religious & civic centers of the city was once filled with traffic, but today it and the two piazzas it connects are reserved for pedestrians, making all of this area very pleasant for walking. This street is a high fashion shopping area as well.
Two buildings dominate the Piazza della Signoria. The Palazzo Vecchio (“Old Palace”) is a fortress-like building with a crenelated roof & a bell tower that can be seen far & wide. It was built by the Medici’s in 1322 above the ruins of a 1st century Roman theater. It was the city hall then & is the city hall now. The entrance says (in Latin) “King of Kings and Lord of Lords,” with a monogram of Christ above it and flanked by lions. On one side of the entrance is a copy of Michelangelo’s David; the original stood here until 1873 when it was moved to a museum for safekeeping. On the other side is Bandinelli’s sculpture of Hercules and Cacus. To the left of the building is the 1565 Fontana di Nettuna (fountain of Neptune). whose face is said to resemble Cosimo I de Medici. The book burning monk Savonarola was burned in front of this fountain in 1498.
Next to the Palazzo on your right is the Loggia dei Lanzi. It was built in 1382 for public ceremonies and gatherings. Today it is an open air sculpture gallery with three large open arches facing the Piazza. Along the back wall is a row of Roman sculptures, perhaps of emperors, brought back from Rome by one of the Medici’s. In front are two notable sculptures. First, Giambologna’s 1580’s “The Rape Of the Sabines” includes three twisting figures carved from a single block of flawed marble. On the arm of the bottom figure is an electrical wire that keeps pigeons away. Second is Benvenuto Cellini’s bronze “Perseus” of 1553, portrayed with sword in one hand and the head of Medusa in the other. Cellini spent 10 years creating this sculpture.
From here we walked down to the Ponte Vecchio (“Old Bridge”). There has been a bridge at this spot since Roman times & the current one was built in 1345. This bridge over the Arno River is famously lined on both sides with shops. Originally these were mostly butchers & tanners. But in 1565 the Medici’s moved from the Palazzo Vecchio across the river to the Pitti Palace. The commissioned Vasari to build an elevated corridor over this bridge & connecting these two buildings, so they could walk between their residence & the city hall without encountering ordinary people on the streets. They didn’t like the smell from the butchers & tanners, so in 1593 they were banned & the bridge was occupied by gold merchants, who dominate the shops here to this day. The Vasari Corridor can still be seen above the shops on one side of the bridge and on the other side is a bust of Benvenuto Cellini, not only an important sculptor but one of the most prominent goldsmiths in the city. This was the only bridge in Florence that was not demolished by the retreating Nazi’s at the end of World War II, although they demolished the medieval buildings at each end to make it unusable. Some say this was on Hitler’s orders, others that the officer ordered to demolish it chose not to carry through. This is a popular tourist stop & was quite crowded when we were there.
From here we walked to the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (National Central Library), the largest library in Italy, which is not far from where we were to meet our group for the transfer back to the port. This library was founded in 1714 & the current building near the river bank was completed in 1935. Since 1870 it has received copies of all publications in Italy. The flood of 1966 damaged about a third of the library’s holdings, but many of these items were subsequently repaired in the library’s Restoration Center. Sadly, the library was closed when we got there (we probably should have visited there first), but the building is quite impressive from the outside.
We walked up the street a couple of blocks (past a gelato shop we would visit a little later) to the Basilica of Santa Croce, fronting on the piazza that bears its name where we were to meet our group. This is the largest Franciscan church in the world. It was begun in 1294 and consecrated in 1442. Like the Duomo, its Neo-Gothic façade was added in the mid 19th century. It was designed by a Jewish architect named Niccolo Matas, which may explain why there is a Star of David prominently displayed near the top above the main entrance. Matas had wanted to be buried in the church but because he was Jewish he was buried under the porch rather than inside. The bell tower behind the church was built in 1842, after an earlier one was damaged by lightning.
The inside of the church is very large and open, with several chapels on each side of the altar. All are lush with 14th century frescoes.
Santa Croce was a favored burial place for the rich & famous of Florence. The tombs lining the walls of Santa Croce include such luminaries as Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo & the composer Rossini. Michelangelo died in Rome but a group of Florentines broke into the Roman church where he was buried & smuggled him back to Florence, where he was interred here in 1570 in a tomb designed by Vasari. Galileo died in 1542 but was denied burial in the church because of his condemnation for heresy, but he was moved into his tomb in the church’s wall in 1737. Machiavelli was not entombed in the wall until 1787 even though he died in 1527. Rossini died in 1868 but his monument wasn’t created until 1900. There are also monuments on the wall to famous Italians who are buried elsewhere, including Dante Alighieri (exiled from Florence & buried in Ravenna in 1321), nuclear scientist Enrico Fermi & the inventor of radio, Guglielmo Marconi. There is also a well known relief of the Annunciation in gilded limestone by Donatello. The floor contains the tops of a number of other tombs (see first picture in the group above), but the guide on our transfer bus told us that the 1966 flood caused so much damage to the church that the bones in the floor were all mixed together so that today there are no remains left in these graves.
The wall of the church also displayed an interesting pipe organ originally built in 1579. We left the church into the courtyard through the porch of the Pazzi Chapel. Originally designed by Brunelleschi and completed in the mid 15th century, this is considered something of an early Renaissance masterpiece. The decorations inside the cupola of the porch were done by Luca della Robbia. Behind the chapel was a good view of the bell tower, and the piazza was viewable through the wrought iron doors of the courtyard.
We walked back down to the gelato shop & had some delicious gelato cones (they are always delicious), then back to the Piazza Santa Croce to meet our group for the bus trip back to the dock. Amazingly, for the second day in a row everyone was back on time! So we walked to the bus (the driver picked us up a good bit closer than is allowed so we wouldn’t have to walk so far) & headed into the hills outside the city. We saw a portion of the 14th century city walls and rove through one of the gates. There were also some nice views from the hills, but the best was at Piazzale Michelangelo, a hillside plaza built in 1869. The best views would have been from the edge of this plaza, but unfortunately our bus only slowed down & didn’t stop. Still, not bad for a last view of Florence.
On April 15 we docked in Civitavecchia, the port for Rome (a mere 1.5 hour bus ride away). Docked right behind us was HAL’s newest & largest ship, the 2700 passenger Koningsdam, ending its maiden voyage (I think). As a special treat, HAL invited the Amsterdam passengers over for a special tour of the new ship. But we were only here for 1 day & the tour would take all morning, so there would be no time left to go to Rome or any of the other interesting sites in the area, beyond Civitavecchia itself. So, Rome or Koningsdam? It seemed like a no-brainer to us, but to our amazement almost half the passengers chose to tour the new ship! I get it that many of these are veteran cruisers who have been here numerous times before, but really do you ever run out of things to see & do in Rome & its environs? And this is, after all, just another cruise ship. There must be something here we are missing.
We had been here before, https://baderjournal.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/rome-italy/, but to us this choice was easy. So early in the morning we boarded a bus for the trip to Rome. We would be dropped off in Rome, have 6 or 7 hours on our own, then picked up at the same spot & driven back to the ship. This turned out to be a good choice, at least for us. We were dropped off in the Piazza del Popolo & walked down Via di Ripetta past the mausoleum of Augustus to the Piazza Navona. We had visited here briefly in 2013, under time pressure of a deadline for rejoining our tour group, but this time we were able to explore it at leisure.
As you can see above, the Piazza is very long & narrow. This is because it started life as a race course built in the 1st century AD by the Emperor Domitian. In the mid-17th century Pope Innocent X, whose family palazzo faced this plaza, had it converted into a masterpiece of Baroque design, with a church in the middle of one side and three fountains down the middle. Today it is usually full of visitors & locals, including artists selling their work & itinerant vendors. When we were there the product of the day seemed to be selfie sticks (the fellow with a backpack in the 1st picture above is holding one).
We entered the Piazza from the north & stopped at the first fountain there. The Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune) was originally constructed in the late 16th century as a terminus for a new aqueduct. For 200 years it was a utilitarian source of drinking and washing water with no statuary. The fountain was elaborated with statuary in 1878, after Rome became the capital of the new nation-state of Italy. In the center is Neptune fighting an octopus, with other statues around it. This is also the fountain in the picture above, left.
The center of the Piazza holds the masterpiece of the group, Bernini’s 1661 Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers), the dynamic design of which was revolutionary in its time. The four rivers, representing the four continents to which Christianity had spread, are the Nile (for Africa), the Danube (for Europe), the Ganges (for Asia) & the Rio de la Plata that runs by Buenos Aires (representing the Americas). The four river gods are readily identifiable: the Ganges carries an oar, indicating navigability; the Nile’s head is covered by a cloth, because its source was unknown at that time; the Rio de la Plata is sitting on coins, indicating the riches of the Americas; the Danube is touching the Pope’s coat of arms, because it is the closest major river to Rome. All of them lie back a little from the center of the fountain where they are dwarfed by a tall obelisk, originally created in the 1st century for the Emperor Domitian and reconstructed here from the several pieces into which it had broken when it fell n the 5th century. It is often said (even by tour guides) that the fearful figure of the Rio de la Plata sculpture was intended by Bernini to be expressing horror at the church next to the fountain that was designed by a rival of his, but in fact the fountain was completed before the rival began work on the church.
On one side of the Piazza behind the Fountain of the Four Rivers is the church of Sant’Agnese In Agone, built just after the fountain was completed. It is named after St Agnes, who was martyred here when this Piazza was still the Stadium of Domitian. The primary architect was Francesco Borromini, a student and then a rival of Bernini’s. The name does not refer to the agony of martyrdom, but to the Greek for “site of competitions” that was an early name for the plaza: “piazza in agone.” We walked inside & were blown away by the stunning beauty of the interior space. Sadly, photography was not allowed inside so the only pictures here are of its façade (see also the first picture of Piazza Navona, above).
The Fontana del Moro (Fountain of the Moor) sits at the southern end of the piazza. Originally constructed circa 1575 with a statue of a dolphin in the middle & four Tritons around the edges, Bernini’s sculpture of a Moor was added in the middle with the dolphin in 1653. In 1874 the original statues were moved to a museum so the ones seen there today are copies (but good enough to fool us). An accordion trio was playing near the fountain.
Leaving Piazza Navona, we continued walking south toward the Capitoline Hill & the Forum, our major objectives for the day. We passed an archaeological site and several typical Roman streets and before long the Capitoline Hill with Michelangelo’s famous staircase came into view.
The Capitoline Hill. one of the original seven hills of Rome, has been a center of government in Rome for some 2500 years. This was the location of the ancient Temple of Jupiter and the entire hilltop was redesigned by Michelangelo in the 1530’s into what is now the Piazza del Campidoglio. At the top of the stairs are the twin statues of Castor & Pollux, considered in ancient times to be protectors of Rome, and in the middle of the square is an equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. The original of this statue is in the museum here; it survived the general destruction of pagan statuary because it was mistakenly thought to be Emperor Constantine, a Christian hero. The Capitoline Museum is in the two identical buildings on the sides of this square, which are connected by a tunnel, and the building at the back is the Palazzo Senatorio, now the mayor’s offices.
As we walked around the left side of the piazza toward the back of the hill facing the Forum we passed a copy of the famous statue of a she-wolf suckling Romulus & Remus sitting on a tall pedestal. The original is in the museum. Apparently it was just a sculpture of a wolf when first made in the 13th century & the statues of the boys were added during the Renaissance. From the back of the hill one has quite a view of the western end of the Forum, in particular the Arch of Septimus Severus, built in 203 AD, that stands just below the Capitoline Hill. In the first picture below you can also see the Temples of Saturn & Vespasian (pillars on the right) — the Basilica of Julia, a civil law court in the center where the rows of column bases are — the Column of Phocas to the right of the Arch — the Rostra, a forum for public speaking, at the low brick wall under the Column of Phocas – and the Palatine hill in the center background.
The Forum was the center of Roman life for 1,000 years. After the fall of Rome the city fell into neglect, with the result that the forum was filled up with dirt & debris to a depth of several yards. During the Renaissance interest was renewed in this historic area that still had the tops of columns & arches sticking up from the ground, but scientific excavations did not begin until the late 18th century. The original ground level was discovered in the 19th century and most of the ruins were uncovered only in the 20th century. Today, despite the tourist crowds, walking down these streets where so many famous ancient figures walked & lived provides a personal connection to history.
A lot of work was in progress in the western part of the Forum & there was no entrance from the Capitoline Hill. We had to walk out on the street about halfway down the Forum before finding a ticket booth & entrance. There was a long line so it took a while to get in (we almost gave it up, having limited time in town, but were glad we stuck it out). We saw a lot of ancient buildings & ruins in our tour of the Forum, and each of them (at least the ones we photographed) is addressed below. I hope it doesn’t prove too tedious.
We started our tour of the Forum at the Arch of Titus, which is at the eastern end, a short walk up the road called the Sacred Way from the Colosseum & the Arch of Constantine, both of which we visited last time we were here. Constructed after Emperor Titus’s death, this arch celebrates his victory in squelching the Judean uprising in 70 AD, which included the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The inside of one side of the arch contains a relief showing Roman soldiers carrying off the menorah & other booty from the Temple. The other side shows Titus in a chariot being crowned by the goddess of Victory & at the top is a relief of Titus riding an eagle to heaven.
Today the Basilica of Constantine is a very large & impressive building containing three huge arches. But originally this was only one side of a much larger building with a matching row of arches on the other side & a huge pitched roof 130 feet high over a center hall between the rows of arches. This building, about as long as a football field, was the hall of justice & there was a gigantic statue of a sitting Constantine filling up one end of it. At the top of the ruins you can see the remains of the taller supports for the central roof. We couldn’t go inside this building because it was undergoing restoration work.
To the left when facing west is the Palatine Hill, another of the original 7 hills of Rome where the emperors had their palaces. In fact, our word “palace” comes from “Palatine.” Quite a few people were standing on a terrace on top of that hill, thought to have been part of the palace of Caligula. We didn’t go there because our time was limited and, as you can see, it is pretty far uphill. At the lower end of the hill are the ruins of the Horrea Vespasiani, originally a warehouse that was later converted into a two level shopping center.
The 4th century Temple of Romulus, probably actually dedicated to a member of the royal family rather than Romulus, was used as the vestibule of a church beginning in the 6th century. The massive bronze doors are original, still on their original hinges & with a working lock. It is circular in design with a cupola on top.
The Temple of Antoninus & Faustina is an amalgam of the columned portico of a temple built in 141 AD & a church built inside it at the beginning of the 17th century. It is named for the Emperor Antoninus Pius and his wife. Across the Forum from there is the site of the house of the Vestal Virgins whose garden is lined with statues of some of the more notable Vestals.
Nearby is the Temple of Vesta, goddess of the hearth, tended by the Vestal Virgins. A recruit spent 30 years as a Vestal: 10 to learn her duties, 10 to perform them & 10 to teach new recruits. A Vestal who violated the oath of virginity was to be buried alive, which apparently happened 10 times, and the man involved would be whipped to death. The temple was round with a ring of columns and a sacred flame inside that the Virgins had to keep burning at all times, on pain of whipping by the head priest, the Pontifex Maximus.
There are several other sets of columns in this area that are the remains of ancient temples. The Temple of Castor and Pollux was first built in the 5th century BC, but the three remaining columns were erected in 6 AD after a fire. The 44 foot tall Column of Phocas was erected in 608 AD by the Byzantine Emperor of that name who had just visited the city. It was the last monument built here. The Temple of Saturn dates back almost to 500 BC, but the 8 columns on a platform that can be seen today were erected in 42 BC. The next to last week of December was the celebration of Saturnalia, when gifts were exchanged and social distinctions (including master-slave) were disregarded in a show of good will, a precursor to our modern Christmas holiday. Next to it are the three remaining columns of the Temple of Vespasian. The Basilica Julia was a large building housing civil law courts, begun by Julius Caesar in 54 BC & completed by Augustus. All that is left is the floor & rows of bases of columns.
The Temple of Julius Caesar stands on the spot where Caesar was cremated at a funeral where Marc Antony gave the speech that Shakespeare paraphrased (“Friends, Romans & countrymen, lend me your ears”). Caesar’s house was just behind this temple & he walked by this spot on the day of his assassination. The temple was erected by Augustus, making Julius Caesar the first actual Roman citizen to become a god.
Not far away is the Curia, the spot where the Roman Senate met from the beginning of the republic. The building’s reconstruction by Julius Caesar was completed by Augustus. Because of this reconstruction work the Senate was meeting elsewhere when Julius Caesar was assassinated. It was rebuilt again by Diocletian after extensive fire damage in 283 AD & converted into a church in 630. We were unable to go inside because it was undergoing reconstruction. The bronze door is a copy of the original, which was moved to a church.
That’s it for our tour of the Forum. We had one more item on our agenda, the Church of St Peter In Chains. This church contains not only the chains supposedly used to bind St Peter but also Michelangelo’s great sculpture of Moses. It turned out to be very difficult to find, up some streets, then up a stairway & around a corner. We probably wouldn’t have found it but for the bright red spray-painted sign on a wall at the top of a very long stairway that helpfully said: “S Pietro –>”. But after spending quite a while seeking it out, it turned out that the church was closed until 3:00 PM, too late for us since we had to meet the bus across town at 4:00. Next time we will check the closing times of places we want to visit much more closely! The church had several signs emphatically noting that visiting the church is free and warning visitors not to pay anyone to gain entrance; this scam on tourists must be a problem to prompt the posting of such signs.
We walked back toward the meeting place for the bus (it was a little early, but we wanted to be very sure we wouldn’t miss the ride back to the port). On the way we passed the Forum of Augustus, built to commemorate his victory over Brutus & Cassius at the Battle of Philippi in 41 BC. It originally had a statue of Mars that reputedly looked very much like Augustus. Next to the sidewalk near this excavation is an actual statue of Augustus, so you can see what that might have looked like.
We also passed Trajan’s Column, erected in 113 AD at one end of Trajan’s Forum to commemorate the Emperor’s victories over the Dacians (in present day Romania). It is covered by a continuous shallow relief spiraling up from the bottom telling the story of the Dacian wars with some 2500 figures. There was originally a bronze statue of Trajan on top, but that was replaced in 1587 with the statue of St Peter that is still there today. Behind it is the domed church of Santa Maria di Loreto, also completed near the time when St Peter was placed on top of the coumn. The ashes of Trajan & his wife were originally interred in its base.
It was a good bit further to Piazza del Popolo, where we were to meet our group for the trip back to the port. Most of the way we walked along the Via del Corso, one of the premier high end shopping streets. We got back early enough to stop for a delicious margherita pizza with very large beers and some gelato just before reaching the Piazza.
On its northern side, Piazza del Popolo is just inside of what was the northern gate of the walls of Rome. Once called the Porta Flaminia, this gate is now called Porta del Popolo. The gate was restored to its present appearance by Bernini in 1655. To the right of the gate is the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, which gave the piazza its name. The current church was built in the 1470’s on the spot that was supposed to have been the burial place of Nero’s ashes. It is full of important artwork.
In the middle of the Piazza del Popolo is an Egyptian obelisk that was carved during the 13th century BC and brought to Rome from Heliopolis in 10 BC by Emperor Augustus. Originally placed in the Circus Maximus, it was moved here in the 16th century. This is the 2d oldest & 2d tallest obelisk in Rome, rising some 120 feet. Around the obelisk are four lions spouting water, and behind it at the southern entrance of the Piazza (where we entered) are twin 17th century domed churches.
On each side of the piazza is a fountain with elaborate sculptures above it. On the eastern side is Rome standing between figures representing the Tiber & the Aniene rivers. Note the she-wolf suckling Romulus & Remus under the feet of Rome in the center. On the western side is the Fountain of Neptune, holding a trident.
We met our group as arranged on the steps of the Basilica, just inside the Porta del Populo. It was a sunny & warm afternoon & it felt good reclining in the sun on the steps waiting for the rest to show up (maybe the extra large beer helped). Amazingly, everybody was there on time. We walked to the bus & returned to Civitavecchia after yet another full and rewarding day.