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.
You really take great pictures. I was in Rome, but never saw this part.
June 5, 2016 at 8:48 pm
Thanks Konnie. Actually, you did see the last part, since this was the plaza where we were dropped off & met the bus to go back to the ship.
March 18, 2017 at 6:11 pm