Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Rome Holidays - Finale: Colosseum

The grand finale of our Rome Holidays is, of course, reserved for the Colosseum!

Colosseum and a Wedding couple

Colosseum is one massive arena.  Its shape reminds you of modern stadiums.  Yes, you are right, modern stadiums are modeled on the Colosseum.  Two thousand years ago, the architects already mastered the knowledge of crowd control.  They knew how to let large number of people in and out of a single venue in the shortest time.

If you wonder why the Colosseum was built on its current site, then you need to know Emperor Nero.  He is one of the worst reputed emperors in the Roman history.  After he was forced to commit suicide, his successor decided to alien himself from Nero.  For that purpose, they built the Colosseum on the site where Nero's palace used to be.

At Colosseum, Romans were entertained, just like today, people are being entertained in modern stadiums, although the games are more civilized, and less life threatening.

For photographers, just for your information, the exterior of the Colosseum is copyright free, but the interior of the Colosseum is not.  You can't sell your interior photos as stock.

The cost of the ticket to visit Colosseum and Palatine Hill is 10 Euros.  It is not expensive, but the queue is the killer.  Do you think the Colosseum is big?  The queue can go around the Colosseum, go figure yourself.

Around the Colosseum, it is a busy place.  Waves and waves of tourists from all around the world.  There is also a segway tour in Rome, but it is not cheap.

Segway Tours in Rome

If you want to jump the queue and pay nothing to have a peep of Palatine Hill, the center most of the seven hills of Rome, and also the most ancient part of Rome, you can climb up the small hill behind the metro station.  You can have a free view of the Palatine Hill, and witness the era of Rome as the city of brick!

Palatine Hill

With a satisfied heart, we concluded our 2-day venture to Rome.  We took the 6.20pm high speed train at Roma Termini and returned to Milan, in a short 3 hours.

You can find all my Rome Holidays posts here

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Rome Holidays - 12 Mouth of Truth

Walking down the street from Piazza del Campidoglio, the grand Theatre of Marcellus greets us.

Theater of Marcellus Exterior

The theater was built by Emperor Augustus, and completed in 11 BC.  It is named after the Emperor's nephew, who was destined to be the Emperor's heir, but died at a young age.  Take note of this emperor's name, Augustus.  He is the one who is said to turn Rome from a city of BRICK into a city of MARBLE.  When you visit Rome and look at the many Roman ruins, you will roughly know whether the ruins are from pre or post Augustus era, who ruled from 27 BC to 14 AD.  He is also the first Roman Emperor.  Life, or history is full of coincidence, beginning of the Roman Empire, somehow coincides with the legendary birth of Jesus Christ!

When the theater was first opened, it was the biggest open air theater in Rome at the time.  In terms of shape, it has the typical Roman amphitheater look, and looks like a scale down version of the Colosseum.  Over 2000 years of its history, the theater was acquired by a number of Roman wealthy families, who converted it into a fortress as well as a palace.  From the outside, it looks like a Roman ruin, but inside, it actually serves as apartments on the upper floors today! It will be really interesting to stay in such an apartment once, if possible.  

Theater of Marcellus and its modern apartments

After we passed by Theater of Marcellus, we were close to one of Rome's famed attractions - The Mouth of Truth, La Bocca della Verita in Italian.

To locate this 'mouth', you will first see a Roman temple standing lonely in a square, next to a major traffic junction.

Roman Temple

Then you will see the towering bell tower of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. 

Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin

The church's bell tower should be the landmark you look for.  The Mouth of Truth, which is a piece of marble slab with a diameter of 1.75m, is actually hard to locate, if you don't know where it is.

Do you see the Romanesque arcade in the portico of the church?  There lies our famous MOUTH.

La Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth)

The exact origin of the Mouth of Truth is uncertain.  Some speculate it was part of an ancient fountain, some claims it was a manhole cover.  Nobody knows exactly its original use.  Then in medieval times, people use it as a lie detector.  Legend has it that if you tell a lie, and you put your hand into the mouth, you hand will be bitten off!

And this legend would not have shot to international fame if not for the American movie Roman Holiday in 1953, starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.  You can see a trailer of the movie of this particular scene below, in Italian though :)

You can find all my Rome Holidays posts here.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Rome Holidays - 11 Victor Emmanuel Monument & Capitoline Hill

Right next to the Roman Forums lies the grandeur Victor Emmanuel Monument.  If you can still remember, Victor Emmanuel II is the one who united Italy in 1861.  We visited his tomb at Pantheon here.

The moment is gigantic, and sits on Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills of ancient Rome.  The construction of the monument started in 1885, and opened to the public in 1911!  You see, 1911 is always an important number :)

Victor Emmanuel Monument at dusk

Inside the moment, there is a military museum on the upper floors, as well as an altar for the unknown soldiers who fought for Italy in the basement.

St Sebastian

St Sebastian, the patron saint of soldiers, is in the center of the altar.

At the back of the monument, there is a modern glass walled elevator taking tourists to the top, which is said to offer fantastic views of the Rome.  If you don't want to pay for the elevator ride, you can still get a good view of the symbols of Rome - Colosseum, Roman Forums from a high point at Victor Emmanuel Monument.

View of Rome from Victor Emmanuel Monument, with Colosseum in sight

Sharing the Capitoline Hill with Victor Emmanuel Monument is Michelangelo's masterpiece Piazza del Campidoglio. The whole plaza was master-mind by Michelangelo, and he designed the buildings, as well as the statues, even the staircase leading to the plaza.

The Senate at Piazza del Campidoglio

Standing at the entrance of the plaza is the statue of the twin brothers of Gemini.  The originals were designed by Michelangelo, but they had been moved to another location.  The current pair is a replica.

Capitoline Hill Gemini Statues

This square is full of history.  On all three sides, there are museums detailing the relevant history.  You can see school students coming here for outings.

Next to the square, there is also an ancient church.  What is most important is behind the church.

The Legend of Rome

In the small little square behind Piazza del Campidoglio, there is a column, not a very tall column.  Surmounting the column stands a female wolf, breast-feeding two young boys. These two young boys, said to be twins, would later on become the founder of Rome.

You can find all my Rome Holidays posts here.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Rome Holidays - 10 Roman Forums

There is a saying All roads lead to Rome.  Roman Empire was one of the greatest Empires in the human history.  It spanned across the entire European continent, and reached Asia in the east, and Africa in the south.  For such a huge empire, communication is the key.  The Romans built many express ways over the empire and all of them lead to Rome, the heart & soul of the empire.  Of that heart and soul, Roman Forums was where the heart of the heart was.  Political plots, military strategies were planned right here, as well as conspiracies.  Julius Caesar was also murdered some where among the ruins.

You may expect the place to be huge, but it is actually surprisingly small.    That again proves the teaching that no matter how rich, how powerful you are, you can only eat that much, you can only occupy that big a bed.  Everything else, that's for others :)

If you didn't read up about the place before hand, or didn't have a good guide, you may just walk past some historically important places without even noticing them.

Roman Forums

Look at that red arrow, that's the poster boy of Roman Forums.  Here I have a closer look at this landmark.  Just take note that the place is a fenced area.  You can't walk through it outside the opening hours.

Roman Forum Columns

Next, look at the dull building the blue arrow is pointing at.  Guess what it was?  No idea?  It was the Roman Senate!  It is a bit too uncharacteristic, isn't it?

The reason this place is called Roman Forums is because it consists many different forums, not just one single forum.

Caesar's Forum

A few broken pillars are what Julius Caesar's Forum remains today.  We can no longer imagine how splendid it used to be.

Directly opposite Caesar's Forum, across the road Via dei Fori Imperili, stands the ruins of Trajan's Forum.

Trajan's Forum

I am quite impressed by the extent how well preserved it is, after more than a thousand years!  Beside Trajan's Forum, it is the Trajan's Column.

Trajan's Column

If you can still remember column of Marcus Aurelius here, then you will find the two columns look like. That's actually true.  Column of Marcus Aurelius is a copy of Trajan's Column.

Details of Trajan's Column

Don't you think the column looks very small in size?  Do you know that inside the column, actually there is spiral staircase that can let people climb up the column from inside?  It is impressive, isn't it?  And do you see the small holes?  They are for light to sip inside the column to provide natural lighting and fresh air.  Ancient people were such genius, no wonder many people always think that aliens with high civilization once occupied planet earth.

You can find all my Rome Holiday posts here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rome Holidays - 9 The Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore

After a good night's sleep, we started our second day of adventure in Rome.  Our first stop was the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.  A papal basilica means it is the Pope's church, and he will grace this church from time to time.  The special thing about this church also lies in the legend that Virgin Mary herself indicated the location for a church to be built in her name.  It was said that she told Pope Liberius this in a dream.   As such, it is a must go place in a Catholic's pilgrimage in Rome.  It is also a jewel in the Christian world of art.

Facade of Santa Maria Maggiore

Inside the basilica, gold is dominant color and its splendid decorations are only fit for a King, and a Pope in this case.

High Altar
Fresco above the High Altar

One of the crown jewels in this basilica is the Sistine Chapel.  Please note this Sistine Chapel is a different one from the Sistine Chapel in Vatican where the conclave is held.

Sistine Chapel

The history and significance of the art works in this basilica is simply overwhelming.  If you are interested, you can have more information at this link.  They provide comprehensive information about the basilica's history, and the significance of many of the art pieces in the basilica.

Almost as a papal symbol, an obelisk is standing right behind the basilica.

Obelisk of Santa Maria Maggiore

The Roman Catholic Church is one great organization.  It managed to amass large amount of master pieces of art, backed by tremendous wealth with contributions from her hundreds of millions of followers worldwide.  The success of the Catholic Church should be a case study for every MBA program in the world!

You can find all my Rome Holidays posts here.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Rome Holidays - 8 St Peter's Basilica

We were told by some self-claimed guide that St Peter's Basilica was closed until 2.30pm that day.  I had serious doubts about the accuracy of this information, as I had been cheated by this kind of 'kind' information before.  Anyway, we were at St Peter's Square at 2.30pm.  My heart was pounding.  Wah, finally I was standing in St Peter's Square, a place where I could only dream of.  It is so big, and it is surrounded by the beautiful colonnade designed by the famous architecture Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  Do you feel his name is very familiar?  Yes, he is also the one behind the Fountain of the Old Boat at the Spanish Steps, as well as the Fountain of Four Rivers at Piazza Navona.  Rome is kind of shaped by this genius architect in the 17th century.

St Peter's Square Looking Down from the Cupola

Front View of St Peter's Basilica and the Egyptian Obelisk

In the center of the square, stands the Egyptian obelisk, built in Egypt more than 3000 years ago, and brought to Rome in 37 BC.  Surmounting the obelisk is a globe and a cross.  Rumor has it that the globe contains the ashes of Julius Caesar.  If you wonder why a symbol of the Egyptian sun god stands in the very heart of Roman Catholic Church, the answer is that this obelisk is said to have witness the martyrdom of St Peter, and so it is here.

To enter St Peter's Basilica, you have to queue up for security check at the left side of the square, if you are facing the basilica.  The queue was long, number of people was huge.   That section of the colonnade basically became the security corridor.  It took us about an hour in the queue before we finally entered the basilica itself.

Wow, the basilica is huge!  And it is like a treasure vault.  There are so many great art pieces in this one single place.  I was completely speechless, and awed by such massive achievement of the human race.

Michelangelo's Pieta

First you are being greeted by Michelangelo's Pieta.  The piece of art that made the young Michelangelo famous.
Beautiful ceilings in the side chapels
High Altar
The Dome of St Peter's Basilica
Fresco of the Ceilings

Awesome is the one and only word that I can think of to describe this place.

Statue of St Peter

In front of the high altar, sits the statue of St Peter, who this church is named after.  St Peter is one of Jesus' 12 disciples, and is said to be buried under the basilica.  He is also said to hold the key to heaven.
Wah, St Peter's Basilica is a place where one must visit at least once in his/her life time.

Vatican's Swiss Guard

And how can I leave out the famous Vatican Swiss Guards?  They have been serving the Pope faithful for centuries.  They are actually considered to be mercenaries, as they are all of Swiss national, but serve in a foreign country called Vatican.  Switzerland had since banned all her citizens to serve in any form of mercenary with the only exception of those Swiss guards.

Do you think that's all for St Peter's?  Not yet.  After you come out from the basilica, remember to turn left and follow the sign to get the ticket to climb the cupola!  Cupola basically means the dome.  You have to first climb up some hundreds of steps, wide and windy to the base of the dome.  From there, you will continue to climb, on stairs that is sandwiched between the inner wall and outer wall of the dome.  The stairs are narrow and will bend as the dome bends.  If you are not physically fit, I would not advise you to take this climb.

Is it worth the climb?  Definitely YES!  It offers you a super view of Vatican and Rome.  You are on top of the world.

You can find all Rome Holidays posts here

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Rome Holidays - 7 Castle St Angelo

After walking for the whole morning, we again getting closer and closer to Vatican.  Along the Tiber River that flows across Rome, stands a Vatican strong-hold, also a safe shelter for the Pope - Castle St Angelo.
Castle St Angelo Full View and the Bridge of Angels

Castle St Angelo was made famous in recent years thanks to Dan Brown's popular novel and later a motion picture Angels & Demons.  Here is where the four cardinals were held captive before they were cruelly murdered one by one.

Castle St Angelo is also unique in the sense that no Asian monarchs will ever do something like this.  The castle first started as Emperor Hadrian's Tomb!  Don't think any Asian monarchs, or any Asian, will so happily adopt a tomb as a residence.  A cultural divide between the east and west is salient in this aspect.

Bridge of Angels across the Tiber River is where you pass by before you reach the castle.   It is a busy place.  Street vendors, street artists and tourists are crowding out the small bridge.  One of the most impressive performance is by two Indians.  One is sitting on a pole which is being held by the other with only one hand.  I suspect the key holds in the hand holding the pole.  If you look carefully, it doesn't look like a human hand, more like a fake hand.  And if you look at the posture of the guy sitting on the floor, doesn't it look a bit odd?
Street Artists on Bridge of Angels
An Angel on the Bridge of Angels

At the end of the bridge, you will be greeted by a high wall.  It is meant to be a fortress with strong and high walls to protect the Pope in times of trouble.

On top of the castle, there is a giant bronze statue of archangel Michael.

Statue of Archangel Michael

Legend has it that in 590, Archangel Michael appeared atop the castle, probably at the location where his statue is now, signifying the end of the plague.  Hence, the castle is named as Castle St Angelo, basically means Angel's Castle.

Surprisingly, there is actually a small cafe at the top of the castle, where you can sit down for a cup of coffee, while enjoying the super view of St Peter and Vatican.

View of Vatican from Castle St Angelo

Something that I find contradictory of Roman Catholism is that it always asks people to dress properly, and restraint from lust, but then if you visit one of the chambers in the castle, you will find chambers with the whole roof painted with nothing but naked men and women, all of them.  What does it really say about the church?  No photography allowed indoor in the castle, so I can't share with you the paintings.

I missed out one important part of the castle, which is the fortified escape walkway connecting Vatican and Castle St Angelo.  It is located at the back of the castle, and I am not sure whether it is open to the public.  During the sack of Rome in 1527, by the Holy Roman Empire Emperor Charles V, that fortified escape path saved Pope Clement VII, although just temporarily.  With 147 of his 200 strong Swiss guards died in the battle, and under siege in the small little Castle St Angelo, nobody would expect Clement to be able to hold for long.  This war in 1527 also marks the end of the Renaissance period, a high point in Europe's history.

You can find all my Rome Holidays posts here.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Rome Holidays - 6 Piazza Navona

Bidding farewell to the massive Pantheon, we turned into a small alley, and being greeted by some interesting person.

Unknown Statue

A gentleman with sword in one hand, and with a globe on the other.  He looks like a warrior, and a hero, but too bad I don't know who he is.

Fountain of Four Rivers

At the next turn, you could already see the gigantic Fountain of Four Rivers standing right in the middle of Piazza Navona.  This is a place where my guide book described as where pick-pockets and tourists rubbing shoulders.

The center of attention no doubt is Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Fountain of Four Rivers.  The obelisk surmounted by a dove is the representation of papal power, the four muscular men each represents a continent and the representative river of that continent.  When I was touring the piazza, I actually didn't know which man represents which river, but then as fate had it, I photographed two of them, I had been to one, while the other represents the continent where I am from.  Nothing is coincidence in this world!

Ganges for Asia

The Nile for Africa

The fountain was unveiled in an era where exploration expanded people's understanding of the world.  New territories had been found, colonies had been established, the gospel had been spread to the new frontiers.  It was a brand new world, an era of excitement, just like we are now in the era of internet, which makes this world much smaller, people much closer, despite physical distances.  We are lucky to live in such an exciting age!

There are many restaurants & cafes around the piazza, you can sit down for a sip of coffee or a hearted meal.  However, it is said that the price can be high for such entertainment :).  

A View of Piazza Navona

There are also a lot of street artists setting up stalls in the piazza to sell their paintings and art works.

It is also a place which is closer to modern Roman's life.  In a nearby alley, you can even find something like a weekend market where you can shop for your grocery.


You can find all my Rome Holidays blog posts here.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Rome Holidays - 5 Pantheon

Our next stop is the Pantheon.  Frankly speaking, if I didn't read Dan Brown's Angels & Demons,  and later on watched the movie of the same title, I would not even notice such a building.


Look at the exteriors of this building, it is so uncharacteristically dull.  Grey outer walls, looks like a silo holding grains.  The facade is like an old man being stripped to its bare minimum.  But do you know why?

The Pantheon was first built as a temple of gods, for many many Roman, and probably Greek, gods.  Later on, when Christianity took over the entire Roman Empire, Pope Boniface IV converted it to a church in 609.  Today, the Pantheon still serves as a church, and also the burial ground for some of the Italian Kings.  Over the years, as dictators, emperors and popes went on their great constructions, they tended to like to 'steal' a piece or two from the Pantheon.  That's how Pantheon ended up how it looks like today.

The Dome of Pantheon, with light coming in through the oculus

Once you enter the Pantheon, you just can't ignore the majestic dome.  It is so vast, so daunting.  Natural light comes into the massive building through the oculus in the center of the dome.  The construction of the dome is itself an architectural marvel.

The center chapel is an alter for Catholic mass, as you may expected, its construction was commissioned by a Pope.

The High Altar in the center of the Pantheon

The second chapel is the tomb of King Victor Emmanuel II.  To Italians, Victor Emmanuel II is like Emperor Qinchihuang to Chinese.  He is the one who united Italy in 1861 and became the first King of Italy.  Without him, probably we will be still seeing lots of small little city republics scattering all over modern day Italy.

Tomb of King Victor Emmanuel II

But life is full of irony, King Victor Emmanuel II is the one who united Italy and the 1st King of Italy.  On top of his tomb burns a golden lamp, in memory of King Victor Emmanuel III, the one who didn't stand up against dictator Mussolini and the one who brought an end to Italian monarchy.  Everything that has a beginning, has an end.  The quote from the movie Matrix fits this so nicely.

You can see in the photo above some people in uniforms keeping vigil at Emmanuel II's tomb.  They are said to be volunteers of Italian monarchists.   Well, everyone is free to have his/her opinions.  I respect their choice, although I don't think monarchy is something modern societies will favour.

In front of the Pantheon, stands another obelisk.  It was built by Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II more than 3000 years ago.   After many many long years and long journeys, it eventually settled down here in 1711.

Macuteo Obelisk through Pantheon's Portico

You can find all my Rome Holidays blog entries here.