Honors Italy: The Grand Tour - Rome and Vatican City - Day 9

Participants in front of Roman Colosseum
After our visit to Capri, we arrived at the Hotel Hermitage in Rome in the evening, leaving enough time for dinner, but not to do any sightseeing.  Day 9 was a full day in Rome and Vatican City and was probably the most jam-packed day of sightseeing, partially because the groups from the other two colleges that were traveling with us did not select the two-day extension in Rome as we did.  We boarded the bus after breakfast and Antonio dropped us off near the Arch of Constantine.  Our first stop would be the most iconic building of Rome - the Colosseum.  The Colosseum was built in 72 AD and we learned that its real name is the Amphitheatrum Flavium and the "real" Colosseum was a statue of Nero that stood 150-foot tall next to the amphitheater.  It was built after Nero, so stories of Nero feeding Christians to the lions in the Colosseum are not true.  The Colosseum has seating for 50,000 spectators, is 150 feet high and has 720 arches around its exterior.  Our tour guide Franco informed us of the multiple ways the Colosseum was used including gladiator shows (though the gladiators were often barbarian slaves dressed in gladiator uniforms), animal hunts, executions and even simulated sea battles during which it would be filled with water.

Temple of Castor and Pollux on Roman Forum
As we exited the Colosseum, we walked along the Appian Way, the first road and the same road upon which Julius Caesar would have walked, to the Roman Forum.  We walked by the Temple of Romulus and Franco mentioned that the she-wolf is the symbol of Rome due the myth of the foundation of Rome with Romulus and Remus being abandoned in the Tiber River, eventually being found and suckled by a wolf.  We then passed the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina and Franco pointed out the grooves on the pillars from a medieval attempt to pull down the pillars.  We then moved to the Temple of Castor and Pollux followed by the Temple of Caesar, the latter of which was built upon the location of Julius Caesar's cremation.  We continued walking on the Roman Forum, passing the Arch of Septimius Severus, the Column of Phocas and the Temple of Saturn, the first bank of Rome in the sense that it housed the republic's gold and silver. We exited the Forum via the Capitoline Hill, the plaza of which contains a replica of the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius.  It was time for lunch and then time to move onward to Vatican City.

Laocoon and His Sons in the Vatican
Upon entering the Vatican, Franco led us to the Belvedere Courtyard and spent about 30 minutes telling us the history of the building and painting of the Sistine Chapel.  He had an image of ceiling of the Sistine Chapel so he could explain in great detail the biblical scene that is depicted on each of the main panels as well as point out details as to what we should notice about these scenes.  For example, in the most famous panel, the Creation of Adam, Michelangelo may have intended the feminine figure under God's left arm to be Eve and God appears on a red shell in the shape of a human brain.  In the Creation of Eve, God was painted in the likeness of Pope Julius II (who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling) and a missing foot of Eve appears to be coming out of the dark stone instead of Adam.  Franco also talked about Michelangelo's painting of the Last Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel 25 years later, for example pointing out that the figure to the right of Jesus is St. Peter handing back the key of the kingdom of heaven to Christ.  Franco had to give all of this explanation to us outside of the Sistine Chapel as no one is supposed to talk inside the Sistine Chapel in order to allow for quiet reflection.  We exited the Belvedere Courtyard, walking by the Statue of Apollo and the sculpture Laocoon and His Sons, on our way to the Vatican Museums.  As we looked at the Belvedere torso dating from the 1st Century BC, we were informed by Franco that we were actually looking at a replica as the actual statue was on loan to England.  After looking at various tapestries, sculptures and paintings, we wound our way around to the Sistine Chapel.  Words cannot describe the feelings I had as I looked upon Michelangelo's masterful work.  While Franco's passionate presentation had partially prepared me for what I was experiencing, I wanted to spend time looking at each panel, admiring its details on my own.  Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the chapel, so I can only relive the experience by looking at the images in my mind, art books or on the internet.  Seeing the Sistine Chapel was definitely the highlight of the entire trip for me.     

St. Peter's Basilica
We exited the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums and walked towards St. Peter's Basilica.  While outside of the basilica, Franco told us about the Holy Door of the basilica, which is sealed shut and only opened during Jubilee years, the next of which will be 2025.  However, Pope Francis has declared that the door will be opened in December of 2015 as part of December 8, 2015 being the start of a Holy Year of Mercy.  Inside the basilica, we encountered Michelangelo's Pieta depicting the body of Christ on the lap of his mother Mary after the crucifixion.  It is the only work of art that Michelangelo signed.  We saw the bronze statue of St. Peter holding the keys of heaven and Bernini's Baldacchino, a bronze covering beneath the dome and above the altar in the basilica.  Directly beneath the altar is St. Peter's tomb. The ceilings and walls of St. Peter's Basilica was ornately decorated as were the numerous tombs of popes buried inside.  As we stood beneath the over 400-foot dome, Franco explained the "small" letters surrounding the inside of the dome were actually 7 feet tall.  We exited St. Peter's Basilica and encountered members of the Swiss Guard on our way to St. Peter's Square.

Pantheon in Rome
As we exited Vatican City and returned to Rome, we visited the Trevi Fountain designed by Nicholas Salvi.  The fountain is symbolic of the abundance of water in Rome and stands 86 feet high with Neptune as its central figure.  Supposedly if you throw coins into the fountain, then you will come back to Rome some day.  While most of us do desire to visit Rome again, the fountain was under restoration and thus coins could not be thrown into the main fountain.  Our final stop for the day was the Pantheon, the original building of which was built in 27 BC, with it being rebuilt in 125-127 AD.  After passing through the portico with its Corinthian columns, we walked into the round temple that was created to honor all gods.  Inside the Pantheon are the tombs of two kings of Italy and Raphael.  We left the Pantheon with Gesualdo leading us to the place to get the best gelato in Rome, stopping by the Piazza Navona to see the Fountain of the Four Rivers as we walked.  As we enjoyed dinner that evening, we said goodbye to our companions from St. Andrews University and Southwest Virginia Community College as they would be departing the next morning before the continuation of our visit to Rome.  Our last two days in Rome will be the subject of the next (and last) blog entry.


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