Tag Archives: Renaissance art


I really didn’t think I’d like Venice as much as I did.  I’m not a water or boat person, but the charm of this city is impossible to resist.  It started life as a group of about 118 islands that were close together.  As people fled the wars on the mainland (barbarians, Visigoths, Genghis Khan, etc.) each new group settled a new island.  The first thing they built was a church and the town square–called a campo which was really a field in the middle of their houses where the livestock hung out and the dead were buried.  Eventually, they started building bridges to hook the islands together, and finally, they built so many buildings on the islands, they began to look like buildings rising out of the water, rather than buildings sitting on small islands. So, that’s how the canal system developed; they were just the natural waterways between the little islands.  In the last 200 years, many have been filled in and more walkways were created.  Today, you can walk from island to island over the more than 400 bridges and on the walkways that surround the city.

I should also note that Venice is very different now than it was even several decades ago.  It is very expensive to live here so its population is decreasing.  It’s gone from about 200,000 in the middle of the last century to about 58,000 today. Every day 40,000 additional people commute to the city for work.  Each year they welcome 25 million visitors.  The city is completely dependent on tourism; there is no longer any industry or other business in the city.  It’s all tourism.  One of the tour guides referred to it as a city-museum, and that about what it is.  Some of the large buildings along the Grand Canal are empty and they are only maintained for appearances.  It’s kind of sad, really.  Even the glass making on Murano and the lace making on Burano are dying art forms.

Okay, enough of that.  What exists in Venice is spectacular and shouldn’t be missed.  Everyone should come here at least once in their lifetime, it is just so interesting.

We arrived at the train station, which is at the end of a 4 mile long bridge that connects Venice with the mainland.  From there, we took a water taxi to our hotel.  It required a trip along the entire length of the Grand Canal and it blew me away.



Here area  couple of pictures I took of the Grand Canal  from the Rialto Bridge.  It was just amazing.


This is the view out the front door of our hotel.


This area along the Canal has the widest sidewalks in front.  In some places, they’re only a couple feet wide!



Some of the scenes between the hotel and St. Mark’s Square.



And here we go!  St. Mark’s Square was only a couple minute walk from the hotel.  Our first visit was the afternoon we arrived and it was mobbed with people.  There are cruise ships dropping off thousands of people every day and that day, I swear they were all at St. Mark’s!


This is the view of the Doge’s Palace from the bridge in front.


We’re here!


We got up early the first full day to walk to the meeting point for our tour.  We discovered St. Mark’s Square is deserted in the morning.




Some of the things we saw along the way.  The Grand Canal is the main waterway throughout he city, but it is also riddled with little (and I mean tiny!  I don’t know how boats pass each other in some of them!).  In between he canals are hamster trail-like walkways.  They twist and turn and it is impossible not to get lost.  The guide book says there really isn’t an accurate map of Venice that’s economical enough for tourists.  Just go with the flow!

Also, I thought the “stop mafia” sign was interesting.


We found our way back to the Grand Canal.  The colorful boat in the foreground is a vaporatto–aka: a water bus.




While we were standing here, a boat docked that was loaded with boxes of vegetables.  We watched as the guy on the boat literally threw boxes of tomatoes and lettuce to the guy on the dock without losing even one in the water.


One of the side canals.  This one is pretty good sized.




Here are more of the smaller canals.  They vary greatly in size because they were as big as the space between islands.


This building was finished in the 14th or 15th century and today it is the hospital.


With all the parked boats, I don’t know how another one can pass through.


Here’s a picture showing how the buildings were made.  Wood pilings were driven into the bedrock very close together.  In the absence of oxygen, they didn’t rot.  Instead, they petrified and became a very strong foundation.  On top of the pilings are various waterproof layers and the building sits on top of all that.  I was surprised that they don’t need to be replaced regularly.  They are pretty permanent.


The covered bridge in the distance is the Bridge of Sighs, the bridge that lead from the Doge’s Palace (where a prisoner was sentenced) to the prison.  The bridge gave the condemned their last view of the Venice, thus the nickname, The Bridge of Sighs.


St. Mark’s Square is one of the lowest spots in Venice so it often floods.  Of course, the tides rise and fall daily, but they sometimes overtake the city.  As many as 50 times a year Venice floods.  When this happens, they put these low tables down to make raised walkways for people to pass.  The locals often just wear knee (and sometimes hip) boots when it floods.  The floods usually happen in winter.


We climbed to the balcony of the church to get a good view of St. Mark’s Square.  The crowds were much better today.





These are all views of St. Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace.  I didn’t realize that Venice is one of the longest lasting Republics in history.  For hundreds of years (much longer than the US!) Venice was governed by a “congress” of about 2000 noblemen who elected the Doge (i.e. president) from among them.  They had incredible checks and balances in place at all levels of the government and it seems to have worked really well for them.






This is the Rialto Bridge, one of the four bridges that cross the Grand Canal.  Did I mention that nothing with wheels is allowed in Venice?  The only exceptions are dolly’s (to move boxes) and a few kid’s toys, roller skates.


Bob : )


Here you can see how narrow some of the side canals can be.  As I said, I don’t know how boats, even skinny ones like the gondolas, could pass each other in such a narrow canal.


No judging!  After weeks of pizza and pasta, a whopper from Burger King sounded like the perfect lunch.  We got a king-sized meal and split it.  It was delicious. Although, the Coke had no ice.  Not sure what that was about.  : )

I do have to tell you about the cheeky pigeon.  We sat in the courtyard outside and we were surrounded by college-aged kids from all over the world.  At one point, a pigeon jumped onto the table next to me and the guy there shoo’ed it away very aggressively.  I think he startled it because it flew straight sideways into an Asian girl who shrieked and caused quite a seen.  I was still chuckling when the pigeon jumped onto our table and grabbed a fry.  It just stood there looking at me with that fry in its beak.  I didn’t want it to assault the poor Asian girl again, so I shoo’ed it gently but it just stood there mocking me.  So I swatted at it thinking it would jump out of the way.  It didn’t!  Instead, I smacked it in the chest and pushed it off the table and onto the floor!  I don’t think it cared at all, it was busy eating my fry.


More of the views from the Grand Canal.  I think this is one of my favorite pictures.




More of the Grand Canal


We also took a tour of the islands of Murano and Burano.  Here’s Bob on the boat out to the islands.



The Murano glass is really beautiful.  In the past, the different techniques were passed from father to son, but they are slowly dying out.  Only a fraction of the glass workshops from the past are still open.



This is Burano which is known for its lace. Again, the art of making lace is dying out because it can be made by machine so much faster.  It takes forever to make it by hand and I was staggered at the prices.  A small piece, about 8 inches in diameter, that was suitable for framing, took 7 people 7 months to finish.  They were charging 800 Euro which is roughly $1000.


This reminded me of growing up in South Dakota. It’s the volunteer ambulance, only it’s a boat.


This isn’t a great picture, but it shows something I found fascinating.  When there aren’t enough spots for all the boats to dock, the boats line up and hook themselves together.  To get on and off the furthest boat, you have to walk through all of them.  It was all new to me.


I can’t believe I didn’t take more pictures of the little alleys.  This is a large one.  Some of them require you to turn sideways when someone passes going the opposite direction.


This is one of the campos — or little fields.  There’s one on each island, or at least there used to be.  Some have been replaced with buildings.  There’s a cistern under each one that caught rain water and this is the well where people could draw fresh water out.


Here we are on the observation deck of the church on St. Mark’s Square.  It was a spectacular church, but no pictures were allowed.  The most amazing thing there were the life sized (or maybe slightly larger than life sized) bronze statues of four horses.  Scholars debate their age, some say 200 B.C, some say 200 A.D.  In either case, the statues are about 2000 years old.  They were incredibly beautiful and the details were perfect.


This is inside the Doge’s Palace.  It’s a very large building that was the seat of the government, as well as the home of the doge.  When a new doge was elected, he and his family were obligated to live here, sort of like the President and the White House.  It had some breath-taking rooms.


In some cases, the frames are more incredible than the paintings.  Since this is Venice, frescoes deteriorated within a few years.  So, they either had to make everything out of mosaics, or they had to paint it on canvas.  In these pictures, all the paintings are done with oils on canvas.


Now this is an interesting room.  It’s where the 2000 noblemen met and it’s the largest room in the world that doesn’t have columns to support it.  It’s about the size of half a standard soccer field and it was built in the 1500s.  Also, the painting on the far wall is the largest canvas painting in the world.  It’s about 25 meters wide.


Forget the hotel, this is the Museum California. At least they warned you before you got stuck inside!

Finally, I took many videos going up and down the Grand Canal and I put one of them on Youtube.  It’s only a minute or so and it ends with my favorite view on the Canal.  Enjoy!


Santa Croce and the Medici Chapels


Wow, what a day!  Today we spent the morning with Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, and Galileo, just to name a few.  Really, truly.  We found all their tombs inside Santa Croce, another incredibly beautiful church in Florence.

After a break for lunch we also explored the Medici Chapels which were covered entirely in semi-precious materials such as jade, quartz, lapis, etc.  The workmanship was spectacular.  As always, pictures are the way to go!


Here’s the outside of Santa Croce.  It’s very similar to the Duomo, but not quite as elaborate.  However, unlike the Duomo, this church is breathtaking on the inside


This is a view from the back.  It’s quite large and contains many important works of art.  But the thing that impressed me the most is the fact it was literally paved with grave markers.  The entire church is an enormous graveyard.

When we were on the Amalfi Coast, we learned that Italians bury their dead within 24 hours and they don’t embalm them.  A couple years later, the body is exhumed and the bones are put in the family vault where generations of the same family can be found.  I think this church is the final resting place of the bones.


Here’s the main altar.  It was hard to get a good picture because the sun was shining brightly through the stained glass.  DSC01490

Just to the side of the altar were 10 alcoves, 5 on each side.  Each one was completely different.  You can see Bob here, surrounded by grave markers.


More of the grave markers.


And here we have Machiavelli’s final resting place.


And here’s Dante — the man who wrote the Divine Comedy.


And here’s Michelangelo.  He lived to be 89 years old, an unheard of age at the time he lived.  He died in Rome and wanted to be buried there, but his body was stolen in the night by several Florentines and he was buried here before anyone in Rome (namely, the Pope) could object.


This is Galileo Galilei.  I was surprised to find him here because I thought he was excommunicated for his scientific findings.



More of the grave markers.  They were literally everywhere. Take a look at the floors. Every tile is marked with who’s lying beneath.


I just liked this poor bored angel.  Although, her long-suffering lion also deserves some sympathy.

Next on our tour was the Pitti Palace, lunch, and San Lorenzos.  But the real show stopper was the Medici Chapels.  They were built in honor of the first several Medici’s who ruled Florence back in the day.  It was also meant to be the place where all the Medici’s would be buried.  To build the chapels, the Medici family sponsored a new kind of art.  They knew frescoes and paintings would eventually fade, so they had the entire inside of the chapels, including all the “paintings” made out of precious and semi-precious stone.  It was stunning. And HUGE!  The main chapel is absolutely enormous.


Here you can see the scale of this chapel compared to the people on the ground.  Enormous doesn’t begin to describe it.  Above what you can see here is another section of wall just as big, then there’s a beautifully done dome.  Everything you see is covered in perfectly fitting stone.





It was impossible to get a photo to do this room justice.  Also, half of it was covered by scaffolding because of restoration work.  Apparently, all that precious stone is held in place with nails and a large panel fell out of the ceiling in 1999.  Since then, renovations have been on-going.

Just in case it wasn’t clear before, the big tomb-like things are . . . tombs.  They hold the first two or three Medici’s that ruled Florence.  They were the good rulers.  The next several (the ones who built this chapel) were real tyrants and hated by the people.  Luckily, they got better after that.  : )



Each of these is close to 2 feet on its long side.  So they aren’t very big, but the colors and detail are stunning. They are made entire out of precisely cut gem stones. There is no grout, they stones fit perfectly together.


Here’s some close ups of the details.  Every color is a different precious or semi-precious stone that’s been cut to fit precisely with the stones around it.  If you ran your hand over the pattern, it is completely smooth. (Except for the last picture where the stones were purposely three dimensional.)  The workmanship is exquisite.  The benefit is the ornamentation will never fade and the chapel will never lose its splendor.

We saw so many other awesome things today, including more at Santa Croce and the Medici Chapels, but it’s just too much to share.  Plan a trip to Florence!  I’m sure you won’t regret it.

Top of the Duomo


Wow, what a trip!  Not only does the top of the Duomo offer an incredible view of Florence, it is also an architectural miracle and we were allowed to climb all over it!

The only way to describe this adventure is with pictures.  But, for perspective, here’s what we did.  Inside the church is a little door that leads to a staircase that climbs straight up.  Up 5 steps, turn, up 3 steps, turn, up 5 steps, turn . . . FOREVER!  It’s about 460 steps to the top; I think that’s the equivalent to a 20 story building.  At some point, the staircase turned into a spiral and when we reached the dome, it got pretty creative.  Keep in mind the stairs were built in about the 1400s when the church was built.

So, here we go!


Here’s the outside of the church.  It has a long part in front and the dome in the back.  Off to the right side in this picture is the tower, which is not attached to the church.   It’s hard to tell that since it is decorated exactly like the church on the outside.

By the way, that little, tiny part sticking up out of the dome — that’s our destination.  It’s called the lantern.


You enter the church through a side door and go through this door.  It’s the one that gives you access to the stairs.


The stairs are narrow and the ceiling is sometimes low.  They highly recommend you skip this if you’re claustrophobic or have a fear of heights.  Very good advice!



The first stop is the balcony, just below the large circular windows.  It gives you a much better view of the ceiling frescoes. Here area a couple of pictures.  The balcony goes all the way around the dome, but only half of it was open.  You had to go around to the other side to pick up the stairs that go up the side of the dome.

To give you an idea, if you look back at the picture of the outside of the church (the one above) you can see one of the round windows at the base of the dome. We were on a balcony just below those windows in the pictures above.


Ha, ha!  I little late for this sign : )  That’s 500 years of graffiti!


Thankfully, we had to stop often on the stairs, especially toward the top.  They pack quite a few people in, so it’s crowded.  Also, at the top, the stairs are shared by those going up and those going down.  Unfortunately, the stairs aren’t big enough to accommodate everyone so you have to find a side niche to stand in while the traffic going the other way passes.  It was quite a shuffle!DSC01407


As you can see, the stairs get tiny in places.  They’re also uneven, steep and they aren’t uniform.  Of course, the lighting is dim, so watch your step!  In the second picture, the one with the person in the red shorts, these stairs take you between the inner dome and the outer dome. You can see how the roof and the floor both curve in the picture.


While waiting for some downward-bound traffic to pass, we got shuttled into a little side area where I saw this room for the people who work up here.  It was tiny.  And God knows where that odd door on the right goes!



Finally!  We made it!  We are standing at the base of the lantern, which is the lynchpin that keeps the dome from collapsing.  In actuality, there are two domes.  The inside one pushes out against the outside dome which keeps it in place.  As I said, it’s an architectural miracle that I don’t completely understand.



Here you can see the rest of the church and the tower beside it.  The rib running down the dome is one of many and they are the weight-bearing part of the dome.

Okay, after cooling off, catching our breath, and soaking up the sights, it was time to head back down.


After climbing down the ladder, we ended up here, in a little room between the inside and outside domes.  We had to go through the tiny door.


Then down this staircase.  We had to climb down one exactly like it and luckily we don’t have to share it with those coming up.  This is the part that follows the curve of the inner dome, so it was quite steep.



On the way down, we got to stop at the upper balcony, the one above the round windows. (The other balcony was below the round windows.)  From here, the frescoes were very close.  The figures were huge, so much bigger than they look from the ground.  You don’t think about how big all the figures have to be painted when you’re standing on the ground.


Here’s a picture from the ground that shows where we were.  See the balconies just below and above the round windows?  We were there!

I tried to video some of the stairs to give you an idea of what it was like.  See what you think!


Uffizi Museum and the Vasari Corridor


Since we didn’t have a tour planned for this morning, we thought we’d go to Mass.  Unfortunately, our usual luck followed us and it was a big no-go. Those of you who’ve followed this blog in the past know our efforts to go to Mass have become sort of a joke.  We just can’t seem to pull it all together. We had a chat with  the concierge last night to find an English Mass and he was happy to look them up for us.  He found two . . . but both were on Saturday and we’d already missed them. There were two German Masses today, but no English. Maybe the Germans are more faithful?  I just can’t believe there’s isn’t one English Mass somewhere in the city on Sunday given how many tourists are here.  Oh, well.  Sorry, Mom!

Even though it was Sunday, Florence was open for business.  In fact, there was some kind of run this morning so the streets were full of contestants and their families enjoying the beautiful weather.  We spent several hours wandering all the streets, getting lost, and finding the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flowers again.  It is so beautiful.  In front of it is the Baptistry (which is completely wrapped in scaffolding and plastic because it’s being cleaned.)  Luckily, the very famous bronze doors, completed in the 1400s, are still there.  The picture above is a close up of a couple of the panels.  They are stunningly beautiful.  When Michelangelo saw them, he declared them perfect and that they must be the doors to paradise.

Speaking of Michelangelo, remember the other day when I was telling you about the medieval building that sort of set the standard for buildings in the future?



Yup, that one.  Well, first I have to say the benches built into the building all the way around are a GOD SEND!  Thank you ancient architect, you were very thoughtful.  What I really wanted to tell you about it is it was originally the palace built by the Medici family when they first came to power in Florence.  They lived here when they recognized the genius of Michelangelo when he was only 12.  In fact, they brought him to live with them in this building.  So, this is the place where Michelangelo grew up.

After about 100 years in this palace, the Medici family sold it to another wealthy family and moved into the Palazzo Vecchio.  This is the place where the Statue of David stood for many years and it was also the seat of the government.  So, the Medici family lived in the same building where they worked.

Apparently, it got old after awhile and the mistress of the house coveted another house just across the Arno River.  It had a garden and she wanted to enforce some private family time on her husband so he wouldn’t always be working.  She eventually got her way and the family moved to the Palazzo Pitti.

The problem was the guy in charge had to walk several blocks from his house to his office and it wasn’t very safe.  He always needed an armed escort and he had to cross the Ponte Vecchio which caused traffic problems.

The solution?  He asked the architect Vasari to design a private corridor from his house to his office.  By then, the office was on the top floor of the Palazzo Vecchio, so the corridor begins on the third floor, crosses a bridge to the Ufizi (which was an office building at the time), crosses to the Ponte Vecchio where it was placed on top of the small businesses that line that bridge, it continues over the roofs of several buildings and crosses through a church before it arrives at the Palazzo Pitti.  It was built in only 5 months and over the years, the Medici family lined the walls with paintings, a practice that continues today.  You can read more about the corridor here.


In short, it permitted the Medici family and their very close friends to travel from home to office in complete privacy.  It is said they even sometimes made the trip in their jammies : ) I have some pictures below. It’s closed to the public, but we were able to walk the corridor with the tour we took.

As for the Uffizi, I didn’t take too many pictures; it was VERY crowded.  If you want to see the works of art in the Uffizi, they’ve been kind enough to put most of them online.  I think this link is a good place to start if you’re curious.


So, now for the pictures!



Some of the little places to eat in Florence are quite charming.  Here, we have what appears to be a French Fry Pizza.  It’s not even close to the weirdest pizza I’ve seen.  I think the tuna pizza, the pumpkin flower pizza (yes, that’s flower, not flour!) and the sliced hard-boiled egg pizza were a little weirder.

In the second picture, you can pick up gelato or pizza and then head upstairs to eat it.  All very cozy.



Here are the famous Baptistry doors.  They are truly spectacular.  You can learn more here:


Okay, so we have to start at the beginning with the Palazzo Vecchio.  Remember the building with the scary staircase in the tower?  Same place.  Here’s a picture.


The picture below is what the front looks like.  See that building right next door?  That’s the Uffizi.  Uffizi means “office” and it houses many government offices, both then and now.  The museum is on the third floor.  If you look down the alley between the two buildings, there is an enclosed walkway/bridge between the third floors.  That is the beginning (or end?) of the Vasari Corridor.




Here’s what the main hallway in the Uffizi Museum looks like.  The second picture is a close-up of what the top of the walls and the ceiling looks like.  Most of the art is in the rooms that line this hall.


This is the view out the window of the Uffizi.  See the yellow building with the narrow tiled roof?  That is the Vasari Corridor leaving the Uffizi, turning toward the Ponte Vecchio (the bridge) and you can see where it crosses the bridge on top of the little businesses that line that bridge.


Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Ufizi.  Our tour guide when on, and on, and ON about this painting but did he ever tell us its name?  I don’t know, I was zoning out. : (  Seriously, it was incredible to look at it.  The colors popped out and it is interesting to note that Michelangelo designed the frame, too, and it is meant to be part of the interpretation of the painting.  It’s hard to tell, but it’s probably between 4 and 5 feet in diameter.


Here’s an interesting lady.  She’s the very last Medici.  The family died out in 1743.  It was her Will that helped to make Florence the bastion of art that it is today.  She left the entire Medici collection to the City of Florence on the condition that none of it ever leave.  In fact, the Uffizi Museum was started a short time later to house some of the masterpieces.


A view down one segment of the Corridor.


A view from one of the many windows along the Corridor.


Here’s a view of the shops on the Ponte Vecchio from the Corridor.


Here’s the church as seen from the Corridor.  This part reminded me a little of the Disneyland rides that used to drive through the gift shop as part of the ride.  It was a little weird.


The Corridor ended at Palazzo Pitti where I found this in the garden.  I felt a little sorry for the turtle.  : )


This is another section of the Corridor we saw from the ground when we were walking back to our hotel.


Along the way we also ran across this interesting art.  It’s hard to see because it’s so big, but there are “people” zip lining from one building to another and there are others climbing the building.  Still others were scattered around on the ground that you could take pictures with.  I have no idea what it’s called, why it’s here, nothing.  It was just really cool.

The Streets of Rome

Palazzo Doria-Pamphilij

Getting lost was the goal today and we managed that within blocks of our hotel. I swear, navigating Rome’s streets, alleys, and even pathways, is like trying to find your way in a rabbit warren.  No rhyme or reason, certainly no grid pattern, and no map to be found that has all the streets labeled.  I thought that was a problem with the maps, but I think it’s because those streets have no signs at all!  But I have to say, getting lost was the best thing that happened to us because we happened upon many really great things.  I think the story is best told in pictures, so here we go!



The Palazzo Doria-Pamphilij wasn’t the first place we found, but it was one of our favorites.  We stumbled off the hot, crowded street, into this beautiful, cool courtyard.  We also needed a bathroom, so buying an entrance ticket was a no-brainer. I think it turned out to be my favorite thing in Rome, so far.


The Palazzo was built by the Doria-Pamphilij family in the 1600s and its been in the family every since.  It’s a huge building and even though part of it is open to the public, the family still lives here.  The room above was the first we entered (after the bathroom : )  The ceiling must be 20 feet, or more, so the room feels enormous.  The walls are completely lined with paintings that were commissioned for this room.  You can get an idea of just how big everything is in this room by looking at the chairs and sofas up against the walls.


This is the only galleria where there are windows on both sides.  Instead of paintings, they lined the walls between the windows with mirrors, so light is reflected everywhere.  The incredible ceilings are well lit and absolutely mind boggling in their beauty.  It was a magical corridor.


This is one of the many galleries.  They are hung with paintings collected by members of the Doria-Pamphilij family for centuries.  Many were purchased directly from the artist or commissioned by family members.  Somewhere in the past, an ancestor found a way to prevent a member of the family from inheriting the art if he/she didn’t agree to keep the collection together.  The current owner says it is both a blessing and a curse because the responsibility for keeping the collection is huge.


I loved this room because its the ballroom.  It is actually two rooms, both covered in beautiful silk wallpaper.  The floor is parquet wood, perfect for dancing.  On the far left side, you can see the little area where the orchestra would have sat.

We saw many other incredible rooms of the Palazzo (which means “palace” in Italian), but taking pictures wasn’t allowed.  Most I’ve included here came from the web.  If you ever get to Rome, you must plan a visit here.  It’s well worth a couple hours of your time.



Next was the Pantheon, or as it’s known today, the Church of Saint Mary of the Martyrs.  It is the best preserved building of Ancient Rome because it was converted to a church during the 2nd century.  If you were curious about where all the bones from the catacombs we visited the other day, many were moved here.  It was thought appropriate at the time because they believed many of the bodies buried in the catacombs were martyrs.


This is the alter inside.  It’s one of the few churches we’ve been in that actually has pews and a posted Mass schedule.


The church is also the burial place of Raphael, yes, THAT Raphael.



Here’s my attempt to show you just how big this building is.  Its either the largest dome, or the second largest, in the world.  It’s an engineering marvel that the Emperor Hadrian was said to have personally designed.  The scale is huge and the opening at the top, known as the oculus, is 9 meters wide and completely open to the elements.  When it rains, it rains in a perfect circle in the church.  Yes, there’s drainage that appears to work well, because it doesn’t seam to be a problem.

The second photo above is actually three separate photos, all hooked together. It was the only way to get everything in one shot.  If you overlap them in your mind, you can get an idea of what the inside of the Pantheon looks like.



This is the fountain outside the Pantheon.  As you can see, it is another Egyptian obelisk.  These obelisks are real.  They were made in Egypt about 1300 B.C. and brought to Rome around the time of Christ.  You can tell that this one was “exorcised” of any demons because a Christian symbol has been added to the top. But up close, you can still easily see the Egyptian markings. I think this one used to be in Helios and was also at Circus Maximus for centuries.

When Christianity rose in Rome, many of the obelisks were removed from the city’s older buildings and put in front of churches. It was sort of an ancient map quest device. It let pilgrims know which buildings were important to visit.


Here we are!  And yes, that’s a horse-drawn carriage behind us.  I can’t even begin to imagine taking a carriage ride through Roman traffic.  It’s completely horrifying.  That’s also the entrance to the Pantheon behind us. We are standing on the steps of the fountain in the pictures above.


This is Piaza Navona.  It has several fountains by Bernini, a very famous sculptor and architect.  It is said that in his lifetime, Bernini created over 3000 sculptures, including the Tevoli Fountain.  He also had something like 11 children, so he was a busy guy.


Another fountain in Piaza Navona.



This is the famous fountain in Piaza Navona.  It represents the four great rivers of the world.



We found a little goofy gladiator fun along the way.  : )


Okay, this one had me in hysterics.  Only in Rome would hot priests make it in a calendar!


We saw signs for McDonalds everywhere.  They always had an arrow and “3 minutes” if you walked that way.  But we could never actually find one.  Well, we discovered why.  The one we stumbled on by accident was just a doorway that lead down steps, like you were walking into a subway.  The McDonalds was way under the building and way back off the street.  It was also enormous — like the size of a high school gym.  There were many walk up counters and I couldn’t see the end of the seating area.


There were also about 20 of these self-order stations.



And what’s up with the menu?  We only get cruddy fried apple pies.  I want what the Romans get!


The Spanish Steps were more involved than I originally thought.  I thought it was a staircase.  No, it’s actually a series of staircases.  At the end of a long day, it about did me in.


So I stopped on one of the landings to take a picture.  My favorite part is the father patiently letting his son wear himself out by climbing and climbing and climbing.  I predict that kid will sleep well tonight!



This is Piaza Del Popolo.  It’s huge and was full of people, but there wasn’t much else here.  Well, except for another obelisk.



Bob meets Barbie!  She invited him to her house.





Apparently not all Italians are known for their pride.


When I took this picture I thought “Italian Westie!” but after chatting with the owners, this is actually a Swiss Westie on vacation.  We got it on good authority that he really hates Rome and is looking forward to going home.

The Vatican

Well, what a day.  We started out about 8:30 am on a tour of the Vatican Museums.  We didn’t even begin to see it all, but we saw all the best stuff, I think.  The ceilings, walls and tapestries were incredible.

My favorite story is of Michelangelo and the Pope.  Michelangelo didn’t want to paint the Sistine Chapel and even left Rome and tried to hide from the Pope to avoid it, but he was eventually cornered.  So, one of the panels on the ceiling is an image of God, both front and back.  Michelangelo used the Pope’s face for the face of God, which really pleased the Pope, but in the view from the back, his toga doesn’t cover his backside, so he’s mooning everyone.  For that, the Pope was really ticked.  Here’s the panel I’m talking about:


There are many other examples of such “jokes.”  Like how Michelangelo used the face of his mistress, whom he’d just broken up with, for one of the damned souls.  In another, he used the face of one of his critics for one of the inhabitants of Hell.

After the museums, we went to St. Peter’s Basilica.  It was huge, and quite beautiful.  The burial areas were interesting.  We saw the tomb of Saint John Paul II, and the preserved body of Pope John XXIII, who is also now a saint, I think.  In his case, he was one miracle short, so they couldn’t make him a saint.  But, when they opened his tomb, they found his body was uncorrupted, so they considered that his final miracle for sainthood.  They have him on display in a glass coffin.  I know, it’s a little weird.  Other popes were also in glass coffins, but their bodies decayed, so the body you see was coated in bronze to preserve them.  Again, a little weird.  I only viewed them from a distance.

After lunch, we took a tour of three other basilicas in Rome.  The first was St. Paul’s, which is a new (completed in 1930’s) replica of the one that was built by Constantine, restored a couple of times, and then and then burned down in the 1800s.  There, we saw one of St. Paul’s relics, the chains that bound his hands when he was beheaded.

Next was St. John Lateran.  It was built in honor of the two St. Johns (Baptist and Apostle) and it was built by Constantine on land formerly owned by the Laterani Family, thus the name.  It’s been restored several times. It is actually the most important church in Christianity because it is the home church of the Bishop of Rome, aka, the Pope. Up until the 1300s, the Pope lived at this church.  The popes didn’t move to St. Peter’s until a hundred years later, after they moved the papacy back to Rome from France.

Interestingly, after a Pope is elected and introduced to the world on the balcony, he isn’t yet the pope.  It isn’t official until he says Mass at St. John Lateran, and sits in the Seat of Peter (a chair more than 1000 years old).  Traditionally, the pope leaves the balcony after meeting the crowds and heads right to St. Johns to complete the process.  Pope Francis did it differently.  He told the people of Rome he wanted to get used to being their bishop before he took on the job of Pope, and it was about a month before he went to St. Johns to complete the process.  The Romans really, REALLY love Pope Francis.

Across the street from this church is a building that holds the original stairs to Pontius Pilate’s house that Jesus had to climb after he’d been crowned with thorns.  Supposedly, his blood stains the marble.  Today, it is a place where people climb the stairs on their knees and they have to say at least three prayers on each stair.

The final church was St. Mary Majore. Interesting here is a relic of questionable authenticity.  It is claimed that there is wood from the original nativity under the alter here.  Even the Church says it’s highly questionable, but it is interesting.  The basilica was built in honor of Mary when the pope declared that Mary was indeed the mother of God.

Tomorrow, we have a papal audience (with 80,000 of our closest friends).  Stay tuned!  It should be a circus!

Okay, the pictures loaded out of order, so bear with me : )


This the exterior of St. Paul’s Basilica. It was quiet and peaceful and the grass was cool in the heat. I could have spent the afternoon here.


This is the sacred door at St. Paul’s.  Every Basilica in the world has a sacred door that is only opened during the Jubilee Year.  That’s a year that happens every 25 years (the next is 2025) when lots of things happen, but one of them is the plenary indulgences.  Anyone who passes through a sacred door during the Jubilee Year receives the indulgence.  Believe it or not, the idea of the Jubilee Year was adopted from the Jews in the 1300s.


This is the inside of St. Paul’s Basilica.  It’s about the size of a football field, maybe a little shorter.


This is the alter in St. Paul’s.


This sunken area in front of the alter displays the holy relic.  In this case, the item on display is the chain that bound St. Paul’s hands when he was beheaded.  The authenticity of this relic is very good, and scholars agree that it is probably what it claims to be.


This is a glass panel in the floor, right in front of St. Paul’s chains, that shows the excavation of the crypt below.  Based on carbon dating of samples taken, as well as an analysis of the color of the fabric inside the tomb, it is widely agreed that this is truly St. Paul’s tomb.  This has only been confirmed since about 2006.


A portion of the walls that originally surrounded Rome.


This is St. John Lateran Basilica.  Its been rebuilt many times since Constantine’s original church was built in the 300s.


The sacred door at St. John Lateran.  Did I mention that touching the door when its closed (not a Jubilee Year) blesses a person?  That’s why parts of the door are shiny, its from thousands of people touching it. Of course, we touched them all!


Inside St. John Lateran.  It is thought that the heads of St. John the Baptist and St. Paul are kept in the little room on top of the alter.  It’s just speculation, though the Church has apparently confirmed that it is in possession of both heads.  I’m just glad they aren’t on display.


These are the holy doors of St. John Lateran, and they are fascinating for another reason.  These are the original doors to the Forum, yes, THAT Forum.  During one of the restorations of this church, they were pilfered from the Forum and installed here.  So these doors are about 2000 years old.  They are made of bronze, with wood interior, but they are very heavy and make loud creaking noises when opened.  It takes the strength of several people to open them.


These are the holy steps — the marble steps that led up to Pontius Pilate’s house. They were removed from Jerusalem by St. Helena (Constantine’s mother) in the 300s.  We were allowed to kneel on the first step only and say a prayer.  I’ll admit, it was a moving experience.  Even Bob did it.


The inside of St. Mary Majore Basilica.  According to our guide, Italian men are mama’s boys.  Perhaps that’s part of the reason why 89% of Italians report they prefer to talk to Mary when they pray, followed by St. Peter, then St. Paul (the patron saints of Rome).  Jesus was in fourth place.


This is the knave in front (and below) the alter of St. Mary Majore.  In the window below the altar is a huge silver container that allegedly has wood from the original manger from Christ’s birth.  Even the Church agrees the authenticity of this relic is highly questionable.


Here’s a close up of the container that holds the wood that was allegedly part of the manger.  It looks like a giant soup tureen.  It’s about 3 feet tall.


The holy door at St. Mary Majore is clearly marked because it’s on the left side of the main entrance, not the right like all the other holy doors at all the other basilicas.  This is because Mary’s place is on Christ’s left, so the door acknowledges that honor.



We found Saya’s car in Rome!!!


This made me laugh.  But, if a new store opened with an exotic Italian name, even if the translation was “stop here,” I wouldn’t know the difference.  It might be hard to see, but it’s a clothing store.


This was part of the breakfast buffet at our hotel.  Apparently Italians are a nation of people who hate crusts, because all the crusts were removed from the bread. : )


The pinecone (symbolizing eternity) in the Pinec0ne Courtyard in the Vatican.  The lions at its base were “taken away” from Egypt during the time of the Roman Emperors.

In fact, there are many Egyptian artifacts in Rome.  There are obelisks everywhere.  Several hundred years ago, the pope put an obelisk in front of every important church so the pilgrims would know which ones they should visit.  Medieval GPS.  Of course, before he could do that, he had to exorcise all of them to remove any evil spirits.  Once that was done, a small symbol was placed on the top — a dove, a rose, a cross, etc. — to show it was purified.

In modern times, when Egypt came calling and asked for all its obelisks back, the pope said they were now Christian relics and besides, they had spent much more time in Rome than they ever did in Egypt.  Bottom line:  Egypt isn’t getting its obelisks back.


Just one of the many, many, painted ceilings and walls of the Vatican.  It was overwhelming.


A working courtyard at the Vatican.  Everyday, about 900 people go to work at the Vatican.  On the right you can see the vehicles of the Vatican’s fire department.


I really liked this ceiling.  This is the center, and the ceiling is completely flat.  The depth, as well as the apparently molded dividers, are all paint and show the skill of the artist.  In this picture, a marble statue of a pagan god lies in pieces at the foot of the cross.


Inside St. Peter’s Basilica.  The crowds were incredible.


This is the tomb of Pope John Paul II, now a saint.  His coffin is under the mantle with all the candles.


This is the uncorrupted body of Pope John XXIII.  This was as close as I got, but you can walk right past, if you want to.


The alter in St. Peter’s Basilica. It is directly under the dome, which is huge.  I love the fact that the four pillars supporting the dome (and thus, symbolically, all of Christianity) are decorated with the our relics of the crucifixion — the spear of Longinius, Veronica’s veil, the cross, and something else I didn’t understand when the guide said it.  (sorry!)


Another of the popes, this one covered in bronze.


This is what the outside of the Vatican walls looks like.


Pastries we found at lunch. I only tried a tiny little one, and it was fabulous.