Tag Archives: Rome

Ancient Roman Ruins

We spent most of the day on Saturday exploring the ancient Roman ruins.  I had no idea so many parts and pieces of the really ancient buildings still existed.  It seems the key to survival was repurposing.  If a building found a new life as a church, it was preserved.  If not, it was allowed to fall down and something else was built on top.  The Pantheon is a perfect example of this.

Another way an ancient building could be “saved” was to be buried over time.  Many of the buildings we saw were completely covered in the 1800s and have only been excavated since then.  It’s really amazing what they’ve found and continue to find everyday.

As is usually the case, pictures tell the story best.  Enjoy!


Of course, we have to start with the Colosseum, which is a nickname for a building really known as Flavian Amphitheater.  It’s undergoing some renovation so most of the outside is covered in scaffolding.  Mostly what they’re doing is cleaning the marble so it is mostly white once again.  The portion you see here has already been cleaned.


Inside the Colosseum.  The giant oval would have been covered by a wooden floor and that would have been covered by sand.  Sand in Italian is “arena” and that’s where the word we use comes from.  Of course, sand is great at absorbing excess amounts of blood.  The structures in the middle would have been below ground and there are about 100 lifts that ended in trap doors.  They allowed the ancients to put 100 animals into the arena at the same time.  FYI:  our tour guide said there were many factual errors in the movie Gladiator, but the reconstruction of the Colosseum was exactly right.


Here we are!  May I just say this was an incredibly hot and humid day? Still no curling iron!


This is the view from the Colosseum.  We were allowed as far up as the second level.  They are slowly beginning to open the third level and the underground tunnels to tours, but the next available English tour wasn’t until November.  If you’re planning a trip, book that tour early!  It’s really, really popular.


I’ll be honest, I’ve forgotten whose house this was.  We saw so many; but it was one of the emperors.  Probably Domitian.


More of Domitian’s house.  This was the private area, with the beautiful gardens and courtyard.  It also had a bath that was beautifully shaped and tiled.


The view of the area around the forums (yes, there are several forums) from Domitian’s house.  The building on the right with the giant arches was a basilica — a place for trade and commerce.  When the Christians were designing their first churches, they were uncomfortable mimicking the pagan temples, so they were molded after civic buildings.  That’s why many early churches have lots of arches, naves, and side alters.


This was the arch Hadrian built to honor the sacking of Jerusalem in about 70 A.D.  the frieze on the inside (not shown) shows the Roman soldiers carrying off the booty from the Jewish Temple.  It is said that the jews who lived in Rome during the time this arch was in use refused to pass under it and would always go around.


This is a temple of Romulus.  It’s not THAT Romulus, however, but that is why it was probably preserved.  It’s actually in honor of a 7 year old boy, the son of an emperor, who was deified upon his death.  Even the bronze doors were saved during a time when anything bronze (including the Collosus and every other ancient bronze statue) were melted down to make cannons.


This was fascinating to me because I didn’t realize any evidence still existed.  This is the courtyard of the home used by the Vestal Virgins.  Just behind where I’m standing when I took this picture are a couple columns in a partial circle that would have been where the fire of the Vestal Virgins was kept burning 24/7.  Girls were brought here by their families between the ages of 7 and 10 and left here to serve as Vestal Virgins for a period of 30 years.  After that, they were free to leave, but most didn’t.  They were old women by then, given the life expectancy at the time.  FYI: if a Vestal Virgin might happen to have lost her virginity at any time during her service, she was buried alive, no questions asked.

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.

Roman traffic and everyday things

IMG_1300Roman traffic is not to be believed.  I don’t think I can adequately describe how bad it is, but I’ll give it a shot.  First, you have to understand that traffic signs, lane lines, and even lights are mere suggestions, often to be ignored completely.  It isn’t uncommon to, in the course of one block, straddle lane lines, drive up the wrong side of the street, and even hop onto the sidewalk if that’s more expedient.  It seems the goal of every vehicle is to claw its way in front of the vehicle in front of it.  It’s like a wild game of leap frog.

To do this, the cars never follow along behind the car in front.  Instead, they drive helter skelter all over the road and when they have to stop, it looks like they’ve been scattered at all angles across the road.  It’s not uncommon to have three cars in front when there are only two lanes.  Just as likely is one car in front that straddles all the lanes.

Imagine the traffic pattern at passenger drop-off at MacCarran Airport, only the traffic is going as fast as it can.  Throw in a bunch of Vespas that dart and weave through the cars and pedestrians who think nothing of just stepping off the curb whenever the mood strikes, expecting all traffic will stop for them.  Then, just to make it interesting, consider that some of that traffic is trying to turn right or left and they’re making those turns from the far lane where they have to cut across all lanes of traffic.  Of course, almost every cab driver we’ve had so far was also texting furiously during our entire drive.

Oh, you also have to know the roads are filled with traffic circles, public squares, narrow alleys, and ancient roads that curl around willy-nilly.  No wonder Romans make great Grand Prix drivers.

I’m always curious about how other cultures manage the details of their lives.  So, here’s the scoop.

First, if you want the electricity to work in your hotel room, you have to put your room key in the slot by the door.  Power is expensive, so this is a way to conserve it.


Abby suggested we install this in her room since we’re constantly complaining about her not turning off her lights.  : )

Next is the bathroom.  The toilets are different but the Italians may have solved the seat-up-or-seat-down controversy.  Also, the shower is hand-held, but there isn’t much of a barrier to prevent the rest of the bathroom from being drenched.  It requires extreme self-control!


The flush is on the wall above it. You can choose a regular flush or an industrial sized flush : )


Here’s our tiny little half wall in the shower.  Maybe Italians take baths, not showers.  That would explain a lot.

Catacombs and archeology

Catacombs of the Capuchin Monks

After the Vatican yesterday, we took another tour that, unfortunately, forbid all pictures.  The ones I’ve included are from the internet. Our tour took us to two of the catacombs in Rome, as well as an ancient church with a rather surprising basement.  First, the Capuchin Crypts.

The Capuchin Crypts were burial places for about 3000 Capuchin monks who died before the 1800s.  At some point, probably in the 17th century, an especially artistic monk decided to get creative with all the bones that were lying around.  He began to arrange the bones in decorative designs and artistic patterns that he nailed to the walls and ceilings.  Soon, the whole order participated and the designs took on more meaning. For example, an hourglass made out of finger bones, with clavicle “wings” signified that time flies and that we will soon be as dead as they are. (See the center of the picture above.) It wasn’t a morbid thing for the monks, but a joyful reminder of the resurrection.  The monks’ work was ended in about 1870 when the new king of Italy forbid the practice because foreigners might not understand it.

The next catacomb we visited was much more like what you’d expect.  It was very like the one depicted in the Indiana Jones movie, except no water and, thankfully, no rats.  Also, the passageways were very narrow and the ceilings very low.  There were tunnels with niches where the bodies were laid.  They were built by, originally, 1st century Christians who didn’t want to bury their dead in the way of the pagans.  Over the next couple hundred years, they built 17 kilometers of tunnels on 5 different levels.  They started the tunnels when all the land on the surface was used up.

Our last stop was my favorite, a church built in honor of St. Clement (I think he was the 5th pope).  He’s the guy who died when they hung an anchor around his neck and pushed him overboard.  Anyway, his church is a beautifully maintained 12th century church.  But when they were doing some work in the basement in about the 1500s, they discovered the first church built in honor of St. Clement that was built in the 2nd century.  They didn’t just find the foundations, either.  They found the entire church which had been filled up with earth and building materials to make it a good base for the current church.  Even the altar was still in pace, perfectly preserved.

But that wasn’t the end of the explorations.  They heard water and they were trying to find its source, so they kept looking.  What they found is the 2nd century church was built on top of an even earlier temple, and that was built on an even earlier workshop which is thought to be a mint of ancient Roman coins.  All of these levels were just filled in and built over; the walls, the doors, the decorations, everything is still perfectly preserved.  The reason they built this way was the Tiber River flooded twice a year, so the higher the building, the safer it was from flooding.  Today’s streets are 30-40 feet higher than the streets at the time of Christ.

It’s little wonder that Rome has earned the description of archeological lasagna.


This is the 4th century church, just under the current church.  It was filled in with earth and building materials and when it was excavated, the columns were built to give the structure above the support it needs.  However, the floor and walls are all original.  The alter in the picture above is actually the 12th century altar that was originally in the church above.  When the original 4th century alter was discovered in such good condition, it was placed in the church above and the one from above was moved below.  Interestingly, they are nearly identical and both have an anchor on the front.


This was a side chapel in honor of St. Cyril and his brother (I can’t remember his name) who were sent to the Baltic Sea more than 800 years after St. Clement died there. They were told to bring back Clement’s body.  Good luck!  They knew it was an impossible mission so they decided to make the best of it and convert as many of the people they could along the way.  To do this, they had to translate the bible into the languages of the locals, but the locals didn’t have a written language.  So, St. Cyril created the Cyrillic alphabet, the one still used by Russian and other languages to this day.  In this chapel are plaques from many countries acknowledging the great give St. Cyril gave to them.  St. Cyril and his brother are both buried here.


This is the temple in honor of the god Mithras.  It’s buried below the oldest version of St. Clement’s church. Only men could be members of the religion that worshipped Mithras and their religious ceremony consisted of re-enacting a famous banquet in honor of the god. Everything about the religious was kept in strict secrecy, even the temples were built with no windows so their ceremony couldn’t be observed.  I think it was the original fraternity, men’s club, or maybe the invention of the man-cave.  In any case, a good time was had by all.

Interestingly, the most important date to the faithful was Mithras’ birthday — December 25th.  Way back in time when the bishops were talking about establishing the date of Jesus’ birth as a holy day, it was suggestion they adopt the biggest party day of the year–Mithras’ birthday.  Only in that way could they hope to gain more converts.

I don’t know who I don’t have pictures of the mint that was found beneath Mithras’ temple. It still has water running through it. Current thinking is the mint was built there because the water was necessary to the minting process, so everything was convenient. This mint would have been the one the made the Roman coins mentioned in the time of Jesus and before.

Papal Audience

DSC00086Here we are in St. Peter’s Square!  What a morning.  We were told the audience wouldn’t begin until 10:30, so we thought we could sleep in a little — not so much. In order to get a seat, they recommended we arrive between 6:30 and 8:00 am.  Everyone has to go through security, all 50,000 of us, so it was a little chaotic.  Luckily, we got through without any problems and were in our seats by 8:30.  Also luckily, it was an incredibly beautiful fall day.  The sky was brilliant blue and the breeze had just a hint of chill in it.  We were told to expect the world’s biggest Catholic pep rally, and that describes it pretty well.  The mood was festive and everyone was having a good time.

Since we expected it all to begin at 10:30, we were surprised when they actually started around 9:45.  I always thought things in Italy could be late, never that early!  It started with announcements of all the groups that were there.  Then, the Pope whizzed up and down the aisles in his suped-up golf cart.  It wasn’t the same as the popemobile, but close.  He stopped often to kiss babies and accept gifts from the crowd.  At one point, he accepted a drink from the Argentinians in the crowd.

I have to say, it was surprise to see people passing their babies from one person to the next to get them to the Pope.  We were told that if someone hands us a baby, don’t drop it!  And pass it to the Pope or one of his guards.  I was more concerned with passing the little ones back–how do you know who the mother is?  It was charming to see the slightly older babies (around 1 year) screaming from the stranger anxiety and Pope Francis consoling them.

Okay, here’s the scoop that all our family and loved ones need to know.  The Pope’s blessing that Bob and I received extends to you, too! (It even counts if you’re not Catholic!) That is especially true of any of you who are dealing with illness.  So, consider yourselves blessed!

Below are a couple of pictures and I’m going to try and include a couple videos.  I’ll explain them below.



Here he is!  I didn’t even have to zoom in, we were actually this close to him.  He was so cheerful, I can see why the world has fallen in love with him.  We were certainly impressed.  Being part of the papal audience is one of the highlights of my life.  I’ll never forget it.

I just tried to upload the short movies of the Pope whizzing by and kissing babies, as well as the video of his blessing, but it won’t let me do it here. Instead, I uploaded them to youtube.  Here’s the link to the Pope kissing babies:


Here’s the link of the Pope’s blessing:


In the mean time, here are some pictures of the place where we stopped for dinner.  Everything was so beautiful and tasty!


This was a wrapped sandwich, almost like a pita or even a burrito.  In Italy, the next closest thing might be a stromboli, if a stromboli wasn’t hot.  It had sliced eggplant on top and looked incredible.


These are just some of the pizzas they had available.  It is so weird to find sliced potatoes on a pizza.  Another on the menu had sliced pumpkin.




And gelato!

Rome — Day 1

Well, we made it!  We arrived in Rome about 9 in the morning, which was 3 am Philly time or midnight, Las Vegas time.  We managed to sleep a little on the plane, so starting out wasn’t so bad.  We hopped on a tour bus to get an overview of the city and drive by all the archeological sites.  It was truly interesting, but the sway of the bus had us both struggling to stay awake.  It was criminal, really.  I admit, we took a little nap this afternoon.  It was only an hour, but we felt much better and decided to try the bus tour again (they run all day long and our ticket was good for the whole day).  We started out strong, but by the end, it nearly defeated us.  We almost slept through our stop; we are the worst tourists, ever.  We gave up.  We had dinner at the hotel and were in bed by 9.

Oh, the other adventure we had this afternoon was the hunt for a curling iron.  The concierge sent us to the Sephora down the street.  It was exactly like the ones in the US, and I fully expected to find the $120 curling irons they’re known for.  Nope, not this one.  The lady was apologetic, but they sold cosmetics only.  I asked several other women on the street about a curling iron — the language barrier made that interesting — but I generally got the idea they all thought I was nuts.  So, I’ve given up.  I apologize now for the state of my hair in any pictures of me : )

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the day.  It really is a beautiful city.


There are buildings like this all over.  They look like they used to be bigger buildings, but they crumbled away and the inside walls are now the outside walls.


This is the other side of the building above. Its was the strangest things, and totally unexpected.


St. Peter’s Basilica.  I always thought St. Peter’s Plaza was like a courtyard, surrounded by walls.  Not at all.  It is right in the middle of the city.  It’s hard to see, but it’s the area right in front of the church.


Here’s a panorama of St. Peter’s Plaza.


It’s hard to see because of the reflection but we thought these fur coats were outrageous.


Here’s a motorbike parking lot in the middle of an intersection.  I think they converted some of the squares into parking.  It reminded me of the stroller parking lots at Disneyland.



The Colosseum.  It’s under renovation now, they are actually scrubbing it clean.  This is the part that already been cleaned.


Some of the buildings of the city.  I should probably know which ones, but I was napping.  : )


I do know this was the justice building when it was originally built.  The Romans at the time hated the shape of it and called it the “ugly building.”


Okay, this is just . . . weird.  It’s jeans made out of plastic trash recovered from the ocean. Yes, you read that correctly. It could be a great idea, but there are just so many jokes to be made.  Everything from excessive crinkly and stiff pants, to . . . well, use your imagination.  We got a laugh from it, but maybe its because we were so tired.