Monday, 23 July 2012

Rome

The taxi journey from the marina into Rome is not propitious. The young driver is a troubled soul who seems unsuitable for a life on the Italian roads and he gesticulates and groans at every indiscretion by other drivers and then slumps in his seat, seemingly finding it all too much to bear. Eventually we arrive in the centre of Rome at Via Condotti and we are greeted by Francesco, the duty manager of this stylish 5 bedroom hotel and he produces a map of Rome and scrawls all over it highlighting the famous landmarks that we have to pack into our short stay.

We have dinner at a family-run rustic Roman style restaurant not far from our hotel and afterwards we walk to the Piazza di Spagna, the famous Spanish Steps, a huge flight of white marble steps where most of Rome sits and watches each other, doing dolce fa niente and talking and enjoying the warm night air.



The following day we spend the morning walking through the Baroque area of Rome. We are fortunate to have our own in-house guides in the form of Claire who is, inter alia, a historian, and Nick, a reformed Latin teacher and we interrogate them on subjects ranging from Cranmer and Luther and the Baroque counter-reformation to the origins of Ancient Rome and the evolution of the republic to the rise of Julius Caesar and the foundation of Imperial Rome. We start our marathon at the Trevi Fountain, a huge white sculpture of Neptune sitting on a clam shell being drawn by two white horses, atop a fountain tumbling cooling water into the pool below. We join others in throwing coins over our shoulder into the fountain, as legend states that this will ensure that we will return to Rome.




Next the Pantheon, which was built by Agrippa under the rule of the emperor Augustus and like other temples that were later converted into churches, it is substantially intact. The interior is a single majestic space and high above us is the famous cupola, a huge perfectly symmetrical dome, larger even than the dome of St Peter's, and at the top is an open oculus, a round hole at the centre of the dome through which the light at midday shines into the Pantheon and magically lights up the interior. As we continue our walk through the streets of Rome we are amazed that at every street corner there seems to be another Baroque cathedral or classical piazza and while Italy struggles with its mountain of debt, Rome remains rich with its legacy.


After lunch we have booked a guide to take us around the ancient sites of Rome and Cecilia begins our tour at the Colosseum. Begun by the emperor Vespasian in 72 AD it was completed by his son Titus in 80 AD and is an immense amphitheatre which dominates the area around it. So called because of its proportions and the nearby statue of Nero, the Colosseum is 180 metres long, 150 metres wide and 49 metres tall and in its day it could accommodate 60,000 spectators. Looking down from the upper levels into the floor of amphitheatre in the baking afternoon sun, it is easy to imagine the scenes of slaughter and barbarity that took place here for the entertainment of Roman citizens' right up until the 5th century. We continue to the temple of Venus and on to the Forum which was extended by successive emperors to accommodate the burgeoning population of Rome which at its peak had a staggering 1.5 million inhabitants.




By late afternoon we are exhausted and we head for the cool of our hotel. Later we go for dinner at La Babette, a restaurant near the Piazza del Popolo and we dine in the courtyard where the heat of the city sits heavy in the still evening air and moves us to reflect on our good fortune and how we might do more to help others. It seems appropriate on the eve of our visit to the Vatican.



It is another blisteringly hot day and we walk in the shade down to the Tiber. First stop is the Ara Pacis which was commissioned by the Roman Senate in 13 BC to honour the triumphal return from Gaul of Augustus and was consecrated in 9 BC by the Senate to celebrate the peace established in the Empire after Augustus's victories. Ara Pacis stood in the flood plain of the river Tiber, where it became buried under four metres of silt over the centuries until it was excavated in 1937 on the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Augustus and the present building was erected around it in 2006. Today it is a beautiful fresco, preserved for future generations in air conditioned splendour, out of the heat and away from the elements, but not too precious and still very accessible as are all the ancient sites in Rome.

We cross the Tiber and past the Castel St Angelo and then we catch sight of the dome of St Peters Basilica. Built by Michelangelo in 1546 and completed after his death, it is quite stunning; along the wide Via di Conciliazione to the colonnade of two semi-circular wings that form St Peters square with a large Obelisk in the middle of the piazza. Beyond the huge square is the broad fa├žade of the church, one hundred and fifteen metres across and behind it the dome of the basilica which rises one hundred and thirty six metres above. Entering the square we are struck by the vast dimensions of the piazza and the enormity of the Basilica. Inside, the style is gaudy Baroque at its most ornate and one can't help but feel some sympathy for the views of Luther when one sees the opulence and splendour of the church with its jewelled carvings and lavish statues and frescos. Just inside the portico on the right of the nave is Michelangelo's Pieta, a sculpture of Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus in her arms and we are mesmerised by the empathy and emotion that is expressed in this beautiful and simple work of art.






We walk back to our hotel to catch a taxi which drops Nick and Claire at the airport for their flight home and then takes us on to Ostia and back to Juno. Our stay at the hotel Crossing Condotti has been a treat and the duty managers, Marco and Francesco, were great hosts and gave us the best recommendations for restaurants, cafes, bakeries and even the best coffee shop in Italy in the piazza de St Eustachio. We spend the next day in the marina cleaning and packing, then it's time for Easyjet and the journey back to Haslemere where we are looking forward to seeing the boys and catching up with friends and family. A Brit has won the Tour de France, London is hosting the Olympics, Ben Ainsley is battling to become the greatest sailor in Olympic history and the sun is shining in the UK - isnt it always?

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