Friday, July 6, 2012

Italy Day 2: Pantheon, Public Squares, Fountains, Time Elevator, and Opera

Day two was all about the public squares, fountains, and lesser churches of Rome. We started by taking a taxi to the Piazza della RotondaThe piazza houses one of the many many obelisks in Rome, so like any tourists, we took advantage of the precious landmarks. 
See? It looks like she's eating the obelisk! Classic!
The "Rotonda" in the title of the piazza refers to the Pantheon, because this piazza is right next to the Pantheon
So the Pantheon is the largest un-reinforced concrete dome in the world. ALSO - it's nearly 1900 years old. It's really very impressive. It was originally a temple to all the gods of ancient Rome, which begs the question: why is it named in Greek? Pan=all theon=gods but in GREEK! If they had wanted to name it in Latin as they should have, they would've called it Omnestheos. Oh well... In the end it became a church like all the rest of the impressive buildings throughout Rome. 
very large.
Having a good time. 
The oculus at the top of the dome provides light to the interior - and rain, and snow...
Yay! Pantheon!
From the Pantheon we walked to the Piazza Navona which is an oblong shaped piazza. The shape comes from the shape of the stadium that once stood there - but not a stadium like the Coliseum, more like a stadium like the one in Ben Hur when they do the horse races - more of a racing stadium... like this:

On the way there we found a little alcove that clearly was meant for a statue - but was missing the statue, so we decided to have a little fun.
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!
An Italian woman walked by and laughed at us - not at us but with us...
I mean... wouldn't you laugh at us?
The Piazza Navona is full of two things: street artists, and fountains. 
Street artists doing their thing.
Fountains doing their thing... pretty much nothing.
The centerpiece and largest fountain in the Piazza Navona is the Fountain of the Four Rivers. Designed by Bernini, it depicts four rivers from across the "four continents" - Renaissance Italy was not so good at counting I guess... The Danube, Nile, Ganges, and the Rio De La Plata. The sculpture supports another of the many obelisks of Rome.
This one represents the Danube - pretty European...
This one is the Ganges - pretty much a white guy with a turban... though not quite so racially insensitive as the Nile's depiction...
Legend has it that Bernini purposefully sculpted the Rio De La Plata as a figure reeling in terror of the adjacent church falling on him. You see the church, Sant Agnese in Agone, was designed by Borromini - a rival of Bernini's so the implication he was trying to convey - that Borromini's church might crumble - is believable. The fact that the church was built several years after the fountain hasn't killed the legend yet...
Rio De La Plata - soon to be the Rio De La Flat-a? ZING!
From the Piazza Navona we headed back Eastward passing by the Pantheon once again and visited the Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. This church really stood out from the others that we visited that day. Most of the lesser churches have the same level of beautiful artwork and lots of gold gilt lining the walls and all that... The unique thing about this church is its ceiling. Instead of most Renaissance artists' tricks of making a flat ceiling look vaulted, or making a vaulted ceiling look flat, this church makes a vaulted ceiling look non-existent. After visiting this church, I'm surprised Andrea Pozzo's name isn't as well known as Raphael or Donatello at least. I mean he couldn't  beat the other two Ninja Turtles - but who could?

The ceiling takes the architectural style of the church itself and (in paint) extends the columns upward another level. There, the building stops and through where the roof should be there is a painted heaven full of angels and new and old testament figures. According to the wikipedia page, there is a marble disc in the center of the nave of the church that marks the best spot from which to enjoy the optical illusion - too bad we missed that.
The columns at the bottom of this picture are real, and then at window level the paint takes over.
Just North of the Saint Ignations church, in the Piazza di Pietra is the last remaining wall of the Temple of Hadrian from Roman times. There's not really much to say about it... it was once a part of a big temple... and now the rest of the temple is gone and it's been preserved by being incorporated into the modern buildings that now exist where the temple once stood.
Former temple wall incorporated into a modern building... a bank I believe.
Further North, there are two more nice little Piazzas, the Piazza Colonna, and the Piazza di Monte Citorio. Both are very nice and have either obelisks or another spiraled Arch like Trajan's Column near the Roman Forum, but after so many piazza, fountains, columns, churches, obelisks, etc., and with so many more to go - I guess we didn't find them picture-worthy. Both piazzas, however, are near the Parliamentary buildings of Italy, so there's a good chance of spotting a protest there like we did:
Google Translate says it says:
"Everyone knows it but
 no one listens
cleaning servicecontract to the lowest bidder
in environments subject to official state police barracks and carabineri
and familiesno future
for the home that you dowe hosted?"
I guess the cleaning service union wants freedom from the carabiners...
A couple of blocks to the East is the Trevi Fountain!
Note the four stories of windows on that adjacent building for scale.
Seriously - it's very difficult to try and convey how huge this fountain is. Blam-o:
Designed by a composite of many artists in the 17th and 18th Centuries, the fountain celebrates the finding of the source of fresh water for the city and marks the spot where the aqueduct leading from that spot ends.

Tradition has it that throwing a coin into the fountain over your head with your back to the water will ensure your return to Rome - so approximately 3000 find their way into the water each day. Apparently the proceeds go to charity - nice! We tried to capture our own contributions to the collection:
Looks like I'll be coming back...
Mom and Dad, too...
Missed the action shot - this was staged. 
Now we had some time to kill, and some sitting down to do. We may have only walked about two miles so far that day, but we had been on our feet for several hours. To kill time we headed to a place where time itself is an illusion. It didn't take any time after discovering that Rome also had a Time Elevator in addition to that pinnacle of all Jerusalem tourist traps, to decide that we must pay a visit to Rome's journey through time. I'm pretty sure the two time elevators are related as the credits of the movie had a lot of Jewish/Israeli names. In comparison - there is no contest. Jerusalem wins hands down. First of all, one of the 5D (since 3D would never be enough to journey through time) seats screeched incessantly as it moved around. Secondly, there was no Chaim Topol to guide us on our journey through time. It's really not worth it, unless you want something to do while taking a rest from walking all day. If you are interested - the website with all the information can be found here.

The next destination is far North. Following the Via del Corso all the way to the end - snapping pictures along the way. 
Rome is pretty
We found a dental office for my dentist mom to point at - "prima" and "dopo" mean "before" and "after" I assume.
Finally we reached the Piazza del Popolo. Another fountain, obelisk, and public square. This one is much larger than the rest as it was once the main entrance to the city from the North. Usually it was the first sight of Rome that visitors would see, and an impressive sight it is:
Unfortunately the tridente was under construction so I stole this from the internets. 
The name "tridente" refers to the fork in the road created by the twin symmetrical churches on either side of the Via del Corso. Romulus and Remus make another appearance in this Piazza:
If the artwork can be believed, they really went nuts for she-wolf milk.
We took a left at the tridente and headed down the Via del Babuino and headed in the direction of the Spanish Steps
But... they're in Italy...
The steps are named for Spain because they once linked the Spanish Embassy at the bottom, with the church at the top - the church is still there, but the embassy is gone. As you can see above, the steps are the host of yet another obelisk. What's with all the ancient obelisks? Did the Catholic Church/Ancient Romams just tromp around Egypt back in the day stealing old obelisks?

Few people know this, but there's actually a free elevator if you don't feel like climbing the steps in order to get to the top. To get to the elevator turn left while facing the steps at the bottom and walk forward - down an alleyway on the right there is a sign for a public transportation stop - in that station is the elevator.

After quickly checking out the church at the top of the steps (it wasn't very impressive as I recall), we hiked over to the last outdoor destination of the day - The Four Fountains. These four fountains are at the four corners of the intersection of Via della Quattro Fontane and the Via del Quirinale. Mostly uphill - the sight was not worth the climb - I'd skip it if I were you. Anyway - the four fountains represent two goddesses and two rivers. 
We looped back (all downhill, thankfully) to the bottom of the Spanish steps in order to eat dinner at a place my friend suggested. Ristorante Alla Rampa is tucked away in the alleyway called Rampa Mignanelli off of the Piazza Spagna.  The place has got a great antipasto (appetizer) bar. We probably embarrassed ourselves a little bit piling lots of food on the little antipasto place - but it was all so delicious! Even if we were embarrassing ourselves, there were no other customers! We got there just as they opened up for dinner - Italian restaurants close when it's not time for a meal and dinner there is later than here in America.

Sorry this post became closer to a diary entry than a blog post, but there's only one more thing to recount. The last thing we did on Day 2 was go to the opera! In many European tourist cities, they have these selections of classical music or opera available in small venues. Usually they're housed in churches/old school smaller performance halls. I did the research in advance and bought us tickets to the "enchanting arias" concert at St. Paul's Within the Walls Episcopal Church. The audience was basically all tourists, and the performance was exactly what I expected it to be - a selection from famous operas, as performed by mediocre talent. Still, it was a fun way to soak up some culture while in Rome.  If you're interested in tickets I bought mine here.
This guy stole the show - he had us cracking up.
The two male performers were way better than the two female performers. 
Afterwards, we walked back to Via Palaestro and passed out. Being a tourist is exhausting!

No comments:

Post a Comment