Friday, February 29, 2008

A Long Day at the Vatican

We did a guided tour through the Vatican. Everything was very crowded and we feel that we would have almost gotten lost without the tour guide who was very good. The sheer number of ancient Roman antiquities was staggering. When excavation of the ruins started in the 1500's the pope took the lion's share (to preserve). The Basilica at St. Peters was big but both of us felt that the Doumo at Milan felt bigger. I think that was because it was the biggest church we had ever been in, so it looms larger in our memories.
Safety tip on the Metro: When we were getting on to come home there was a large group getting off, so we waited and then started to get on. At the same time the bell rang and the door started to shut on me. I held up my arm and have a nice mark on my arm. The moral of the story is that on the Metro you seem to have about 30 seconds to get on or off, so push on or push off so you don't get caught by the door.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fun in Rome

I am posting using an Italian keyboard. Our wireless internet flopped out on the 26th. Service provider problem, so it will only be fixed slowly, probably after we head to Sorrento. So we are using our landlord's laptop with his GSM card. We are limiting our use to email and Wm is searching for an abode in Genoa.
In Rome we are continuing to learn about the past from ruins and museums. Today we were at the Borghese Art Museum and then at a catacomb site.
Tomorrow we will head to the Vatican.

Monday, February 25, 2008

More on the Ancients

Touring the Colosseum
up on Palatine Hill where the emperors and other rich Roman's lived
Looking over to Circus Maximus
OK, I know the nose is broken, but look at the dimpled chin and the Borden ears. Axel the Nero of the future?
Looking down on the Forum and the remains of the great Hall of Justice

The staff person is calling
"closing time, closing time, lets go"
in Italian. But the light is great and William does not understand Italian. So he continues to take pictures. Some are really good--looking down on the ruins of the Forum.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ancient Rome

We just got a taste of Ancient Rome. An Obelisk brought back from Egypt by Augustus after he defeated Mark Anthony and Cleopatra.
The Giant Moldering Mausoleum of Augustus
The Spanish Steps (n0t really ancient)
Column detailing the exploits of Marcus Aurelius
Throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain to wish to come back to Rome. Powered by aqueduct water. (only the aqueduct is ancient)
The Pantheon built by Agrippa
A fountain in front of the Pantheon (William liked this)
I was totally blown away by the Pantheon. It is the best preserved bit of Ancient Roman architecture. The Pantheon was originally a temple to many Roman gods. When the Romans became Christians the temple was stripped of all the statues and art that formerly adorned it and Christian statues were substituted so it became a Christian Church. Many stripped niches are still bare. The dome is 142 feet across and was made of concrete 2000 years ago. The building was the model for St Peter's and the Capital Dome in Washington DC.

Largo Argentina is an area of 3 temples and is one of the oldest bits of ruins in Rome. Julius Caesar was assassinated near here.

Can you see the cats? All the old ruins are just over-run with feral cats.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Day in Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica, a Roman Port City at the mouth of the Tiber, was abandoned, overgrown, looted (from peasants to the pope) and then rededicated as an archaeological site. This was a thriving town of 50-80 thousand people during its heyday 2000 years ago. Imports of grain for Rome were important, but also all manner of things were imported such as ivory and exotic animals for the Roman Zoo. The city was served by an aqueduct and had fountains and baths for the public and running water and private baths in the homes of the wealthy. We explored condominiums up to four stories high for the wealthy and apartments for the poorer people that were up to 6 stories high. There was a huge forum and a theater that would seat 4 thousand. There were many temples--the largest was in the forum and was dedicated to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.

The last hour of our time there we were propositioned for a private tour by a guide who had finished with her group. The private tour was worth it as we were guided to and told about things we would not have found on our own.

Welcome to Ostia Antica

Looking down at the tiles of the public baths

All around this square in front of the theater were offices of various businessmen such as ship owners and the square was once filled with statues of locals

Rams and such were sacrificed at this alter and the entrails were read to predict your success or failure in a business venture

Grain for town use was ground to flour here and baked up into bread in nearby ovens and probably sold to you in panini (sandwiches) in a cute nearby taverna

William at the edge of the front of the Jupiter, Juno, Minerva temple looking out at the forum
With our guide at the top of what is left of a four story condo. There would have been about 6-8 individual apartments in this building that had its own baths.

Flush toilet in a lower middle class home. The water rushed under the seats continuously and washed all away and out to the Tiber.
We would never have found the mithraeum temple with the statue of Mithras sacrificing a bull (copy) without our guide.
Then we heard the whistle blowing by the staff to herd people out to the exit as it was nearing closing time.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Roma O Morte

Rome or Death! So it was for Garibaldi's troops as they tried to keep out the French in 1849. They lost that time, but not for long.
We walked here to Piazzale Garibaldi from the lighthouse. We are up on top of the old city walls looking out to the endless vista of Rome. William tries to match up what he sees with his map.

Then as usual a gratuitous picture of me.
We thought the Vatican did not look too far so we hiked to St Peters Square. They were getting ready for a big event, apparently the pope is to speak tomorrow as the Square was mostly gated off and filled with VIP chairs. The line to get into the Basilica was just too long and guards were everywhere.So we found the St Pietro train station(the map was very confusing)and took the train back to the station stop that is just across the street from the lighthouse. We have bought a seven day combo train/metro/bus ticket as Rome is not as walkable as other cities have been.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

By Bus to Rome

The bus station was much closer to our room in Sienna than the train station so we decided to go to Rome by bus. The price was right, but the bus station in Rome was quite far from our apartment in Rome. So one long taxi ride later we are here. I think when we learn the transportation system we will do better. At least the internet is fast and the grocery store is just around the corner and up 3 flights of stairs to get there, but down 3 flights coming back with the groceries.
Rome is really huge. The biggest city we have visited so far. Our apartment "The Lighthouse" is a new remodel, compact and nicely done. Our bedroom is the loft with the kitchen, dining, living and bath downstairs. To give a feeling of space the front door is heavy glass with a curtain for privacy and a heavy iron gate for security. We are at the back of a garden, pretty but I am not sure what we can use.

From Santa Caterina to Trattoria Papei

We started out the day at the Basilica di San Dominica, a huge brick structure near our room with special ties to St Caterina. There is a special chapel dedicated to her here and reliquaries with her thumb and head. I am sort of getting used to reliquaries.

Then on to the Sanctuario Casa di Santa Caterina which we can see from our window. The Sanctuario consists of a lot of tributes to her, two chapels, a gift shop and her actual house.

Santa Caterina de Siena (1347-1380) was the last of 25 children born into a family of wool dyers. She was noted to be saintly from her early childhood and became famous for her visions. She became a dominican nun and worked for peace in her time persuading the pope to return to Rome from France where he had taken refuge from the constant wars in Italy. She did a great deal to pacify at least Italy and was made a Saint by Pope Pius the second who just happened to be from Siena. She became the patron saint of Siena and then of all of Italy. The bookmark I got said she is also the patron saint of all of Europe now.

Outside the Sanctuario there was a painting of the virgin and child with the child petting a goose. This is part of the goose contrada and the painting was very charming.

Then back to the Piazza del Campo. We learned in our wanders yesterday that the fountain had eroded to stubs and this is a replica. All the more amazing for the work of restoration that was done so we can enjoy this ancient wonder. The water is ancient Roman Aqueduct water--potable.

William feeds the pigeons some stale bread.

Time for lunch and we went back to Antica Trattoria "Papei". This is a great place not in either Steves or Fodor's. They have inexpensive typical Tuscan food done very well and the hospitality is unmatched. Go to Piazza del Mercato 6 and ask for Paolo.

Chiesa e Museo in Siena

Stained Glass now in the Duomo museum

Although we did not climb up the city tower we did climb the spiral stairs to the Panorama.

Three pictures from the top

Restoration is a never-ending job.

Santa Maria della Scala was a working hospital until just a few years ago. Now it is a labyrinthine maze of galleries focused on restoration and archeology. Two old chapels are part of the hospital. One was a special one where St Catherine of Siena went to pray for peace. Frescoes in the main hall pictured life in and around the hospital in the 15th century. This particular fresco is considered an accurate portrayal of a general ward.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Monday in Sienna

A leisurely day with a tour of the Civic Museum and a video exhibit. In the Civic Museum the frescoes of good government/bad government were especially instructive. With Justice hailed in the good and Justice hogtied in the other. Guess which had prosperous farms and children dancing with tambourines and which had soldiers burning villages and murder in the streets. The theme of the video exhibit was the "errant wanderer" with many takes on the subject---some I thought were weird, some banal and one downright scary.

We ate lunch in a trattoria in the Pesce (fish) contrada. This time we ordered a small glass of grappa and an espresso to complete the meal.

Back in the square William fed the pigeons some bread and watched them drink from the mouths of the lupas around the edge of the fountain.

Pigeons and Lupa


All of these big cities in Italy were states with their own governments. Within the state of Sienna there were 9 contradas (zones, family groups or tribes) (now seventeen). Each of these contradas lived in a certain part of the city and each had an animal, colors and flag. Each contrada also had a fountain where children were baptized into membership in the contrada. These contradas are still an important part of city life. Certain members of each contrada are part of the city government. We passed the bruco, caterpillar, contrada meeting house. They had a sign board out front with announcements of general activities, women's club meetings and a birth announcement of a new member of the contrada, Arianna Ruga. These traditions go back ~ two thousand years!

Sign and Flag


Statue of woman looking at a caterpillar on a pomegranate opposite the fountain.

We are staying in the goose contrada and have seen the lupa (she wolf), and rhino contrada. I am sure we have walked near others but have not identified them. The she wolf with the twin sons of Remus is the symbol of Sienna. The myth is that the twins fled Rome and their uncle Romulus to found Sienna. On the back of their wolf foster mother I guess.

Statue of Lupa and Twins


The artist called this the drop. The town calls it the pear. I think a better name is the dropping.

William resting.

Laundrymat of Antiquity

We walked to a fountain dating back to Roman times where women came to do laundry.


Me and fountain

Wm and fountain