After breakfast, I walked down Via del Corso toward the Piazza Venezia and visited the Palazzo Dora Pamphili (thank you for the suggestion, Cecelia!). A portion of this prominent family home is still lived in by the family, and a portion is open to the public as a museum showcasing an incredible art collection. There is an outstanding audio tour done by one of the descendants of the family who is a current resident.
So, you know how these churches hold various relics, some more macabre than others? Well, the private chapel in this family palace holds two preserved bodies, those of St. Theodora and St. Justin. During the 17th Century, the family obtained written permission from the pope to move the saints from the catacombs outside the city which were being ransacked by thieves. We weren’t allowed to get very close or take pictures, otherwise I would give you a look. Another jaw dropping moment occurred as I turned a corner and entered a small, guarded room. There in front of me stood the Velazquez painting of Pope Innocent X. As the story goes, the Pope was initially displeased with the painting because it truthfully captures him too well.
After the tour, I walked around the Trajan Market and Forum which includes the Trajan Column, another slide I remember from a recent art history quiz. Like the a Temple of Hera, it never occurred to me that I would be standing in front of the column trying to decipher the story told in the scroll reliefs. I made myself continue past the multiple museums, twists and turns and focus on my mission: the grand Santa Maria Maggiore. I did start day dreaming of bananas and finally stopped in a market – if you are in Rome amongst all that beauty, and all you can think of is bananas, then I guess your body is trying to tell you something. The Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, located on top of Esquiline Hill, is known amongst other things, for its mosaics and large number of relics, such as a piece of the True Cross. The way the light fell into the lower chamber with the kneeling Pope Pious IX was glorious.
I accidentally took a wide circle off the beaten path (and passed the Piazza Vitorrio Park which was pretty though grungy) as I was trying to find Santa Giovanni in Laterano church. The first thing I noticed, once I arrived, was the sheer SIZE of this church. I mean, it is hard to understand how structures were made this big. There was a huge youth event happening when I arrived with lots of singing which was festive and pretty.
And then, continuing the church tour, on to San Clemente (thanks for the suggestion, Katie!). It is a church built on top of a church which was built on top of another church. As a visitor, one can descend all the way down 10 meters to the original structure, a groups of buildings dating back to the 1st Century, and see a still functioning spring and water system and rooms believed to be a Roman mint. There is also a group of rooms on the lowest level that from the 2nd to 4th centuries served as the seat to the Eastern pagan cult of the God of Mithras.
I’d heard that San Pietro in Vincoli would be hard to find, so I loaded up on coffee and struck out from the refreshing cool depths of San Clemente and continued on my pilgrimage. I made the effort to visit yet another church in order to find Michelangelo’s Moses sculpture and it was well worth the hike. He gleamed and almost pulsated, looking like he might stand up at any moment to declare something of great importance. As a bonus, I got to the THE CHAINS worn by Peter when he was jailed. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, seeing the relics and the power they hold is something I find intriguing, as well as inspiring, to consider.
Tonight, after a cold shower, I went out searching for food. I really can hardly emphasize how hungry I am most of the time. I think it is partly due to a different diet, but mostly I am famished because of this obsession to walk and climb and walk and climb and walk and climb.
For example, I fully intended in catching a bus first thing this morning and heading straight to one of my further destinations, either Santa Maria Maggiore church or Santa Giovanni in Laterano church. But I had trouble finding a bus ticket the had trouble finding the correct bus, and all the while I was headed in the general correct direction, and when walking you can take the time to peek in lots of surprise piazzas and churches and see the most amazing treasures, so I just kept going. The problem is that I was utterly exhausted about halfway though the day and still had so much to see…ah, the frustration of visiting Rome.
Anyway, because I can’t seem to stop moving, I’ve had a hard time sketching which was a strong part of my first two weeks in Italy. In Rome, there is such a tremendous amount to sketch, both indoors and outdoors and I am irritated with myself for not sitting down long enough to draw. Tonight, I grabbed my sketchbook and made a plan: Pick up a sandwich at a shop near Area Sacra Argentina, then walk down to the beautiful and well lit Piazza Venezia. I found the perfect spot, started my sandwich (famished AGAIN and trying to eat slowly so I wouldn’t choke), and a woman came up and asked the name of the massive structure in front of us. She and her parents were visiting from China (actually the women who approached me has lived in Berlin for twenty years and works in pharmaceuticals). They sat and visited with me for about 45 minutes!
Then I walked up stairs suitable for a giant whose legs each measure 8-10 feet long. And everything up there was so pretty! Spectacular! Then I found the famous Romulus and Remus sculpture that symbolizes the myth of the start of Rome…and then….ok, you get the point. Can you see how hard it is to sit still here? I have loads of photos that will provide inspiration for my art for many years and I wouldn’t trade my lovely conversation with Shanji and her parents for a small handful of sketches anyway.
The climbs never end. When I finally drag myself back to home base after 14 hours of walking, I hike up 4 flights of stairs and my legs absolutely scream. There is a tiny elevator meant for those unable to take the stairs or with luggage and I am too proud to get on it. The people in this city literally trot up never ending stair cases with little effort and I won’t be the American tourist looking for the elevator. Plus, like they say, when in Rome…