Rome Travel Journal – Day Two

1st October 2014

I spend most of my morning excitedly making my way through the historic centre of Rome. My original plan had been to get public transport from where I was staying near the Vatican straight to the Pantheon across the river. Halfway there I’d got so excited by passing peeks at various landmarks that I decided to walk. It’s what everyone does suggest to do and whilst I was keenly aware that I had a long list of things planned for today, it was a good decision. I popped into the Pantheon to reacquaint myself with the most intact Roman temple in the world complete with iconic oculus.

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The Oculus. The dome of the Pantheon is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the entire world despite now being 2,000 years old. If the shape of the dome continued down, a perfect sphere would be created with the point opposite the oculus skimming the floor.

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The Pantheon was built by Marcus Agrippa as you can tell from the inscription: M·AGRIPPA·L·F·COS·TERTIVM·FECIT = “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, made this building when consul for the third time.” The temple was constructed between 29-19BC and was restored by Hadrian in 126AD.

Thankfully I have seen the Pantheon before, because it was a bloody bunfight inside as the crowds in the picture hint at. I didn’t tarry long, instead I said hello to the fountain outside,

The Fontana del Pantheon features an Egyptian obelisk from the reign of Ramses II

The Fontana del Pantheon features an Egyptian obelisk from the reign of Ramses II

and then strolled through to Piazza Navona to the next obelisk.

The Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) by Bernini, 1651

The Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) by Bernini, 1651

Piazza Navona is built on the Stadium of Domitian. It was dedicated in 86BC and being smaller than the Circus Maximus was used for athletics rather than chariot racing.

Piazza Navona is built on the Stadium of Domitian. It was dedicated in 86BC and being smaller than the Circus Maximus was used for athletics rather than chariot racing.

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I had originally intended to pop into the Museo Barraco and look at the Egyptian artifacts there but immediately abandoned my plans when I realised that part of the original stadium preserved beneath the piazza had finally been opened to the public, as it it turned out only a few weeks previously. They have a lovely collection or replica armour in between the arches, mainly of gladiatorial armour (the stadium was briefly used for gladiatorial combat when the Colosseum had to be closed after a fire.)

Stadium of DomitianIt was easy to imagine the punters, fast food sellers and prostitutes gathering at the entrance archways (Fornix is “arch” in Latin – the frequent use of the arches in public buildings such as this by whores and their clients has led to our term “fornication.”)

Steps to the seating areas

Steps to the seating areas

Some replica sets of Gladiatorial armour and weaponry.  There were distinct "styles" of gladiator.

Some replica sets of Gladiatorial armour and weaponry.
There were distinct “styles” of gladiator.

It was great to finally be able to descend down to the Roman street level beneath Piazza Navona and as it had only recently opened up it was quiet and I could escape the crowds for a few grateful moments.

After a lovely lunch featuring white pizza and the tastiest buffalo mozzarella I’ve ever had, it was time for the Palazzo Altemps.

Palazzo Altemps houses a branch of the Museo Nazionale Romano and I’d already visited their branches at Palazzo Massimo and the Baths of Diocletian on Day 1. You can visit all of the sites on the same ticket if completed within 3 consecutive days. Any of their sites is worth the seven euros alone so to be able to see so much on such a cheap ticket is an absolute bargain.

The palazzo was built in the 15th century and serves as a beautifully evocative (if a little dilapidated – but to be honest it all added to the charm of the place) setting for some of the most beautiful statuary in the collection. For those with an interest in Renaissance history the palace was built for Girolamo Riario, who was one of the plotters in the Pazzi Conspiracy but more importantly in my view, he was the husband of the absolutely amazing Caterina Sforza.

The combination of Greco-Roman statuary in a renaissance palazzo is mesmerizing, and as at Palazzo Massimo the lighting is simply gorgeous.

The Ludovisi Ares is a marble 2nd century AD copy of a Greek 4th century original.

The Ludovisi Ares is a marble 2nd century AD copy of a Greek 4th century original.

Aphrodite

Aphrodite

The 'Grand Ludovisi' sarcophagus is mid 3rdC AD and depicts a battle between Romans and Gauls.

The ‘Grand Ludovisi’ sarcophagus is mid 3rdC AD and depicts a battle between Romans and Gauls.

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Several hours later I decided to head back to my hotel. I had a very special evening tour booked for the following night and I wanted a short siesta before heading out to St Peter’s (a five minute walk from my hotel) and trying to get my head around suitable camera settings for after dark.

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As a bit of a photography novice who likes to stay safely on the ‘auto’ setting I faffed around with various buttons etc and I’m fairly pleased with my amateur results.

I even enjoyed a bit of a dry thunderstorm. You know, the silent type with no rain? It was very atmospheric. I decided to stroll a bit further down to the Castel Sant Angelo.IMG_0247

It had, by now, begun to actually rain. And then thunder and lightning returned with a vengeance. And my waterproof jacket had forgotten how to keep me dry. I got stuck in this. Blergh. Soaked to the bone, it was time to go back to hotel, attempt to dry off and rest before Day 3, which was going to be looooong…

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