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It was truly amazing. Right in the middle of the world class Raphael rooms in the Vatican, one’s eye gazed upon a 15th century Sylvester Stallone painted by the great Renaissance painter, Raphael. It looks as if the American actor had posed for the painting. The rooms, painted by Raphael, are masterpieces. His, “The School of Athens,” depicting all the great thinkers of history until that time, but represented by Raphael’s contemporaries, is considered Raphael’s greatest work. To stand and gaze upon it was an ethereal experience. Right after the Raphael rooms, one entered the Sistine Chapel, painted by the rival of Raphael, Michelangelo. Our guide had done a good job of educating us about the chapel before we entered, as no speaking is allowed in the room. Numerous policemen enforced the rule, as well as no exposed knees or bare shoulders allowed. The study of Scripture — the chapel frescoes are all Bible stories or great Christian personages; for example, knowing from Scripture that Moses could not look upon the face of God, Michelangelo painted that panel showing only the backside of God; the understanding of anatomy — in the panel of the creation of Adam, God is enclosed in the outline of a human brain; and the depth of skill for someone who had not painted in fresco before makes this chapel among the most cherished and recognized works of art in history. Room after room of the Vatican museum contained priceless works of art set in fabulous display. It was overwhelming.
Vatican City is its own independent country. The central feature of the Vatican is St. Peter’s Square and the Basilica of St. Peter. The Basilica is the largest Christian Church in the world. Michelangelo’s Pieta, depicting Mary holding the crucified Jesus, is near the entrance. The Basilica is stunning and beautiful and, to my eye, made personal by Bernini’s massive baldacchino, a mostly bronze art-piece towering over the altar and pointing to the massive dome of the basilica. St. Peter, the disciple, is buried beneath the altar.
We visited the other three major basilicas of Rome. My favorite, St. Paul’s, contained the burial site of the Apostle. Recent independent scientific and forensic studies have verified that the bones are of a first century male whose missing head — the Apostle was said to have been beheaded — had been severed with a sword, which was the form of beheading used by the Romans. Outside was an Egyptian obelisk that was over 6,000 years old. It was used in the early centuries to guide pilgrims to the church. St. John Lateran, the mother church of Christendom, was commissioned by the first Christian Emperor, Constantine, in the early 300s and served as the main church of Rome and of Christianity for over 1,200 years, before the building of the more modern St. Peter’s Basilica in the 1400-1500s. The ancient door to the church, commissioned by Julius Caesar, is over 2,000 years old.
What a day!
WEG – August 31, 2015
To say that it was hot inside the Colosseum and on top of the Palatine Hill today is quite an understatement. Water consumption could not keep up with water depletion. Someone could have made a fortune mining natural salt today. As Rhonda, our friend, said at the completion of the tour, “We’ve been to hell and back!”
All that aside, the day was glorious. One stood in awe of the accomplishments of the Roman civilization dating from 2000 to 2800 years ago. The Colosseum, a nickname derived from the giant colossus of Emperor Nero which stood outside, is a marvel of engineering and construction that seated 75,000 and where half a million gladiators and criminals died by one another’s hand or by wild animals. One factoid–we have the thumbs up and down all wrong. Thumbs up meant “send the defeated gladiator to heaven” and thumbs down meant “put away your sword and let him live.”
The Forum was the center of the Roman empire, the place where huge celebrations in honor of victories in battle were held, where the Roman Senate met and where Caesar spoke. All around us stood archways and ancient streets, massive columns and pagan temples. We saw the spot of which it is said, “All roads lead to Rome”; where Mark Anthony spoke after the murder of Julius Caesar; where victorious armies marched–history came alive!
Palatine Hill was the highest point of Rome and the place where the huge palace (the name derived from Palatine) of Caesar was constructed. Today it is mostly a ruin, but the immensity of the palace can be detected. Completely clad in varied colored marble, the home contained its own stadium so that Caesar could watch chariot races without mixing with the 250,000 who were watching the same thing at the hippodrome.
Later in the afternoon our tour continued at the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain (scaffolding down after an extensive repair but water not yet returned), the Pantheon (the most complete building remaining from antiquity) and St. Ignatius Church with its amazing false cupola.
A lot of water, some tea, a little beer and a decent amount of gelato made the heat go away at the end of a great day. – August 30, 2015 – WEG