Individual Days - Italy

Action Packed Day

September 22, 2023

We had a lot planned for today so before breakfast, we met our group at 6:45 am and headed to our first destination.

St. Peter’s Square & Basilica

We walked to St. Peter’s Square and got in line to visit the Basilica. There was already a short line waiting for the church to open at 7:00 am, but it is better than the several hours wait that is typical.

What was cool was that the interior barriers hadn’t been set up yet. So, we were able to see the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica as it was intended. Lisa said she hadn’t seen the church like this in a long time.

Vatican security is provided by the Swiss Guards and Italian Army. The Swiss Guard (not part of the Swiss Armed Forces) is responsible for the security of the Pope, dignitaries, and all papal buildings. They wear colorful Renaissance-style uniforms. At the border of Italy and the Vatican, there was an Italian Army presence.

Breakfast

After visiting St. Peter’s Basilica, we returned to our hotel for breakfast served on the rooftop. You can see St. Peter’s Basilica’s dome in the background of my selfie.

Pantheon

After breakfast, our group took the public bus to the Pantheon. No taxis today! The Pantheon was impressive. The dome was huge! Even though the structure is almost 2000 years old, the concrete dome is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. The distance from the floor to the top of the dome is the same as its diameter (142 feet).

The oculus (the hole at the top of the dome) provides fresh air and sunlight. As time passes, the beam of light moves around the interior, like a sundial. We were fortunate to visit on a clear day. When it rains, the water pours in from the opening. The floor is sloped with drains to handle the water.

The Pantheon was originally a Roman Temple. Later it was converted to a Catholic Church. You can still see the altars and religious artifacts inside. Today it is a cultural center and hosts the bodies of artist Raphael, King Victor Emmanuel II, and others.

Piazza della Rotonda

Sant'Ignazio of Loyola Church

From the Pantheon, we walked to the Metro station. Along the way we passed this church. Lisa said she wanted to show us something, so we went in. Immediately, I recognized it was one of the churches we had visited on our own yesterday. What we didn’t know then was the story of the dome. Lisa told us that when the church was built there weren’t the funds to build the dome. Instead, a painter was hired to paint a dome. It is an optical illusion.

Roman Forum

After a short Metro ride, we arrived at the Roman Forum. We met Alessandra, our local guide for The Forum and Colosseum. The Forum was the city center of ancient Rome where there were parades, speeches, criminal trials, and gladiator matches. There are ruins everywhere and workers are still uncovering more.

Horrea Agrippiana
Arch of Septimius Severus
Palatine Hill

In the picture below, you can see the Arch of Septimius Severus and on the right, the Church of Saints Luca and Martina. Martina is a patron saint of Rome. She openly shared her Christian faith which led to persecution from Emperor Septimius Severus. She never wavered in her faith though she was tortured and eventually beheaded. The church is still a working church and is situated on higher ground while ironically, the Arch of Septimius Severus is in ruins and the shadow of the church.

Church of Saints Luca and Martina

Temple of Castor and Pollux
Temple of Vesta
Antoninus and Faustina Temple
Temple of Romulus
Arch of Titus

Colosseum

Alessandra continued as our guide through the Colosseum. We learned about the history of the Colosseum and surrounding areas. It was interesting to take in the views and then look at drawings showing the same views from Ancient Rome times.

Arch of Constantine
Temple of Venus and Rome

Free Time & Lunch

So, imagine, we have seen St. Peter’s Basilica, Pantheon, Roman Forum, and Colosseum and we haven’t even had lunch yet. Our time with our tour group was complete for the day, but we still had more to see.

We walked past a couple of churches and the Monument to Victor Emmanuel II before stopping for lunch at Grano la Cucina di Traiano. The small restaurant was off the main path and was popular with locals. The focaccia pizzas were excellent!

Church of the Most Holy Name of Mary at Trajan's Forum
Santa Maria di Loreto
Monument of Victor Emmanuel II
Chiesa di Santa Maria in Via

Spanish Steps

We walked the 135 steep steps from the Piazza di Spagna to the Trinità dei Monti church.

Borghese Gallery

We met our guide, Eirene, for our Borghese Gallery tour. The House of Borghese is a princely family of Italian nobles and popes. The art gallery displays part of the Borghese Collection.

We started our tour in the dining room. In 1632, Bernini created two marble busts of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. Bernini was known to add imperfections to his sculptures. Here one of the buttons (3rd from bottom) is halfway undone. After the first bust (pictured) was completed, a crack in the forehead appeared so a second, duplicate bust was made.

Raphael’s The Deposition oil painting on a wood panel was completed in 1507. The painting portrays Jesus after the crucifixion. In the lower left corner, Raphael’s signature appears with a dandelion which represents the shortness of life.

Cardinal Scipione Borghese
The Deposition

The Rape of Proserpina by Bernini is a Baroque marble sculpture made in the early 1620s. A more accurate translation of the sculpture is the Abduction of Proserpina.

The sculpture tells the tale of Pluto, god of the underworld, abducting Proserpina, daughter of Jupiter (king of the gods) and Ceres (goddess of agriculture). The details of fingers digging into skin and tears on the cheek look so realistic. The multi-headed dog (Cerberus) marks the border of the underworld.

Proserpina’s screams are heard by her mother as Pluto pulls her to the underworld. Ceres responds by drying up the earth and destroying crops. Jupiter is forced to negotiate a deal where Pluto and Ceres each get 6 months of the year with Proserpina. This tale represents the seasons.

The story of Apollo and Daphne tells the origin of the laurel tree and starts after Apollo, son of Jupiter, defeats the great Python and protects the earth. He is so full of himself that he insults another god, Cupid. Cupid’s revenge is to shoot 2 arrows – one kindles love and one dispels it. Apollo is hit by the arrow of love and sees Daphne (hit by 2nd arrow). Daphne, daughter of river god Peneus, preferred hunting and spending time in the forest, alone. Apollo chases Daphne but she runs away. When Daphne fears she will be caught, she cries out to her father. She begs for him to protect her and is transformed into a laurel tree. Apollo, still in love with Daphne, swears he will honor her forever by wearing her leaves in his hair and using her wood to make his bow and lyre. Crowns of laurel branches adorn the heads of royalty and champions to this day. Apollo also used his powers of eternal youth and immortality to make the laurel tree evergreen,

This tale is represented in Bernini’s marble sculpture Apollo and Daphne dated 1620-1625. On the ceiling of the same room is Angeletti’s painting of Apollo and Daphne dated 1780-1785. Notice the details like toes turning into roots and fingers becoming branches and leaves.

We continued through the gallery to see Bernini’s David, Canova’s Pauline Bonaparte (the picture shows a closeup of her hand holding an apple and the details in the draped fabric), and other works of art.

David
Pauline Bonaparte
Dionysus/Bacchus

Borghese Gardens

Fountain of the Seahorses
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
Temple of Diana
Borghese Villa Arco Romano
Temple of Aesculapius

Evening Stroll

After leaving the Borghese Museum and Gardens, we started walking and found ourselves in the Piazza del Popolo with the twin churches Santa Maria di Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli. Side by side, the two churches look like mirror images although they are different inside. We ended with a stroll along the river Tiber.

Dinner

We ate dinner at Osteria Luci in cucina, a Roman steakhouse. Dinner was amazing! We started with aperitifs and focaccia and then ordered smoked chateaubriand carpaccio as the appetizer. Never had carpaccio before – it was delicious!!

Next salad, followed by the main course – Italian Fiorentina. Our server cut the meat and used a torch to render the fat right next to our table. The presentation and meat were fabulous!!

We got some rain this evening, so after dinner we headed back to our hotel. we stopped at L’Arena del Gelato for a sweet treat – cup with white chocolate, dark chocolate rum, and Ferrero Rocher gelato.

We walked 12.3 miles today.

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