My First Impression of Europe: Rome

Travis Fountain

Travis Fountain

While Paris is a refined and elegant society, Italy, from Rome to Vatican City, Florence, Isle of Capri, Napoli, Pompeii and Amalfi Coast, is where one’s blood flows faster and heart beat raises a notch. With colors brighter, days hotter, people warmer and louder, southern Italy radiates an ebullient ambience.

It is easy to get lost in time in a city like Rome, so deeply entrenched in history that every where you turn, there is monuments and ruins emblematic of its ancient and glorious past. I, too, found myself transfixed in carried away moments when I couldn’t tell reality from illusion.

We arrived Rome Fiumicino International Airport late at eleven PM. Leaving the baggage area, we spotted the young man holding a sign with my name on it; he was the driver of our private transport that we had booked in advance back home by our local AAA agent.

The vehicle was a white Mercedes minivan and our driver was a talkative, pleasant chap. Once out of the highway and in the city, he pointed out some places to us, including The Tiber River, of which we got only indistinct glimpses in that dimly lighted surrounding.

At some point, we went through a neighborhood where I heard loud Italian music blaring and saw crowds of people gathering round both sides of what seemed embanked canal or river separating the one way streets. Our driver solved the puzzle, in some neighborhood, he said, people come out on the weekend, cool down and have fun. Interesting and quite infectious! Our time in Rome was off to a great start.

First day in Rome, we walked through the city and paid our respect to many of the city’s hallmark monuments, from the Coliseum to the Forum, Pantheon, Travis Fountain, Spanish Step, so on, making unexpected discoveries along the way. Second day, we visited the unrivalled Vatican City and the third day we took a day tour to Florence, booked at the hotel.

Come along as I relive my time in Rome once more.

Lobby of Ripa Hotel

Lobby of Ripa Hotel


We stayed at Ripa Hotel in Trastevere located south west of Rome. The hotel building is tucked in a crowded neighborhood but room size is decent and close to bus stop. Bus was all we needed while in Rome. The hotel offers a nice breakfast buffet including various fruits, canned and fresh.
Church of Gesu

Church of Gesu


This building really stood out in comparison with others nearby and I stepped in. It was Sunday and there was a service proceeding with a small congregation. Once I was used to the crepuscular inside and started to see the details, I was turned speechless.
Striking Interior of Church of Gesu

Striking Interior of Church of Gesu


It was the most resplendent church I had ever seen so far. I wouldn’t have thought this church was originally built in 1545 to have no decoration at all. Actually, according to some research, it was plain to the point of austerity and was not embellished till a hundred years later when the church decided to allure believers with grandiloquent ecclesiastic spectacle. An extreme make over indeed!
Triumph of the Holy Name of Jesus

Triumph of the Holy Name of Jesus


Looking at this painting titled Triumph of the Holy Name of Jesus, one can’t help but marvel at the ingenuity of the artist, Giovanni Battista Gaulli, also known as Baciccia (May 8, 1639 to April 2, 1709), and the illusionistic creation of three dimensional effect on a two dimensional painting.
Another Ceiling Fresco

Another Ceiling Fresco


For more info, see: http://www.chiesadelgesu.org/index_en.html
Pantheon

Pantheon


What awed me most about Pantheon in Rome is the fact that it has been standing solid and strong for almost two thousand years. Built in 126 AD, its main structure is a rotunda surmounted by a dome and preceded by a grand portico. In the center of the dome is a round opening, referred to as the Great Eye or Oculus. It is open to the weather and allows rain to fall through and then carried away via drains on the floor, an unbelievable feature. As a whole, Pantheon is an unfathomable architectural phenomenon as Michelangelo had put it: “Angelic and not human design.”
Umberto I’s Statue by his Tomb

Umberto I’s Statue by his Tomb


Over the millenniums, it has undergone glories, adversities and many changes. Built originally by Emperor Hadrian as a Temple of all Gods, it became the burial place of the illustrious in the Renaissance. Many grandiose tombs could be seen inside including tombs for famous painter Raphael and kings of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I.
Another Tomb

Another Tomb


Pantheon is now open to the public for church services, congregation, weddings, etc. For more info on Pantheon, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheon,_Rome
Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona


The fortuity of the day was making unexpected discoveries between our bourns. After Pantheon, we flowed with the crowd and ended up at Piazza Navona. A square bustling with vigor and gaiety on that Sunday, it hosts a bevy of shops and restaurants. Dominating the center of the square is the striking Bernini Fountain with an obelisk thrusting up.
Bernini Fountain

Bernini Fountain


Bernini Fountain sits in a round, low basin with four beautiful sculptures of divine physiques set semi-prostrate on the corners of a jagged rock formation. A Baroque style fountain, it was patronized by Innocent X (1644-1655) and designed by the famous artist Bernini in 1651 to honor the four great rivers of the world, Danube, Ganges, Nile and Río de la Plata, hence also referred to as Fountain of the Four Rivers. The four sculptures of men symbolize the gods of the different continents and races.
River God Ganges

River God Ganges


For more info on, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fontana_dei_Quattro_Fiumi
Travis Fountain

Travis Fountain


Tucked away in a crammed neighborhood and surrounded on all sides by buildings close by, the spectacular Travis Fountain rises above a semi circular basin and abuts at an imposing backdrop resembling the façade of an edifice. Erected on the center of the rocky fountain is its most striking element, sculpture of Neptune or Poseidon, Ocean God, riding on his sea shell chariot while his son Triton, messenger of the sea, mans the sea horses.
Restive Seahorse

Restive Seahorse


The fountain was built in 1762 on the terminal point of an ancient aqueduct dating back to 19 BC. After supplying water to the ancient city for many centuries, the aqueduct was destroyed at the beginning of the medieval years and was not restored till 1453. Trevis Fountain is the pinnacle of a Roman tradition from the Renaissance age: celebrate the power of water by building fountain at the end point of the aqueduct. For more info, see: http://www.fodors.com/
Victor Emmanuel II Monument

Victor Emmanuel II Monument


The glaring white of this magnificent building comes from white marbles. That is right. The monument to the first king of the unified Italy, Victor Emmanuel II, is covered all round by white marbles. Built between 1895 and1925, this monument is embellished by many beautiful sculptures including the equestrian statue in the center and the two sculptures of Winged Victory riding on quadrigas surmounted on the top corners.
Loggia on Top of the Monument

Loggia on Top of the Monument

Piazza Venezia from the Monument

Piazza Venezia from the Monument


Open and green, Piazza Venezia is an oasis in that neighborhood. The lighter building on the right of the photo is Palace Venezia, after which the piazza is named.
Some Ruin on West Side of the Monument

Some Ruin on West Side of the Monument

Forum From the Hill

Forum From the Hill


What turned this gaunt ruin into a major attraction? Its glorious past undoubtedly lies at the heart of the appeal. Originally a swampy valley between the Capitoline Hill and Palatine Hill, the Forum was for almost nine hundred years the exuberant hub of Rome from Roman Republic to Roman Empire (700 BC to 200 AD). Grandiloquent movies such as Cleopatra, giving us glimpses into its heydays, have also helped intrigue us further.
On the ground of Forum

On the ground of Forum


It allures casual tourist and archeology and history buffs alike; a bonus for the later is the opportunity to trace and map out the ancient monuments, from Julius Caesar’s forum to Augustus’s forum, temples, basilicas, triumphant arches and shops, all that once dazzled this famous ancient ground. The Forum is just a few minutes behind Victor Emmanuel II Monument. For more info, see: http://www.pierreci.it/do/show/content/0000010081
To the Colosseum from the Forum

To the Colosseum from the Forum


As we walked toward the Forum’s north end, the world’s most famous coliseum rose in sight. Natural disasters and manmade havoc over its history of almost two thousand years had badly damaged the Coliseum: a big part of the outer wall and interior floor had collapsed and all its decoration and pavement had been stripped off. Nonetheless the architectural grandeur it once commanded is distinctly discernible through the remaining of the building. Built as a free standing amphitheater in 80 AD, it was a triumphant break through from the earlier hill side theaters. The open floor reveals a clever hypogeum or underground tunnels system. Encompassing the entire circumference is an amazing circular, three storey porch dotted with interspersed arches.
Inside the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum


Being here at the Coliseum, it is easy for one to be reminded of the vivid images of fierce and gory battles between gladiators and wild beasts, images associated with its historical use for gladiator shows as portrayed by popular cultures such as epic movie Gladiator. Our tour guide’s introduction, (the Coliseum charges about €8 for admission but we paid a little extra for a group tour with an English speaking guide who was a young Italian girl speaking American English.), echoed this preconception. It ironic that such high architectural standards and advanced engineering technology coexisted with primitive barbarism. For more info, see: http://www.pierreci.it/do/show/content/0000010051
Piazza Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill

Piazza Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill


Capitoline Hill, with the Forum bordering it on south east and back of Victor Emmanuel II monument on the north, is the highest of the seven hills in Rome and a sacred site in the ancient time where ruins of temples predating the Roman Republic were discovered. On the site of the ruins now stand Piazza Campidoglio or Piazza Capitoline and Capitoline Museum.
Piazza Campidoglio is a Renaissance square designed by Michelangelo. The square is a trapezoid sloping down toward the street on the west end. Covering the ground is;a beautiful egg shaped pavement and leading to the street is a wide ramp with low, transversal bumps. Erected in the center is a bronze replica of the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius.
Capitoline Museum

Capitoline Museum


Capitoline Museum is the buildings surrounding the piazza. They are palaces from the medieval time and had functioned as the civic government of Rome since the middle age before transforming into the museum it is today. The facades of the three buildings were modified and the orientation of the piazza reversed from the Forum to facing the west. For more info, see: http://en.museicapitolini.org/
Church of Santa Maria d’Aracoeli

Church of Santa Maria d’Aracoeli


Perched on the north tip of Capitoline Hill and right Next to Capitoline Museum is the church of Santa Maria d’Aracoeli. The long stair climbing up to the church consists of about 120 steps. For more info, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Maria_in_Aracoeli
Via Condotti

Via Condotti


Via Condotti is the street leading to the Spanish Step. Long, narrow and eclipsed at the time by the buildings crammed on both sides of the street, it was crowded. The handsome building of red brick at the far end is church of Trinità dei Monti.
Spanish Step and Trinità dei Monti

Spanish Step and Trinità dei Monti


The grand staircase, built on a steep slope and covered by people when I was there, is the famous Spanish Step. A Baroque style staircase named after the Spanish Embassy near by, it was built in the 18th century and dubbed as the widest and longest staircase in Europe. The brick red building shimmering in the late day sun is the church of Trinità dei Monti reposing gracefully on Pincian Hill.
Piazza di Spagna from the top of Spanish Step

Piazza di Spagna from the top of Spanish Step


At the bottom of the Spanish Step is Piazza di Spagna or Spanish Square. At the center of the piazza is Fountain of Old Boat, a fountain in the shape of a boat built in seventeenth century.
Around the piazza are many brand name stores.
Evening at Villa Celimontana

Evening at Villa Celimontana


Per recommendation by a friendly receptionist at our hotel, we went to Villa Celimontana for dinner and show one night. Now a state owned Public Park, Villa Celimontana is located on Celio Hill. Well known for its Jazz concerts, it hosts regular outdoor concerts during summer time as well as many annual musical festivals. From a vineyard predating the Roman Republic to the cultural center of Rome, it had gone a long way. A paid admission is required to enter and the concert is included. Playing that night was Piero Odorici, a Jazz band named after its leading man, Italian musician Piero Odorici. A Jazz musician from the USA guest stared that evening.
Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin

Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin


Santa Maria in Cosmedin is a church established in 6th century with a significant history. The church building had undergone reconstructions, restorations and additions many times. The soaring bell tower was added in the 12th century and the façade was from medieval age. The structure is intact but the once beautiful interior had lost most of its decorations.
Mouth of Truth

Mouth of Truth


The main attraction to the church now is this marble disc with the relief believed to be a river divinity’s face. Eyes round, mouth open and mane flowing, it is a legendry lie detector: if a liar, his or her hand will be bitten off by the mouth. It is also associated with the legend of a noble man testing his unfaithful wife who schemeingly escaped it. The movie Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck featured the Mouth of Truth. Many tourists tested their own veracity by having a photo taken with their hands in the mouth; all passed and no hands got bitten off.
Piazza Bocca della Verità

Piazza Bocca della Verità


Piazza Bocca della Verità is across the street opposite to Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.The peristyle building is the Temple of Vesta dedicated to Hercules. In front of the temple is a beautiful fountain, Foutain Dei Tritoni.
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