The eye of Rome

For our second day in Rome the sunny weather continued and in addition to blue skies and warm skin as we had breakfast in the piazza, we were treated to singing. Firstly from someone who was quite drunk but very enthusiastic and then from the Sunday morning service in the church, which was less enthusiastic and much more harmonious.
We then headed to the Colosseum, where we realised that my partner didn’t have his pass (you can buy a pass to the Forum, the Palatine and the Colosseum that lasts 3 days – very good value) so we trekked back to the hotel, but had no luck. By the time we had returned to the Colosseum the line had lengthened signifiantly, so we decided to visit my favourite monument instead, and return later.

By a hilarious turn of events, it turns out that the reason we couldn’t find his ticket was that he hadn’t had one. My ticket was for two. Not really very funny at the time, as we worked it out a day after it had expired, but once we stopped the face-palming we decided that yes, one day it would be funny.

So, which is my favourite monument in Rome? Some hints: ancient, beautifully made, the building I previously compared the Hagia Sofia to and the only building I’ve been in that I can imagine breathing. Need another hint? It has an eye.
For those that guessed the Pantheon, you are correct! I didn’t think much of it before I’d visited Rome years ago, but since those first steps inside and peering up at the dome, there was no doubt which was the finest ancient building in Rome.

Cat sanctuary near Pompey's theatre

Cat sanctuary near Pompey’s theatre

Our walk there from the Colosseum took us past Trajan’s column, more remnants of the markets and the ruins of Pompey’s Theatre, the site of Julius Caesar’s murder. The last is now a cat sanctuary, and included many felines basking in the sun, wandering around the ancient stones or relaxing on an ancient altar stone.
We soon reached the Pantheon, walking between it’s massive pillars and towards the doorway, and stepping inside looked up and waited for our eyes to adjust to the slight gloom. Looking up at the bright circle of sky in the oculus, you can’t initially make out the details of the dome, but when you can pull your eyes away from the sunlight it’s a wonderful vision. Very ordered and purposeful, as with most Roman art, the squares within squares formed a dome that seemed to be reaching out and upwards, even without the gold and bright paint that once covered it. The openness of the space inside the building makes me think of lungs filling with air.

Light in the Pantheon

Light in the Pantheon

There were of course crowds in there, taking photos and being toured about, but when your gaze is constantly pulled upwards you don’t notice that too much. We spent a while in there, sitting on the pews (it is now a church, which I suppose is why it hadn’t been razed) and staring around, and taking it all in.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon

The next stop was a gelaterie that had blown my mind during my last visit. I forgot to count the flavours, but I’d guess at least 50, and all delicious. I settled on the creme caramel and profiterole flavours, and it was about as amazing as you may be imagining. And yes, it did include miniature profiteroles.
As I slowly ate my icecream, my partner led us to the Piazza Navona, a busy square filled with artists and tourists. We then went on to Campo de’Fiori, a smaller square full of stalls selling pasta, spices, truffles, fruit and vegetables. We had lunch in one of the restaurants lining the square, and were treated to a very good busking quartet.

Pomegranates in Campo de'Fiori

Pomegranates in Campo de’Fiori

Then we headed in the direction of the Tiber through the maze of streets, and having found her spotted Isola Tibertina. Ancient myths say that the island was formed from silt building up around the body of the last king of Rome, who had been lynched and thrown into the river. I imagine that if everyone thrown into the river had turned into islands, there would be no need for bridges. At some point marble and other stone was added around the shores, giving it the shape of a ship, which you can still make out. Today a hospital sits on the island, near where a temple to Aesculapius the god of healing once stood.

Tiber flowing by Tibertina

Tiber flowing by Tibertina

We made a circuit of the island, along the marble steps that were littered with drift wood or flooded by the Tiber rushing past. Trees have grown up around the edges of the island, and scraps of plastic bags, socks even chairs stuck in the branches give an indication of how high the tide can reach, and how much trash the old river must be carrying. Walking right next to the flow, close enough to tip your toes in, I could see how fast and powerful it was.

Rubbish trees on Tibertina

Rubbish trees on Tibertina

As we crossed back across one of the bridges, I saw an artist next to her display of watercolours, some of which I really liked. We reached the other side of the bridge with a painting that I’m hoping to frame soon, and a recommendation of a place to visit when we hired a car.

Following the river we came across two temples, without any plaques or signs to mark them out. I have since found out that they were the Temple of Portunus and Temple of Hercules Victor, and are in such good shape partly due to being converted into churches. It felt a bit bizarre to have spent so much time wandering around ruins, and then to come across two buildings that seemed almost intact, standing anonymously in a park next to a road.

Temple of Hercules Victor

Temple of Hercules Victor

From here it was a short walk to the Circus Maximus, and approaching from the short end to the west we could take in the size of it. Sitting on remnants of stairs, we imagined how it must have been like to be sitting in the same place many years ago, watching a triumph or race, and being deafened by the crowds all around us.

The Circus Maximus

The Circus Maximus

After a relatively short walk back to the hotel via the Colosseum, and a short rest, we went out for dinner. I had found a piazza we hadn’t yet visited, so we headed there, only to find that it was little more than a carpark with a fountain. Getting hungry we walked on and came across the Trevi fountain. It is extremely touristy, but impressive all the same, especially at night when the marble looks golden under the lights.

Trevi fountain

Trevi fountain

Around the corner we found a cosy restaurant and enjoyed a delicious meal with wine, though were still hungry when we left. While getting lost on our way back we stumbled across another restaurant, decorated to look like an ancient Roman taberna. In authentic style, the walls were covered in garish frescoes and mosaics, and at the back a harpist played, so we couldn’t really walk past it. The atmosphere outweighed the food and drink, but it was worth it for a taste of old Rome.

After this we slightly tipsily made our way back to the hotel, to rest for another day of wandering.

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