Growing up you learn all about history in school, see a lot different artwork, and learn about religion in Sunday school. What I never realized is that much of what I learned is connected to Rome and I learned this when I had the opportunity to explore this great city.
To take you back a bit, this was one of our first weekends off from games since arriving it Italy a little over a month ago. Originally I was thinking of going to Venice, Switzerland, or up to the Alps, but my roommate encouraged me to go to Rome because I would need a few days to really enjoy it and thank goodness I listened to her as I ended up being really lucky with the weekend I went.
I was able to schedule three different tours for my Friday to Monday Rome trip. The first tour was a full day, 7 hour tour with When In Rome Tours where we started out with the Coliseum (which is my favorite spot in Rome) and worked our way through the Forum ruins. While there, we saw a parade of people walking in gladiator, solider, and Roman ladies led by kings come through the Forum and stop outside of the resting spot of Caesar’s ashes.
They announced it was the birthday of Rome (in Italian, so perks of being on a tour with an ear piece so our guide translated it for us) and that there would be a huge parade with some 2,000 people dressed as different historical Roman guard (here’s some foreshadowing, I did go to the parade). I must say there is truly something special in getting to be in the Forum ruins with historical groups in full costume, celebrating their Roman history.
Our tour continued on to the Altare della Patria and then the Trevi Fountain. The Altare della Patria is a beautiful monument which is best known in America by people around my age from The Lizzie McGuire Movie that takes place in Rome (I had a few people message me about the movie while in Rome, too). A fun little note that my tour guide threw in about people going to the top of the building is that Romans love to do it because it means that, “they don’t have to actually see the Altare della Partia.” We all had a little chuckle at this. I was able to go to the top later on that weekend and it was a beautiful view.
Next on the tour was the Trevi Fountain, where as you can guess,
I threw a coin over my shoulder. As it is one of the most famous sites of Rome, I am sure many of you reading this have heard of it before. However, our tour guide gave us the legend with a little twist, “Throw one coin in to return to Rome. Throw two coins in to return to Rome and find love in Rome. Throw your credit card in and lose your wife in Rome.” Wasn’t my tour guide hilarious? Don’t worry, here is a link to the tour group: http://www.wheninrometours.com
You know how I mentioned I was lucky? Well that luck continues as we made it to the Pantheon.
From the outside, the building looks huge, but on the inside, it is truly incredible on how small we really are while in there. Normally, everyday at noon, the light in the ceiling illuminates the huge arched doors. Well luckily on the day I went, it was the solstice and that meant that instead of the door lighting at noon, it lit up at 1 pm in the afternoon, about ten minutes after we got there, so of course we waited and take a look at these photos. All I can say is that it was absolutely breathtaking and I was so thankful to be there for that moment.
We continued our tour on to Piazza Navona which holds the Fountain of the Four Rivers, or Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi where we bid our guide "ciao", ate some lunch, and took a taxi to the tour offices near the Vatican for the second half of the day’s tour. This iswhere I also took this awesome photo dressed as a gladiator. I missed my calling right?
Moving on, our tour group, joined by more people just for the Vatican and Vatican museum began in the afternoon. I did not have the same tour guide as earlier, but our new guide was just as knowledgeable and incredible. We went through some of the artwork in the museum and then proceeded down to the Sistine Chapel to see the beautiful artwork of Michael Angelo. What was special was how much of his artwork I recognized from Sunday school. I even heard from one of my youth group leaders who saw the photos I was posting about the relation to history and what I learned growing up.
Afterwards, I went into St. Peter’s Basilica which is an enormous church
with artwork covering every inch of it. Truth be told, its breathtaking beauty was lost a bit to the thousand disrespectful people in the building, pushing to see the saints, standing on the kneelers, being incredible loud and shouting, not truly taking in the beauty of the building. I was told it is incredible to see when empty and one day I would like to get there early in the morning to be able to truly appreciate it.
The following day I went and had breakfast outside the Forum to people watch, then it was parade time. Somehow, I ended up right next to the stage where they crowned a king (I think it was Augustus or Caesar) and each historical group that walked would stop and pay a tribute to the king. It was an incredible experience. I am not exaggerating when I say there were over 2,000 people in elaborate costumes in the parade and quite honestly, their costumes were much nicer compared to the actors who stand outside the monuments that people pay for pictures with. Each group had their own flare and celebrated a different aspect of Roman history, with soldiers dressed from different eras. There was even a gladiator fight! If you can ever get to Rome for it’s birthday weekend, I recommend you do so as it was one of the coolest, unique experiences I have ever been a part of.
That afternoon I joined another tour that took us into the bone chapel, also known as the Capuchin Crypt, and one of the catacombs. I was not allowed to take any photos so what you see are photos I took from online, as you are not usually allowed photos in religious areas. I'm not going to lie, the bones in the chapel were pretty creepy. It was incredible what they were able to do with them, but I have never and
probably will never see again so many bones. One thing that stood out to me in the chapel was the smell; it was so musky, and not a place where you would find yourself wanting to take a deep breath. A fun little side note on the bone chapel, it was done and is still run by Franciscan priests, particularly the order of Friars Minor Capuchin, but there was a café across the street from the order that apparently created cappuccino, and named it that after seeing the priests with their white hair and beards and brown robes (like the white foam on top of coffee in cappuccino).
Afterwards we hopped on our bus and went to the Catacombs of Priscilla, which are quite impressive…and creepy. There were not any bones on display as they removed them as tourists would steal them, but there are still many in the catacomb, just in places where we could not go. Our tour guide, bless her heart, asked if I (as the tallest in the group) could take the back of the group so when I entered a spot she would know everybody was there. I said sure, and then
she apologized if I got spooked easily as that would most likely happen… We went on the tour and being last, following the people in front of me with darkness all behind me was not fun as I was by myself with no one to grab. However, learning all the history was fun. We even got to see the earliest recorded painting of Mary and baby Jesus made in fresca. On a historic note, the Christians did not hide in the catacombs. There is proof that the Roman government knew where all the catacombs were as there were taxes paid for the marble used in them.
One of the incredible lessons I learned on this tour was how the symbolism of Christianity has changed throughout the ages. For example, the symbol of the cross was not really used as early on as one would think, but more symbols of the Good Shepard were. Our guide explained it as this, imagine if Jesus came in our day and was put to death in an electric chair, would people walk around with an electric chair on their neck? Nope! So that is what the cross was viewed as for many. The fish and the dove are also the longest lasting Christian symbols. According to my guide, fish in Greek when the letters are put on top of each other spells out Jesus Christ is lord and savior. The last history lesson I will share with you from this tour came from the INRI which is written on many crosses, it means “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews,” this was actually done by the Romans as a way to mock Jesus and was actually nailed above him during the crucifixion.
Finally, I finished the day with an evening monument and food tour. It was just me and one
other couple from Michigan who were an absolute delight. I signed up for this tour for a few reasons as I wanted to see what
Romans considered good local food, and as I was by myself I did not think it was a wise idea to travel Rome by myself at night. This way, I got the best of both worlds. I got to try some of the local wine, as well as a local pasta dish that was also recommended to me by one of my friends called “amatriciana.” To answer your question, it was very good.
It was amazing to see some of the sites I had already seen at night and new ones I had not visited during the day either. The coliseum took my breath away and the Trevi Fountain had a completely different atmosphere to it.
Remember how I mentioned how they say if you throw two coins in the fountain you will return to Rome and fall in love? Well I fell in love with the city of Rome, or as one of my friends helped translate for me: Roma ha rubato il mio cuore, or "Rome has stolen my heart".