Thursday, July 2, 2009
Rome & Vatican City
Finally I can actually get this post out! The past couple of days we've been having technical problems with the laptop, and then having very sporadic Internet connections--it has been very frustrating, to say the least! But today, everything is working together to allow me to begin telling you about our trip to Rome.
Jiri and I stayed at the Grand Hotel Palazzo Carpegna, which is about a 45 minute walk from the Vatican. It is definitely not a centrally located hotel, but there was a metro stop just a short walk away. The neighborhood was very nice--mostly apartments, shops, and lots of traffic. There is even a market located right next to the hotel that offers everything from drinks, cheeses, meats of all kinds, to souveniers, clothing and household items.
Our hotel room was very nice with a huge bathroom with very large windows. These windows were very large...and only covered with sheer curtains. I am a very shy person, so took my showers in the dark. No one would care to look at my middle-aged body, but still...!! That was my only problem with the room. Otherwise, it was very nice with air conditioner, tile floors (wonderful for allergies!), and a free breakfast.
The breakfast was done in typical European-style with meats, cheeses, breads of all kinds, and assorted accoutrements. The staff were very helpful, and the maids wanted to clean our room twice a day! One day, I was having some allergy trouble and stayed in the room while Jiri was working at his conference. I had left a "do not disturb" sign on the door all day. Finally, just before supper, someone slid a note under our door. It was from the cleaning staff! The note said that due to the sign on our door, they were not able to come in and clean. If we needed anything we should contact them! I've never had the cleaning staff leave a note like that before...it was amusing!
Our first outing was to Vatican City. We walked there through neighborhoods of flats. Most of the buildings looked the same and had shops on the first floors. One of the shops that tortured me during our stay was the pizzeria! Pizzerias are literally on every street corner--even in the regular neighborhoods where tourists do not venture! The sight and smells...oh what torment for my allergic body to behold. Fortunately, just taking in the scents is allowed for me...which I did with full gusto...thankful for being a singer with strong lungs (and great asthma meds!), I was able to take in very deep breaths and still retain the scents of pizza wafting on the breeze. I can't eat "real" pizza due to the wheat in the crust...but enjoy the smells I did! Well, back to the neighborhoods--we were very safe walking all the way to the Vatican and it was a nice walk...great exercise, too!
We came to the Vatican and St. Peter's Square...and just stopped in amazement. I've seen pictures of this place on TV, in magazines, online...but never thought it would be so massive and impressive as it is in person. We came there in the late afternoon, it was still hot, but the square was filled with people--everywhere we looked crowds of people. The buildings and statues are works of art that grace and adorn the Vatican.
The city sits on a hill called Vatican Mons. No one is sure, but it is thought that a small village, called Vaticum, once inhabited this hill. The area was later developed into a garden area by Agrippina the Elder (14 BC-33AD) in the 1st century. Much later, the gardens were turned into a circus by Emperor Caligula which were completed by Emperor Nero.
This circus area was the scene for the martyrdom of many Christians after the famous fire of Rome in 64 AD. It is said that Peter, the Apostle (and considered by Catholics to be the first pope of the Roman Catholic Church), was crucified in this area, and later Paul beheaded in this place. Even so, the area does not feel "creepy" in any way. Now, it is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. Vatican City is the smallest sovereign state in the world, covering an area of 110 acres, and with a population of approximately 900. Popes are the head of state, and have ruled here since the return from Avignon in 1377.
After taking in St. Peter's Square, we ventured toward St. Peter's Basilica. You can see in the slide show, above, just how massive is this church! The church is the largest Christian church in the world and can hold up to 60,000 people. St. Peter's is also the place where the Apostle Peter was buried after his martyrdom. You can visit the basilica's grotto and see the tomb of Peter, and many of the other popes who served after him.
The interior of St. Peter's Basilica, the current church, was begun in 1506 and was completed in 1626. We took pictures of the sanctuary, but they really don't do justice to the church. You really have to be there in order to experience the solemn and impressive works of art--statues, paintings--and glorious altars.
One of the most moving pieces for me was the Pieta, by Michelangelo when he was 23 years old. It is a beautiful work of art and sits on the right side of the main entrance to the sanctuary. I love the ceilings and arches--this place abounds with them...all ornate and gilded. Domes are another feature I love...and these are magnificent! An interesting sight in the Sacristy was the list of popes engraved on a huge plaque. Jiri and I found that there was a huge break--hundreds of years--between some of the names listed on this plaque! Later, we found out that this is not a list of all the popes who have served at St. Peter's, but rather is a list of all who are buried there.
St. Peter's is a wonderful place to visit...my next post I'll share more about what we saw there!
Have a great day!
Photos are property of J. Vacik
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