Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Italy Trip! (Day Two) ROME!

Today we started at the Vatican!  Vatican City is pretty amazing.  This is the home of the Pope, and when we got through the gates, we saw that there were thousands of chairs set up.  We were informed that the Pope addresses the world every Wednesday, so the chairs were set up in preparation for that address happening the next day.  They do this every week.  Wow!

We got there early so we would be at the front of the line to go in St Peter's Basilica.  This church is the biggest in the world, and houses the tomb of St Peter, and also many of the Popes.  Most of the statues and artwork inside are by Bernini and Michelangelo.  Magnificent!  We particularly enjoyed seeing Michelangelo's 'Pieta' sculpture, which depicts Mary, the mother of Jesus, holding her crucified son.

 The Vatican guards...
Our Disney guides handed out postcards to all the families and gave us the opportunity to send a postcard home from the Vatican.  The Vatican has it's own post office, it's own government, etc - it's completely separate from Rome, even though it is surrounded by Rome.

Our Disney guide mailing all our postcards...

In every city we visited, we also had a local guide from that city to take us around.  For our 3 days in Rome, we had Christina.  She was a riot!  She was a ball of fire and kept us laughing all day long.  Here she is telling us about what we would see once we got into St Peter's Basilica...


To give us an idea of the grand scale of this church, our guide informed us that each of the letters going around the ceiling (pictured in the upper right of the photo below), each letter is 7 feet tall!  It sure didn't look that way, but that gave us an idea of how high up that ceiling is!



The big platform with the columns, roof, and cross in the bottom center of the picture below, is placed over the tomb of St Peter.





 The picture below is the casket of Pope John Paul II.

These stairs lead down below the platform to St Peter's tomb.
 The statue below was carved by Bernini out of marble.  It was exquisite!  Even the orange/red part that looks like fabric, is ALL marble! It marks the door leading into the tomb of Fabio Chigi, Pope Alexander VII. It occupies an awkward position, being set in a niche above a doorway into a small vestry, but Bernini has utilized the doorway in a symbolic manner. Pope Alexander kneels upon his tomb, facing outward. The tomb is supported on a large draped shroud in patterned red marble, and is supported by four female figures, of whom only the two at the front are fully visible. They represent Charity and Truth. The foot of Truth rests upon a globe of the world, her toe being pierced symbolically by the thorn of Protestant England. Coming forth, seemingly, from the doorway as if it were the entrance to a tomb, is the skeletal winged figure of Death, its head hidden beneath the shroud, but its right hand carrying an hourglass stretched upward towards the kneeling figure of the pope.

Our group all took advantage of the proclaimed good luck to be had from rubbing the toe of the statue of St Peter in the basilica...

This piece of art seems to be a beautiful painting, but on closer inspection, you can see that it is actually a mosaic, made up completely of little tiles!  There is a close up in the following picture where you can see the tiles.

 The famous 'Pieta' sculpture by Michelangelo, depicting the crucified Christ on the lap of his mother, Mary.  Beautiful and very touching to see in person.

From St Mark's Piazza in Vatican City, we walked to the Castel Sant' Angelo.  This building was used as a refuge to the Pope, in case of danger starting in 1277 AD.  The building was actually built in 123 AD as a mausoleum.

 From inside the castle looking down, we could see piles of cannon balls...

From the roof of the castle there were great views!  Below are our two Disney guides, with our local guide in the center.


After leaving the castle we walked to our bus, which was sitting outside this cool building, which is the courthouse.

Our guides took us into central Rome to eat at this restaurant where they kept bringing out amazing pizza after pizza, all different kinds, until we couldn't eat anymore we were all so full.  Best pizza ever!

After lunch we hopped on the bus to head over to see the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, which are right next to each other.  This was our view from the bus as we came up to the Colosseum!  So amazing to see these things in person after only ever seeing them in history books!  There was some scaffolding up on sections of the building as they were cleaning it.

Before our tour of the Colosseum, we had a tour of the Roman Forum, which was basically the city center of ancient Rome.

 Then it was time for our private tour of the Colosseum.  We got to skip all the lines and go straight in.  We got to see the underground portion where the animals were kept, which was only recently opened to the public.  We also got to tour the Upper Tier, which is normally off-limits.  Disney really makes you feel like you are getting backstage passes to all of these sites.  So fun!

On our drive back to our hotel, we made a stop at the Circus Maximus. The largest actual stadium is not the Colosseum, but this chariot racing track. It is the largest racing arena anywhere in the empire and was also the first track to be built. It is believed that it could hold up to 150,000 spectators on race days. As with the gladiatorial games, racing was also partly a festival and had some religious significance. Today, the Circus Maximus is a public park; little remains of the stadium but the track is now a green area and the barrier line is still clearly visible.

Behind the chariot racing track that is Circus Maximus, was the Flavian Palace on the Palatine Hill.  It was completed in 92 AD.  The Palatine Hill is one of the most ancient parts of the city; it is said that Romulus and Remus founded Rome here. As the oldest and most prestigious part of the city in Imperial times, there are many ruins on the hill, not least of all the palace complex of one of the most important dynasties ever to rule Rome (the Flavians which began with Vespasian). Part of the palace still stands today and there are rooms still visible.

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