Thursday, October 2

And that's only the first of two bus tours we will have in two days. The next morning, we get a reprieve until 9 AM so that the day's lunch can be procured, then at the UW Rome Center we gather for our more touristy adventure, a combination walking tour and bus ride through Rome proper.

Led by Jeffrey, a well-heeled Cornell lecturer living in Rome, we begin at Michelangelo's Piazza del Campidoglio. Again, my "Hyper-impressionism" is loosed, and I take pictures of the backs of buildings, of trees, of sidewalks. Maybe after a couple of dozen years in this place, I'll get accustomed to the beauty.

Look!  An old building!

The Piazza del Campidoglio was redesigned by Michelangelo to contain the space between the Senate House and the buildings that became the Capitoline Museums.
Look!  Another old building!
It also offers one of the more stunning early-morning views of the old Roman Forum, if you walk behind the Senate house and peer over the hillside. The fact that you need to be behind the Senate house gives one clue about the history of Rome....

Once upon a time, the Forum was the center of Roman life; then like an ambitious sentence moving along, the Roman Empire collapsed and the population dwindled as the Middle Ages set in. When Rome emerged and the Renaissance bloomed, life was centered not around the Forum but around the river and the area near the Vatican.
While Paris and London were adding streetlamps to their grand boulevards, the Forum became a cow pasture and a quarry
The Piazza del Campidoglio was architecturally turned 180 degrees to reflect this change, partly through Michelangelo's addition of a third building which at first served no more purpose than to balance the presence of the two existing structures. His plan was completed at last in 1940 when a white twelve-pointed star was inlaid with two-foot-square stone blocks in the center of the plaza, and voilą! An architectural masterpiece.

This architectural master planning had negative repercussions on the Forum, of course. With the city's attention turned toward its artistic center at the Vatican, the Forum fell under neglect (not an unfamiliar condition for old monuments in Rome). While Paris and London were adding streetlamps to their grand boulevards, the Forum became a cow pasture and a quarry for building materials -- as did the nearby Colosseum.

Once around the Colosseum in a tour bus is really not enough, so our well-heeled tour leader Jeffrey makes sure that we get to go around it twice. Then past the Circus Maximus, now a grassy oval longer than any football field you or I have ever seen. And like the old "Aquatheater" at Green Lake, there is still one remaining section of grandstand in a corner to help give an idea of scale and proportion, of how many people this apparent 'park' used to hold on a regular basis.

Walking again, up the Aventine Hill, to another marvel particular to Rome. A private garden, locked, designed for the Knights of Malta; just another overbearing and impenetrable metal door. But put your head up close to the door, and look through the keyhole and -- you're inside the garden (or at least your line of sight is), looking between two rows of trees and along the manicured grounds which perfectly frame through the keyhole a view of Michelangelo's Dome atop St. Peter's. Now you start to realize something about the culture that permeates this city.

Down the Aventine by foot, back onto the bus, and around the southern tip of the city, toward the Baths of Caracalla. You -are- following along on a map, right? ;-) There used to be live opera staged at the Baths of Caracalla, until the culture of the archaeologists screamed louder than the culture of the arts. You can still go there and sing in the empty stone baths on your own if you like. Just don't sell ten thousand tickets.

Then, under the old city walls again, and out onto the Appian Way. The main line of communication with the East for ancient Rome, it also served as a burial ground for the old empire, when Christians were not allowed to conduct burials within the city limits. Our lunch stop will take us above the Catacombs (but not inside them), and further along Via Appia Antica to the Tomb of Cecilia Metella.

 

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