Arno River, Firenze, Italia

Arno River, Firenze, Italia

Friday, November 5, 2010

Rome, rain, and relics.

October 25th, 2010.

“Meet us at the fountain by the green kiosk across from the Coliseum.”

Unfortunately they failed to remember—the cityscape of Rome is littered with green kiosks and old Roman drinking fountains (part of the aqueducts).  And the Coliseum is a large circular structure.  What does one mean by “across?”  

Our tour guide for the Coliseum and Forum appeared ten minutes late.  And in response, the rain only increased, forcing us to buy five euro umbrellas from a street vendor.  Blue for Jared; green for me.

Green-- brightens up the rainiest of days.
But as we huddled together and approached the entrance of the ruins, good fortune joined the rain.  Our guide turned, a slight grimace on her face.  In softly accented English, she began to explain. 

“Unfortunately, they are having a meeting.  A meeting about having a strike.  The Coliseum and Roman Forum are closed.”

Locked out of the Coliseum.
And we were crushed, smiling slightly at the incredible timing, but truly baffled for the same reason.  Jared placed the lens of the camera through the gate, that perhaps even if we wouldn’t make it inside, at least our pictures would tell otherwise. 

Because of the unfortunate closure, we had several hours to explore on our own before the Vatican City tour that afternoon.  The sky began to clear.  We walked alongside the forum and made our way through the historical center of Rome to visit the Pantheon, getting lost in the city, the ruins and history completing surrounding us. 

The Roman Forum

After the rain.


Surviving the rain.



The Pantheon

Corinthian Column of the Pantheon

The Vatican Museum was spectacular, a maze of rooms, boasting famous frescos and marble statues.  After studying art history from a classroom, a dark room with over-exposed slides summing up the timeline of art history, I was surprised to see these pieces true to life, colors untouched, size unaltered, the pieces unobstructed. 
Statue of young Apollo 

Painted sculpture.

Tag of marble sarcophagus.

Hall of statues.

Ceiling fresco-- the power of Christ destroys a pagan statue.
(in Raphael room of the Vatican Museum)

Detail of Raphael's "School of Athens"

Laocoon and His Sons
Concerning the sculpture titled "Laocoon and His Sons."  Laocoon was preparing to reveal the deception of the Trojan Horse to his people by striking it with a spear, when Athena sent snakes to strangle him and his two sons to prevent the unveiling.  The Trojans interpreted the appearance of the snakes as an act of mystical powers and viewed the horse as an even greater sacred object.  Athena's purpose was complete, giving the Greeks access to the city and their foes.

Yet sometimes these surprises weren’t, and aren’t, always positive.  The Sistine Chapel was greatly different than my expectations.  A dark room (to preserve Michelangelo’s work) and high ceiling obscures the magnitude of these pieces.  It took me a moment to even find the “Creation of Adam,” one of the most well-known of Michelangelo’s collection.  In art history books, photographs are enlarged, lightened, details illuminated one at a time.  Yet, in the Sistine Chapel, the vast number of figures that span the ceiling and walls are overwhelming.  It is nearly impossible focus on one at a time, and as a whole, staring up so avidly at the ceiling, it is quite dizzying.  However, the “Last Judgment” scene, on the wall at the front of the chapel, is spectacular, the bright blue and white surrounding Christ contrasting with the dark recesses of Hell.

"Creation of Adam"

"The Last Judgment"- influenced by Dante's Divine Comedy.

The muscular Christ of "The Last Judgment"
(Side-note: I did not take the above pictures.)  You are not allowed to take pictures within the Sistine Chapel.  Guards stand at points around the sanctuary, reminding people, of this rule.   And a recording, in four or five languages, repeats every couple minutes to the same effect.  However, in a crowed of nearly five hundred within the chapel, people, bold and brave, blatantly raised their cameras in the air, flashes of light piercing the shadowed room.  And with the flashes, more booming voices, repeating the same words, “No pictures allowed.”  I have never seen such disrespect for authority and such disregard for the preservation of history.  The same reason for the low lighting in the room is the same reason that photos are not allowed.  Flash can slowly bleach color from frescos, destroying the works of Michelangelo for future generations.

Following our tour through the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, we were given free time to explore St. Peter’s Basilica.  Inside the entrance on the right is Michelangelo’s first “Pieta,” depicting the crucified Christ in the arms of his mother Mary, a very young and beautiful woman.  It is said that her youth symbolizes her “incorruptible purity,” illuminating Mary as a virgin who carried the son of God.  In 1972, Laszio Toth, a geologist, attacked the sculpture with a hammer, proclaiming, “I am Jesus Christ.”  Witnesses of the assault gathered the broken pieces of marble, taking them home as free souvenirs.  And sadly, not all of these pieces were returned.  In the process of restoration, Mary’s nose had to be reconstructed from a block of marble cut from her back.  Today, the “Pieta” is protected by a wall of bulletproof glass.
Michelangelo's restored "Pieta"
Michelangelo’s second “Pieta” (commonly called the “Florentine Pieta”, but more formally referred to as the “Deposition”) is in Florence at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.  This piece was not commissioned; it is a personal expression of Michelangelo’s faith meant to decorate his tomb in Rome.  (However, a group of Florentines stole his body; he is currently buried in Florence, in the basilica of Santa Croce, his body housed in a tomb designed by his nephew).

In this “second Pieta”, a self-portrait of Michelangelo replaces the face of Nicodemus, the man holding the crucified body of Christ as he is retrieved from the cross.  Michelangelo never finished this sculpture.  After eight years of work, he smashed the sculpture to pieces in frustration, announcing that the marble was impure. (Michelangelo believed that he did not carve figures from the marble; instead, he freed the figures from within the marble.)  Another artist, Tiberio Calcagni, was asked to restore and finish the sculpture.  However, after he finished the female figure on the left, they prohibited him from continuing, believing that his artistic abilities, in comparison to the great Michelangelo, were destroying the piece.  The piece was better left undone, as it is today. 

The unfinished "Florentine Pieta"
The other main site in St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the few incorruptible bodies and of the most powerful relics in Italy, the body of Pope Saint Pius X.  An incorruptible body is, according to the Catholic Church, a body that is not embalmed, yet miraculously opposes the natural decay of time and does not decompose.  This incorruptibility is a sign of sainthood, a criterion for canonization (while not required).  One of the most unnerving cases of incorruptibility is St. Bernadette (1844-1879), who body, exhumed thirty years after her death, is still in excellent condition. 

Pope Saint Pius X.

St. Bernadette
We left St. Peter’s Basilica just as the sky started to gray, heavy with rain and shadowed with night.  I would argue that a trip to Rome isn’t complete without actually standing inside the Coliseum, if not for the touristic purposes of getting a single picture and leaving.  So we made plans to visit the Coliseum the next morning before our afternoon train to Napoli.

Rome, at night.

Swiss guards.

St. Peter's Basilica.

Obelisk through the gates of the St. Peter's Basilica.

Entrance to the Vatican Museum.

Vatican City columns.

Vatican City.

Inside Vatican Museum.

Metro back to the hostel.

1 comment:

  1. Nice pictures! I have visited Rome too last September. What do you think of "the power of Christ destroys a pagan statue"