15 April 2017

2016 ITALY Vatican 10 - This and That in the Vatican

Pope Julius II founded the museum in the 16th century. There are over 70,000 items with only about 20,000 on display at any time. There are 54 galleries (many with multiple rooms) and over 3.5 miles of corridors representing over 2,000 years of humankind history.

Everything is so beautiful and meaningful and interesting. Well, I took almost 400 photos that day (although many were dupes). I usually take two of the same shot, hoping to get one good one. I probably irritated a few folks with all my clicking, but I just couldn't help myself. It was like an obsession to hold on to these memories in a vivid way.

So here are some pix of this and that. A few are unidentified, but all are beautiful.

Mosaics --
FYI-There is a mosaics school in the Vatican to teach the craft and to keep all its mosaics and micro-mosaics (unusually small pieces) in tip-top shape.

Greeks fighting centaurs and sea monsters in the Round Room.

Black and white mosaic horses. I think this was also in the Round Room in a ring along the outer edge.

"Christ Giving Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to Saint Peter." This is actually a small micro-mosaic piece.

Domes and Ceilings --
I don't recall any ceilings that were left unadorned. Each unique, many telling a story, all spectacular in their own way. This first one is in the Round Room patterned after the Pantheon (but much smaller in scale). It even has the oculus, but this one is not open air.

Another dome, but with octagon detail.

Colorful frescoed dome. This one features "Apollo and Muses" (center) in the Room of Muses.

Ornate carved and gilted ceiling.
Next are several frescoed ceilings (Sistine Chapel coming later). The title I found for this is "Casino di Belvedere" and it has to do with the coat of arms of Pope Julius III. Oddly there are two young men instead of young cherubs, which may be commentary on his sexual preference they say. In any case, this style of fresco is about as plain as it gets in the Vatican!

Hall of the Immaculate Conception ceiling.
This one was in the Map Gallery. It is the "Vision of Constantine" depicting the battle of Ponte Milvio.

This is the ceiling of the Gallery of Candelabra, named for the huge marble candelabra located there. Wish I knew what the painting is about. I'll keep researching.

The "Triumph of Christianity" in the Constantine Room.

Tapestries --
There are two major collections displayed down one long gallery. Tapestries on the left represent the life of Christ and were woven in Flanders (current day Belgium) in the 1500s. These weavers were the best of their time. The series on the right was done by local weavers in Rome about 150 years later and depicts the life of Pope Urban VIII. You can definitely see the quality difference.

They are made of gold, silver, wool, and silk threads. They are huge in size, floor to ceiling and width to match. It took at least nine years to weave just one of the Flanders tapestries. Not only are they beautiful but helped to keep a room warmer (or cooler in summer).

"Resurrection of Christ." He "keeps his eye on you" as you walk past, our guide pointed out. The illusion works!

I liked the lions on this "Justice, Faith, Charity" tapestry.

Don't know what these next two were about, but animated, emotional, and colorful. Again, I'll keep researching.

To be continued...

14 April 2017

2016 ITALY Vatican 9 - The Vatican State

I've been thinking how in the world am I going to sum up "The Vatican." No way!! Just walking the hallways and peeking into this room or that, I was overwhelmed with the enormous wealth of objects and history it holds. It is endless.

So I'll give a little overview with stats and facts and display a few photos. But really you need to read up (or better yet...visit) on your own regarding art and artifacts found there. Just Google it, as Mike says.

We had an 08:30 pick up with our new drivers Fabio and Vittorio. I happen to sit next to Fabio and what a charmer. I mean this guy is probably the classic Italian actor or model in his spare time. Plus he was a captive audience for all my questions about Italiana (is that a word?!)

Several of the ladies (especially Pat!!) seemed a bit jokingly jealous, so I graciously offered to rearrange seats and share Fabio's company. No one took me up on it and that was OK with me. Keep in mind Fabio was on my left driving and Mike was on my right, so no real hanky-panky going on other than maybe a little extra eyelash flutter on my part.

Fabio explained that Roma was like lasagna, steeped in many intermingling layers. The Vatican State is one of those layers. It is a walled enclave completely surrounded by the city of Rome and lies on the west side of the Tiber River. Mussolini signed papers to make the Vatican a separate union.

After the Great Fire of Rome in 69AD, pagan Emperor Nero wanted to shift the blame from himself, so he accused the Christians. This hill became a necropolis where Christians were burned at the stake, drawn by wild beasts, and crucified. Saint Peter, one of the twelve disciples, was among those crucified and presumed buried here.

Construction of buildings on this eventual Vatican site began in the 4th century AD. It is the smallest independent nation-state in the world at 110 acres (44 hectares) and has a population of 842. This is the home of the Pope (top guy of the Catholic church) and the Catholic "government."

The surrounding 2-mile medieval border wall was completed in 852 and is 39 feet (11.8m) high. The current basilica began construction in the 1500s. The Vatican became an official independent State after the Lateran Pacts of 1929 were signed by Italy's Prime Minister Benito Mussolini and Cardinal Pietro Gasparri. (This pact is an interesting read: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lateran_Treaty). The Vatican has its own banking and telephone systems, police department, post office, pharmacy, and radio and TV stations.

When the vans dropped us off there was a "uge" line awaiting entry. It wrapped around the outer wall for blocks. No lie!

The Pontifical Swiss Guard stood alert at the entrance. This de facto military unit was established in 1506 and is one of the oldest military units in continuous operation. Their duty is to protect the Pope and the Vatican City grounds. Guards must be unmarried Swiss Catholic males between the ages of 19 and 30. They wear colorful Renaissance style uniforms.

We were glad that Chef John had purchased tickets in advance (as he always does) and we enjoyed a fast pass through the Vatican museum entrance. This accumulation is said to be the richest western art collection ever.
Our first stop in the Vatican State was Saint Peter's Basilica. What a magnificent, elaborate structure.  Upon entering one pauses in awe of its vast size. The dome is 448 feet (136m) high, while the room is 613x459 feet (187x140m) in size. This is the highest dome in the world to date.
The main or high alter was designed by Bernini and is the tomb of Saint Peter. Look at its size compared to the tiny person on the left. The letters over the alter are over 10 feet (30m) tall.
Close up of the beautiful columns surrounding the alter.
The alter is under the dome, which is 15 stories high. It was designed by Michelangelo. Construction spanned 1547-1590. Our guide said it is the highest dome in the world. 
One of many side alters with mosaic (yes, believe it or not) of "Death of St. Sebastian," a Christian martyr of the late roman empire.
Another side alter, the Alter of Transfiguration. This mosaic is a reproduction of Raphael's original painting "Deathbed."
The Basilica is the final resting place for all popes. Many popes have a space dedicated and decorated to reflect their individual interests. This is Pope Innocent XI with Faith and Fortitude by his side.

Elsewhere, various popes' remains are entombed or displayed, including Pope John XXIII seen through a glass case (but not seen here).

Monument to Christina of Sweden, who is one of there women honored here. This queen gave up her throne to embrace Catholicism in 1654.

Another magnificent sculpture placed above a doorway. It is the Monument to Maria Clementina Sobieski. In the early 1800s through intended and unintended marriage arrangements, the pope at the time protected her and finagled a way for her to marry a Catholic husband. This so she could be considered the rightful Catholic queen to the English throne. A cherub of charity stands next to her.
Michaelangelo's famous Pietà. Nuff said!

This is a marble dove carrying an olive branch...maybe depicting the one that advised Noah (of the Ark and Great Flood) that land is finally nearby.
 Huge red marble columns.
Multi-colored marble floor pattern. Each with a dedication or tribute.
Here is where you dip for holy water. Look at its size compared to the unknown visitor.

Go here to see the intricate floor plan description map of St. Pete's: http://stpetersbasilica.info/floorplan.htm. You could spend hours checking this out.

As we continued to our next stop a troop of presumed Swiss Guard marched by.

08 April 2017

2016 ITALY Rome 8 - Trevi & Pizza

We continued our tour. Next up was Santa Maria sopra Minerva church, of the Dominican sect of the Catholic church. Most older churches in Italy are of the very ornate Baroque style (some built that way and some with makeovers). This was to lure back Christians from the newly popular Protestant faith in the 16th century. This church, however, was built in the much plainer Gothic style.

The church and the square it sits on received their name in a round about way. The original structure here was built on the ruins of a temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, but it had been mis-named for the Greco-Roman goddess Minerva. When the mistake was discovered, they kept the name for the Roman goddess.

In the middle of the piazza is an obelisk (see to left above). This one is quite curious. It is the shortest of the eleven Egyptian obelisks in Rome. And though its name is Minerva's Pulcino (meaning chick), at its base is an elephant, designed by Bernini. (Remember the Navona Piazza fountains? Same sculptor.) It may have gotten its name because it is so small compared to the other obelisks in Roma. For a while it also had the nickname "little piggy." Hmmm!

Next church up was Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Loyola was the founder of the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. This church was originally the chapel to an adjacent Roman college. Building completion was in 1650 and it is in the Baroque style. See the fancy interior here.

The ceiling is particularly interesting. It is painted in the troupe l'oeil style and appears to have an copula extending up, if you stand in the right spot.

In the nearby Piazza Colonna is the Marcus Aurelius victory column. The 98 foot (30m) tall structure is in the Doric style. It was constructed from 180 to 193 AD after the Emporer's death. The bas relief is a spiral marching around the column with 2,000 figures commemorating Marcus' triumphs. It was originally painted but over the years that has worn away. On top is an angel-lion statue. No pix, sorry.

Our last stop was the famous Trevi Fountain ("crossing of three streets" which led there). When it opened in 1762, water was directed to the fountain from innovative Roman aqueducts.

It was designed by Nicola Salvi with some Bernini influence. It is huge at 86h x 162w feet (or 26.3h x 49.15w meters) and hugely impressive. The facade and pool are travertine stone and the statues are carrara marble. The water flow each day is over 21 million gallons (80,000 cubic meters).

The backdrop of the fountain is the Palazzo Poli, which was owned originally by a Russian princess who was a writer and amateur opera singer. It is 4+ stories tall. The palace was a center for cultural events in its time.

The fountain consists of several parts. The center is Neptune (god of the sea) on a shell chariot being drawn by two horses. One horse is calm and the other is feisty, representing two "moods" of the ocean. They are led by two tritons (one old and one young). Other niches feature Oceanus, Abundance, and Salubrity (had to look this up, means health). Surrounding areas look like rock formations with delicate vegetation.
The tradition is that if you throw a coin in the fountain, you will return to Rome. I guess it worked because the last time I was in Rome, I threw a coin in and here I am again some 40 years later. Boohoo, I had no change today. Money was a flying though. About 3,000 euros per day are tossed into the fountain. It is used to subsidize a food market for the needy.

Several famous movies made here include La Dolce Vita directed by Federico Fellini,  Three Coins in the Fountain, and Roman Holiday. To honor great Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni at his death, the fountain was turned off and draped in black crepe.

If you want to see a live cam of the impressive fountain, go here: https://www.skylinewebcams.com/en/webcam/italia/lazio/roma/fontana-di-trevi.html

After that we returned to the hotel to freshen up. Mike was really pooped by then from the overnight flight and 3-hour walking tour, so he opted to catch some zzzz's. No way was I going to miss our first dinner of the trip.

We strolled to the restaurant Trattoria Al Moro (the dark). It is nearly a century old. The menu is typical Roman fare. Most dishes were served family style on big platters that we passed around to help ourselves.
One of the dishes was brain (not sure what animal used this one!). I did not try it, but several of our food connoisseurs did and loved it. Nothing going to waste. Waiters here were quite friendly, funny, and helpful. Food was magnifique!

Here are some of the dishes of the day. My favorite, of course, was the PIZZA, our first of the trip.
I kept looking at the photo on the wall of this trattoria. I watch a lot of Italian movies and the man looked so familiar as an actor. I looked him up on my iPhone and discovered it was Mario Romagnoli. He played Il Moro (the dark one) in Fellini's 1969 Satyricon, among other movies. Fellini and fashion icon Valentino hung out here in the day. I'm sure that is how Mario was "discovered."

The restaurant is now hosted by fourth generation Andrea Romagnoli. Also see Gianluca Romagnoli (I think that was his name) standing in black shirt to the right of his papa's pix. Definitely a family affair.

Our last stop of the day was just around the corner (who knew) back at the Trevi Fountain. It was even more lovely and romantic at night. Dang, still no change!

02 April 2017

2016 ITALY Rome 7 - The Amazing Pantheon

What a spectacular edifice! Concrete (similar to today's "recipe") was invented by the Romans around 200 BC. This is still the largest un-reinforced dome EVER built with concrete!!!  It has been in continuous use for over 2,000 years. First as a pagan temple, then a Christian church. Amazing!

Pantheon means "temple of all gods" (Greek gods originally). The first building on this site was erected by Caesar Augustus starting in 14 BC. Two fires destroyed that and another ancient temple on this site before Emperor Hadrian built this structure around 126 AD. Many other buildings in Roma have been cannibalized for marble sheets and what not, but to this one.

In the 7th century is was converted to St. Mary and the Martyrs Catholic Church. Masses are celebrated on Sundays and holy days, and weddings are performed here, too.

As we rounded the corner we saw the back side of the building. Even that was impressive. I could not imagine what was coming.
As we entered the crowded Piazza della Rotonda, we had our first glimpse of the entry to this amazing structure. It is rumored that when Michaelangelo first laid eyes on this building, he said it must have been designed by angels, not humans.
The outside front portico is surrounded by 16 massive Corinthian-style granite columns. Each weighs 60 tons and is 39 feet (11.8 meters) tall. They were imported from Egypt  --carted on rolling logs from the quarry, floated down the Nile River across the Mediterranean Sea and up the Tiber River at high water levels into Rome. It takes four adults holding outstretched arms to completely encircle a column.
At the door entry are wall sculptures and "inlaid" columns. Each is grooved from floor to tall ceiling. We learned this was done by long rods being slid back and forth on the granite multitudes of times to make the grooves. This was an amazing fact for me. Glad that was not my job in life.
You enter the dome through impressive bronze double doors. Each measures 21 feet (6.4 meters) tall. You can't see here, but what wonderful metal workmanship! 

The height and diameter of the dome are the same at 142 foot (43.3 meters). When you walk in you feel engulfed by the open space. The next thing you notice is the oculus (or eye) at the top of the dome. It appears ever higher because each "stair step" ring of concrete is smaller than the last, increasing the effect. The concrete weight of the dome is 4,999 tons (4,535 metric tons). And each cement layer is a little thinner as it gets higher. The top layers are made with airy, pumice volcanic stone.
The open air oculus looks small, but is 29.5 feet (9 meters) in diameter. During inclement weather, the incoming rain water disappears through 21 nearly invisible drain holess in the floor. See dark spot upper left.
On sunny days, beams of light pass through at constantly changing angles that highlight various parts of the colorful marble floor. The marbles came from all over the Roman Empire. The yellow marble is from Tunisia and cannot be found in nature any more.

Another interesting phenomenon is that on noon every April 21, the light from the oculus "aims" through a small window above the entry door and shines outside onto the covered portico floor. Amazing!

Various shrines and art surround on every wall. A main attraction is the crypt of Victor Emmanuel II, first king of United Rome. Also buried there is King Umberto I and his wife Queen Margherita of Savoy (in ancient northwest Italy where we visited in 2015). This queen is the namesake of the margherita pizza created in 1889 in Naples. Its recipe includes red (pizza sauce), white (mozzarella cheese), and green (basil) in honor of Italy's national colors and flag.
Others buried here are painters Raphael (and his fiancée) and Carracci, composer Corelli, and architect Peruzzi.

Around the interior walls you also see seven niches which honored the seven Greek gods representative of the planets--Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter. Now these niche alters honor Christian martyrs, the Madonna of Clemency, Saint Joseph, the crucifixion, and the annunciation. Renaissance paintings and sculpture abound.

Here are some photos of the interior.

Above is a sepulchre, but I don't remember who's.
Above is Archangel Gabriel. It is widely believed to be sculpted by Leonardo daVinci.

This edifice is one of the best preserved of ancient Roman structures. That is mainly because it has been in continuous use since its construction. It is now a state-owned property of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and is visited by over 6 million people each year. For more info, check Wikipedia at:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheon,_Rome or there are lots of other Internet sites as this topic.

As I proof my words above, I noticed I said "amazing" multiple times, but at every turn it IS jaw-dropping amazing!