|Cunard Queen Victoria 2018
Mediterranean Cruise part 6 - Rome
Today we planned to spend the day in the Vatican City so there is no description of central Rome. To our delight the Queen Victoria arrived at Berth 12B in Civitavecchia shortly after 06.00 and we were able to go ashore at 07.00. Berth 12B is on the north side and it was not too far to walk to the pedestrian gate by the old fort. It was much quicker than waiting for the first shuttle bus to leave, and which only went to the Piazze delle Pace. We tried to take a taxi but they were all pre-booked. At the station there was plenty of time to buy a BIRG card for 12 euro which was for the return train to Rome and unlimited journeys on the buses and Metro. After stamping our ticket in the machine to validate it we crossed the bridge to the platform and waited. Our doubledecker train was at 07.30. All the trains in the early morning were stopping trains, not the more expensive InterCity which can not be used with the BIRG card.
We arrived in Roma S. Pietro at 08.21; our train continued to Roma Termini where it would arrive at 0848. Roma Termini station is enormous, full of little shops and very complex. Roma has two Metro lines (A and B) which cross at Roma Termini and the alternative access to the Vatican is to use Line A. It is a long walk from Roma Termine to access the Line A platforms and it is then six stops from Roma Termine to Ottaviano station for St Peters. The route is pretty because the train crosses the River Tiber over the Nenni bridge but getting off at Roma S. Pietro was the better and quicker option. The BIRG card is also much more practical than buying separate train and Metro tickets.
Today we already had a booking to visit the Vatican Treasury and the Sistine Chapel at 11.00 and there was plenty of time to admire St Peters Square but not enough time to go into the Basilica. We have been inside St Peter’s Basilica on a previous trip and it is magnificent and huge, although largely empty of seats. We had admired Michelangelo's marble Pieta, now behind heavy glass after an earlier attempt to destroy it. The gates open to attend Mass at the front at 10.15 - otherwise one is limited to look at the altar from the distance behind a fence. Our previous visit was in August when the Pope is on his holidays and parts of the Vatican including the Sistine Chapel were not open. We did however pay 6 Euros to enter the Museo Storico Artistico which had a copy of the Pieta you could approach and lots of stunning gold and gilded church artefacts and vestments going back to the start of the Church. The most famous objects are the tabernacle by Donatello, the 6th century Crux Vaticana made of bronze and set with jewels, and the massive tomb of Sixtus IV. We then went down into the crypt, directly beneath where Mass was being celebrated, which to our surprise was free (although again a no photo zone), and saw the tombs of many of the Popes including Pope John Paul II. The following pictures are from our visit in 2010.
The surrounding area on our visit in 2018 was crowded with Polizia uniforms and St Peter's Square was full of temporary seating. We found out that the Pope was holding an audience with invited members of the Polizia later in the morning. Outside there were lots of guides who tried to sell tickets for the Vatican Treasury and Sistine Chapel to people who had not already booked. At the ticket line we were told to go away and come back later because we were too early. There was time to see more of the area, including the Piazza del Risorgimento and the walls and arches between the Piazza San Pietro and the distinctive Castel Sant'Angelo. Built as a mausoleum for the emperor Hadrian the Castel Sant'Angelo was converted into a papal fortres in the 6th century. It houses the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant'Angelo and its collection of paintings, sculptures and weapons. There was a secret passageway to the Vatican built in the 13th century. The Ponte Sant'Angelo was built by the emperor Hadrian in 136 and the three central arches are part of the original structure. The next bridge, the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II, is more photogenic. From here there is a good view back of St Peter's Basilica along the Via della Conciliazione, the monumental approach road commissioned by Mussolini and built between 1936 and 1950. Walking through a gap in the city wall we retraced our steps.
Entering the Vatican Museums at 10.30 was easy; the booking was checked, bags were searched, then the booking was exchanged for a ticket which was used to enter. It was no problem with our small rucksack. The visit begins in the lower of the two floors at the Cortile delle Corazze and we followed the tour groups onto the terrace for views over the Vatican gardens. The gardens are extensive and contain fortifications, grottoes, monuments and fountains. Cunard offered a special two-hour guided tour of the gardens and entry is only by prior reservation. We now took our place in the flowing line of guided groups walking the recommended route through the museums. There are two routes to the final destination of the Sistine Chapel: the Completo and the Breve. It is a vaste museum complex founded by Pope Julius II, and holds one of the world's greatest art collections housed in the halls and galleries of the Palazzo Apostolico Vaticano. Everything is well labelled, in both Italian and English. After a quick look at the statues and busts in the long corridor of the Museo Chiaramonti there were steps to climb up to the Museo Pio-Clementino.
First to admire is the octagonal garden with two famous classical statues, the Apollo Belvedere and the Laocoon. Then the Sala degli Animali is a room full of animals and with magnificent 4th century mosaics. The next room is the Sala delle Muse with the Torso Belvedere - it is only a small part of a 1st century BC Greek torso which was used by Michelangelo as a model for his male nudes in the Sistine chapel. The next room, the Sala Rotonda is more spectacular. It had an exquisite floor mosaic on which is placed an enormous basin which was found at Nero's Domus Aurea and is made of a single piece of red porphyry stone. This central basin is surrounded by large statues of which Hercules is the only gilded-bronze statue there. Another beautiful mosaic ends this part and there are steps to climb to the galeries above.
A very long straight corridor ahead is divided into three gallerias. The Sala della Biga on the right contains statues including the recently restored Statue of the Charioteer. The first galleria is the Galleria dei Candelabri, containing classical scuptures and elegant carved candelabras. It would be a mistake to focus only on the floors and walls because in these three gallerias are some of the most beautifully decorated and gilded ceilings in the Vatican. The second galleria is the Galleria degli Arazzi where some of the most valuable tapestries in the Vatican Museum's collection are displayed. On the left are those called the Scuola Nuova, woven between 1524 and 1531 in the workshop of Pieter van Aelst in Brussels. There were originally 12 tapestries of which nine are on display. Six are about the childhood of Christ and six are following the Crucifixion. On the other side are tapestries woven between 1663 and 1679 glorifying the life of Pope Urban VIII and woven by the Barberini tapestry workshops of Rome. The ceiling was decorated between 1788 and 1790. The scenes and figures are the work of Bernadino Nocchi and the ornamental decoration is by Antonio Marini. It is a spectacular room.
The third galleria, the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche, contains forty geographical maps which represent the whole of the Italian peninsula as it was in 1581. The project was commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni and involved the work of a large group of artists under the direction of Egnazio Danti. The glorious gilded and vaulted ceiling by the same artists illustrates the religious identity of each region. Beyond the gallerias the Sala Sobieski is named after a large painting depicting the victory of the Polish King John III Sobieski over the Turks in 1683.
The four Stanza di Raffaello rooms which follow were part of the private apartments of Pope Julius II. The Stanza della Segnature and the Stanza d'Eliodoro were painted by Raphael and the Stanza dell'Incendio do Borgo and Sala di Constantino were decorated by students following his designs.
The collection of modern religious art fills the gap to the final masterpiece, the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel was originally built for Pope Sixtus IV and consecrated in 1483. It is where the conclave meets to elect a new pope. Of the original decor, there is only the wall frescoes and floor because Michelangelo's ceiling, painted between 1508 and 1512, replaced the original ceiling. There are nine central ceiling frescoes, with 20 male nudes set around them. Michelangelo's spectacular Last Judgment which was painted between 1535 and 1541 depicts Christ's second coming and is on the western wall. The dead are torn from their graves to face Christ and the saved stay in heaven whereas the damned are sent down to the demons in hell. Restoration of the Sistine Chapel was completed in 1999 after nearly 20 years work and the frescoes look much brighter and fresher than Pauline remembered when she visited Rome 50 years ago. There are no pictures because it was strictly forbidden and guards ensured none were taken.
It is possible to end the tour here, but our full visit continued through the Capella di San Pietro Martire, the Sala degli Indirizzi, the Sala delle Nozze Aldobrandine, the Sala dei Papiri and the Museo Cristiano. Although not a popular area to visit for the tours, this again had bery impressive ornate and gilded ceilings. There were then bookshops and souvenir shops before going down the spiral ramp to the exit.
Having concentrated on the Vatican area for our first visit this cruise our intention was to go into central Rome and visit our favourite areas round the Forum and Coloseum, in other words a repeat of our visit to Rome in 2014 on the Queen Elizabeth, in fact most of our pictures come from earlier visits when the weather was much better. One catches the same train but one continues to Roma Termine where the trains from Civitavecchia arrive at the far platforms where it is a very long walk to the Metro, where one can caught the underground Linea B to Colosseo (two stops). It is possible better to get off at Rome Ostiensee which is also two stops on the same Metro line and much less distance to walk.
Emerging into daylight one has a choice - the Colosseum to the left or the Forum and Palatine Hill to the right. These are the most famous of the ruins of the Roman Empire. The ancient city is on the east bank of the River Tiber, which we had earlier crossed by train. We chose to look at the Colosseum first as we missed it on our previous visit and the queue was shorter than last time - we were soon inside. The tickets are about 12 euros, although since January 2014 all adults pay the full price; free entry for EU senior citizens has been removed. Our ticket was marked Palatino+Foro+Colosseo and was valid for all three sites. The Colosseum was commissioned by the Emperor Vespasian in AD 72. It is a tiered ellipse with seats around a central arena, and one part showing the original four stories remains but much of the stone was taken away for building in the 15th and 16th century. Enough remains to show the 80 arched entrances which allowed easy access to over 50,000 spectators who came to watch the gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights.
Excavations have exposed a network of underground rooms where animals were kept and the reproduction staging. The whole area could be flooded for 'naval battles' to take place. To our surprise the inner walls were made of brick despite the height; we had not realised so much of ancient Rome was built of bricks. The seating was on 5 main levels with nearly 80 entries and stairs so the various ranks of visitor could reach their seating independently. Quite a lot of the building still remains or has been reproduced but one still needs the drawings and other explanations. The were, for example, huge mobile shades stretching across the top of the Colosseum which were moved during the productions and there were 80 lifts to bring up different stage sets from below.
We crossed the main road past the Arch of Constantine is under the shadow of the Colosseum and was dedicated in AD 315 to celebrate Constantine's victory over his co-emperor - here are many triumphal arches in Roma. Right opposite is the Forum and Palatine Hill, the centre of the Roman administration and we could enter quickly because we already had tickets purchased at the Colosseum. The Forum was the centre of political, commercial and judicial life in ancient Rome. The Palentine Hill held many of the Palaces of the Emperors and the Roman elite. One has access to an enormous area after one has passed through the Arch of Titus with the Church of Santa Francesca Romana above and to the right but almost half of the Forum area was fenced off, either because of restoration work or simply to limit access and the rest looked like a building site.
Last time our first explorations had started in the northwest corner and the Curia, the seat of the Senate, which later had a church built inside, now demolished. Originally built by Julius Caesar, the Curia was restored by Domitian and then by Diocletian in the 3rd century. The building was small considering its purpose, in comparison with our Houses of Parliament which we toured recently. From there we could see the top of the enormous white Victor Emmanuel Monument and its black horses, covered in scaffolding and tarpaulins. This monument to Italy's first king was completed in 1911. Here was the next major triumphal arch, built in AD 203 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the accession of Septimus Severus. This time we turned towards the Arch of Titus another triumphal arch erected in AD 81 by the Emperor Domitian and climb up up towards the Palatine Hill. According to legend, Romulus and Remus were brought up by a she-wolf at the Palatine with .
We went through a short tunnel and up into the Vigna Barberini (the old vineyard) there was a viewpoint down onto the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine and across the forum to other well known sights. The whole area was being stabilised, as a result parts of a revolving pavement had been found with some of the old 'lubricant' still present. The whole vineyard is on a flat platform built onto a brick structure raising it from the steep hillside, a mammoth engineering work especially for a vineyard and much of the subterranean structure is being exposed. As we progressed through the Palatine we realised more and more the enormity of the structures which were invisible below the surface as well as those above, as the hill became increasingly covered with larger and more luxurious palaces for the Roman elite. This came to a climax in the days of Augustus who was born on the hill and continued to live there even when he became emperor.
We looked down on the Circo Masimo which could seat 250,000, even more than the Colosseum, for the races although little now remains. Again we began to realise the scale of the construction with most of the hillside overlooking it being luxurious houses built into the hillside right up to the Palatine level from which they were accessed. There is also a large Stadium on the Palentine Hill.
To gain additional insights we spent time looking at the statues and ceramics displayed in the Palatine Museum and found they had a very instructive video which put a number of the elements we had seen into context we are usually not very keen on videos but that one was excellent. we looked back round where Domitian built a huge palace, which includes the Domus Augustana where the Roman emperors lived, and the Domus Flavia. The House of Livia where Augustus lived with his wife Livia is well preserved but needed an additional ticket to access - something for next time?
We walked towards the Romulean Huts then through the Farnese Gardens to another viewpoint. There is so much to see and in the few hours we could spend we hardly covered the ground and we certainly didn't cover the history and the context which will have to wait until we get home, one needs to allow more time than one might expect to see it all. Purchasing heavy guide books is a bad idea when flying back home with only a limited luggage allowance. We looked out at the views before starting to descend
We worked our way down we passed the three isolated slender columns which are all that remains of the Temple of Castor and Pollux are very beautiful. Like most buildings in the Forum it was rebuilt many times, and these columns date after a fire in AD 6. We saw the Athaeneum and the Temple of Vesta with the House of the Vestal Virgins where the vestal virgins spent their lives keeping the lamp burning. One of the oddest sights was of the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda rising behind the six columns which remain of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. The three barrel-vaulted aisles of the Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius are the remains of what was the largest building in the Forum. The domed Temple of Romulus survives as part of the church of Santi Cosma and Damiano, and the heavy bronze doors are said to be original.
We exited by the Colosseum and took the M Linea B back to Roma Termini station to catch our train back to Civitavecchia.
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 3rd November, 2018