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Irene's Adventures

Italy - Rome

ITALY | Tuesday, 26 September 2017 | Views [274]

Ed and I both had flights out of Lisbon the same day – albeit to different destinations. He was returning to Canada, I was going to Rome. My flight was delayed by an hour. I kept myself amused by watching Ryanair check carry-on luggage for size. As anyone who travels regularly knows the amount and size of carry-on luggage has gotten out of hand. While most airlines turn a blind eye, Ryanair has capitalized on actually checking and ,consequently, charging people for oversized luggage. One fellow in particular was made to place his bag into the box that determines if your bag is small enough. He rammed it in the slot so hard he could not pull it out afterwards. Someone had to stand on the box while he tried, in vain, to pull it back out. He eventually did and was promptly told he had to check that bag into cargo – for a fee. It was amusing.

Once I got to Rome I shared a taxi with a family to take me to Roma Termini Colosseum hostel. The taxi wanted 40 Euro to take me to my destination. When another couple said they would share a taxi with me, I accepted. When they got out they paid the driver 15 Euro. Perfect. Only 25 Euro for me to pay. When we got to my destination, he still charged me 40 Euro. All taxi drivers are crooks. (See my blog on General Travel Tips)

That said, there was a moment of high entertainment on the ride. We had to make a left-hand turn and apparently cut off another driver. At the light, the other vehicle pulled up on the right-hand side of us and started yelling at my driver while waving his hands very animatedly with a body language indicating “WTF” – like a soccer player. My driver leans across me, in the passenger seat, and matches with his own yelling, animated arm waving and body language. It was hilarious.

The guest house was disgusting. It was not anything like the photos on the website. The dorm room was small and had a huge chest of drawers and an armoire taking up valuable space. There was one shared bathroom for 12 people. But I was only paying $25 a night, so I guess I got what I paid for. It would have to do. I was only there for 5 nights and did not want to waste time looking for new accommodations. I checked in, got a city map and ventured out.

Two interesting things about the guesthouse: #1 One had to ring the apartment to be buzzed in. However, there was only a single door that swung open onto the street and stayed open for nearly 30 seconds. To exit, one had to press a button on the wall and the door opened. Once open, anyone could enter and gain access to the many suites within the building. #2 It had the cutest little elevator. It was obviously an add-on, sandwiched between the stairs. It was about 2 feet wide and 4 feet deep. One had to open a door, then open a second set of swinging doors to enter. The outside door had to remain closed or the elevator would not move. When I exited the elevator, I had to remember to close the outside door for it to move to another floor.

tiny elevator

The day was still young so I set off on an adventure. First of all, I wanted to verify where to catch an inexpensive shuttle bus back to the airport. I was told there were buses outside of the nearby train station. There was a huge sign that clearly noted the departure times. Satisfied, I carried on.

I had no idea what I was seeing. It was simply impressive so I took pictures. I had to do some research later to find out I had happened upon. I passed the intimidating Ministry of Finance building,

Ministry of Finance Building

the semi-circular Piazza della Repubblica (built in 1887-1898) with the Fountain of the Naiads at its centre,

Piazza della Repubblica  Fountain of the Naiads

the Planetarium,


the impressive Fontana dell'Acqua Felice (Fountain of Moses) and

Fountain of Moses

the 1598 San Bernardo alle Terme church.

San Bernardo alle Terme

Further along were four fountains on each corner of the street intersection, aptly called the Four Fountains.

Four Fountains  Four Fountains

When I got to the Quirinal Palace there was a large contingent of news reporters positioned across the street of a side door. I asked one of them what was going on and he replied that they were waiting for the Italian and Libyan presidents to emerge after some important talks. I hung around for a few minutes but grew tired of waiting. The 1583 Quirinal Palace is one of the three official residences of the Italian President. It has housed many Popes, Kings and Presidents over the centuries. At 110,500 square meters (1.2 million square feet), it is the ninth largest palace in the world. The US White House is one-twentieth of its size. It is located on the highest of the seven hills of Rome.

Quirinal Palace

In the Piazza del Quirinale stands an impressive 1587 Fountain of the Dioscuri composed of two men holding horses. An obelisk rises above them. The Piazza itself is a huge open area with a balcony that looks toward St. Peter's Basilica. To the right of the balcony is a wide set of steps leading down to the hill and on towards Trevi Fountain.

Fountain of the Dioscuri  steps to Quirinale Piazza

Trevi Fountain was built in 1762. While the Americas were still Cowboys and Indians, the Romans were building this! This beautiful Baroque fountain is 26.3 metres (86 ft) high and 49.15 metres (161.3 ft) wide. It was breathtaking. Palazzo Poli forms the backdrop to the fountain. Taming of the Waters is the theme of the fountain that tumbles forward into the pool. Dominating the scene is Neptune in his shell chariot being led by Tritons with hippocamps (sea horses) – one wild and one docile, depicting the moods of the sea. The water rushes around them as they climb over the rocks.

Trevi Fountain    Trevi Fountain

People were sitting on the steps around the pool, taking in the beauty and taking selfies. Some people were sitting on the edge of the pool while the guards blew their shrill whistles telling them to move on. About 3000 Euros are thrown into the fountain pool each day. The estimated 1.2 million Euro is used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome's needy. The fountain was so beautiful that I returned later that evening to see it lit up. It was a very romantic spot and I wished Ed were there with me.

Trevi Fountain

The fountain is in a small square. The shops near the square sold cheap souvenirs, to expensive glassware,

glass art

to the ever-popular ice cream shop.

150 flavors of ice cream

Around the corner, I came upon one of the many icons of the Virgin Mary mounted high on an exterior wall and lit with a small light. In former times these small lights were the only street lights available on the streets of Rome.

Virgin Mary guiding lights

Walking back to the guest house I came upon the Column of the Immaculate Conception before the famous Spanish Steps. Built in 1725 these 135 steps link Piazza di Spagna with the Piazza Trinita dei Monti, dominated by Trinata dei Monti church at the top. The steps are very wide and break off into separate directions once it reaches the curved balcony of the higher plaza. The steps have been a popular gathering and resting spot since the 1800's. Dickens reported liking it there. Keats enjoyed the spot so much he took an apartment overlooking the steps. He died there and the apartment is now a museum dedicated to the Romantics.

Spanish Steps Keats, Shelley Museum

At the foot of the Steps is a fountain of a sinking boat, the Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Ugly Boat).

Fountain of the Ugly Boat

There were throngs of people sitting on the steps enjoying the cool evening air and taking in the atmosphere. Many munched on roasted chestnuts from vendors positioned nearby. I bought myself a bag also. I ended up passing the Spanish Steps many times over the next few days. It did not matter whether it was day or night, there were scores of people sitting on the steps.

Spanish Steps

I got back to the guest house very tired but exhilarated with my first day in Rome. I found the streets and architecture nothing like I was expecting. Every street has buildings at least 6 stories tall causing the streets to be in shadow.

Rome street

Most are box-like but still beautiful.

Rome street

Many buildings had elaborate doorways with an intricate crest above.

door crest

Many buildings had massive doors with fancy door stoppers at their base.

door stopper

Interspersed, are ancient churches and other structures of antiquity.

Rome street

Every now and then I came upon Roman ruins. On nearly every street corner, manhole cover, fountain, and monument was the 80 BC emblem “SPQR” (Senātus Populusque Rōmānus) - The Senate and People of Rome, IE, democracy.

Senatus Populusque Romanus

There are cafes everywhere. Many spill out onto the street, some are tucked into alleyways, all are inviting and have the most delicious food. I never had a bad meal, they were all exceptionally delicious. The beer is refreshing.

street cafe  restaurant

The shopping district has the most attractive window displays that I have ever seen. The fashions were definitely a cut above anything I have ever seen, also.

shop window

Parking is obviously at a premium as they park wherever they can find an empty spot, whether it is almost blocking an intersection, behind a dumpster, or rammed in sideways.

  tight parking  tight parking

The metro proved to be an excellent way to get around the city, but it is crowded. Edmonton commuters who get in and stand in the doorway would have a difficult time here. Anyone thinking they are going to hog a spot on this metro is unceremoniously shoved back to make room for more. It was not uncommon to have to wait for the next train as the one you were trying to board was packed. One morning I was buying my ticket at the machine when a woman was begging for change to buy her own ticket. Something told me to give her the money. She thanked me and told me to get on my train quickly as there was a strike about to take place and this was the last train of the morning. We both ran to the train and jumped on. Sure enough, when we got to our destination, there were guards blocking any more passengers from getting on. The strike only lasted a half day, and by evening everything was running smoothly again.

packed metro

Although the streets are hilly, it was easy to walk everywhere. However, walking is not for the faint of heart. I typically walked 12-18 km per day. The days were hot and the evenings slightly cooler. Crossing the streets was usually a common sense affair if no cars are coming cross. However, it was definitely a pedestrian beware scenario and do not have the right of way. Cars did not slow down, let alone stop, if one was in the midst of crossing.

As with most metro stations, the homeless hang out in droves. They slept in sleeping bags around the metro entrances and used the stairwells as their toilet. What a stench! I wondered if the city would not be wise to set up porta-potties for them to use. The toilets in the station were pay-toilets.

Rome had Share and Go cars that were electric. I saw many plugged into charging stations.

electric Share 'n Go car

On my second day, I caught the metro to the Colosseum. Exiting the metro station, the Colosseum completely blocked the sunshine. Wow! It took me a moment to take it all in. I was not expecting it to be directly across the street. I was expecting to see it off in the distance, across a park. But here it was, like a prehistoric skyscraper - with streetlights.


The queue to enter was exactly where spectators would have entered 2000 years ago.

Colosseum entry

I got my audio guide and climbed the steps into the bowels of the beast. The first look at the interior is breathtaking. It was huge! Of course, I knew it was huge from seeing the outside, but somehow the inside seemed bigger. Possibly because of the tiered seating all focused on the sub-terrarium hypogeum at its centre.


The name of the Colosseum derived from the immense statue of Nero - called the colossus after the Colossus of Rhodes - that stood nearby. When the statue fell (or was torn down) the name 'Colosseum' stuck with the amphitheatre.

To satisfy the public's enthusiasm for games and spectacles, construction began in 72 AD and was completed in 80. It is the largest structure surviving from ancient Rome. It measures 186 meters long by 156 meters wide, and although it appears to be circular is really an oval shape. The outer wall, 57 meters in height was built of travertine marble held together by iron clamps instead of mortar, which probably accounts for its longevity. It was damaged by several earthquakes and its entire south side collapsed in the quake of 1349. The fallen stone was used to construct other buildings throughout Rome.


The entire interior was lavishly decorated, but only a few fragments survive to hint at what it must have looked like in the first centuries.

 piece of column

It could hold 50,000-80,000 spectators. There was assigned seating and with 80 entry arches, internal passages and staircases, people could enter and be seated within a few minutes.

It had three tiers. The big shots sat on the lowest level, the wealthy in the middle level, and plebs in the third level. Women were allowed in the added-on 4th level cheap seats. A broad terrace in front of the tiers was reserved for emperors, senators, VIPs, and Vestal Virgins. Senators names can still be seen carved in the stones. The upper level had supports for 240 masts that held canvas awnings to shade the people. The lower levels had a more permanent roof which added more protection from the elements.

 covered grandstands

The arena floor was 83 by 48 meters. It had a wooden floor covered with sand. According to accounts of the period, the arena was sometimes filled with water for mock sea battles. The floor covered an elaborate underground labyrinth called the Hypogeum.

The Hypogeum is a two-level subterranean network of tunnels connecting training rooms for gladiators, cages for exotic wild animals, and store-rooms that were hidden underneath the floor. Some tunnels connected to points outside of the Colosseum, as well. Elaborate machines lifted scenery and caged animals to the arena, as if by magic. The building of the hypogeum put an end to the practice of flooding the arena.

 Colosseum Hypogeum

Shows in the amphitheatre were free of charge to the public on occasions of festivals or to celebrate special events, military victories, coronations, and anniversaries. When the Amphitheatre was inaugurated, the celebration lasted 100 days. Hunting shows, complete with natural props to make it realistic, and capital punishment by exposure to animals were the morning entertainment. One celebration involved 10,000 domestic and exotic animals. (The meat was distributed free to the people.) Mid-day executions were by other methods. The gladiatorial games took place in the afternoon. That same celebration involved 11,000 gladiators.

The gladiatorial games began as a demonstration of military might. Many gladiators were prisoners of war, slaves, or criminals condemned to death. Gladiator schools trained men to fight well to make the fights more entertaining. Therefore, promoters did not want to see them needlessly killed. The men were armoured equally to provide a fair fight. The defeated man could ask for mercy or death, which was decided by the Emperor. A good battle could warrant clemency for a criminal. Popular gladiators names are still seen scratched into the passageways. Some gladiators were hired as bodyguards by Senators.

 ancient graffiti

Death by burning gained popularity when the condemned men wore tunics impregnated with flammable substances. Pantomimes were held with a mythological theme. When the dancing commenced the clothing was set alight causing the dance to be transformed into dramatic contortions. Come on, kids! Let's go to the Colosseum and have some fun tonight!

The bronze cross at one end of the arena commemorates the Christian martyrs who were believed to have died here during the Roman Imperial period. In fact, there is little evidence that the arena was used for this, and the first mention of it as a place of Christian martyrdom was not until the 16th century.

 bronze cross

It took a few hours to explore the Colosseum. There were hundreds of steep and slippery steps. There was something interesting to see or read about at every turn. I cannot give words to walking the same passages as those 2000 years ago. To envision the wonders and horrors those spectators witnessed. To walk through the same grand arches that ancient Emperors entered. I could have spent more time, examining every detail. However, I had a long list of things to see in this ancient city so I made my way out.

 steep steps

Between the Colosseum and the Roman Forum stood the Arch of Constantine. In front of the Arch is the foundation of the pedestal that held the 30-metre bronze statue of the Colossus of Nero. The statue has disappeared. Theories as to its demise vary. One theory is it was destroyed during the sack of Rome in 410, another says it was toppled during an earthquake and the metal was scavenged.

 Arch of Constantine

Walking alongside the Temple of Venus and Rome, the queue to enter the Roman Forum was very long and took over a half hour to finally enter. The Temple of Venus and Rome is thought to be the largest temple in ancient Rome. Its position opposite the Colosseum has it in a good position for a public address platform. The beautiful exposed arch creates a majestic backdrop.

 Temple of Venus & Rome

The guidebook said the Roman Forum was “badly labelled and leaves you drained and confused”. It was true. However, there is a lot to be said for the collection of impressive ruins that remain. A bit of imagination can transport you back to the grandiose days when Julius Caesar, himself, walked these paving stones.

The first thing past the gate was the Arch of Titus, which is said to be the inspiration for the Arch de Triomphe in Paris.

 Arch of Titus

Immediately to the right is the Basilica of Maxentius. It was the largest building in the Forum. Most of the structure fell down during an earthquake. What remains are three massive domed rooms with coffered ceilings. The base of the seat where the Emperor presided over legal hearings is still visible.

 Basilica of Maxentius  Basilica of Maxentius - Emperor's seat

Further along was the Temple of Romulus with its original bronze doors set between porphyry columns.  It was built to honour Emperor Maxentius's son who died as a child.  The locks on the doors still work.

 Temple of Romulus

The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina was also built to impress. It stands on a platform with a wide staircase leading up to it. It ten 17 metre monolithic columns topped with a rich frieze.

 Temple of Antoninus and Faustina

Past the Basilica Aemilia and Roman Senate House, I came to the white marble Arch of Septimius Severus. It is 23 metres high, 25 metres wide and nearly 12 metres deep.

 Arch of Septimius Severus

Nearby was the Temple of Saturn, or rather, the remains of the front porch of the Temple. These eight surviving granite columns are one of the most iconic images of ancient Roman architecture. They rest on a travertine podium and stand 9 metres high.

 Temple of Saturn

Backtracking on the Via Sacra (the main street of ancient Rome that saw many triumphal marches) I peeked in at the Temple of Divine Julius. All that remains is a semi-circular niche that marks the funeral pyre of Julius Caesar. People still leave flowers.

 Temple of Divine Julius

I walked past the Temple of Castor and Pollux (the 'twins' of Gemini - which I am) and

 Temple of Castor and Pollux

onto the House of the Vestals. There were always six Vestal Virgins. Chosen by the Emperor between the ages of six and ten years, they served the chief priest for 30 years, learning sacred rites for the first ten years, performing the rites for another ten and finally teaching them for the remaining ten. They were to remain chaste and tend to the eternal flame and safeguard the sacred objects in the Temple of Vesta. They enjoyed privileges denied t their women. After their term, they were free to leave and marry. The Temple is all but gone. There are a series of statues that flank an expanse of grass.

 House of the Vestals

I was indeed getting tired and confused by the Forum. I wanted to go to the top of Palatine Hill for the bird's eye view. It stands 40 metres above the Roman Forum. Excavations show that people lived on this hill since the 10th century BC.

Palatine Hill

According to Roman mythology, the Hill is the location of the cave where Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf Lupa and suckled them to keep them alive. Romulus founded Rome. It later became the exclusive domain of Roman emperors.

 view from Palatine Hill  view from Palatine Hill

Going back down the stairs from the lookout platform, I past cave-like openings cut into the hill, past huge arches that I took to be remnants of an aqueduct, then along a path of towering pines until I came to the Palace of Domitian. It is still part of Palatine Hill. There were massive arches that seemingly were just arches, and never part of a building.  Later research has me to understand that the Arches of Severus were built as a way to broaden the hill and create a support for an extension to the Imperial Palace.

Palace of Domintian

I wandered through the Garden, which looked like a smaller version of the Roman Circus, but was too small to hold chariot races.


A modern artist erected some funky structures in the middle of the gardens. By themselves, they would be interesting pieces of art, but set in this ancient Roman setting was a bit disconcerting.


However, I did find the cold drink machine tucked under one of the arches a bit ironic.

 cold drink machine

I left the Forum area and walked to the Circus Maximus. From this angle, I could see how someone in the Arches of Severus would have had a great view of the Circus.

Arches of Severus

Circus Maximus was an ancient chariot racing stadium. It sits in a depression causing the banks to be natural bleachers for as many as 150,000 spectators. It is 621 metres long and 118 metres wide. I walked along the now public park and carried on my exploration of Rome.

 Circus maximus - wiki  Circus maximus

I was intrigued with the steps to the Capitoline Museums. I went to the top and admired the statues out front, but did not go into the museum.

 Capitoline Hill & Museum

I happily wandered the streets until I got to the Pantheon. I was tired and hungry by this point and rather than eat in the overpriced square looking at the face of the church, I found a lovely bar on the backside. It was quiet, the food was excellent, as was the service, and the prices were cheap!

 now that's a salad!  good beer

The Pantheon has strict rules about ladies being discretely dressed – knees and shoulders must be covered! Initially built as a temple (Pantheon is Greek for “honour all Gods”) in 126 AD, it was converted to a church in 609. 16 massive Corinthian columns support the portico. Each granite column is 12 metres tall, 1.5 metres in diameter, and weighs 60 tons.

 Pantheon - Irene Cabay

The dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. It is an engineering marvel. Modern scholars are still not sure how they built it. The bottom of the dome is 6.4 metres thick but only 1.2 metres around the oculus. The materials used to build it vary. At its thickest point, travertine was used. Higher up, terracotta tiles form the aggregate. At the very top, pumis and other porous stones were used. The higher it got the lighter the cement. Coffering the cement also lightened the weight.

Pantheon oculus

The height of the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 43 metres. Imagine a 43-metre ball fitting inside. The 9-metre oculus and the 7.3-metre bronze entry doors (that were once covered in gold) are the only source of natural light.

 bronze doors

The centre of the dome, the Oculus, is open to the elements. Yes, rain falls inside. However, the centre of the floor is 30 centimetres higher than the outside edge. Water disappears into invisible channels (I looked but could not see them). The floor has geometric patterns of red marble from Egypt, white marble blotched with blue from Asia Minor, red-veined yellow marble from Algeria.

 Pantheon floor

The interior is perfectly round. Niches carved into the thick walls are flanked by twin pillars and are dedicated to Christian themes. The tomb of the 16th-century painter Raphael is in one of the niches. The inscription says: “Here lies Raphael, by whom Nature feared to be outdone while he lived, and when he died, feared that she herself would die.”

As with so many of the sights around Rome, there are no earthly words to express the grandeur seen or the emotions felt. It is similar to the Egyptian pyramids, no matter how many pictures you have seen or how many documentaries you have watched, when you actually see it the pictures and the documentaries did not do it justice.

 Pantheon  Pantheon

It was getting to be late afternoon, but the Piazza Navona was close by so I decided to check it out. It is a large open square surrounded by graceful mansions.

Piazza Navona

It was packed with pavement cafes and street artists. The dramatic Fountain of the Four Rivers with an Egyptian obelisk sits in the middle of the Piazza. It depicts the four major rivers of the four continents through which papal authority has spread. The Nile god has his head obscured with a cloth meaning no one knew the Nile's origin. But he looks like he is shy or playing peek-a-boo.

 Fountain of the Four Rivers

At the south end of the Piazza stands the Moor Fountain. It shows Neptune wrestling with a dolphin. He is surrounded by other whimsical characters who wrestle with their own sea creatures.

 Moor Fountain  Moor Fountain

I made my way back to the guest house, past Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. Ahhhh, Rome.....


Thursday morning I was up like a shot and headed to St. Peter's Basilica. I took the metro as I did not want to get lost. I knew it was going to be a full day, plus I wanted to see as much of the Basilica that I could before my 12:30 time slot to see the Vatican Museum. The metro in Rome has many exits from the trains and I was not sure which exit to take. I spotted a nun and followed her. The metro stops about a 10-minute walk from St. Peter's and every foot of it was littered with touts trying to sell entrance tickets to the Vatican. They also tried to veer me off the straight route to St. Peter's Square.


I entered through the colonnade. The Square is bordered on two sides by semi-circular colonnades, which symbolize the outstretched arms of the church embracing the world. The colonnades were built in 1660 and consist of four rows of columns totalling 284. Each column is 20 meters high and 1.6 meters wide. There are 140 statues standing on top of the colonnades depicting popes, martyrs, and other religious figures. The columns created a wonderful shade as they gently curved away into the distance.

 St. Peter's Square colonnade  St. Peter's Square colonnade

At the centre of the square is an Egyptian obelisk standing 25.5 metres tall – 41 metres if you include the pedestal it stands on.

 St. Peter's Square - with obelisk

A fountain was installed to the right of the obelisk. To maintain symmetry Bernini installed an identical fountain to the left.

   St. Peter's Square - obelisk & fountains

The Square is huge! It covers about 11.6 acres. When the Pope is addressing the people, such as Easter morning, 400,000 people cram into this space. I saw a long, long, long queue of people and asked someone if this was the queue to enter the church. Yup! I had to walk to the opposite side of the Square to position myself in this human snake winding along the perimeter of the Square. The 45-minute wait went quickly. Everyone was friendly and eager to chat. We saved each other's spots in the queue when someone wanted to take some pictures and offered to take pictures of you with the Basilica in the background. I was told to arrive early to avoid the worst lines. I thought I had arrived too late already. However, later in the afternoon, the queue was sent through a maze-like one sees in airports.

 queue for St. Peter's Basilica

Everyone had to pass through security and metal detectors to enter the church. Huge signs reminded people to dress discretely. No food, drink, or backpacks were allowed.

 the rules  Swiss Guard

St. Peter's Basilica was built 1506-1626. It is 220 metres long, 150 metres wide, and 136.6 metres high. Even the portico is elaborate. The ceiling has fancy decorations. The marble floors have geometric designs. The doors have arches and are flanked by pillars. The doors have religious scenes carved into them. One door shows St. Peter being crucified upside down.

 St. Peter upside down

Stepping into the nave leaves one stunned by the beauty. The high domed ceiling gleams golden. There are high arched alcoves leading off to various magnificent monuments.

St. Peter's Basilica  St. Peter's Basilica

Each column has bas-reliefs of cherubs holding reliefs of religious figures. The surface area is 15,160 square metres and can accommodate 60,000 visitors.

 St. Peter's Basilica - columns

Attention is drawn to the apse. The huge bronze canopy that covers the papal altar dominates the area. It stands 20 metres high. The columns are spiral. The altar is only used by the Pope.

 Papal altar with Bernini's bronze canopy

In front of the canopy is a circular marble railing with a set of steps leading down to the presumed grave of St. Peter. It is encircled by 95 bronze oil lamps. No one is allowed into the area, not even from the basement crypt.

 tomb of St. Peter 

Directly above is the majestic dome. It is 135.7 metres to the top and has a diameter of 42.5 metres. There are 16 colourful ribs that are supported by four massive pillars. Light enters through the 17-metre lantern and sixteen large windows below the cornice. I climbed to the dome the next day. More on that later.


Behind the canopy, against the apse wall, was St. Peter's Throne. Tradition says Saint Peter, the first Pope, used this oak chair. It is enclosed in a gilt bronze casing and supported by four church fathers. Above the throne is a large alabaster window shining a golden light.

St. Peter's Throne 

I made a bee-line for the Pieta, off to the right. It is the most famous monument in St. Peter's. It is a marble statue of a very young Mary holding the dead body of her son, Jesus. It was created in 1500 by Michelangelo when he was only 25 years old. It is the only work of Michelangelo that bears his signature. He etched his name on the ribbon that runs across Mary's chest. It sits behind bulletproof glass because some fool damaged it with a hammer in 1972. (That also explains why we go through x-ray machines to enter.) It is a beautiful and touching piece of art. The drapes on the fabric look as soft as if it were real fabric. Mary's face looks sad yet resigned to her son's lot in this life.

 Pieta  Pieta detail

There was a mass going on when I arrived and the apse was barricaded off just in front of the seated statue of St. Peter. The bronze St. Peter is seated and appears to be giving a blessing. Centuries of pilgrims touching his right foot has completely worn his toes off. The toes on the left foot are not looking so good either.

 St. Peter with worn foot

There was one statue that had me completely captivated. St. Veronica supposedly felt pity for Jesus as he carried his cross. She wiped his forehead with her veil. The statue gives no hint of this story. Rather, she looks like she is standing in a hurricane and holding her robes from flying off her. The statue is 5 metres tall.

 St. Veronica

I wandered through the church marvelling at the magnificent monuments and pictures. All of the pictures were actually mosaics made from such delicate pieces I did not notice it was not a painted picture until I read the description posted below.

Altar of the Lie - mosaic  Altar of the Lie - mosaic detail 

The monuments were larger than life size. The detail in the sculpting made them look alive. The white marble gleamed.

 Monument to Gregory XIII   Monument to Leo XI - detail

One monument had two angels grieving by the tomb door. It was very touching.

 Monument to the Stuarts

The marble floor of the Basilica has colourful geometric patterns.

St. Peter's Basilica floor

There are many Pope's Coats of Arms inlaid in the floor.

Pope John Paul II

As one enters the Basilica one walks over a large red porphyry disc. Most people walk in without even noticing it. This red disc is where Charlemagne was crowned Emperor on Christmas night in 800 AD. The disc was 500 years old at the time. We absently walk across where Charlemagne once kneeled.

 red porphyry disk where Charlemagne was crowned

Every so often there was a fancy air grate with the papal insignia at the centre. These air grates allowed ventilation to the crypt below.

 air grate

I went into the crypt where various saints and nobility have their tombs. There are also chapels dedicated to some of them. It had a low ceiling and many arches. Each arch seemed to have a sarcophagus of some sort. Some were very plain, others fancy.

 St. Peter's Basilica - crypt

I took a tour of the Treasury which contains church ornaments, statues, papal mitres and lots of gifts from nobility. It had the most interesting audio guide. Rather than key in a number to hear about the object, I was handed a postcard map of the treasury and an electronic sensor. All I had to do was touch the sensor to the item I wanted to hear about. The Basilica was high tech!

 high tech audio guide

Most Catholic Churches have art that depicts the tragedy and sacrifice of its martyrs, and usually quite gruesome. All of the art in the Basilica seemed to show the glory of God and His magnificence. It was rather cheerful. I was so taken with the Basilica that I returned after my Vatican Museum tour, then again the next day, and the next, as well. I obviously could not get enough of it.

 Holy Water font    

I had my time slot to see the Vatican Museum and hurried off along the Vatican wall until I came to the entrance. I was glad to have an advance ticket, as the queue was very long for those hoping to enter at the last moment.


The museums contain roughly 70,000 works of art collected by the popes throughout the centuries. Only 20,000 pieces are on display in its 54 galleries. There is a LOT to see! I knew I was in for a good time when, upon entry, I came to the impressive spiral Bramante Staircase.

 Bramante Staircase

It was a maze of long galleries jam-packed with statues, vases, beautiful ceilings, and decorative floors.

Vatican Museum - Chiaramonti Museum  Vatican Museum - Braccio Nuovo

One gallery is dedicated to tapestries.

Tapestry Gallery

other gallery is dedicated to maps indicating the spread of Christianity.

Map Gallery

Another gallery is dedicated to the greatest masterpieces of the art world, including the “Transfiguration” by Raphael and “St. Jerome in the Wilderness” by da Vinci.

St. Jerome in the Wilderness

Every nook and cranny had something to see. It was definitely sensory overload!

 Vatican Museum floor

Even the courtyard was not without its wonders. The famous Pine Cone Fountain stands against a wall.

Pine Cone fountain

The contemporary golden Sphere within a Sphere sat more in the centre of the courtyard.

 Sphere within a Sphere

Within the museum is a suite of four rooms that was once part of the papal apartments known as the Raphael Rooms. Their claim to fame is that they were decorated by Raphael and his students. The rooms are so cleverly painted that it looks like there are marble statues lining the walls.

frescoes, not statues

There are huge frescoes painted above and filling the arches. Even to the untrained eye, it is easy to detect Raphael's work over his students. The most famous fresco is 'The School of Athens'. It depicts the distinct branches of knowledge by paying homage to the various masters in their field. Portrayed are Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Zoaster, and Ptolemy. Da Vinci and Michelangelo are also portrayed. It is rumoured that Raphael peeked in at the Sistine Chapel and was so impressed that he felt compelled to add Michelangelo to his own masterpiece. His own self-portrait is tucked in as well.

 School of Athens - Raphael

Going from the Raphael Rooms to the Sistine Chapel took me through a gallery of contemporary art. Although it contained pieces like Rodin's 'The Thinker',

 The Thinker - Rodin

It was mostly, what I considered, crappy art. In comparison to the intricate detail of artistry I had just walked through for the past 4 hours, this was horrible. (My apologies to those who think it is wonderful – I didn't.) The ceiling in one area was whimsical with cherubs seemingly at play.

 whimsical ceiling

The hall to the Sistine Chapel did not prepare me for what is ahead. First of all, a guard is telling people to keep moving, no pictures, keep moving, no pictures. Once inside, the chapel is not as big as I had imagined. It is 40.2 metres long, 13.4 metres wide, and 20.7 metres high; rather long and skinny. Of course, the first thing I saw was the famous ceiling and since you can't walk while looking straight up, that is why the guards tell you to keep moving.

I won't go into detail over the ceiling as, I am sure, everyone has seen pictures of it and is quite familiar with the famous “Creation of Adam”.

 Creation of Adam

Every inch of space has a fresco. I really did not know where to look first. I could not focus on any one piece for more than a few seconds. It was so busy it drew my attention in 5 directions at once. Which is why I went through twice. I was a bit more prepared the second time. On the second time through I had learned to find a spot in the middle of the chapel and stay put. The guards didn't seem to bother people in the middle as much as the sides.

 Sistine Chapel - Ceiling

The walls are painted look like drapes hanging. It took me a moment to realize they were not drapes.

An interesting fact is that not everyone knew God was supposed to be God. It was such a new and shocking way of depicting God that a bishop once wrote, “ Among the most important figures is that of an old man, in the middle of the ceiling, who is represented in the act of flying through the air”. Michelangelo made it up as he went along. He considered himself a sculptor, not a painter. He vehemently objected to the job, thinking he was being set up to fail by his enemies. He was in an awkward situation. He could not refuse the Pope's request. He was a nervous wreck. He painted himself holding his head in agony on the wall painted with the Last Judgment. He got his revenge by painting one of his loudest critics with donkey ears. He did not paint on his back, as legend has it. He painted standing up.

The blue of the sky in the Last Judgment is more vivid blue than the ceiling. The ceiling was painted first and Michelangelo had to pay for his own paint. Even at the astronomical price of 2 million dollars (today's conversion), he used paint that was at hand. The later Last Judgment was paid for by the church and they had him incorporate lapis lazuli into the blue, hence the vividness.

 Sistine Chapel - Judgement

I made my way out of the Sistine Chapel, through the Patio of St Gregory the Illuminator, and found myself back at St. Peter's Basilica. Fantastic! I looked around the Basilica some more, taking in what I had missed the first time and admiring some of my favourite parts again.

 St. Peter's Basilica

It was fairly late by the time I headed back to the guest house. I was tired and hungry. I came upon Hostaria Vincenzo Ristorante a Roma a short walk from the guest house. It looked inviting with its outdoor seating. I just wanted some food before calling it a night. I ordered pasta with a mushroom sauce. It was delicious. The owner treated me like I was their favourite customer. I ended up eating there every night until I left.

It was a perfect day!


Friday morning I decided to go back to the Basilica. I realized I had missed some things after reading the guidebook the night before. I got there earlier and hence the queue was much shorter, only 20 minutes this time.

I bought a ticket to go up to the dome. There 320 steps to the roof level. After all the walking I had been doing, it did not seem so bad. I entered the gallery inside the dome. There were mosaics running along the entire circumference.

St. Peter's Basilica Dome interior

From the floor below, they looked small when they were actually huge.

St. Peter's Basilica Dome interior

We could not walk completely around, as part was gated off. However, I did get an excellent view of the apse, main altar, and transept from above.

 St. Peter's Basilica

The climb to the top of the dome proceeds through progressively narrower and steeper stairs. The outside curvature of the dome makes the inside walls curve in as well, so I was walking leaning to one side. It is lit by faint bulbs and the odd ray of sunshine and fresh air from the occasional slit. This is not for the claustrophobic!

 stairs to the Dome  stairs to the Dome

The view from the top of the dome is amazing. I got an excellent picture of St. Peter's Square.

St. Peter's Square

I also got a nice bird's eye view of the Vatican Gardens.

Vatican Gardens

I also got a nice picture of a Rabbi and taking a picture of a Monk at this Catholic church.


The staircase down emptied onto the roof, where we could see the lantern of a smaller dome.

St. Peter's Basilica Dome  St. Peter's Basilica lantern on smaller dome


We were behind the statues that grace the colonnade. At 3.2 metres high, they are much bigger than I had imagined when viewing them from the Square.

 Colonnade statue

I had a cappuccino and pastry in the roof-top cafe before returning to ground level. I looked through the Basilica yet again before heading to Castel Sant' Angelo.

 Castel Sant 'Angelo

Castel Sant' Angelo was built in 12 AD by Emperor Hadrian as a monumental tomb for himself and his family. It is located in a direct line from St. Peter's to the River Tiber and the Sant' Angelo Bridge. The mausoleum proved to be an excellent foundation for a grand castle. The finished product is a massive round building with 5 levels. It originally was faced with marble, which has been scavenged away, leaving huge poxed stones.

 Castel Sant 'Angelo

Fortifications of walls, towers, and bastions were added over the years, converting it into an unassailable military fortress. It has also served as a prison and papal residence – sometimes at the same time.

 Castel Sant 'Angelo  bedroom    

In the 14th century the castle was connected to St. Peter's Basilica with a covered, fortified, secret corridor called Passetto di Borgo in case the Pope needed to make a quick and safe get-away from marauding enemies. It was used on two occasions to save two different Pope's lives. One occasion left three-quarters of the Swiss Guard dead covering the Pope's escape.

 Passetto di Borgo

After entering, I passed through the mill-room, peeked through the Passetto di Borgo, was amazed at the catapult and cannon balls still standing on a bastion,


walked along the fortified walls,

 walking the walls

past the gun workshop,

 gun workshop

and guard's room

 guard's room

until I entered a long staircase with a gentle incline.


This was part of the fortification. If someone could make it past the moat, the bridge, and the guards they thought they had free access to the castle. Wrong! There were trapdoors built into the ramp-like staircase, so cleverly disguised they would never have seen them.

 trap door

Carrying on, I walked through the restaurant laid out on an outer wall. Some tables were tucked into alcoves that were clearly defence positions at one time.


The uppermost levels were the actual castle that was occupied by many a Pope. They were all very elaborately decorated, with original furniture and paintings still gracing the walls.

Castel Sant 'Angelo  Castel Sant 'Angelo

Each level had open courtyards within the walls and thereby still offering protection.

 well in courtyard

The very top level had really good views of Rome, Sant' Angelo Bridge. and a fantastic view of St. Peter's Basilica. (You can see the secret passageway on the left of the picture.)

  Sant' Angelo Bridge    view of St. Peter's Basilica & secret passage

The uppermost level also had the statue of Archangel Michael sheathing his sword. Legend has it that during a severe plague a vision of the archangel was seen sheathing his sword. The plague ended soon afterwards. A chapel was erected on the spot and the Castle renamed 'Castle of the Angel Saint.

 Archangel Michael

I made my way back down through the wide circular ramp that was initially built to carry the Emperor Hadrian's remains to his tomb. It was wide enough and easily sloped for the carriage and horses.


There has been someone occupying the castle, continuously since its inception which is why it is in such terrific condition. It was decommissioned in 1901 and converted to a museum.

Castel Sant 'Angelo

Upon leaving the Castle, I walked along the river until I came to Piazza del Popolo.  It is a large square where public executions used to take place. Now, the only executions are the ones wished upon politicians by the protesters who favour the square for demonstrations. There is an obelisk in the centre and a Neptune Fountain on one side of the square and another fountain on the opposite side. Steps lead up to Pincian Hill and its beautiful lookout.

 Piazza del Popolo    Piazza del Popolo

Before the day was over, I booked another Vatican Museum ticket so I could see the things I felt I had missed or not paid significant attention to before. I had to print this ticket, rather than use my phone. It took me a while to find a shop who could print it out for me. I went back to Hostaria Vincenzo Ristorante a Roma then called it a night.


On Saturday, I returned to the Vatican Museum. It was packed like sardines. There were so many people that I got shuffled along with the crowd, not being able to see anything besides someone's head beside me. There was no way I could get to either wall to see the exhibits. Thankfully, I had a good look at them before. The exhibits that I really wanted to see were not that busy. Amazing!

 Vatican Museum

I passed through St. Peter's Basilica, yet again. This time there was no mass going on and the barricades were removed, which allowed me to get closer to the items in the apse. I was really having a lucky day!

 St. Peter's Basilica - St. Longinus

I walked along the river, in the opposite direction from the day before and came to the Trastevere district.

river walk

I was having a good time just getting lost in the atmosphere. The streets were narrow and the walls of the buildings were covered with vines.

narrow streets   vines on buildings  vines on buildings  Elephant and Obelisk

Shops were simple yet inviting.


 shop window 

Some shops were creepy.

 weird shop

Restaurants sprung up at every turn.

 street cafe    street cafe

Some displaying a menu sampling.

 menu samplings

Wine corks were wedged between the cobblestones.

 wine corks in the cobblestones

I came upon a street market full of local artists.

 street art

Santa Maria Maggiore basilica was not far from where I was staying and I had delayed seeing it because I felt I could always just catch it on my way to or from somewhere. Since this was my last night in Rome, I figured I had best see it. The afternoon was pleasant, I had plenty of time, so I decided to walk. I got lost, again. But getting lost in Rome is never boring.

 lamp holder  Romulus & Remus

I came to Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. How on earth did I miss this the other day? The Capitoline Museums is right around the corner! This huge, huge white marble monument was built as a tribute to the first king of Italy. It is 120 metres wide and 70 metres high. The winged victories on the roof add another 10 metres. Dozens of steps make their way up to a massive colonnade of 15-metre columns.

 Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II - Irene Cabay

At the centre of the monument is the colossal bronze statue of Victor Emmanuel II on his horse. It weighs 50 tons and is 12 metres long. It rests on a pedestal decorated with intricate reliefs.

 Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

At the foot of the statue is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier guarded day and night by alternate branches of the military.

tomb of the unknown soldier

There is a museum inside, but I did not go in. There was one statue out front that caught my eye. I don't know the meaning behind it, but there was a lady (angel?) kissing an apparently dead man as he was slung over the shoulder of another man in chains.

 kissing statue

I could hear music and singing so I walked to the side of the patio to see where it was coming from. The street was blocked off and there was a festival going on. Perfect! It was not out of my way to my destination, so I thought I may as well check it out. This day was getting better and better!


I walked past the Santa Maria de Loreto church, which is on the very edge of ancient Roman ruins.

 Santa Maria de Loreto

The blocked off street ran alongside the Roman Forum and directly to the Colosseum. I ambled my way along telling myself that life does not get better than this.


There was a street band playing some lovely music so I stopped to listen. They were sitting on the edge of the Roman Forum. An old man was dancing in time to the music. He was incredible! It was almost like his legs had a mind of their own. He danced through every song, whether it was upbeat or a waltz. The sun was setting on the Forum. The musicians lounging in their chairs, strumming their instruments like they were an extension of themselves, the old man danced. Life does NOT get better than this!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGx-7zTdHzY

 Man dancing

I bought their CD and carried on. The sun was now low in the sky and it cast a wonderful glow on the Colosseum. I could not pass up the unique photo opportunity.


Finally, I realized if I was going to get to Santa Maria Maggiore basilica, I had best hurry up. But not too fast....


I arrived at the basilica and was thoroughly impressed, but could not figure out where the door was. Someone told me this was the back of the church. Wow! If this was the back side, then the front and interior must be amazing. I went around to the front (which was actually less impressive than the back) to find that they were not letting any more tourists in for the evening. Darn.

 Santa Maria Maggiore - back

I made my way back to the guesthouse, passing the train station. I popped into the station and noted where the bag storage was located. Back at the guesthouse, I found a new guest in the bunk across from me. I was simply going to grab a sweater and head out for dinner when Patricia struck up a conversation with me. We soon discovered we had a lot in common and as this was her first night in Rome and my last, we decided to go out for dinner together. I filled her in on things to see and do. We shared information about where we were from, former occupations, etc. We exchanged emails. I think we would have had a great time touring Rome together, but alas, we crossed paths too late.

 Patricia & Irene

We had agreed to go to Santa Maria Maggiore together in the morning. I told her my plan of storing my bag at the train station, going to the basilica, then retrieving my bag before catching the shuttle bus to the airport. When I awoke, she was sound asleep, so I left her a note and departed.

 Santa Maria Maggiore

I did not have a lot of time to tour the basilica as Sunday mass was about to commence. The first church on this site was built in 432 AD. The church we see today was completed in 1743 and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Santa Maria Maggiore

The bronze entrance door displays episodes from the life of the Mary.

entry door

The interior of the church had a rather simple layout; but its all in the details. It has a long nave lined with pillars.  The coffered ceiling is gilded gold.

 Santa Maria Maggiore

The floor's mosaic is so intricate it looks like a carpet.

 mosaic floor

There are mosaics all along the length of the church depicting Bible stories. The mosaics come to a climax in the huge triumphal arch in the apse.

 Santa Maria Maggiore    triumphal arch

There were beautiful side chapels. One of the chapels had a mass going on for the priests who were about to conduct the Sunday Service.


The other chapel held the Holy Sacrament. Four life-size gold-leafed bronze angels hold up the ciborium (the container that holds the Host).

 chapel with Holy Sacrament

There were beautiful pictures held aloft by angels, as well as beautiful statues.


There were numerous confessionals with signs posted on the front as to the different languages of the priests as well as the times that particular priest was available.

priest availability

I saw some priests waiting quietly in their confessional – with their cell phone glowing blue.

 priest on cell phone

There was a gift shop off to the side that also leads to the sacristy. The marble floor leading to this area was worn into a huge dip.

 worn floor

There was an announcement that unless you were staying for mass, you must leave. Fair enough. As I was about to exit a procession of 20 priests, plus a bishop, were coming out of the sacristy. The organ came to life. The choir began to sing. The incense was smoking the place up. I stood there, entranced. The organ seemed to vibrate my insides. The choir gave me chills. I watched the procession make their way to the front of the church, then quietly slipped out the door. Life really does NOT get better than THIS!    https://youtu.be/us3KFNNY0Vg

  Santa Maria Maggiore

A comedic moment: A piece of incense fell out of the thurible. The priest looked to another in shock. The second priest almost imperceptibly jerked his head to the side. The first priest quickly kicked the smouldering lump to a column base and kept walking.

 Santa Maria Maggiore

I walked, smiling, back to the train station, retrieved my bag, and headed to the shuttle bus. My life-long dream of visiting Rome had come to fruition. I will forever hold those wonderful, perfect days in my heart. Life is beautiful!



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