Today started a little later for the lot of us; we agreed to have finish breakfast by ten in the morning, which was much easier than the two hour difference from yesterday at the Coliseum. This was because today’s attractions didn’t require us to escape the crowds.
We first went to the Sacred Area of Largo Argentina, a place about twenty feet below the rest of the city. It lies next to modern streets with cars and all that, but it is fenced off and is currently in a little restoration, or so it appeared. This area was where Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. It now houses many Roman cats. I took pictures of the cats and found at least seven, I believe, though there are probably many more. It is an odd idea, I think, to have cats just lying around in a place like that, where there are ancient columns and ruins all about.
After that, we made our way to the Piazza del Fiore, where there are three large and well-decorated fountains, each designed by Bernini out of a competition, as many things were back then roughly five hundred years ago when these famous sculptors and designers were in demand. This piazza was once a stadium, which explains its long shape. These three fountains each have magnificent designs; the central one is the tallest and has an obelisk in the center. The fountains and the sides each have sculptures of various sea creatures with human torsos and faces spouting water. The central fountain is carved as if out of a mountainside or oceanic landscape. Godlike men and horses compose most of the decoration, all of them set in detailed motion, giving the fountain a sense of action that compliments the perpetuity of the fountain water.
Next, we found the Santa Maria, a church with a relatively plain façade and an obelisk out front with an elephant supporting it. It is very recognizable, since we passed it multiple times on the same day. Inside the Santa Maria, then.
We knew that it had to be a church of better appearance on the interior than outside, since it was so plain, and we would not have entered otherwise. But it still exceeded my extensive expectations. The church was not only longer, wider, and taller from the inside than it appeared from the outside, but every square foot was part of an elaborate piece of artwork that spanned the entire building.
Firstly, the architectural aspects. It was structurally symmetrical with long, thick columns supporting the high ceiling. The pews were only located in the central part, although there were two sections, one on each side, of the pews, for extra space.
One thing I hadn’t expected at all was the numerous chapels on the sides, probably four on each side, running along the side walls. Each chapel was highly decorated, as was the whole structure, for that matter, but most had beautiful paintings or graphic crucifixes in the center surrounded by columned arches and more decorations on the walls. Most of the columns were ornamented with something, whether it is a spiral staircase with stone decoration that skillfully imitates nature’s biological growth, or a flowing plaque, as if it was billowing in the wind about the column, describing an honor in Latin.
With no aspect of Santa Maria being overlooked, the ceilings, walls, and floors all had something important to tell. The ceilings were the first I had seen of a complex and artistic nature, along with the floor, with its inscriptions and outlines of past honored people. Every wall was adorned with unique paintings, each deserving much more acclaim than they are given. I enjoyed how detailed the chapels became, especially when I hadn’t known they would be a part of churches. Since these are all Catholic churches, it makes sense, since I have never explored one in detail. I still believe that the Santa Maria is one of the most beautiful and elegant churches ever constructed. You wouldn’t think it from the outside.
After the Santa Maria, we walked to the Spanish Steps, as they are called. Ironically enough, since they are so popular, I never took a picture of the steps themselves, since they were covered with tourists. There is a beautiful building at the top, however, which I captured from many angles. There were quite a few street vendors there, by the way. Since I haven’t gotten to this yet, I might as well now. There are always people selling random items, usually souvenirs. These people offer the items to you as you walk past, but I’ve learned not to even look at the things if I don’t have a chance of buying them. If you make eye contact with a vendor, you may be chased at least a few steps down the street. A current popular object is a squishy ball that they throw on the ground, it splatters while staying inside the casing, then reforms itself. It is funny to watch, because that’s all they do all day, and that’s how I see it. They look around them to see if anyone’s watching, they throw down this ball, wait for it to form, then pick it up. And it never seems like people buy them. Another object they sell is tripods, along with bags, watches, watercolors, umbrellas, and sunglasses, mostly. They must make enough business from them because of the massive number of tourists, because there are quite a few of these vendors everywhere.
Also, there are numerous beggars on the streets. Some are old women who kneel on the edge of the sidewalk next to a cup, as if they are bowing to pray. Others sit in the corners. It is also popular to play music, though this isn’t begging, since I always have found the music to be very good and played by talented musicians.
Another oddity which I believe I have seen before, possibly in the Grand Canyon last summer, is people dressed up as statues, from Egyptian sarcophagi, raggedy people, and actual statues from the area they are in. They simply stand there or do something funny and have a cup in front of them. Lastly, as a part of the cultural difference or tourist area, there are men dressed up as gladiators who have their picture taken with tourists.
After the Spanish Steps, we split up from the big group and had the rest of the day to explore Rome. Rather than walking miles back to the hotel and napping, I had enough energy to walk around the city. Plus, I now felt like I had adjusted to the constant walking as well by this point in time. I could walk forever without having to rest, if necessary, but I always had water with me. Rome has hundreds of fountains scattered about, so it is easy enough to refill a water bottle wherever you are.
My small group stopped by a nearby McDonald’s for a bathroom break, and after we entered, we found that it was an entirely different place. They served roughly the same food, but for more money, so that it might cost six euro for a meal there, where that would translate to nine American dollars. I typically go by the general exchange rate of 1.5 US dollars to one euro, which is accurate enough and easy to calculate. So this McDonald’s was huge and was inhabited mostly by native teenagers hanging out. It was another culture shock, since I expected a fast food place to keep the same general format.
After we left, we wandered around, using a map of Rome, but without any real direction. We passed by a structure with nice architecture called Archivio di Stato, but it appeared like it could have been used by modern businesses today. It had a central courtyard and a set of statues on the back wall. I was surprised that it wasn’t more popular, but there were a few other groups in there.
We then went to the Tiber River and went down the stairs to the level of the river. A small group of homeless men were living under the bridge there with a nice supply of wood and a nearby fountain. It seemed like they had things under control down there. We could see the Castel Sant’ Angelo from the river, but we didn’t go there because we knew we would go there in the next day or two.
On the opposite side of the river was a large building with a well-decorated façade. There were uniformed men in the inside, or we would have gone inside. I assumed it was a government building of some sort, since there weren’t any indications of it being a museum.
We made our way down the river on the opposite side, and as we crossed the bridge back over, I saw another homeless man at the bottom, where the boats would dock. He was alone and staring at the wall. On the wall was a painting of what appeared to be a strange tree, and next to the painting were a sack and his other supplies. The man continued to look at this painting, first standing, then sitting, then laying down with his hands supporting his head. I found it interesting how fascinated this man was by such a painting – it was as if that was his life now, or had been for a little while, that this painting was all that mattered. I’m not sure why I’m elaborating on it so much, but it was another strange cultural thing, though it could happen anywhere. But the circumstances were such that it was very noteworthy.
After we passed back over the Tiber, we walked by a piazza and a closed mausoleum. The piazza was small and had no people in it at all, except for a sole beggar. Next was an inviting church that wouldn’t be on our agenda. It had a tall ceiling and an exquisite, complex set of paintings on the ceiling. There were fewer chapels here, with just as many altars, but it still was a beautiful structure.
Our small group then left the church and found the Piazza del Popolo, a large open area that currently had a set of stands that spanned nearly the whole area, and a stage that faced the tiers. We found out the next day that it was being used for a police graduation ceremony. But the piazza was grand, with a set of arches similar to the Arch of Constantine that was connected to adjacent buildings, creating a wall along the edge of the piazza.
There were two domes opposite the grand arch, but other than that, it was mostly under construction and renovation. According to the map of Roma, we next climbed the stairs to an open park area called Pincio. There was a lovely view from the top of Pincio that overlooked the Piazza del Popolo and the two domes. Pincio also had a serene pathway and a couple small pools and lines of busts with the names of the respective historical people.
After descending from Pincio, we found the Metro and rode it back six stops from Flaminio to Manzoni. This Metro stop, Manzoni, surfaces less than a hundred feet from the entrance of the hotel, so it really saves a lot of fatigue since there is almost no walking at all.
I didn’t make it long before falling asleep, since I had missed my daily nap and walked all day. However routine, walking this much is still difficult. I was sleeping by eight thirty and only woke once, briefly, then woke in the morning a little earlier again, to prepare for an eight o’clock start to the day. It seemed like every morning switched off between early and moderately early, by my standards, but it really is irrelevant. Especially since I fell asleep so early that night.
But after this night, I was completely adjusted to the time difference, in every way. It was no longer an issue. It was just another aspect of life to think about how it was seven hours earlier back home. Even though it had only been two days now, I felt like I was living in Rome and had been doing so for much longer than two days – closer to a week already. After we were done with the tours each day, the afternoons and evenings felt like they had been going on forever, like we had been doing this all our lives. I knew Rome well now, and I didn’t want to leave.