When in Rome, you eat copious amounts of pasta and pizza, slowly stroll down ancient alleys, and enjoy the history that surrounds you. It was an incredible feeling to be standing amongst architecture and art from approximately 100 AD. As for our stay in Rome, it was magnificent. I thought Paris was my favorite city, until we arrived in Rome. Italy itself is filled with romantic language, amazing eats, and surreal cultural immersion experiences.
We stayed at a cute, little flat in a quiet neighborhood known as Monti just a few blocks from the Colosseum. Before we entered the tourist infested Colosseum entrance we stopped at a pizza shop in our little neighborhood. At La Boccaccia, pizza could be ordered by the gram. An inventive idea that was an incredible taste bud experience. When we were full, we started on our excursion for the day. As we rounded the corner and the arches of the Colosseum towering above the shops and apartments, the excitement grew. We were about to step foot into almost 2,000 year old history. As we entered, the grandeur did not fall short. As we marveled at the size and architectural genius, we were also remorsefully reminded that this very place was a graveyard, frequently used for execution. It amazed me that such horrific actions could one day be famed occurrences. But like many other events, tragedy was forgotten with time. As we exited the infamous gladiator stage, we headed into the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Here we were surrounded by more Roman ruins and beautiful gardens.
From there, we walked a few blocks to another famous location. As we entered into the Basilica that showcased the Mouth of Truth, we were surprised that such a popular attraction could be so insignificant in size. As tales are told, if you put your hand into its mouth and you get bitten, then you're a liar. Thankfully we left with our hands intact. Through travel I've learned immensely about wise tales, cultural occurrences, art history, and more. Did you know there is a pyramid in Rome? I didn't until I saw it. The Pyramid of Caius Cestius was a unique site amongst the Roman architecture. Apparently, it was not the only pyramid that stood in Rome. One was erected near Vatican City but taken apart to build the steps of St. Peter's Basilica.
As we were still fresh with amazement, we stopped at a cafe before our next attraction. While sitting and people watching waiting for our pizza to arrive, over the radio our wedding song played. Thousands of miles away we were brought back to that moment a year ago when we danced to that song. We likely looked ridiculous to others as we held hands and sang along to Ed Sheeran's “Perfect.” And following our duet and delicious meal, we were off to the next spot. We were surprised yet again that attraction we assumed was going to be bustling was almost empty. We wondered around what was once the Baths of Caracalla. We stood in amazement surrounded by what is seen as rubble. Once the largest baths in the world, now almost completely stripped of all it's glory, the baths stand humbly amongst the bustling city. We learned, to our amazement, that it was not just barbarians who stripped marble, statues, gold, and other precious materials from their places, but also anyone with wealth in need of a certain material, including the Pope. As we traveled around the city we pieced together the puzzle of statues removed from one site to another, bronze from the baths to build the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica, and marble to cover the walls of new monuments. Apparently the past was a time of artifact genocide.
After a day filled with antiquity, we made our way to Trastevere for dinner. We found ourselves at La Gattabuia, an old jail converted to a restaurant. The venue was unique but the Italian food was indescribably phenomenal. I wish I could describe the flavors of creamy gnocchi, but any words would fail to depict the experience. Following one of the best meals of my life, we turned a corner to find ourselves amongst the exciting streets of Rome. A world cup futbol game was playing in a small pub. We stopped and enjoyed the thrilling atmosphere as we cheered with the locals. We realized here that wherever the locals were, was the best place to be. Tourists are overwhelming and we are undeniably tourists. But we tried as much as possible to submerge ourselves into the culture, being conscious of the language and traditions. As we headed home along the Trastevere shops, we were determined to get off the beaten path more and experience the area as a local would.
The following day we were in for the best experience of the trip. One that surpassed all other museums, attractions, basilicas and cathedrals. The Vatican City. It's own country, this spectacular place, though overfilled with tourists, was unreal. We shuffled through sweaty crowds until we made it to the Sistine Chapel, which to my surprise was not a chapel that you walk up to from the street through large doors. Rather, you wind through hallways and exhibits until you finally squeeze through an entryway to find yourself under the masterpiece of Michelangelo. It was unbelievable. The crowds were hushed and the priest said a prayer. We closed our eyes, bowed our heads, and felt honored as we prayed right beneath God reaching out to David. Michelangelo never wanted to paint the chapel, but the Pope insisted. He conceded to the request but demanded it would be done his way as he was not a painter, but rather a sculptor. Standing beneath his infamous fresco was awe-inspiring. The statues, columns, characters and saints lunged into reality with Michelangelo's talented ability to create a two dimensional work that appears to be in three dimensions. It was by far the best piece of art I've ever seen and I believe that ever existed for magnitude and marvelous appearance.
As we shuffled back out with the crowd, I didn't want to see anymore. I felt like I saw in all in that one painting. Yet, Saint Peter's Basilica was still to come. Under the hot Roman sun, we waited impatiently to see what everyone describes as marvelous. And the splendor of the place was overwhelming. As the sun poured through the windows of the dome in an angelic stream, I was in awe. I stood and took in my surroundings, the architecture, the artwork, the history, and the deity inspired church. Unfortunately, it's marvel contained "stolen" goods from the previously mentioned baths and much of the structure and materials were paid from by indulgences, Catholics paying for the forgiveness of their sins. Despite the corrupt construction, it was still inevitably wondrous. As I stood in the dome and peered into the sky, I could only imagine that this place is just a little slice of what heaven will be like.
We assumed the remainder of the trip would be underwhelming after such a magnificent experience; however, it did not disappoint. Following the Vatican, we walked through the Piazza del Popolo to the Trevi Fountain. We threw our coins into the fountain, which apparently solidifies that we will return to Rome. Even without our change resting at the bottom of the fountain, I believe we will return one day.
To end our evening we sat along the Piazza Navona and enjoyed pizza and pasta by candlelight. We ate slowly and enjoyed watching people pass. The slow food movement began in 1986 by Carlo Petrimi after the first McDonald's in Italy opened near the Spanish steps. We aimed to embrace that mentality for our last evening in Rome.
We began our last day by walking around the fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo and then headed towards Forno Campo de Fiori featured on Chef’s Table, a favorite show of ours on Netflix. The pizza, known to have the best crust in Italy, lived up to our expectations.
We walked along the cobblestone paths towards the Pantheon after our delicious meal. Once a temple for pagan gods, in 609 the temple was transformed to be a place of worship for Christians. It is the longest surviving place of worship in Europe in continuous use from the 7th century. Again, a surprising architectural structure, the Pantheon has a large circular opening at the top of the dome. The sunlight fell to the floor creating a column of warmth and brilliance. Rafael, who was working on artwork for the Pantheon at the same time that Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel, was buried in the Basilica.
Before jumping on a flight to Barcelona, we stopped at the Baths of Diocletian, which were modeled after the baths seen previously. Much of the structure was still intact with only superficial materials. My favorite part though was seeing the drawing by Michelangelo in the courtyard. To see the same perspective his saw through my lens was not possible, but still interesting to once again stand where the master artist stood.
With our time in Italy coming to an end, we were determined not to say goodbye, not see you later.