25 July 2008

Roma, Day One

The itinerary I laid out for myself today was intense, to say the least. Let’s just say that I’m not the best at judging distances on foot from a map. I started the day at St. Peter’s Basilica, a place I’ve wanted to visit for years. The immense size of the building makes you feel completely insignificant, which I suppose is the point, to glorify God rather than individuals (although the popes involved in the construction made sure their names were prominently placed throughout). The piers supporting the central dome completely dwarf the people standing next to them. I was lucky to arrive almost as soon as the Basilica opened, so it wasn’t particularly crowded until I left, but even so, with the soaring, high ceilings, it only felt congested when multiple Japanese tour groups tried to mass all at once. To me, the church conveys the power and wealth of the Catholic Church above all else; it was not a place that inspired me to think about the glory of God, but rather of the power of individual men. It’s beautiful, to be sure, but trying to take in the ostentatious display of wealth through decoration left me with little room to think on the grandeur of God. I spent about two hours in the Basilica, then decided to climb the dome for a fabulous view of the crossing and of Rome. The climb to the top was long, but the view was definitely worth it!
Statue of St. Paul in front of St. Peter's

View of the Piazza from the stairs of the Basilica.

The nave

St. Peter

Michelangelo's Pieta, unfortunately behind glass.

The dome

Statue of St. Peter by Arnolfo di Cambio

Tu es Petrus

Bernini's baldacchino - a little too over the top for my tastes.

The high altar - gaudy much?

Those poor cardiopatic people...

View from below the dome.

You are Peter, and on this rock I shall build my church...

View from the lantern.

Statues from Maderno's facade - Bramante would be none too happy.

To finish off the morning, I headed over to Castel Sant Angelo, about 10 minutes from the Basilica along the Tiber. The complex is extensive and was definitely worth the trip as it offered a more practical perspective of Papal Rome.

The Tiber from Castel Sant Angelo

Statue of St. Michael

In the afternoon, I braved the Roman buses for the first time to get to Santa Maria in Trastevere which ended up being well worth the trip. The mosaics were so much better in person than in pictures, and the church offered a striking contrast with St. Peter’s.

Santa Maria in Trastevere


From S. Maria, I walked to San Pietro in Montorio to see the Tempietto.

I managed to find my way back to the main road in Trastevere and took the bus to St. John Lateran, catching my first glimpses of the Colosseum and Forum along the way. I was disappointed at the “Baroque-ness” of the building, but the Gothic tabernacle over the altar made up for it.

St. John Lateran, Rome's cathedral, from which the pope derives his power as Bishop of Rome.

Medieval tabernacle from Arnolfo di Cambio's design. Supposedly it holds the skulls of saints Peter and Paul.

To end this very long day, I visited Santa Maria Maggiore, where I got a headache from spending too much time looking through my binoculars at the mosaics (definitely worth it, though).

Nave of Santa Maria Maggiore

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