Friday, November 13, 2009

Day 40 - A Roman Appetizer

Hey Team,

Took my last night train from Nice to Rome.  At this point, I had two destinations to go before coming back home, Rome and Florence.  Ideally I would have done my two days in Florence first, and ended it at Rome, which is where I am flying out.  However, as I said earlier, the train schedules put me in a bit of a spot so I had to make the unorthodox decision to go straight from Nice to Rome first (or lose a day traveling), go to Florence the next day (which is only an hour and a half from Rome), and then back to Rome a couple of days later.  Not ideal, but as you'll see, as has been the case the entire trip, it worked out really well.

I only had the one day in Rome before heading out to Florence, so I decided to knock a couple of museums out rather than the so called "Biggies" like the Colosseum and Vatican City.  First stop was right next to the Termini Train Station where I arrived and near where my hostel was, The National Museum of Rome.

This museum houses one of the most complete collections of ancient Roman (and some Greek) sculpture in the world.  This is a complete ancient Roman copy of the famous Greek sculpture, The Discus Thrower by Myron.  

In Arles, I was talking about all of the cool mosaics (like four of 'em) they had.  Turns out they might have a couple of more here.  There was a whole wing devoted to this type of art, whether it be geometric shapes, home life scenes, or the beating the crap out of someone still life's you see here.

I thought this was really cool.  This is a frieze off of a sarcophagus of some Roman General.  The detail is probably too small to see but this basically depicts a battle scene between a Roman Legion and the Barbarian Horde with the Romans, of course, literally riding roughshod over the enemy (see the cavalry in the middle).

What you see here is arguably the most well preserved ancient building in the Western World.  This is the Pantheon.  It has been in continuous use since it's inception nearly 2000 years ago.  Many ancient buildings were either destroyed due to their pagan origins after Christianity became the official religion of the realm or were plundered for their building materials, but this building was converted into a Catholic Church in the 7th century so it was spared.    When I walked up on it, I was admittedly unimpressed with the backside.  I thought it looked like a barn silo.  Turns out you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

I have no idea if this is what Roman monuments and buildings looked like during the height of their empire, but I'm going to assume it was.  One shot won't do justice to this place, but it's basically a big circle with a huge dome covering it that is open in the middle (and I do mean open).  So, I think it's fair to say the barn silo is holding a bit more than hay in here.  The artist, Raphael is entombed here as is the first king of the unified Italy.

This is the dome.  The hole on top is not covered.  I came back here a couple of days later when it was raining.  While I was wondering around I noticed they had the entire middle of the building roped off.  I thought it was because there was some church ceremony that would be going on later, but no, it was because it was raining and the floor was soaked.  2000 years later and we still have no idea how they built this.  We can reproduce it, but they don't know how they did it.  It is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world..

Notice the small, dark square in the lower left of the picture.  In the 1400's, at the start of the Renaissance, the church allowed  Filippo Brunelleschi to cut this out of the dome to study the cross section of the design so he could build the first dome in a 1000 years, The Duomo in Florence, which we'll see tomorrow. 

With the Pantheon we began the game, "Let's randomly start walking into churches in Rome that will completely blow your mind".  In Rome and Florence, I went to close to 10 different places of worship, and I must say, they spent a little more time decorating than we do.  This is St. Ignatius, which is literally a 5 minute walk from the Pantheon.  That's the ceiling up top.  The whole thing is one huge fresco.

Three minutes from St. Ignatius is Santa Maria sopra Minerva.  I liked the interior of this church more than the previous one, but I'm not going to even bother with a shot of the nave here.  Right next to the alter is this masterpiece by Michelangelo, Christ the Redeemer.

This is the Victor Emmanuel II Monument.  He was the first king of a unified Italy (same guy entombed in The Pantheon).  It's an impressive monument that also holds the Italian Tomb of The Unknown Soldier, but Italians can't stand it.  They call it The Wedding Cake or The Typewriter.  I thought it looked pretty cool but then again, anything that was built before 1900 or is more significant than the Galleria gets me excited, so perhaps I'm not the best person to be judging here.

To end the day, I went to the Borghese Gardens (Rome's Central Park (promise that's the last time I'll use that phrase) (asterisks are fun!))), and checked out the famous Borghese Galleries.  This was built back in the day when the Church Hierarchy was a little less concerned with living like the meek of the earth and more about wielding their considerable political and social clout.  This is the former mansion of Cardinal Borghese who assembled one of the most impressive private collections of art in Europe.  One floor is devoted to sculpture while the second floor is for paintings.  I could have just seen the first floor and been satisfied, it was that good.  This is another one of those buildings that doesn't actually need art put in it either.  The walls and ceilings were as beautiful as any single piece on display.  Unfortunately there were no cameras allowed (this will be a reoccurring theme from here on out) so I'll just show you pictures of the best three sculptures I saw.

All three of these pieces I'm going to show you are by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  After this trip, I'm convinced this guy is the most underrated artist of the Renaissance.  Here's what he did:  designed St. Peter's Square, did the four famous fountains in Rome, did all of these works at the Borghese, designed St. Peter's baldachin (single most impressive piece of art I saw the whole trip, just wait), etc. etc.  This is David and it was my favorite piece of the Gallery.  You almost feel like he's about to knock Goliath on his butt right here.

This is Apollo and Daphne.  The story goes that Apollo chased after the wood nymph Daphne, but she wasn't exactly down for the Sun God.  So right before he takes matters into his own hands, she cries out to the gods to save her.  And they do, by turning her into a laurel tree.  This is as she is in mid-metamorphoses.  The detail of the leaves and her feet (they are delicately sprouting roots) was amazing

This is a detail shot of the Rape of Proserpina.  It is the story of Pluto (god of the underworld) abducting Proserpina.  Proserpina's Mom was Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and crops.  When Ceres couldn't find her daughter, she basically said to heck with her day job and stopped letting the earth grow stuff.  This of course was not good news for the planet, so they worked out a deal that for 6 months Proserpina stayed with her new "friend" Pluto, and the other 6 above ground with Mom.  This is both the origin of how we got springtime as well as meddlesome in-laws.

Notice Pluto's hand on Proserpina's left leg.  You can actually see how he made it look like her skin was being pushed in by his fingers.  Not bad for a piece of rock.

Really productive day here in Rome.  Tomorrow I'm up bright and early and on my way to Florence.