when in Rome…

When in Rome, it is impossible to not be in a permanent state of awe. With limited time, we overdosed on the history, architecture and general magnificence of this city in one day. Walking from our hotel, we turned the corner at the Fontana dell’Acqua Felice, built in 1587 to mark the completion of the Acqua Felice, an ancient aqueduct that provided the neighbourhood with fresh water. It is also known as the Fountain of Moses, a large statue of whom stands in the central niche and is flanked on either side by reliefs depicting biblical scenes. Four water spouting lions relax in front of the columns framing the niches.

On the other side of the street, two very grand 19th century buildings seemed to line the entire stretch of Via Vittorio Emanuele Orlando. The first is the boutique Mascagni Hotel, then the luxury Dependance Mascagni occupies the top two floors of the second building.

It wasn’t long before we were standing in the Piazza della Repubblica, the majestic Fontana delle Naiads is the stunning centerpiece of a huge roundabout. Constructed in the late 1800s, the original four lion sculptures were replaced by statues of nude water nymphs in 1901. Each figure lies on top of an aquatic animal, representing four aspects of water; a sea horse for the oceans, a swan for lakes, a snake for rivers and a lizard for subterranean streams.

6.fontana delle naiadi

After wandering around the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (you can read more about that here) I noticed this intriguing doorway. The inscription reveals that this is the portal of the Annona Olearia, a series of wells excavated in 1764 to store olive oil. Pope Clement XIII had the foresight to ensure a supply to the city and thereby controlled the price of the product. Each of the ten wells could hold 44,000 litres.

7.portal of the annona olearia

The morning drizzle wasn’t showing any signs of abating as we bought tickets for the Hop On Hop Off bus and settled in to admire the shops along Via Nazionale.

8.via nazionale

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, dating back to 440AD,  dominates the piazza of the same name. The core of the original structure has been retained, although there has been much restoration and extensions over the centuries with the present façade commissioned in the 1740s. The bell tower, from the year 1300, is the tallest in Rome at 75 metres and the side chapels were added in 1500.

9.basilica di santa maria maggiore

The back of the basilica, in Piazza dell’Esquilino, looks very different with the semi-circular apse added in 1600. Standing in the centre of the piazza is a 15 metre high pink granite obelisk, originally found at the entrance to the Mausoleum of Augustus and moved here in 1587.

10.basilica di santa maria maggiore

The Princeps Boutique Hotel occupies the fourth floor of this impressive palace, one of the oldest in the district. The view from the rooms must be spectacular.

13.princeps boutique hotel

Travelling down a rain soaked Via Cavour,

14.via cavour

the traffic stopped us alongside an amazing set of steps that disappeared into an archway. The steps lead to San Pietro in Vincoli (St Peter in Chains), a church named for the chains that held St. Peter when he was imprisoned in Rome and Jerusalem and are on display. It is best known for Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, created for the tomb of Pope Julius II. To add more drama, at the top of the steps is an alley where, apparently, the daughter of the 6th king of Rome killed him by running him down with her chariot. Probably no surprise that her husband was the 7th king of Rome.

15.steps from via cavour to san pietro in vincoli

We left the bus at the Colosseum for a couple of hours and embarked on a guided tour, you can see that post here. The Temple of Venus and Roma caught our eye as we sought a venue for lunch. Thought to be the largest temple in ancient Rome it was designed by emperor Hadrian and took twenty years to complete from beginning of construction in 121AD.

17.temple of venus & roma

After lunch, we wandered among the ruins of Palatine Hill

18.palatine hill

from where we had an uninterrupted view of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. Begun in 141AD by the Emperor Antoninus Pius, the temple was dedicated to his deceased wife, Faustina. When he died twenty years later, the temple was re-dedicated to both of them by his successor, Marcus Aurelius. The temple became a Roman Catholic church, San Lorenzo in Miranda, in the 7th century.

19.temple of antoninus & faustina

We could also see two statues atop a building in the distance, though at the time, we didn’t know where they were (stay tuned for that one).

We hopped back on the bus which took us past Circus Maximus, the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome, mostly used for chariot racing and now a public park.

22.circus maximus

The seemingly unassuming church at the top of these steps, Santa Maria in Aracoeli, dates back to the 6th century and houses the Santo Bambino of Aracoeli, a wooden statue of the Christ Child, that is believed to resurrect the dead. The 124 step marble staircase was completed in 1348 to celebrate the end of the plague in Rome. It is believed that those who climb the staircase on their knees will be rewarded with a miracle.

23.steps of santa maria in aracoeli

A quick glimpse of the Palazzo Venezia

24.palazzo venezia

before our attention was drawn to the most impressive façade of the Altare della Patria. The National Monument was built as a tribute to Vittorio Emanuele II, the man credited with the unification of Italy and first king of the new kingdom proclaimed in 1861. The focal point of the huge white marble edifice is a 12 metre long statue of a horseman, a representation of Vittorio Emanuele II. We could now see the location of the two statues we had spied from Palatine Hill. On the right, the bronze goddess Victoria riding on her chariot represents freedom and on the left, unity. They were added in 1927, sixteen years after the monument was inaugurated. There has been much controversy surrounding the monument, the uncomplimentary nicknames include “the wedding cake”, “the typewriter” and “the dentures”.

25.altare della patria

Leaving Piazza Venezia, we passed the Carabinieri headquarters (apparently with limited parking spaces)

26.carabinieri, piazza venezia

and the most enormous gift shop I have ever seen, Sorelle Adamoli.

27.sorelle adamoli

The former Palazzo Strozzi is now occupied by the Marco Besso Foundation. A banker and writer, Besso bought the building in 1905 and set up the library in 1918 while the first floor became the family home. A great admirer of Dante, the library has rare editions of his work, some printed pre 16th century. I would love to explore beyond the doorway.

28.palazzo besso

We passed Santa Maria in Vallicella, also known as Chiesa Nuova, the principal church of the Oratorians. This congregation of secular priests, founded in 1561 by St. Philip Neri, was recognised as a religious group and given the church in 1575.

29.santa maria in vallicella

At the end of Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, we turned right and followed the river, gaining a limited view of Castel Sant’Angelo on the other side.

30.castel sant'angelo

Commissioned by Roman Emperor Hadrian as a tomb for himself and his family, the building was erected between 134AD and 139AD. He also had the travertine marble bridge, the Pons Aelius, built to connect the mausoleum with the city centre.

31.castel sant'angelo

We hopped off the bus at Piazza Trinità dei Monti, where the 16th century church of the same name dominates the top of the Spanish Steps.

32.spanish steps

The 135 steps were built in 1723 to link the French owned church with the Spanish Embassy at the bottom. Yes, there really are steps beneath those bodies and a 17th century fountain in amongst the crowd.

33.spanish steps

At the bottom of the steps, the Piazza di Spagna was heaving with humanity, obliterating any evidence of the stairway. Incidentally, the building on the right is the house where English poet John Keats lived briefly before his death in 1821. It is now the Keats-Shelley Memorial House, a museum dedicated to the English Romantic poets. The building on the left is Babington’s traditional English tea shop, established in 1893 to provide a tearoom and reading room for the Anglo-Saxon community in Rome.

34.spanish steps

There was one item left on the ‘must see’ list. Although Fontana di Trevi was less than a kilometre away, the crowds created a challenging transit. The origins of the fountain date back to 19BC when it formed the end of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct. After many years of work, the fountain, as it is today, was completed in 1762, the name derived from Tre Vie, at the junction of three roads. It was impossible to capture the entire fountain due to the crowds so I opted for some sections.

Just as we were walking away, I saw an opening in the throng and pounced.

39.fontana di trevi

There is so much to see in Rome, and so much more than meets the eye. I think it would take a few lifetimes to even come close.

Galway

We arrived in Galway late afternoon and found accommodation at the rather salubrious Park House Hotel. One of the advantages of travelling out of season is that these fabulous hotels are within budget.

We ambled our way into town in the hope of experiencing some live Irish folk music. Taaffes fit the bill perfectly, a traditional pub in a gorgeous building dating back over 400 years. We settled in with a pint or two, Michael got some tips on playing the Irish bagpipes.

Next morning we set off early to explore this beautiful harbour city. Galway started off as a small fishing village located where the River Corrib meets the Atlantic Ocean and became a walled town following the Anglo Norman conquest in 1232. European traders frequented the docks and in the 16th century a fortress was added to the town walls to protect the merchant ships from looting. The only remainder of this bastion is The Spanish Arch, built in 1584 and presumably so named because of the trade with Spain and Spanish galleons.

10.Spanish Arch

The Skeffington Arms Hotel, built at the time of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, overlooks Eyre Square, the city’s hub and popular meeting spot.

11.Skeffington Arms Hotel

Galway was dominated by fourteen merchant families, known as the Tribes of Galway, between the mid 13th and late 19th centuries. One of these was the Browne family, the doorway to their townhouse has been moved from Abbeygate Street and now stands at the north end of Eyre Square. Dating from 1627, the door was moved in the early 1900s when the original building became a ruin and is now supported and encased in plexiglass to help preserve it.

12.Browne Doorway

We were surprised to find remnants of the medieval town walls within Eyre Square Shopping Centre.

13.Norman Wall Eyre Square

The River Corrib flows from Lough Corrib to Galway Bay and, at only six kilometres in length, is among the shortest in Europe.

14.River Corrib

The main channel leaving Lough Corrib is known as Friar’s Cut and was the first canal to be built in Ireland in 1178. The friars of Claregalway Abbey created the artificial cut to avoid the long trip to the west to enter the river. The cut became the main course of the river and has been widened since.

15.River Corrib,Friar's Cut

Despite its Renaissance appearance, the construction of Galway Cathedral didn’t start until 1958 on the site of the old city prison. This last great stone cathedral to be built in Europe was completed in 1965. There has been much controversy over the years, mostly aimed at the appearance of the building. It was recently referred to as a “squatting Frankenstein’s monster”. I think it is quite spectacular and sits comfortably in its beautiful surroundings.

Opposite the cathedral, a figure emerges from a stone wall. Equality Emerging represents the struggle for equality and the suffering because of its absence.

19.Equality Emerging

Our walk took us past Eglington Canal

20.Eglinton Canal

and the National University of Ireland

21.Galway University

before we returned along the river toward the city centre.

The William O’Brien Bridge was the first of the four bridges spanning the River Corrib. Originally a wooden structure, the current bridge was rebuilt in 1851.

25.River Corrib,William O'Brien bridge

After a wander around the quirky shops in the town

26.Galway

there was only one thing for us to do…….return to Taaffes for another evening of music and Guinness.

27.Taaffes

The Colosseum

We were both looking forward to seeing the Colosseum while in Rome and had booked a tour well in advance. Not just any tour, one that would take us underground through the  tunnels and dungeons where gladiators and animals awaited their fate. Having to fit in around other plans, we only had one day available to do this and it was a national public holiday. We were very disappointed to learn, two weeks beforehand, that the decision had been made to close the Colosseum on that day. Instead, on a drizzly Roman morning, we boarded a “hop-on hop-off” bus to see the sights. Approaching the Colosseum, it became apparent that it was, in fact, not closed that day. The sheer size of the construction was breathtaking.

1.The Colosseum

We easily arranged another tour with a small group, it didn’t include the dungeons but it was a fabulous experience with a very entertaining guide. We had time to admire the Arch of Constantine before the tour began. The largest surviving Roman triumphal arch was erected in 315 AD to commemorate the victory of Emperor Constantine over Maxentius. The arch is decorated with an array of intricate Roman sculptures.

2.The Arch of Constantine

Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Colosseum was commissioned in 72 AD by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian Dynasty. The nefarious Emperor Nero had built a huge palace for himself after a great fire destroyed Rome in 64 AD and then took his own life four years later. Vespasian gifted the land back to the Roman people and built the arena as a place for public entertainment. The amphitheatre opened in 80 AD, celebrating with 100 days of games in which more than 2,000 gladiators lost their lives.

3.The Colosseum

The exterior has three storeys of arched entrances supported by semi-circular columns of which each storey has a different style.

4.The Colosseum

More than 50,000 spectators, with numbered pottery shards as tickets, would enter the stadium through passageways that led to a tier of seats.

5.steps to seats

The best seats were allocated to the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins, followed by the senators. Some of the areas have names carved in stone, presumably reserving the seats for the notables.

6.The Colosseum7.reserved seating

The rest of the tiers were filled according to social ranking, with standing room only at the very top for those less worthy. Gravediggers, actors and former gladiators were among those banned from the Colosseum entirely.

8.standing room only at the top

Measuring 190 by 155 metres, the Colosseum was the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world.

9.The arena

The maze of tunnels underneath the arena

11.the hypogeum12.the hypogeum13.the hypogeum

were connected to the outside to allow for animals and gladiators to be brought in. There were elevators and pulleys for lifting caged animals as well as scenery and props.

10.tunnels

It seems to me that modern arenas have followed the ancient Roman design, nothing much has changed. At ground level, there are eighty entrances, each one numbered, so the venue could be filled and emptied quickly.

14.exits15.exits

The stadium was used for four centuries, until gladiatorial combats were no longer considered the height of entertainment. The Colosseum was abandoned  and used as a source of building material. Along with vandalism, earthquakes and natural weathering, two-thirds of the original structure has been destroyed. I know I always say this about ancient technology but the complexity of the stonework never ceases to amaze me.

 

There were many different types of gladiators in ancient Rome and each had his own set of weapons and armour, some fought only specific foes. They are represented in these preserved bas relief sculptures.

21.Bas relief of gladiators fighting22.Bas relief in the Colosseum of gladiators fighting23.Bas relief in the Colosseum of gladiators fighting

Various popes sought to conserve the arena as a sacred Christian site in the 18th century. In the early 19th century, triangular brick wedges were added to shore up the walls

 

and in the 1990s, restoration efforts began in earnest. We caught a final glimpse of the Colosseum as we went in search of lunch and the opportunity to ponder life in ancient Rome.

26.The Colosseum

angels and martyrs

If I hadn’t been told about this amazing church by a work colleague before leaving for Italy, I’m sure we would have missed it. The façade is somewhat disguised amidst the opulence of the Piazza della Repubblica.

1.facade

The Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs) was built in part of the remains of the Baths of Diocletian, the largest public baths in ancient Rome.

2.facade

It absolutely boggles me that this massive structure was completed in the year 306. It took them seven years but where is that talent and temerity in this technological age? I digress! The siege of Rome brought an end to the baths in 537 when the water supply from the aqueducts was cut off. A priest, wandering through the ruins in 1541, had a vision of angels which Pope Pius IV interpreted as a message from God. He thus ordered the building of the church on the site, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the angels and the Christians who died during the construction of the baths. The old wooden doors were replaced in 2006 with a very impressive bronze pair by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj. The right hand one depicts the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, while a risen Christ emerges from the left hand door.

In 1563, Michelangelo was commissioned to design the church but, unfortunately, he died the following year and the work was completed by his student, Jacopo Lo Duca. Stepping through the doors, the sheer magnitude and beauty of the interior was breathtaking.

5.transept

There was so much to take in, around as well as above.

6.dome

The dome originally had an opening in the top to allow rain to fall into the bath waters below but is now filled with a fabulous work of stained glass by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata.

8.Light and Time

The church is built in the shape of a cross, a magnificent altar at the end of each section.

9.altar10.altar

One of these is the Chapel of St. Bruno,

11.Chapel of St Bruno

the left hand wall filled with a spectacular cherry, walnut and chestnut organ built by Bartélémy Formentelli. Inaugurated in the year 2000, the organ has 5,400 hand-made pipes and is often used for concerts.

12.organ

I can imagine listening to the incredible sounds while slowly dissolving into the ceiling.

13.ceiling Chapel of St Bruno

There was so much to absorb, from stunning stained glass windows

to statues, frescoes, ceilings and the 3D design of the marble floor.

23.marble floor

Following directions to the sacristy, we passed through a room with exhibits displaying the history of the baths before entering a tranquil courtyard. We were greeted by an imposing bronze statue of Galileo Galilei, a gift from China designed by Professor Tsung Dao Lee, winner of the 1957 Nobel prize in Physics.

24.Galileo Galilei

On completion of the church, it was given to the Carthusian monks who built a monastery next door. It is thought that this courtyard may have been the garden and the back of their cells.

We were very happy to avoid the crowds and queues at the more well-known sites in Rome, very few tourists seem to be aware of Santa Maria degli Angeli.

Belfast

We had a lot of ground to cover after leaving Newcastle, and so spent only a brief time in Belfast. The inclement weather didn’t encourage us to explore too far but what we did see was extraordinary. Founded in 1868, this fabulous wedge-shaped building was originally called the Shakespeare, the clientele mostly from the theatre. We should have ventured inside Bittles Bar but it was a bit early for a pint, even for us. The traditional Victorian Bar is apparently adorned with interesting artwork and portraits of Ireland’s literary and sporting heroes.

1.Bittles Bar

Adjacent to Bittles Bar was a rather ornate bright yellow drinking fountain. The Jaffe Memorial fountain was erected in 1874 by Otto Jaffe, Belfast’s first and only Jewish Lord Mayor, to commemorate his father. Daniel Joseph Jaffe was a merchant from Hamburg who came to Belfast in 1850 and set up a linen export business. He was quite the philanthropist, funding the building of Belfast’s first synagogue and Otto followed in his footsteps, giving much to the community. This is without doubt the most spectacular drinking fountain I have ever seen.

2.Jaffe Memorial fountain

I did not expect to see a giant Ferris wheel in the centre of the city. Belfast’s answer to the London Eye, the Belfast Wheel opened in 2007. There was much controversy over the location of the wheel, it had been built around and on top of the Titanic Memorial on the grounds of Belfast City Hall. Following objections from the Belfast Titanic Society and the Environmental Agency, the Belfast Wheel closed for business in April 2010.

3.The Belfast Wheel

The criticism was based on the location, not the wheel itself, it had proved to be a great tourist attraction. It did seem out of place next to the majestic City Hall for which planning began in 1888 after Belfast was awarded city status by Queen Victoria and construction was completed in 1906. Built mainly from Portland stone, it covers an area of one and a half acres. The four copper-coated corner towers and central dome are the distinctive green seen on other Victorian buildings.

4.Belfast City Hall

The 53 metre lantern-crowned central dome dominates the city skyline.

5.Belfast City Hall

There was so much more to see in Belfast, we may have to return one day.