Monday, September 26, 2011

Rome Beyond the Vatican

After wandering thru and wondering at the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Basilica, we headed south for the Trastevere neighborhood. Trastevere is a warren of small alleys, colorful buildings, and a relaxed vibe. Mostly car free, it's a place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the well beaten tourist path from the Colosseum to the Pantheon and on to the Vatican. We headed here for a walk around the neighborhood, then decided a rest in a pretty piazza was in order. We picked Piazza Santa Maria, ringed by a church and several outdoor cafes, and there we settled with apertivos and snacks. The large fountain in the center of the piazza provided our afternoon entertainment when a woman strolled up to it, took off her pants, and revealed a swimsuit-model worthy, black one piece. She proceeded to hop over the fountain wall, take a little bath, splash about, then exit for the next part of the show - drying her hair. Her inventive method was to swing her head back and forth, flipping the hair forward and back, until she eventually fell the ground and continued this swinging. We, along with the people at tables around us, had a lively discussion on (1) drunk, (2) stoned, (3) homeless, (4) not homeless, but too poor to afford water in her apartment, (5) hoping for an agent sitting a cafe to notice her, or (6) just a creative type. After her bath, she ran into some friends, who were street folk, so we think option #3 was the answer. Meanwhile, in another corner of the piazza, a beautiful bride and groom were having some wedding photos taken. Italian piazzas are one of my favorite things about Italy, and sadly, Naples sorely lacks these central places. While there are piazzas, they are either filled with trash, filled with traffic, tiny places stuck on the edges of buildings, or in general, just not like the beautiful, cafe-lined, people-watching piazzas found elsewhere. Rome holds forth with the best, most varied, and numerous options, and nothing beats an hour or two with a glass of wine, a lovely fountain and/or church, and the interesting people who pass by.

Decoration of a Side Chapel
The following day, Nathan and his aunt and uncle headed to the Colosseum and Roman Forum while I decided to visit a couple of the lesser known and visited sites. I hopped on the metro to go to the Church of San Giovanni Laterano and the nearby Scala Santa (Holy Stairs). This church was the first church in Rome and the place where Christians could first worship openly without fear of persecution. It is still, today, the church home of the pope, making it the Archbasilica, and the "highest" church in the Catholic faith, even higher on the ranking scale than St. Peter's Basilica. I really wanted to visit the Scala Santa next door. These marble stairs are supposedly the stairs from Pontius Pilate's palace in Jerusalem, the same stairs that Jesus climbed up and down on the day of his sentencing. Constantine's mother, Helena, a devout Christian and seeker of relics in the 300s, brought them to Rome around 326. Today, the stairs are covered with wood, but there are little peepholes to see through to the marble. Visitors can either climb some other stairs beside them or one can climb the actual Scala Santa on one's knees.

I thought, why not? I may not be Catholic and believe in the plenary indulgence granted by climbing them (way, way too complicated to explain here, so just use The Google if you want to know more), but I am Christian, so a chance to spend a little time in prayer and penitence was welcome. Except those wooden stairs HURT. For reals, hurt. And there were 28 of them! I know, I know, this was a chance to be all holy and think about Jesus being sent to Crucifixion and then carrying that heavy cross to his own execution site and being beaten and mocked. I did think about all that, but my knees were screaming. To top it off, the Catholic pilgrims have some sort of specific prayer for each step, which means they take FOREVER. I decided to just say my prayers a wee bit faster and scoot up, except I kept getting blocked out by the ones with longer prayers. Thankfully, the monks running the joint finally said, in English, "There are many people waiting to climb the stairs, so please climb faster." This announcement started a bum's rush to the top, for which I was so ever so grateful. And I think most other people felt the same as me, but were just too pious to actually show how much they wanted to climb faster, while I, on the other hand, treated it much like a Go-Kart racetrack, looking for any opening I could find to move on up. While other people were kissing the top stair in love and penitence, I was kissing it as thanks for that whole experience being over. I don't do so well in the holiness department.

To recover, I thought a visit to see the prison where the Apostles Peter and Paul were held would be a good stop. Plus, the Mamertine Prison is located right next to the Roman Forum, where I was to meet up with the rest of my group. I was really excited as I've wanted to visit this place every Rome trip and just haven't had the time. The cell is a hole in the ground, and prisoners were thrown through the hole and down into the cell. The prison was originally a cistern, built about 2600 years ago, then it became a Roman prison for V.I.P.s, and then a church built over the prison. The actual cell was interesting to see, but the tour was a huge waste of 7euros (which is normally 12euros, but I got a discount with my Roma Pass). The tour was over 45 minutes long, and instead of just getting to see the cell and hearing a brief history, there are three or four incredibly boring films along the theme of Water is Life. Basically, a bunch of silly, time consuming stuff done to justify a 12euro entry fee. And worst of all, after my visit was over, I was reading some more about Mamertine Prison and found that the information that Peter and Paul were held there surfaced in the 500s! The real info is that maybe this prison held one or both of them and maybe it didn't. A 5euro or less entry with a quicksee look at the prison cell and a little talk on the entire prison history would have been fab - especially since I had to look up on Wikipedia such interesting tidbits as this: a passage was built between the prison and the Circus Maximus and it was used to flush out dead bodies. Odd and a little hard to understand logistically, but an interesting piece of Roman history. Much more interesting than sitting in a room surrounded by large screens and watching water drip down them.

We spent most of the rest of that day eating and drinking (two of my favorite things), and one of our stops included a piazza break at the Pantheon - what a view!

1 comment:

  1. I sure did miss my daily dose of humor found in each of your blogs while you all were out for the past few weeks. I certainly hope you're all prayed up, or can at least pray sitting on your bum from now on, so as not to create any further knee damage. Love you!