Monday, January 31, 2011


On Sunday, 30 January, we headed back to the city center to visit the Capitol, the hill above the Tiber that has been occupied since the Bronze Age and that formed the center of the ancient Roman world. The Temple of Jupiter (c. 509 BC) is now far beneath the Piazza del Campidoglio that was designed by Michelangelo in the 16th century, but some of its massive foundations can be seen inside the Capitoline Museums. These museums, established by Pope Sixtus IV in 1471, contain many of Rome's most famous works of art, especially bronze and marble sculptures. The buildings on the piazza also contain offices of the city government.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ara Pacis & Pantheon

On Saturday, 29 January, we went into the city center to do some more exploring. We started off at the Piazza Navona, a beautiful public square that stands upon what was once a stadium for athletic contests built by the Emperor Domitian (d. 96 AD). The grandstands, remains of which are still visible well below street level, could seat as many as 33,000 spectators. Today, the square is a lively place for buskers and artists. Its centerpiece is the "Fountain of the Four Rivers" designed by Bernini for Pope Innocent X in 1651.

A short walk took us to the new glass museum building that houses the Ara Pacis, an altar constructed by the Senate in 13 BC to commemorate the Pax Romana ushered in by the conquests of the Emperor Augustus. The external walls of the altar are decorated with beautiful marble friezes depicting the emperor, his family members, and his officials in a lifelike procession. The museum was also hosting a special exhibition of 138 works by Marc Chagall.

We finished the afternoon at another magnificent site of ancient Rome, the Pantheon. This "Temple of All the Gods" is a huge rotunda 140 feet high. The dome sits on a stone cylinder and would form a perfect sphere if extended to the floor. Light enters through an "oculus" (eye) in the center of the dome. Originally built during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (118-25 AD), it was consecrated as a Christian church in 609 AD. In addition to being a majestic piece of architecture and an incredible piece of engineering that inspired the US Capitol and the coffered ceilings of the DC Metro, the Pantheon also houses the tombs of the kings of modern Italy and the grave of Raphael.

Here are a few snapshots taken during our walk: