Saturday, February 26, 2011

Return to Ostia and San Clemente

On Thursday, 24 February, Tom, Mary Kay, and I went back to Ostia Antica. For the first trip, scroll down below the picture of this charming fellow to the left and see the link to our blog entry of February 14:

Thursday was cool and breezy, but perfect weather for hours of exploring the excavated ruins of this ancient abandoned seaport that once was home to 100,000 people. Here are a few more pictures to add to the album that we posted with the previous entry:

On Friday, we went to the church of San Clemente, one of our all-time favorite spots in Rome. The site consists of three separate buildings, each one having been built on top of the others over the course of the centuries. At street level is a lovely 12th-century basilica that features beautiful medieval mozaics in the apse and a 5th-century marble choir stall. This church was built above the back-filled sanctuary of the original 4th-century church which has now been excavated. This church has frescos dating from the 9th and 10th centuries and the tomb of St Cyril, the 9th-century "apostle to the Slavs." Climbing down yet another flight of stairs that lead one far below today's street level, one comes to a set of 1st-century Roman buildings along a brick-paved alleyway that includes a temple and altar of Mithras, god of the eastern religious cult that flourished in early imperial Rome. There is also a Mithraic schoolroom and a Roman home where springs of cool, fresh water still flow as they did centuries ago.

No photos are allowed at San Clemente, but they have a good web site that includes a virtual tour of all three levels.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vatican Museums

We took a long, slow walk through the Vatican Museums on Monday, 21 February. It would be absolutely impossible to see everything, much less even to begin appreciating everything one sees. Sculpture, painting, Egyptian and Assyrian antiquities, ivory, mosaics, cuneiform tablets, jewels, tapestries, maps . . . not to mention the spectacular architecture and decoration of the rooms of the palace itself. The highlights are the private rooms painted for Pope Julius II by Raphael (pictures allowed) and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ("Silence! No photo!").

Leonardo da Vinci

On Sunday, 20 February, Tom, Mary Kay, Susie and Steve went to a special exhibition at the Palazzo della Cancellaria (Palace of the Papal Chancellery). The palace itself, dating from 1485-1513, is still a working papal "exclave" in the city of Rome. It was built for the nephew of Pope Sixtus IV out of travertine stone taken from the ancient Theater of Pompey. Rumor has it that the construction funds came from a single night's gambling.

A team of historians, scientists, and engineers have built models of 45 devices that Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) designed and described in his notebooks. Many of the models are interactive so that you can play with them and see how the ingenious arrangements of wings, cams, screws, pulleys, belts, weights, levers, floats, ball bearings, flywheels, rollers, and springs operate a wide range of scientific instruments, military weapons, and industrial devices.

A Saturday Walk in Rome

While Steve was making a glutton of himself at the mozzarella feast, our friends Tom and Mary Kay arrived in Rome from Indiana. On Sunday, we took a walking tour through the city. Highlights included the Pantheon, the Piazza Navonna, the Piazza de' Fiori, a great pasta and salad lunch at an outdoor restaurant, and general all-purpose sightseeing. Here are a few pictures:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mozzarella di Bufala

On Saturday, 19 February, Steve joined a group of 40+ students on a day-long bus trip to a dairy farm in the high hills northeast of Naples. This is no ordinary farm. The principal product here is mozzarella di bufala, a delicious soft white cheese made on the premises from the milk of buffalo cows. The "bufala" are domesticated water buffalo. We got a tour of the small family-owned dairy. We petted the livestock.

We ate and ate and ATE and ATE! Our lunch consisted of (a) antipasto: two kinds of local sausage, three kinds of cheese, a big serving of artichokes au gratin, a plate of baked zucchini, a sweet cornmeal cake, a piece of fresh mozzarella the size of a tennis ball, and an enormous ball of riccota cheese onto which one dripped local honey; (b) a first course consisting of two kind of pasta, a Sicilian linguine with a tomato and olive sauce and a "hunter's style" rigatoni with beef and mushrooms; (c) a second course consisting of roasted potatoes, fat fennel and garlic sausages, and a thick pork chop; and (d) a tray of four different kinds of sweet cakes and coffee. Afterwards, the students played on the outdoor playground with some local children.

February 13-14

Here are a few pictures from Sunday and Monday, February 13-14. On Sunday, we went to the nearby Villa Borghese. The sumptuous villa was built for Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1615 and is located in the middle of a vast park, a welcome green space in the city. Today, it is a museum housing his art collection, which includes several important works by the painter Caravaggio (1571-1610) and a number of absolutely amazing marble statues by Bernini (1598-1680). It is also home to a temporary exhibition of 60 paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), the German Renaissance painter, gathered here from museums around the world. To get to the park, we had to wade through a huge crowd protesting against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Several of the pictures in this set come from two of our favorite destinations. The first is the ancient Jewish Quarter dating from the 2nd century BC. The neighborhood near the Tiber was enclosed by a high wall and transformed into the Ghetto by Pope Paul VI in 1556. Residents were only allowed out of the Ghetto during daytime hours and were forcibly herded into the parish church on Sundays until as late as 1843. In 1943, thousands of Jewish citizens were deported to German concentration camps, although many were also protected by their Christian neighbors. The area is still a predominantly Jewish neighborhood where we often go to shop for food, eat, and explore the narrow streets and alleys.

The other area we like to visit is the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, a park surrounded by shops under an arcade and a large indoor fresh food market. The neighborhood is one in which many Indian, Thai, Chinese, and African immigrants reside, and the incredible variety of offerings in the food markets reflect this rich ethnic variety.

The weekend ended with a walk through the city, ending up on our side of the Tiber at the Castel Sant' Angelo. This huge structure was originally built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian (129 AD). It was later transformed into a daunting fortress and prison and then later still into a papal residence. A well-defended elevated bridge extends from the castle to the Vatican and was used by various Popes and their courts when they had to flee to the castle in time of invasions or civic unrest. Here is the picture album: