In case you need bringing up to speed!
22nd September, 2011.
I got another disjointed nights’ sleep, a rough night for sure but nowhere near as bad as Tuesday’s so I was not going to complain too much. I got up around 9:00 in time for the start of the breakfast service, earlier than usual because we had another full-on day of exploring ahead of us. Today we had mapped out a route which would take us places we missed yesterday: Vatican City, Castel Sant’Angelo, and the Spanish Steps. I have gone on record previously saying that I am not a deeply religious person but as far as I see it one does not simply go to Rome without visiting the Vatican, it has an appeal to even the most devout atheist – no matter how much they may hide it. I have also gone on record previously saying that I am not an atheist, I consider myself agnostic, so I have no qualms at all about visiting the seat of the Catholic Church.
I decided to dress slightly smarter today, and rightly so. My mixture of black tee-shirt and chinos was a bad idea in hindsight, I thought I should have dressed better for the Italian summer and the amount of sun I caught yesterday only served as a reminder to dress for the weather this time. Rummaging around my rucksack I pulled out a white shirt and a pair of semi-baggy blue jeans, they’d have to do. We set off around 10:00 after some consideration, we both wanted to avoid a potentially lengthy wait to get into the Vatican around midday after all.
Our journey from the hotel to the Vatican passed without much notable incident and at around 11:00 we found ourselves looking at one of the most famous buildings in the world: Saint Peter’s Basilica. As many of you well know Saint Peter’s Basilica was designed in the seventeenth century by Michaelangelo and several other famous architects. According to Roman Catholic tradition, the basilica is the burial site of its namesake Saint Peter, who was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus himself and, also according to tradition, the first Bishop of Rome. This means that Saint Peter was effectively the first Pope. Catholic Tradition also believes that the tomb of Saint Peter’s is directly below the altar of the basilica. This is why numerous Popes throughout the ages have been interred here. Before the building underwent its’ Renaissance renovations there was another church here which had stood since the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Saint Peter’s Basilica is a popular pilgrimage site for Christians world wide, Protestant and Catholic alike. That… and it’s a darn impressive building, so even non-believers can appreciate it.
Amazingly enough there was no massive line for entry to be seen, I guess that we did call the right time to arrive then. It took us about ten minutes of waiting in line, five of which was spent on security checks. It was a bit sad watching people being turned away because of what they were wearing but really… certain individuals such as the guy who tried to get in wearing a rather satanic-looking shirt or the woman who dressed a bit too good for the weather (she was wearing a swimsuit) should have known better.
We walked around the vast and spacious church, taking in the impressive architecture. All of a sudden I was distracted by my dad who had clearly been deep in thought.
“Seeing all of this makes me wonder, why not this place instead of the World Trade Center?” he said, still gazing at the ceiling.
That completely threw me “What?” I said, turning to face him and making sure we were reasonably well out of earshot.
“Yeah I know it’s a left-field thought, especially considering where we are but… looking around its’ clear that this place means a lot to everyone here one way or another, and since this is the spiritual home of Christianity it makes me wonder ‘why not here’?” He replied, keeping his voice low.
I could discern the earnest tone in his voice and I pondered my answer for a moment, and as we started walking again I replied “I think its’ because the attacks on America were against its’ views and its’ system” I paused for a moment, careful to word what I really thought “They also might have wanted to go for the grand effect, the fact terrorists attacked a financial monolith instead of the most famous church in the world to me speaks volumes about what their intentions were”.
“Then what do you make of both sides melding the current wars into a crusade, literally in the words of some?”, both of us were walking slowly now – making sure that we did not miss anything from our surroundings.
“Religion has always been used as a front for actions, always has and it sadly always will. In many ways people and the religions they preach have not changed much at all since their inceptions.” I said with a finalizing tone.
We spent another hour, at least it felt like an hour around the Vatican before we moved onto Castel Sant’Angelo.
This iconic structure has had many names and purposes throughout history. The Castel was originally built by the order of Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum to himself and to his family, yeesh… talk about stroking ones’ ego. Since then it became the resting place for numerous notable Roman elites and emperors. It was later adapted by the papacy in the fourteenth century to serve as a bastion of defense for the Vatican at which point it took on the name “Castel Sant’Angelo” which roughly translates to “Castle of the Holy Angel”. It used to be directly connected to the Vatican by a long wall which has been long since lost to the elements but evidence still remains of the castel’s history.
It took us a while to get to the top terrace of the castel but since I had dressed better for the heat it was not as arduous as it could have been. When we finally reached the top it took me a few moments to register what I was seeing, a truly magnificent view of the surrounding city. The Vatican we had just come from gleamed in the blaring sunshine, the Tiber River snaked through the city, and the Colosseum loomed in the distance in all of its’ splendor. On the way back down we came across an armory museum, which made sense considering that this place had once been a giant barracks for the Papal Guard (Swiss Guard).
The museum contained all manner of weaponry ranging from swords, to spears, to suits of stylish-looking armor. However what really caught my eye were two pistols which had been miraculously preserved and which were handed down from commandant to commandant of the Papal Guard as a heirloom of sorts. The informational note claimed that these two pistols in particular were crafted sometime in the sixteenth century and were, for their time very effective weapons despite their cumbersome appearance. Making a mental note to research the Swiss Guard more when I got home we left the Castel and made our way across the city for the Spanish Steps.
After stopping briefly at the Trevi Fountain again to rest up for a bit we arrived at the Spanish Steps. The steps are known as “The widest staircase in the world” and that is indeed what they essentially are. Consisting of 135 steps it was built around the early eighteenth century with the intention of connecting the Spanish embassy with the Trinità dei Monti church situated at the head of the landmark. Local belief is that people can see Rome “from five different levels” which I guess makes sense in a literal sense, you are climbing a massive flight of stairs after all and can see the local area from five different heights. There is apparently a law against people congregating, sitting on, and eating on the steps but from what I noticed… nobody seems to pay those laws any mind, even the police didn’t seem to care. I guess it is somewhat difficult to maintain such trivial laws when there is usually a massive throng of people in the area perpetually. The head of the steps conveniently led us to a park which looped around towards our starting point near the Piazza Del Popolo.
We decided to head back to the hotel as the day was drawing to a close.
Tomorrow is our last “full” day in Rome and I want to be rested for it!