Sunday, March 23, 2014

Rome - the modern

20 - 25 May 2013.  Rome.

Five days.  That's all the time I had in Rome.  It wasn't very much time to spend in this City, given its enormitude to the West.  But I - with my esteemed travel companions - did the best we could to steep well in the Roman stew of history while enjoying what Rome had to offer 4 inquiring modern minds.
In that short time, I quickly learned that the concept of 'modern', to the Romans, has a slightly different meaning than I am used to.  One phenomenal thing about travel - forced reframing of context. 

Inspiring a moment of reflection, this snail slides along this relic of the Empire.  Baths of Diocletian.

Another moment inspired, but here on the ruins of the Roman Forum.

My brother in silhouette near the top of this covered stairway - behind the 5th century-era church, San Pietro in Vincoli - known locally as the "Wicked Way" for its association with the nefarious doings of the Borgia's.   This day, though barely visible, the old stairway played host to a busker playing his violin. 

Hipsters of Rome, unite!  Some serious urban resourcefulness in the city's tightest quarters. 

"Participate - Organize - Occupy - Don't Delay Squat Today!"  Public messages from the Roman Left. 

I almost didn't notice this gage on my walk along the banks of the Tiber (THE Tiber!!) which runs right through the center of Rome.  It most certainly appears to be in place to measure the level of the river during overflow - and when it happens, one can imagine, may include some volume from the Cloaca

I had a lot of fun climbing around the hillside north of the Colleseum, and managed to find a great spot to capture some of what this monument may have looked like in a more vegetated space.  Kinda nice with the green.

Vatican Fortress-City.  
I was struck hard by my first, unexpected impression when seeing this walled city within a city.  I realized the primary function of this entire edifice is that of protection and defense, a bulwark  It is most definitely militaristic in nature and purpose, and first undoubtedly noticeable when approaching the museum entrance.  It was to this entrance where I aimed to arrive early (to something, for once..) thinking to get in before the late Friday night tour I had booked online.  They were unfortunately pretty strict about closing down between regular operating hours and the later, Friday Night-at-the-Museum hours - which was an awesome time of the day to be in a museum like the Vatican's, but was also nowhere near enough time for a a full immersion.

So....with almost an hour to spare before my tour time, I walked myself across the street, ordered a drink, and while sipping it took some photos of the nearby fortress walls.  This break sparked in me, along with that burning burst of boozy-buzzy energy, an impulse to encircle the entire perimeter of the fortification.  So I did.  It was an enlightening walk, and as after all my favorite such walks I was left both with more questions about this unique theocractic State and some decent photos.  

Even better, I made my tour start time and still I had a few minutes to wait for my group and even managed to scrawl out a few extra postcards.  Vibing on the high of a brisk walk and the warm feeling of writing home I was ready for something like a deep spritual experience at this center to Catholicism.  Instead, I got a pretty raw dose of early European expansionism and a lesson in opulence that would put to shame the vanity of most of the world's royalty.  Sure, a majority of the stuff is priceless, pretty, and much of it ancient.  Yet under the veneer is indubitably and unmistakeably the simmering history of brutality, repression, and fear that underlies the Church's evangelical approach to the acquistion of most of the items in the Vatican Museum. 

From the southwest hill just outside the City, the fortress takes clear shape.  Although the trees do a great job minimizing the dramatic effect.

An old Vatican chapel just inside the fort-city, and rather than have it demolished when the wall was enlargened and rebuilt the Pope had it encircled instead.  

A rear entrance to the Vatican - for rail! But sealed tight.  I found this pretty cool spot on my jaunt around the fort-city, and it's complete with its own raised railway and bridge over this section of Rome.

It took me about a dozen attempts to get this shot - and still doesn't do it justice.  It's at a very cool juncture of an old city wall and St. Peter's Square with the Vatican Fort-City to my back... 

...and right across the way from this, the southern side of St. Peter's Square!  It's a huge space and it was nowhere close to full, but there were still thousands of people.  And surprisingly, a blood drive in the trailer at the far end of the Square.

"Pope gear!  Get your Pope gear!"  Quirky - but likely an oft-visited - little shop sited closer to the Pantheon than the Vatican that very clearly caters primarily to clergy and serious icon aficionado's.

The number of amazing works art at the Vatican is almost ucnountable.  There are all styles, from all eras and places imaginable since the dawn of the Church - and even from before.  This intricate modern piece is clearly of Latin american origin and was so overwhelming in its variety of colors thats I had to play with some filters.

The iconic double-spiral stairway, connecting the main lobbies of the Vatican Museum entrance.  This shot was a clear benefit of arriving so early before my tour - as a kindly guard allowed me to roam the ginourmous entrance halls and I was able to explore and take my time snapping some decent shots of this admittedly magnificent entrance.

Slightly shaky night shot, but I really dug this imagine from inside the courtyard in the Vatican Museum.  One of many versions I've seen of "Sphere within a Sphere" by Arnaldo Pomodoro, including one at the de Young museum in San Francisco and at UC Berkeley campus.

One of a small (but apparently growing) number of selfies - this one taken clandestinely from the inside the Sistine Chapel.  By this point in the trip I was looking unabashedly rugged, but I envisioned this shot as soon as I walked in to the humbly small chapel. 

Even the walls and ceiling here are astounding - a few of the next shots show bits of the intricacy of the entire Musuem.  Imagine acres of hallways so decorated in fresco...

...or like this.  Of much different style but no less intricate, the moulding on the wall is similarly spectacular...

...or even like this section, complete with statues and textured framing.  

This was some kinda centerpiece - statue-altar to the Virgin, behind which is another wall-sized fresco depiction of a holy scene.  I was rather awestruck by this room as we passed through on the Museum night tour, and even the lighting was rather haunting and foreboding.

Urban art - from around and within the City. 

Under the dome, on the left; and Triumph in the Name of Jesus, by Giovanni Battista Gaulli
This ridiculously detailed ceiling fresco graces the impressive, if not now iconic, Mideval era Church of the Gésu.  From its inception it has been a Jesuit bastion, and clearly associated with the Borgia dynasty as a result. Regardless of it and its earliest benefactors reputation, the meticulously preserved and maintained church is undoubtedly impreasive.  Catholic idolotry (and the pews) aside, the interior naves are akin more to an urban noble's throne room than a supposedly austere Order's stronghold.

Discovering this incredible church - Church of the Gesu - was like falling into a TV show.  Specifically, the HBO's series titled "Borgia". An ostentatious flair in design, the Jesuit iconography, the gold gilding and sunburst everywhere - it was like a palace hall more than a church. Still, it was in the very literal sense awesome.

Frescoed ceiling and gilded stucco moulding, the main high altar is an expensive homage to the Church paradigm.  Somehow, however, my eyes could not get enough of this visual feast!

Too cool for school in the Church of the Gesu - this painting of angels united under the Papal standard in armed struggle against the demon oppressors was enrapturing. ...or at least very badass. 

Statues at the front entrance of the Church of the Gesu, depicting early influential Jesuits, include this one of St. Ignatious Loyola (or St. Francis Xavier) stepping all over an immoral sinner.

Found this cheery fellow in the Crypts, too. Supposedly, this early fresco-like painting was part of a larger mural crafted in the 12th century. Under its glass casing, the already well-faded colors were hardly visible to the naked eye... but with the careful use of new tools my snazzy camera I able to capture the old saint's smile to share with you here! 

While those who know me rather well may recall I'm adherent to no single religion, it should be clear to my faithful readers here that religious imagery and art worldwide fascInates me. This one mosaic, in it's present context, caught my eye and made me laugh - it's a depiction of Jesus healing a blind man adorning the waiting room of the eye care center at a major hospital! Pretty clever, I thought.

Older and bolder - I took a risk here with some of the imaging functions of the camera to highlight the colors and contrasts of another faded fresco in the Temple of Romulus. This alcove was so striking to me because it's one of the better preserved and oldest examples I saw of the Church's pogroms to eliminate opposing religions during its rise to dominance over the Roman peninsula.  Thought to have been sited initially by Romulus, the founder of Rome, at the very spot where the Latins halted their flight during a battle with the Sabines, it was cleared out and repurposed for the veneration of the Christian Saints Cosmas and Damian in the 6th century C.E.

This acclaimed fountain - which after centuries of urban development around it now sits about 15 feet below street-level and still towers over the street - was the setting against which our traveling family troupe was again reunited after our parting of ways in Florence. Like a cheesy Hollywood reunion - only way more fun and, you know, real - we literally all bumped into each other on the main descending staircase right at sunset before strolling back together through the Italian capital for the evening, unplanned and sans coordination.

Maybe a comforting image to some, this sculpture almost evoked a sense of foreboding and maybe a little fear in me.  I could see where it was going though - the comforting embrace of the Church fellowship - and I, honestly I was impressed with the craftsmamship. The thing is solid bronze!

From the outside - separated from the room only by a gate in spite of an open door - I spied this cubby hole and starkly painted ceiling of this building's entrance hall and I had to take a shot.  The whole building's purpose was a mystery to me but the decor here was pretty cool.

Like in Florence there is art everywhere in Rome.  While the streets are more numerous and over a larger area, and so these urban gems are rather hidden in plain sight, they remain exquisite adorments to the cityscape.  The influence of the Church is strong here but the craftsmanship remains a highlight.  When in Rome, remember to look up. 

One example among many - and here a particularly well-maintained example - of the richness in architectural diversity of Rome's Churches.  I can't say much more about this one since by this time I was at the end of a really long day of being overwhelmed by Rome's... by Rome.

Now for some of what I readily considered modern, as did the Italians - the Gelato! Although it's purported to have been first invented in 16th century Florence (see post!), I recognize it as a contemporary treat. The selection at this awesomely local spot was overwhelming, and my couchsurf host had to help me choose - and eat, as the portions were hearty. 

I love these shots: bins, buckets, bags, tubs, tables, shelves, racks, bottles, coolers, and all manner of containers for every variety of food and culinary goods.  Anywhere in the world it is the market that may best capture the essence of a place.  Here, inside a labyrinthine covered/indoor market that remained alive and well, I spied mountains of spices...

...and buckets and buckets of dried and preserved goods - in a manner and place where this kind of commerce had been going on for centuries.  Maybe millenia.  Again, the perfect example of Rome reframing and enhancing one's context.

I loved this guy's setup - essentially a produce seller, he also crafted fresh, edible food art and sculpture.  I got lucky enough to snap off ths shot while he was absorbed in his work - which is just fascinating, really a trip! I mean, look at the bikini on that radish-thing.

And... packing up. Market time is almost over. Another market in Rome I stumbled into, but this one open-air and extraordinarily packed, was held in a relatively small local square in one of Rome's numerous neighborhoods.  It was quite a spectacle, but all in all fun and envigorating.

No wonder the Romans do what they do - and others continue to follow.  Hasta luego, Roma.

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This work by Tim Paez is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Rome, the Ancient

20 - 25 May 2013 - Rome, Italy

The City of Rome is OLD.  This is a place where the concept of 'modern' begins in the 15th Century.  The very buildings and structures here bespeak of ages passing, of untold human history.  As a visitor, I was thoroughly overwhelmed here.  With a bit of preparation - a brief review of my early Western and Central Asian histories, and this awesome book - I was totally ready to have my mind blown here. 

If the history and culture are of interest, a single visit to Rome cannot cover it all.  I was doubly fortunate to have got a local introduction from a new friend and couchsurf host, a brilliant and extraordinarily hospitable guy.  So it was that I was in good company to begin a fresh exploration of this still-vibrant center of civilization.  Better yet, I was the arriving vanguard of the family group after a brief parting of paths in Firenze (cousins & brother to coast, I directly to Rome), and had an extra 2 days to get a 'lay of the land'.  Only here I quickly found that, as I did when typing my blog post on Ireland, the sheer richness of civilization here is too much for me to accurately cover well (go read a book, friends!) - so I will leave my commentary mainly to my snazzy photo's and their generally well-researched captions.  
My one disclaimer here is that my approach to exploring Rome focused more on the ancient side of things - like Era of the Kings and Republic (and the Vatican..), rather than the later era of ancient Imperial Rome, or the Dark Ages, or Rennaisaance, or....  you get it.  Rome is OLD!

The Walls. 
There are two of them.  One, older and encompasses the ancient city center; the other, newer and covering much of what is now the main urban parts of Rome including areas across the Tiber.
 I was lucky to have met an archeology student roommate of a good friend before my trip. Not only did she recommend the awesome book i mentioned above ('Rome and Environs'), but over a few great conversations she managed to convey a great appreciation for the sheer scale - in physical size AND in an historical context - of the Roman civilization. 
Exploing Rome by way of its Walls and infrastructure was as methodical a way to explore this one-time seat of the Western world.

Real. Old. City. This exposed section of the ancient Servian Wall - the innermost, and older, of the two walls encompassing most of the 4 Regions of early Rome dating to the Bronze and Iron Ages - is fascinating.  It shows at least 3 different styles of construction and several layers of plaster, in styles typical to this region and used across hundreds of years. Servian Wall, near Temples of Apollo and Bellona, Rome.

A gate section of the ancient Servian Wall to the east of the city - the Porta Esquilina (or the Arch of Gallienus) - now tucked away between two streets in a residential quarter.

Ancient meets contemporary - live street car crossing in front of the Porta Ostiensis, one of the main gates to the south of Rome on the city's younger outer wall...

...the Aurelian Wall.  Here a shot down the length of the northern face of the Wall from across the street of the Porta Ostiensis. 

Roman Forum - seat of power and center of the ancient Republic of Rome (which is an earlier period to be distinguished from the latter era of Imperial Rome). This fixture in the heart od the city dominates even the modern buildings and squares - which are still the center of the national and municipal governments - and taken together, at least for me, could not be seen in one. 

My first (of many) geek-out moments in Rome: remnants of the original aqueduct - the Aqua Claudia, originally 68.7 km long in its entirety! - ordered built by Caligula and completed by Claudius to quench the thirst of the ancient city center, the Roman Forum.  My brother, for scale, under the aqueduct near where it terminates at the the Palatine.

Another serious geek-out spot at this fantastically preserved and well-maintained section of the Cloaca Maxima, the ancient Roman sewer system!  This exposure, several stories below street level, is close to where the sewer dog-legs under the ancient Roman Forum to capture the influent crap of the Roman elite.  As a modern sewer worker, this was a very seriously cool spot: one of the earliest examples of city-level sewer infrastructure - and in some respects still among the best systems in the world!

Here is an active and live excavation currently undergoing at the Roman Forum site - the Niger Lapis.  This archaic site in an already ancient location, associated with seat of power and the early death rituals near to the founding of Rome, circa 6th century B.C. 

More shots from this amazing cultural relic, the Roman Forum.  On the left - one of my fave and only black-and-white pics (with a splash of Red) that includes the Column of Phocas, the Arch of Septimus Severus, and in the background the Church of SS Martina e Luca.  Roman Forum, Rome, Italy.  On the right - remains of Temple of Vesta (THE real, legit Vestal Virgins of Rome).

Live and on-going excavations abound at the Roman Forum, where many of the monuments are off-limits.  Here, a woman digs at the Cesearian-Augustan rosta, from where several of the Cesars made their great proclamations.

Looking up to the front of the Temple of Antoninous and Faustina - and one of my own favorite shots.  Behind the ancient Roman facade lies a medieval restoration and Christian repurposing of the temple.

A fun shot I attempted - view north-west along Via del Fori Imperiali from near the Temple of Venus and Roma, of the top-most statuary of the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) through remains of the Basilica of Maxentius.

The Colosseum - iconic Roman monument, and a marvel of design and engineering, yet with a brutal and gruesome early history.  Still an impreesive and imposing structure, I was surprised by its museum and what I learned about its occupancy after the Empire fell.

Hypothetical rendering of what the Colosseum looked like during a public event... although accounts over time vary, and the space was used for centuries up until the 6th century C.E. Inside Colosseum Museum, Rome, Italy.

From the central interior gallery (where the Cesar used to sit!) one can now see the Colosseum's main arena floor and exposed understructure.  Compare to the image above, and envision the scale of production required for this lion-and-landscape gladiator arena.

Much damaged, altered, repaired, and simply weathered over time; that this epochal structure still stands is a testament to the heights of achievement attained by a civilization that did not even have electricity.

Upper interior galleries of the Colosseum, now a museum.  

The Pantheon - once a monument to the gods since before the era of Christ, later claimed by the Church, and eventually purposed as a tomb ...and now a badass tourist attraction. 

One of my favorite photos from this trip, I used the panoramic function in attempt to capture something of the immensity of the Pantheon's interior.  To this day, the unsupported dome of the Pantheon remains the worlds largest. 

I wasn't helped much here by the perpetually overcast Roman sky but I wanted to show a bit of the imposing entrance of the Pantheon. from the inside looking out. 

Ruins and reconstructions - with its own long and tumultuous municipal history there is no shortage of demolished, decrepit, reconstructed, repurposed, and restored (and often charging a fee!) structures all over Rome.  Each of these has its own story, some whose spans dozens of centuries.

Shot of the Nymphaeum of Alexander Severus, just outside the eastern gate, Porta Esquilina, though it is not connected to the wall. 

It abounds everywhere here and in some areas it has been on-going for centuries - efforts to unearth, restore, and repair many of the most oldest structures.  This shot is of restoration work to an arch on the eastern end of the nearly 2500 year old...

...the Circus Maximus.  No joke, this enormous chariot racing and entertainment stadium was built   with such skill and precision that the at one point (near the later end of its 1000 year span) it could be entirely flooded and famous sea battles were reenacted within it, and seat over 150,000 people.

An impressive structure and one that quickly fostered my appreciation of the Roman scale of their works - the Baths of Diocletian.  This vast complex was apparently a major center of Roman (likely elite) life - a fitness center, public bathhouse, general social center...

...and library.  While no longer a library in the traditional sense, a large section of the restored area behind the Baths (Michelangelo's Cloister - yes, that Michelangelo's) currently serves as combination art and sculpture gallery, and a great museum of Roman civilization's cultural history and development with some outstanding artifacts. 

Craft and artifacts

Pieces of Roman soldier gear arranged as if for battle - the real deal legitimate thing.  Small part of the great collection at the Baths of Diocletian.

Funny-looking, but incredibly detailed masks in a Greek style.  Yet another set of cool, very old pieces at the Baths of Diocletian.

Phenomenal artifacts from around Rome: some of the oldest evidence of writing found in Rome on an extremely well-preserved jar (left) from the Baths of Diocletian, and an ancient carved stone monument finely decorated with a Celtic-esque pattern (right) from the Theater and Crypta of Balbus.

This was just a cool sliver of clay - what looks like a dark angel holding a chalice or drink.  I didn't catch where this was from, nor from when, but the colors and image are so well preserved.

Another fun image on a well-preserved artifact - a plate - from the Baths of Diocletian.

The Statue of Liberty clearly has her roots outside of and beyond France; something like 2,200 years beyond.  Who knew?

More awesomely preserved art from the Ancient days, and tastefully displayed in the space in which its was found - the Baths of Diocletian.  In particular here, the colors and skill of the mosaic struck me as pretty impressive especially after 1,700 years.

More mosaic - it was all over Rome - yet this one depicting scenes from early Greek mythology (if I' not mistaken)...

...and both of these on a floor in the Vatican.  Interesting juxtapose, being in the Vatican yet surrounded by celebrations of an older mythology.  Though, in all honesty, there was an imperial sense through much of the Vatican museum, like that of a conqueror showing off his plunder.

--> Egyptian obelisk crowning Bernini's Fountain of the four Rivers in Piazza Navona.  One of the few shots with the overcast sky that came out rather well... addition to being an iconic Roman sculpture (apparently, but what does this silly American know?), like this one, The Fountain of Neptune.  It was fun to attempt this shot, as this also famous fountain was surrounded almost constantly by people. 

Fountains abound in Rome, where the old Roman ideal of 'water for all' is clearly a dominant legacy of the splendor of the chief city of the Civilization.  This particular fountainhead (legit) rests out front of the Pantheon, at the cleverly named Fontana del Pantheon.

Bernini is still a big deal in Rome, but especially so when he was commissioned to design and execute works by several Popes during his career all over the Eternal City.  This sculpture, with the winner for 'most original title' is called Elephant and Obelisk. The Obelisk is, according to my research, of real Egyptian origin and was uncovered nearby around 1667 C.E. when the Elephant was completed.


And this, friends, is nary a scratch on the surface of what locals here and historians consider some of the real old stuff (some of the Renaissance statues excepted): the era of pre-Christian Rome.  

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This work by Tim Paez is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.