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.  

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


Monday, December 9, 2013


17 - 21 May, 2013.  Florence, Italy.  

So what is to say about Florence - or Firenze to the Italians and savvy travelers, like us?  It is the ancient Italian City-State that gave impetus to the spread of democracy on the peninsula, and from where the Renaissance sparked amidst the Dark Ages in Europe.  As my first-ever stop in Italy - after a typically awry trek across the Mediterranean - this unabashedly ancient and wonderous nation steeped in the rich history of the ancient Western world, I found Florence to be almost more overwhelming than Rome.   
Which is NOT to say Florence itself was NOT overwhelming - because it most certainly was, in almost every aspect.  Despite my limited experience in the country, I'm inclined to beleive claims that Firenze is the fire in Italy's boot.  
Given its place in European and Western history, especially from Dark Ages through to the end of the Renaissance - its role in the development of such massive Western institutions and ideologies, like representative government, mercantilism, the Catholic Church, humanism, the arts and humanities, and science - today, evidence abounds of the pride and distinction felt by those both native and local to here.  
Perhaps, also, something in the vein of that firey Florentine spirit is shared with and by all those who visit here, too.  In so doing, it perpetuates and sustains the unique character of this phenomenal City...

This photo was snapped close to the moment of epiphany, when I realized I was headed for Florence at just the right place and time for me.  Despite the downpour, the late taxis, and an arrival time 8 hours later than estimated - this instance upon disembarkation in Florence re-envigorated my great affection for all modes of transit, and particularly the wonderful people who explore the world on bikes.  This cycling couple (going around Europe under their own power!) embodied this very old, and respected image of the wary traveler, one who carries on very movement of people and ideas!  Dock-side at the port city of Livorno, Italy.

Firenze! Firenze!  The view South from the top the iconic 'el Duomo' onto the historic City center,  encompasses what is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site - the entire historic downtown of Florence.

Art, art, everywhere!  

At vertices of buildings and streets everywhere - truly, everywhere! - can be found these corner ensconces and devices all over Florence showcasing Dark and Middle Age frescos and statuary, and Renaissance art and sculpture, too.  What abounds here, to the point that it overflows onto the streets and alleys, is a veritable slice of Florentine art, religious, and political history.  Three examples from various parts of the historic downtown, Florence, Tuscany, Italy. 

More and more statues everywhere!!  A badass sculpture by Benvenuto Cellini, his publicly displayed "Perseus with the Head of Medusa" (left); and a version of one of the most copied sculptures from Greek antiquity,  the Thorn-Puller, or "Lo Spinario" (right).  

Live and direct: Sandro Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus".  I was in clandestine-photog mode while here inside the stupendous Uffizi Gallery.  Typically, no photos were 'allowed' here... however, it appears they make obvious - albeit unofficial - exception in this room for this piece.  Florence, Italy. 

Absolutely stunning inside - in its arrangement, the coloring, and the buildings' history itself - this market-turned-church began its life in 1337 as a multistoried grain market, and soon after as a church used by the City's guild and merchant elite.  Today services and worshippers continue on, and visitors abound.  Another clandestine photo op.  Orsanmichele, Florence, Tuscany, Italy. 

Michelozzo's courtyard, or the Courtyard of the Columns, the interior open-air gallery of Palazzo Medici Riccardi, a rather ostentatious 15th century Medici home for the family founder, now converted to a large, and extremely well-crafted public gallery...

..Very luckily for me, one of the current visiting galleries included The Dali Universe Florence, "an exploration of Dali's three-dimensional forms", which featured a plethora of his crafted and sculpted works.  For me, this showcase heightened my respect for and delight of his works, for one because of the range of materials and media, including this piece like this bronze sculpture...

..In another sections of the Palazzo Museum, there was an fascinating retrospective exhibit of Gunther Stilling's work, featuring over 80 of his uniquely stylized pieces in a rather haunting bio-mechanical human figures and parts.  Terra Incognita Exhibit, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence, Italy.

This guy is one of my favorites - something like a two-headed merman, sitting low along a wall inside the Garden.  Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence, Italy.

An early rain gage, from the late 19th century, from one of my favorite exhibits - EVER: dal Cielo alla Terra,  or 'From the Sky to the Earth: meteorology and seismology in Florence from the 19th Century to Today'.  Galleria delle Carraozze, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence, Italy. 

Another early example of a fine seismic instrument.  This phenomenal exhibit was a rather geeky one dedicated to the long tradition of the two fields in Italy and Florence, both for which I have a newfound respect and appreciation (work-related)...  

..and some more very spectacular instruments.  One is an early version of a seismograph (left), and the other, one of my favorites, an early 20th century Pluviografo a bascula, or a tipping-bucket rain gage.  What more can one ask for in Florene: art, science, and human ingenuity?  "From the Sky to the Earth", Galleria delle Carraozze, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence, Italy. 

Il Duomo

One of my personal favorite photos, and a shot of the iconic Florentine structure - il Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore.  Construction of this magnificent Gothic cathedral's central began in the late 13th century...

...and Brunelleschi's famous dome - the largest free-standing such structure built since Roman antiquity - was added in the 15th century, using a technique that has apparently been lost to time...

...and the current exterior finish, an incredibly ornate and clearly expensive Neo-Gothic facade of polychrome marble in green, red, and white was completed in the 19th century.  Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Tuscany, Italy. 

While extraordinarily spectacular on the outside, the interior of the cathedral is surprisingly austere and bare of much ornamentation - except for Vasari & Zuccari's almost 39,000 sq. ft., 16th century fresco under the dome, "The Last Judgement".  A result of the Medici's influence during initial design phases, the humble interior of the cathedral was touted early on as justification for the expense and glamor of the exterior facade.  Under the dome, Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Tuscany, Italy.

Increasingly popular world-wide, these Love Locks were affixed to a gated window on the outer dome of the Cathedral of Florence, overlooking the unbelievably old downtown Florence.  Climbing the dome, Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Tuscany, Italy.

Another view across Florence, from a small window along the route to the top of il Duomo - this time from a rain gutter.  Near the roof, Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Tuscany, Italy.

Florentine Living

Ponte Vecchio, medieval stone bridge over the Arno River has existed in some form here before since at least 996 C.E.  Another iconic Florentine image, this Ponte still has many shops and stalls on and around the bridge in a traditional river-side market style.  Florence, Tuscany, Italy. 

Gallery along the River Arno just to the north of Ponte Vecchio filled to nearly bursting with visitors and locals.  Very cool symmetry and repetition here, with some great depth - another personal favorite photo.  Florence, Tuscany, Italy. 

Panoramic view of the weekend flea market in Florence, situated along the banks of the small lake next to Fortezza da Basso.  The weather here was surprisingly fluid (no pun), very similar to Florida in respect to those quick changes in conditions throughout the day; just minutes before I snapped this shot I was treated to a lovely (ie. I was unprepared) springtime Tuscan downpour.  Florence, Tuscany, Italy. 

A side of modern Italian life, particularly here in Florence where big-moneied residents still get out and flaunt it.  I happened upon this weekend congregation of sports cars as I meandered away from il Duomo - while looking for another of those classic Florentine enjoyments: gelato.  Downtown Florence, Tuscany, Italy.

Last, but not least: I found my goal!  I seem to have a knack for being in the right place - or at least finding out about - some very cool and fun local events when I travel.  During this trip, while in Florence it was the Firenze Gelato Festival!!  Here, mobile gelato crafting for fresh curb-side treats, right here in the birthplace of gelato itself.  Downtown Florence, Tuscany, Italy.

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