Sunday, May 3, 2009

Goodbye Rome

Tonight is our last night in Rome; tomorrow morning we are taking the Eurostar to Florence. Our week in Rome has been quite the experience. We both agree that we could have left on Friday and not felt like we missed too much. 7 Days was just a few hours too long. That being said, we did some enjoyable things today. On Wednesday, we went to see the Pope at the Vatican. We had to order our free tickets several weeks ago and pick them up from a local church who suggested we leave a donation. We did. St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican was packed with seats and people. We got there 90 minutes before the Papal Audience started, and even then, the place was packed. We squeezed our way into some seats relatively close to the front and spent half our day in them. The Papal Audience wasn’t quite what we were expecting. The Pope speaks several languages, and the whole program was given in 4 or 5 languages one after the other. Apart from not knowing what was being said for most of the time, the whole atmosphere was more like a baseball game than a religious service. There were signs, flags, cheers, and foreigners yelling bizarre chants. All in all, we found it a little disappointing that, although the throngs of people that filled St. Peter’s Square shoulder to shoulder were exciting, the experience wasn’t really spiritually uplifting or enlightening, at least not in the way that we are used to. Perhaps for devout catholics the experience would be different.
The next day, we went to the Vatican Museums. The thousands of years of artistic expression was inspiring. Seeing how people in different ages interpreted similar concepts was very interesting. The highlight of the museums was the Sistine Chapel. Cameras are allowed throughout the museums but not in the chapel due to a contract obligation with the company that did the recent restoration. As we entered the Sistine Chapel, we found not beauty and peace but hundreds of sweaty gawking tourists who were unable to contain themselves verbally and who were also unable to contain their desires to take photographs. The dozen or so Vatican attendants were unable to prevent people from taking pictures, and even though signs in several languages made clear that silence was expected, one of the attendants had to nearly shout “SHHHH!” every 90 seconds or so. We felt heartbroken that a place that should have been sacred if for no other reason than the work Michelangelo put into it had become defiled so severely. Unfortunately, this experience was not the only one we had that left this impression. But St. Peter’s Basilica and Basilica San Giovanni in Laterano, two of Rome’s major churches had the same kind of atmosphere to them. Today (Sunday), however, we went into a smaller church that housed the remains several ancient Popes. The clergy there had a solution to the noise problem. They had soft organ music playing and plenty of benches for anybody who wanted to sit down to do so. They also had specific areas where tour groups were confined to and signs requesting that people not enter during services. We found the ambience to be much more peaceful and more in line with the original design of the church. People came to sit and rest in a beautiful place where they could be inspired by religious art and architecture. The church was a place of peace instead of a den of filthy gawkers. We also went to a very old church, San Pietro Vincoli, or St. Peter in Chains, which houses the chains that bound St. Peter while he was imprisoned in Rome. They were in a glass case and, much to our surprise, did, in fact, look ancient.
Yesterday we went to the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, or San Calisto on the outskirts of Rome. Our guide, a British Priest with a passion for dead bodies, explained some very interesting ancient symbols used by the earliest Christians. The catacombs are, naturally, subterrarean. The ground above the catacombs is just beautiful sprawling fields that aren’t walked on so the grass grows tall. Like the ground for the catacombs, the Catholic church borrowed other things from the Romans. They borrowed the Pantheon and converted it from a Temple to all the Roman Gods into a Church. The sheer size and beauty of the structure is breathtaking. Of all the things Rome has to offer, we are most impressed with the size of all the great monuments.
One of our favorite activities while we were here was to walk through local markets and sample the cheese, olives, and olive oil. Today we went through a bag of olives we had bought at a market.
Tomorrow morning we have to be at Termini Station in Rome with all our bags by 9. Our train leaves at 9:30 and arrives in Florence just after 11. The train ride will be a good place for us to rest and read.


Sarah and James Wagner said...

Isnt it crazy the feeling you get when you are in the vatican???

Toph said...

I wasnt suprised to hear your remarks on the "sacred sites" in Rome. When I went to a Catholic Temple in Venezuela it seemed more like a tourist trap trying to sell little Mary idols... Love the pics, keep them coming. I have the coloseum as my desktop!