The city of Rome is full of art wonders and miracles from all historic times. It is true. There are monuments and buildings used for the worship of the numerous Roman Gods as well the Italian capital possesses 900 churches in all and houses the Holy place for all Catholics and one of the European dwarfs and smallest country in the world. Prominent artists left their splendid works some of them being trompe d’oeil (i.e. they deceive the eye).
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A very notable example is the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola whose architect and designer was Baroque artist Andrea Pozzo. The nave ceiling effect was achieved owing to quadratura (illusionistic techniques). The trompe l’œil dome of the church impresses greatly with its 3D perspective. The realistic imagery used creates that optical illusion effect and when one looks at it they have the feeling that the cupola rears from the ceiling. But it doesn’t. Actually, there is a special place near the altar which is supposed to be the ideal place for watching the imaginary dome. What did the lack of money? Yes, it was the reason why Andrea Pozzo fell back on quadratura.
Another trompe d’oeil masterpiece is St Peter’s Square in the heart of the Vatican City. The “two centres of the collonade” of Piazza San Pietro also plays tricks on visitors’ eyes. The Square is oval in shape but the oval form consists of two semi-circles surrounded with four rows of columns. The number of the rows can be counted from any place and corner of la piazza except from these “two centres of the colonnade” where one has the illusion there is only one row of columns (not four). This fabulous square and the granite fountain were constructed and designed by Bernini a century later the Egyptian obelisk had been erected in 1586.
The largest Catholic cathedral is situated just behind the Square. Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano (or just St. Peter’s Baislica) is the holy centre of Catholicism and Christendom as a whole. The Late Renaissance cathedral was built at the place of St Peter’s grave. The holy church was designed by four geniuses – Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. For sure, Michelangelo has the greatest contribution to the construction of the dome. Er cupolone, as it is gently called by the Romans, is smaller than that of the Pantheon but despite this, it could be seen from any part of the city. If you are too patient to stand in the queue of the enthusiasts who want to ascend the dome (either on foot or by the elevator), you will be awarded with the most awe-inspiring belvederes of the City of Rome. Moreover, if you try to look down you will see signs on the cupola itself, commemorating lots of the late Popes. Another impressive landmark of the Basilica – the Renaissance sculpture La Pietá, again belongs to Michelangelo Buonarroti. When you enter the Basilica you will stumble upon it on your right. It’s been under a glass showcase since 1972 when a man damaged it with a hammer at several places.
Other Michelangelo’s masterpieces are to be seen in the Vatican Museums, in the trompe d’oeil Cappella Sistina (the Sistine Chapel) in particular. Its ceiling is without precedent. As for Il Giudizio Universale (The Last Judgment), it’s the most famous fresco ever known.
After having enjoyed the splendor of the Vatican City, you might want to jump into the neighbourhood, i.e. Il Castel Sant’Angelo. You might do it on foot. Ooooor …If you were a Pope in danger, you would do it through the Passetto di Borgo. Il Passetto, as it is better known, is similar to the Vasari Corridor in Florence. The latter was built Giorgio Vasari in 1564 and the main idea was to construct a safer and enclosed passageway for the rulers from Palazzo Pitti (their residence) to Palazzo Vecchio (the government palacce). The same was the purpose of il Passetto di Borgo. It was built in the 15th century as a fortified covered passageway to connect the Vatican palaces with the Castle and it was used for the easy escapes of popes in danger from the Vatican to il Castel.
As to the Castle of the Holy Angel, it is one of the landmarks of Rome. It was originally built as the Mausoleum of Hadrian by Emperor Hadrian himself. In 401it was turned into a fortress much of the tomb being devastated. And in the 14th century Popes turned it into a castle. Nowadays it’s a nice museum that combines rich collections, much history of all times and birds’ eye views of La Cittá Eterna.
What would be the castle and the Basilica without a bridge linking the two banks of the Tiber? Nothing …. Even during Hadrian’s ruling, the Emperor built a bridge (The Bridge of Hadrian) to link his mausoleum to the city centre. Thus this Roman bridge in Rome (three out of the five arches are Roman ones, by the way) was used by pilgrims who went to the Basilica and at that time it was known as Bridge of Saint Peter. And later in the 7th century it was renamed to Ponte Sant’Angelo according to one legend that says that Archangel Michael was seen on the roof-top of the castle protect with a sword in hand. That was accepted as a sign of the end of the plague of 590. Thus both today’s castle and bridge with 10 statues of angels have borne the same name – Sant’Angelo, since then.
Still being on Lungotevere (the river alley with Paris-style massive walls, or just the river waterfront) there is another site that is a worth-visit – the ancient Hospital of Holy Spirit (Ospedale di Santo Spirito in Sassia). The complex was initially built by Ina (Saxon King) in 727 as a community for pilgrims who visited Apostle Peter’s grave. It was put on fire and destroyed and later, in 1198, Pope Innocent III commissioned the building of an asylum for poor, homeless and ill people and an orphanage for abandoned children (proietti). The Pope saw angels in his dreams that brought the corpses of little kids taken out of the Tiber. In order to make women stop throwing their unwanted children into the waters, he commissioned that hospital and la rota (revolving wheel). That wheel was the place where desperate mothers abandoned their new-born babies and their anonymity was fully guaranteed. Nuns collected the infants from there and put a double cross on their left feet. After that the babies were turned back to the wheel where they were “on display” so that they could have the chance to be adopted. Each baby was registered in Latin as follows: matris ignotae or abbreviated to m.ignota (a child to an unknown m., m. standing for mother). Unfortunately, ordinary people didn’t think over the meaning of m. and thought that this m with a full stop stood for mignotta (mignotta means an immoral woman in Italian).
Having visited so many ancient, Medieval and Renaissance (and not only) places in Rome, maybe you would want to visit the “Roman Sea” – Ostia on the Tyrrhenian Sea. So, let us get into the car and off we go. While driving along the roads in the city cars will overtake you widely. There is no doubt about this. At a time you might be “awarded” with the typical Roman greeting mortacci tua by local drivers. I am not sure, you will want to know what it means … But why not? Let me an open a bracket here and tell you what that “greeting” (sometimes a swear and curse) means. So, as I said it is an expression typical for Rome and Lazio. It is widely used and spread on the road while you are stuck in the traffic jam or you watch a football match at stadiums (it is used mainly against referees and their ancestors) or even in daily life as a polite greeting (e.g. if you get married you might get one mortacci tua). However, the English translation of that expression is not good at all because literally it means: “may your dead ancestors and their souls burn in hell forever and ever”. And just imagine having a birthday and your Roman friends congratulate you on it like this: “Mortacci tua. Auguriiiiiiiii” (May your ancestors and their souls burn in hell forever and ever. Many, many happy returns of the day.). Strange politeness, a? :). The bracket closed.
So, here we are, already in Ostia. The most notable site here is Basilica San Paolo Fuori le Mura (Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls). The holy place was built over St. Paul’s grave in via Ostiense, near the bank of the Tiber. If we continue only three kilometers far away from the Basilica we will reach another marvelous place briefly called Le Tre Fontane (the Three Fountains). And why the Three Fountains? Of course…. There is a legend. According to the myth, this is the place where San Paolo was beheaded. His head jumped up and rolled over three times. Every time the head jumped up, water sprang. Thus three springs appeared and later the three churches were built on the same three places.
Did you enjoy the three-post visit in Rome? Will you come back to La Cittá Etrna? Yes?! I expected that answer because I thought you had amazed by the splendor of the city and of course, you had tossed a coin in the Trevi Fountain. 😉