Saturday, 12 April 2014

Ancient Rome, hidden in plain view

I have walked past the Terme di Diocleziano - the Baths of Diocletian - a hundred times and have never gone inside, even though these ruins are adjacent to  Rome's main central Termini railway station and even gave Termini its name! (Some believe the name Termini was derived from terminus or end of the rail line, but in fact it was named for the terme or baths).

I likely would still not have noticed the baths even now, if it weren't for an interesting new exhibition of sculptures by France's Rodin.

Rodin's particular style of leaving his sculptures at least partly unfinished, a work-in-progress effect, actually displays very well inside the ruins of the baths of Diocletian, given the somewhat unfinished appearance of the ruins.

According to the archaeological superintendent of Rome, the Terme di Diocleziano was the most imposing baths complex ever built in Rome, and was constructed between 298 AD and 306 AD, spanning 13 hectares and able to accommodate as many as 3,000 people.

The structure included gyms, libraries, a large swimming pool as well as hot and cold baths, and it was used by Michelangelo as a model when he restored parts of the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli which is right next door to the baths.

Today, the Terme di Diocleziano is part of the Museo Nazionale Romano (National Roman Museum) system, and has been renovated into an interesting complex, including a tranquil garden space with trees and flowers that is only steps from the central Termini railway station but truly feels very far from the chaos of that transportation hub.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

A spring day in historic Rome

After what seemed like weeks of rain through January and well into February, causing major flooding, landslides and train derailments all over Italy, today was finally sunny and warm so I took a long Sunday walk around the Celian Hill near the Colosseum. The Celian was, of course, one of Rome's famous Seven Hills dating from the Republican era.

I was surprised to see these blossoms above on one lone bush…..

And at a religious house on the Celian, someone has planted happy, smiling daffodils!

Or course, I cannot resist a fruit tree photo as I never before lived in a place with so many lovely fruit trees that seem to produce year round!

Nice to see so much greenery on the Celian at the historic chiesa di Santi Giovanni and Paolo, which has its roots in a 2nd century house church and boasts a wonderful bell tower and monastery.

And across from the Celian are the ruins of the great houses on the Palatine Hill.

A close up of the Colosseo, which is partly clad these days in scaffolding as it receives a much-needed cleaning.

Back on the Celian, a lovely mosaic on a church near the entrance to the Villa Celimontana, which has wonderful gardens that were originally connected with the Baths of Caracalla which lie below.

And this fellow lounges just above the Baths of Caracalla

Monday, 27 January 2014

What lies beneath Piazza Navona

How many times have we all criss-crossed Piazza Navona, one of the most popular spots for visitors to Rome, without thinking about the layers of history that lie beneath its beautiful fountains, its cobblestones and concrete benches, buskers and vendors?

Well, it has now become easier to get a glimpse of its long history, as a small section of the original structure built there - the Stadium of Domiziano - has been opened to the public.

I visited it on Sunday with my friend and classics scholar Laura, who explained in great detail the origins of the site which was completed in about the year 86 by the mad emperor Domiziano for a great athletic event in honour of the god Jove.

(The photos below are from Bernini's great Fountain of the Four Rivers in the centre of today's Piazza Navona)

Laura explained that there are some misconceptions about the origins of the stadium that shaped today's Piazza Navona, including the fact it was, indeed, a stadium for athletic events and not a circus, like Circus Maximus, which was used for larger events such horse and chariot races. It was also interesting to learn that a stadium was originally a unit of measure that varied depending on where it was used. In Latin it often referred to 176 meters, the length of a particular foot race.

The Stadio di Domiziano was the first permanent athletic structure in Rome - previously, temporary venues were built, perhaps from wood - and this stadium was modelled on the style used in Greece. Looking at a modern reconstruction, it stuck me how similar it is to many sports stadiums I have seen in North America!

The stadium originally seated about 30,000 spectators and the shape of Piazza Navona almost exactly follows the sweep of the original oval structure, which included a beautiful marble viewing box for the emperor and other nobility on the spot where today's church of Sant'Agnese in Agone rests.

In fact, there is a connection here with the young Saint Agnes. Apparently, brothels had originally been established in certain arcades of this stadium structure, and it was in one of these where Agnes's martyrdom began, because she refused to marry as ordered by a later emperor, Diocletian. (Another small fact, the word "fornicate" is derived from the Latin name of the arch of an arcade, "fornix,"  according to Laura).

Still another fun fact, the word "Navona" as used in Piazza Navona, is derived from the term "agonalis" a combined Latin-Greek word for "struggles" describing the athletic competition in the original stadium….and over the years, was mispronounced until it became "Navona" (which, frankly, sounds better to me!)

Sunday, 19 January 2014

A January Sunday in Rome.

As a girl from the Canadian Prairies, I am still gobsmacked by the sight of Rome in January, and just how very green everything is….even a few wild flowers are pushing  their way through the hard soil of the Roman Forum.

How I love the sight of lemon tress and their bright fruit!

It was a bit cloudy as I made my way up the Capitoline Hill …

I felt sad to see that the gardeners of Rome's capitol hill have not been taking care of the delightful topiary figures of the iconic she-wolf, feeding babies Remus and Romulus (who now look like shaggy little shrubs)

Of course, I can never resist this shot of the Palatine Hill, from across Circus Maximus.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Return to Rome's Monti neighbourhood

I'm happy to report that I am once again living in Rome's Monti area, where I lived for almost all of 2012. It's a great neighbourhood, snugged in beside the Imperial Forum which runs alongside the Roman Forum, divided only by the major Via dei Fori Imperial.

In fact, the western edge of Monti, known in ancient times as Subura, is formed by a high stone wall along Via Tor de’ Conti, which follows the contours of the forums of Augustus, Vespasian, Trajan, and Nerva.

The wall was built to protect Imperial Rome from the ancient slum, where Julius Caesar is said to have grown up.

Indeed, Monti remained a rather rough, unpopular neighbourhood until Rome became the capital of a united Italy in 1871.

I moved back in to Monti just in time to see the Christmas tree still set up in front of the Colosseum, now undergoing some restoration work and partly hidden under scaffolding. 

The holiday tree will likely be removed right after the January 6 Epiphany holiday.

After hearing of the terrible snowstorms that people in Canada and parts of the United States have been facing in these first few days of January 2014, I am doubly thrilled to see lots of green grass around here.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Christmas in Rome

This will be my third Christmas living in Rome, and I am developing a few favourites, especially the lovely Christmas lights, and the massive holiday tree in Piazza San Pietro at the Vatican.

For a chance of pace, a Christmas tree in the piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina seems to be decorated with movie film and is sitting on a giant film reel - perhaps in honour of the former Etoile cinema in the square that is now a very large and beautiful Louis Vuitton store (which runs old movies in the store in honour of its origins as a cinema.)

I really love Christmas lights!

On Rome's central Via del Corso, the lights this year are decorated in the colours of the Gay Pride flag (which caused some controversy on city council!) 

Meanwhile, as I was walking around the Vatican today, to see how Christmas preparations were going, I took a few photos from outside the rear walls of Vatican City.

Buon Natale!