Timeline: October 15th – 16th
Our ride out to the airport to drop off Lyndsay went a bit smoother than our drive in to camp the night before. Rome’s airport sits about 15 miles west of town towards the sea and we drove against traffic streaming into the city for work. We bade farewell to our good friend as we all tried to determine which of the four terminals she was to fly from, but assumed since we didn’t get a call later that she had found her flight.
We returned to camp to straighten out the bungalow, contact camp staff about the air conditioning unit that didn’t shut off all night (it was like sleeping in an ice box), and do some work on the computer. We were supposed to get Wi-Fi in the bungalow, but the quality was slow and inconsistent. I’d found that if I walked up the hill to the eating and gathering area outside of the pool, I could get good coverage there and work on a bench, so I spent some time in that pursuit.
Our plan for the rest of the day was to head into Rome central to figure out the transportation options, do a walking tour and then meet Nicole (Joanna’s sister) around 6pm when she arrived by train from Milan. To get into town we picked up a local bus right outside of camp for a ride to the Metro station at Cornelia to take the red line into the Central Train Terminal (Termini). From there we rode a city bus to a stop near our first location of the walking tour, the Campo de’ Fiori: a bohemian piazza that hosts a fruit and vegetable market in the morning, cafés in the evening, and pub-crawlers at night.
After a brief snack stop at an il Fornaio we made our way a few blocks to the Piazza Navona, an oblong square that retains the shape of the original racetrack that was built around A.D. 80 by the emperor Domitian.
The square is dominated by the Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain; built around 1650 it represents the four continents known at the time by their major rivers, the Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Uruguay’s River de la Plata. Directly across from it is the Church of St. Agnes, worked on by Bernini’s former student-turned-rival, Francesco Borromini.
We left the Piazza heading east down Corsia Agonale to the Pantheon, the only ancient building in Rome continuously used since its construction. Built by Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 120, the exterior of the building gives no clue about the wonder inside— a domed room that inspired later domes, including Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s and Brunelleschi’s Duomo (in Florence). The dome, 142 feet high and wide, was Europe’s biggest until the Renaissance. Its construction astounded architects through the ages, as its concrete dome gets thinner and lighter with height— the highest part is volcanic pumice.
We’d seen quite a few impressive buildings and cathedrals so far in the trip, but the beauty of the Pantheon combined with its technical accomplishment left us stunned. As walked outside to continue our tour, we had to pause for a moment or two as the enormity of what we’d just witnessed overcame Joanna. We think of buildings as being inanimate objects and yet some, cathedrals in particular, are designed to deliver a message. Some make you think, some imply the power of god, others capture us because of their singular loveliness. The Pantheon delivered on all three counts.
A few blocks away we passed through Piazza Capranica, home to the Palazzo Capranica and then down Via in Aquiro to a sixth-century B.C. Egyptian obelisk taken as a trophy by Augustus after his victory in Egypt over Mark Antony and Cleopatra.
We passed through the Galleria Alberto Sordi shopping mall using it as a short cut to get us to the Trevi Fountain. One of Rome’s signature attractions, it is undergoing a renovation that had drained all of its water. The fountain is impressive dry; I can only imagine what it must be like when it is operating at full capacity. Completed in 1762, water normally gushes from 24 spouts and tumbles over 30 different kinds of plants—while Triton blows his conch shell.
From the fountain it is just a ten-minute walk to our final stop of the walking tour, the Spanish Steps. Located at Piazza di Spagna, named for the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican, which has been here for 300 years.
Its 138 steps lead sharply up from the Piazza, forming a butterfly shape as they fan out around a central terrace. The design culminates at the top in an obelisk framed between two Baroque church towers.
We climbed to the top of the steps with its impressive view of Rome’s skyline, looking towards St. Peter’s Basilica in the distance. With our walking tour completed, we began to make our way back towards the Termini and our rendezvous with Nicole in a couple of hours. Proximate to the train station is the Piazza Republica and the Baths of Diocletian.
Built by Emperor Diocletian around A.D. 300 and sprawling over 30 acres— roughly five times the size of the Colosseum— these baths could cleanse 3,000 Romans at once. They functioned until A.D. 537, when barbarians attacked and the city’s aqueducts fell into disuse, plunging Rome into a thousand years of poverty and darkness. Portions of the baths were later converted into the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs, which was partly designed by Michelangelo in 1561, who used the baths’ main hall as the nave.
We finished up and walked the block or so to the Termini and at the appointed hour, met Nicole’s train from Milan. We gathered her up and waked back to Piazza Republica and up Via Nazionale to the Steve’s recommended Flann O’Brien Irish Pub as Nicole was in need of a beer and some food. We had a delightful experience, drinking cold beers, splitting a pizza and more of the ricotta and spinach ravioli in sage butter. Nicole and our waiter really hit it off as they interacted throughout the meal, making for a memorable start to our next eight days together and the many places we’d visit.
Piazza Navona: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piazza_Navona
Four Rivers Fountain: http://www.rome.info/bernini/fountain-four-rivers/
Church of St. Agnes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sant’Agnese_in_Agone
The Pantheon: http://www.rome.info/pantheon/
Palazzo Capranica: https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palazzo_Capranica
Trevi Fountain: http://www.trevifountain.net/
Piazza di Spagna: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piazza_di_Spagna
Spanish Steps: http://www.italyguides.it/us/roma/spanish_steps.htm
Piazza Republica: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piazza_della_Repubblica,_Rome
Baths of Diocletian: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baths_of_Diocletian
Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Maria_degli_Angeli_e_dei_Martiri
Flann O’Brien Irish Pub: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187791-d801225-Reviews-Flann_O_Brien-Rome_Lazio.html
* Steves, Rick (2013-10-29). Rick Steves’ Italy 2014 (Kindle Locations 19392-19395). Avalon Travel. Kindle Edition