Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Roman Holiday

Traveling is so rejuvenating. New thoughts and sites, and time to linger with them.

Here are some photos from today’s excursion in Rome, our best day yet on this journey! Our capable tour guide was a cheat sheet pressed into Bobbi’s hand at the last minute before leaving home by our friends Giana and Adam Cavan. Thank you Adam and Giana.

We found a Wednesday wedding party, the quiet alleys, the rapids of the Tevere, the playa del sol for the cats of Rome, the serene Jewish quarter, the oldest ruins, the best church, and the views from Janinculum hill (the Bunker hill of Italy). Along the way we dined at a very fine little Trattoria in Trastevere.

Wednesday weddings, anyone! A few steps from our hotel we were nearly run over by a young man in tuxedo bearing a bouquet of white flowers. He rounded a corner for the entrance of the church with that telltale beating heart and happy aura. The best man was in hot pursuit recording each step with the camcorder. We followed them into the church. All the pews were covered with gold embroidered red covers, and the place was aromatic with flowers. Outside, the photographer was arriving, and separate groom and bride parties were excitedly gathering.

Seven hours later, on our way back to the hotel, the party was just breaking up. Several men in suits were negotiating with two traffic cops about many cars illegally parked in front of the church. The police officers were too affected by the proud uncles to do more than make an unconvincing show of tapping their ticket book. There was obviously more likelihood of their imminently joining the party than their writing tickets. The German tour group was going about its business.

In the heart of a theater district, not far from the Forum, lies the Largo Argentina, an excavation of four Roman Republic era temples, ca. 350 B.C. These were discovered in 1929 and carefully exposed. For now the Largo Argentina is a playground for privileged cats of Rome (house cats) who sun themselves or sleep in the shade as temperature requires, and feed on lasagna and other delicacies brought by local women who look after their welfare.

Typically relaxed and flirtatious young workers were busy sprucing up a beautiful fountain, dating from ca. 1588, in the Piazza Mattei.

After battling hordes at the Vatican Museum yesterday we were particularly attuned to the peaceful serenity in the Jewish quarter. Kosher butcher shops, artists, studios, kosher trattorias, a 19th Century synagogue, no cars, and seemingly only happy people. For 300 years Jews were confined to a 3 acre walled ghetto, today it is one of the jewels of Rome.

Turning the corner from the Ghetto towards the Pallatine hill, a path leads between the ruins of a 23 B.C. temple built by Augustus for his sister, and the Teatro Marcello, an ancient playhouse (13 B.C.). In recent years the top floor of the Teatro Marcello has been converted to apartments.

Our new favorite church in all of Italy is Santa Maria Trastevere. It may be the oldest church in Rome, built in the 12th century with simple Roman lines. Its 21 Roman columns were taken from ancient structures, meaning each column is made of different rock. The marble floor is delicately inlaid. The fa├žade has a beautiful mosaic of the Mary and 10 women. The decoration is wonderful throughout without being too much (e.g. I found the Sistine Chapel to prove the proverb that less is more). The inside has 12th century mosaics, a wonderful baroque wooden ceiling from the 17th Century. The effect is warm and inviting, a place you’d want to worship.

We returned home via the Juniculum hill. This was the scene of a key battle in June 1849 of the Italian wars of independence. The site is marked with a mausoleum dedicated to the dead, a lovely fountain, not unlike the Tevi fountain but less adorned, a statue of Garibaldi and the busts of main opposition leaders nearby.

Long live the revolution, long live traveling!


  1. Thank you for sharing Roland.

    I too found the old Jewish ghetto one of the jewels of Rome - it's no longer a ghetto really. The Great Synagoge there overlooking the Tiber is worth visiting. It has some of the most beautiful architecture in a city filled with beautiful architecture. Be warned, however, it is heavily guarded by Israeli secret service. And, unless you are on a guided tour (which I was not), you can only enter if willing to observe the conservative Jewish traditions - i.e., only the men participate in the prayers, women sit separately and must cover their shoulders and heads, no short pants etc.

    I also found the Romans to be very layed back and easy going - the effect of many years of social turmoil.

    Glad you are enjoying your trip.



  2. I am glad that you are able to be completely present while experiencing such a neat trip, some people forget to be present, and spend their time contemplating the past and future. This leaves most people with an emptiness in their memories of their travels,

  3. Roland -

    Great to see that you are safe & sound and ejoying Rome. Looking forward to seeing you Saturday morning (I'll be the one with an IV espresso, staring into the corner of the room).