Wednesday, May 12, 2010

2 Day Itinerary - Caravaggio in Rome - Day 3

Lest you think I did nothing on my 3 day holiday to Rome besides run after Michelangelo Merisi, our Caravaggio, rest assured, I had an extra day to do nothing and loads of free time in the evenings.

Rome takes on a special charm after dark, so don't exhaust yourself so much in the day time that you miss the evening. And there's so much to see, your tour doesn't stop when the museums close.

Here's a shot of a ruin which had its columns pillaged some time or other and they built an arch to keep it standing. Only in Rome!

I was fascinated with the crests of the noble families on the buildings. If I commissioned stuff like that, I'd probably want some credit for it too. If you pay attention, you notice you see the same emblems frequently: the Borghese Dragon, the Barberini Bees, the
Doria-Pamhilj Dove and Fleur de Lis.

On my third day, I visited my favorite Piazza, indeed perhaps my favorite public space: Piazza Navona, where the crest of one of the noble families I visited over the past two days, is quite in evidence. Innocent X, the Doria Pamphilj Pope, continued the building programs of Urban VIII, his predecessor, even though he did not like working with the genius Bernini. Innocent's crest appears on the Four Rivers Fountain by Bernini and on the Facade of St. Agnes in Agony, on the west side of the piazza, designed by Bernini's rival Borromini.

The Doria Pamhilj Dove is even perched atop the ancient Egyptian obelisk. Look up! Grab a gelato, and watch the freak show that is Piazza Navona. The mimes, puppeteers, pigeons, artists, children, drunks, fashionistas, hippies: they're all here. Grab a seat and watch.

I headed inside the Church of St. Agnes in Agony. The seventeenth century high Baroque building stands atop where St. Agnes was taken to be tortured for her Christian faith.

They dragged our beautiful young heroine weighted with chains from horses, right here in Piazza Navona, a horse racetrack at the time, tried to burn her at the stake, and many other despicable tortures, but she was spared and the executioners burned. Finally they just stabbed the poor girl to death. Her attribute is the Lamb, because of her meekness.

In a small chapel to the left of the main altar, you can visit her head, the small brown thing in the gold case. Be respectful.

St. Agnes was a popular Patron Saint among Roman women and in centuries prior to ours, one had a hard time getting in the door of this church for all the poor, humble women on their knees praying on the front steps and filling the interior. Now, it's full of tourists and I am certain the atmosphere feels quite different.

Having a train to catch in the afternoon, I decided to wander toward Termini Station for a visit to Santa Maria Maggiore, passing some interesting and anachronistic uniforms.

Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the four Basilicas or Titled Churches of Rome, so it is particularly splendid. The ceiling is covered in the first gold brought back from the New World - a gift from Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain - Columbus's backers. That is the Gold of Montezuma. Let that give you chills for a moment.

Also inside is the tomb of one of the men responsible for the entire Baroque reinvention of Rome, Johannes Bernini, humbly placed to the right side of the great altar, but with little fanfare or decoration.

On the other side of the main altar is the Borghese Chapel, dedicated to the glorious Borgheses and decorated to impress. Over the altar is a very old Byzantine icon which performs miracles, like the chapel itself isn't miracle enough!

But the best secret of Santa Maria Maggiore is that they actually have the manger in which Mary laid Jesus in the stable when there was no room the them in the inn.
Under the main altar and huge Baldocchino, there are stairs leading to a marble lined crypt. As you descend, you see this big white praying Pope.
Follow his gaze: that big
crystal urn with the gold baby on top contains pieces of wood that by fact or tradition or both are the actual manger of Jesus.

Santa Maria Maggiore is a little overwhelming, so I went to Piazza Repubblica for a delicious lunch in the colonnade and with time for one more stop before my train, I visited the Basilica of Saints and Martyrs.

The building was originally the Baths of Diocletian and was turned into a church by none other than Michelangelo himself, so it's pretty impressive. Mind boggling, too, how huge the building is, how the church does not take up all of it, and how it was originally a public bath. Very interesting history, though less to see inside than many other churches. The new doors are spectacular.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on a fascinating blog, and what a kickstart! Love this intriguing photo.