We continued our walk through ancient Rome, an era that lasted 1,000 years, from 500 B.C to 500 A.D. Half of that time Rome was focused on expanding her government and the other half building a dominating empire. In 500 A.D. Rome fell, and fell hard, due to corruption, invaders, and disease, dragging all of Europe into 1,000 years of darkness. The city declined to a mere 20,000, leaving a crooked pope, crumbling ruins, and malaria-carrying mosquitos. In the 1300’s even the popes said ‘enough’ and headed for France.
Beginning in the early 1500’s the popes decided it was time to rebuild Rome in order to attract new settlers. They commissioned the best artists to decorate the churches and palaces, carve statues and build fountains. We were fortunate to have the time to visit several of these artistic wonders.
On top of Capitoline Hill, overlooking the Forum, sits the oldest public museum in the world, with roots dating back to 1471. The Capitoline Museums, consisting of two palaces, house some of Rome’s most famous statues and archeological finds.
The Etruscan Lupa capitolina is one of the most famous statues here. It is the original bronze She-Wolf, a wild animal coupled with two hungry babies, Romulus and twin brother Remus. According to Roman mythology, these two babes, children of Rhea Silvia and Mars, were credited with being the founders of Rome. They were orphaned as infants and raised by a she-wolf on top of Palatine Hill, one of Rome’s seven hills, overlooking the Forum. It is a powerful symbol of perseverance for the city of Rome.
We decided to take one of Rick Steves’ self-guided tours, the Heart of Rome Walk, which carried us across the city to several popular sights. Our first stop was Piazza Navona, a square which has been a center of Roman life since ancient times.
The main attraction at this piazza is the Four Rivers Fountain. The pope, looking to clean up some of the seedier Rome neighborhoods, commissioned Bernini to build this fountain, with an obelisk rising from the center. It represents gods of the four great rivers in four continents – the Nile in Africa, the Ganges in Asia, the Danube in Europe and the Río de la Plata, separating Uruguay and Argentina.
Our next stop was Campo de’ Fiori, where for centuries public executions were held.
This spot is where philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for blasphemy in 1600. Today it is a much more pleasant square and a major focus of Roman life. Mornings it is transformed into a huge open-air market, while the evenings bring out a rowdier crowd, pub-style.
We continued our tour, stopping at the Trevi Fountain, the largest Baroque fountain in Rome, and one of the most famous in the world.
Built in 1762, it celebrates the reopening of several of the city’s great aqueducts. Neptune, god of the sea, is the central figure, with his trumpeter, Triton, blowing his conch shell, announcing their arrival. It is impossible to photograph day or night without swarms of tourists surrounding it.
Our Heart of Rome Walk took us to the Spanish Steps, in Piazza di Spagna. Named for the Spanish embassy to the Vatican, it’s been the hangout of Keats, Wagner, Goethe, and others.
English poet John Keats succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 25 in the orange house to the right of the steps. It is now a museum dedicated to his memory. At the base of the steps is Bernini’s Sinking Boat Fountain, powered by an aqueduct. It is a popular hangout at night.
Rome’s best preserved monument, the Pantheon, is also one of her greatest engineering feats. Engineers still marvel at how ancient Romans built such a mathematically precise design without the use of computers or electricity. Although I’m not an engineer I found the statistics to be quite fascinating. The dome is as high as it is wide – 142 feet from side to side and from floor to the top of the dome. The base of the dome is 23 feet thick, made of concrete mixed with travertine while the top is less than 5 feet thick, made of volcanic rock mixed with concrete.
The coffered ceiling offers reduced weight without compromising strength. At the top of the oculus sits the Pantheon’s only light source, 30 feet across. When the rains come, the 1,800-year old floor has holes in it and is angled towards the edges to drain off the water. This floor still has 80% of the original stones. It is inconceivable to me that this engineering design was completed in 27 B.C. Due to fires the Pantheon we see today was completely rebuilt in A.D 120.
This Rome temple, dedicated to the gods, may look like an ordinary building from the outside, but perhaps is one of the most important in art history. It’s dome has inspired the Florence cathedral dome, Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, and the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. It is the only of Rome’s ancient buildings that has seen continued use. The building, sunken below street level, shows how Rome has been lifted up over 20 centuries of rubble.
Perhaps the most unusual stop we made in Rome was to the Capuchin Crypt, a catacomb beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. It contains bones of 3,700 Capuchin friars, artistically displayed, not meant to be ghoulish but rather a silent reminder of our own mortality. Click here for crypt photos as they are prohibited during your visit.
Next Up: Ostia Antica
37 thoughts on “Artwork and Engineering Feats ~ Rome, Part 2”
What stunning architecture and amazing sculptures. I do hope history won’t be repeating itself by sending us into a dismal 1,000 year era 😉
Amen to that Ingrid.
Great photos and dialogue and thanks for such great memories!!
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As I have been writing these posts it really has hit me how much territory we covered in a little less than two months.
It’s amazing that they were able to construct a building like the Pantheon so long ago and that it is still standing today.
The link to the Capuchin Crypt photos is fascinating. I’ve really enjoyed these Roman history lessons through your eyes!
Thanks! I was fascinated when I read how the Pantheon was built. What an engineering feat when there were no computers, no electricity, and no fossil-fuel driven equipment. The Capuchin Crypt was amazing, room after room of artwork created with the bones of deceased friars.
Your photo of Lupa capitolina definitely caught my attention.. surely I’m not the only one who admired the genius of that floor design! Wow… makes me want to find a concrete floor in need of a tromp l”oeil image!
I am not surprised that you noticed the floor design Z. Think of how long ago this was created.
It is very inspiring… it’s rare to find artisans that go to that amount of detail…. thanks for the inspiration!
Fascinating descriptions! I especially liked the Pantheon and the Crypt. The Pantheon is amazing, as you say–it is so very old yet still standing. Thank you for sharing your travels!
My pleasure Julianne. The Pantheon and the Crypt were two of my favorites as well.
Lu, this was a perfect post!! The narrative gave us the necessary background and your photo choice showed some of the beauty you witnessed. What a fantastic visit!! The Crypt photos were…interesting! Not sure I would have enjoyed viewing this in person.
Thanks Pam! As for the Crypt, I was surprised at my reaction. Instead of being creeped out, I was mesmerized at what this artist had done.
Rome is such a spectacular and fascinating city. Great post LuAnn!
I’m smiling at all of the wonderful memories you have brought back to me LuAnn. We had the good fortune to visit many of these sites with a blogger and her husband who live in Rome. Such a gift to have them share their knowledge and time. You have captured these famous locations beautifully in photos and words.
What a treat to have a personal guide! We had an amazing tour guide when we visited the Vatican.
This looks amazing LuAnn! Believe it or not, we still haven’t been to Rome. It has always been one of those places we know we are gong to visit, but there is no rush as we could go any year. But now that we have returned back to Europe we might start thinking about it again. The architecture and the history you are sharing is just amazing – like you say, it is just inconceivable that they where able to build like this with the limited technology them had at that time.
The exchange rate this year was just too tempting so we took the leap.
Next – Ostia? Only one of my favourite places in the world. I can’t wait 🙂
It won’t be long now. 🙂
LuAnn, we spent a couple of weeks in Rome which gave us a chance to discover its nooks and crannies. Your photos of the Trevi Fountain are great. In addition to hordes of tourists interfering with photos there, the city canyon it sits in, with its bright light and dark shadows, make it tough to get descent shots. You did a considerably better job than I did. And BTW, I just finished the first season of the BBC/HBO series “Rome.” I’m looking forward to season 2 (only 2 seasons). It has the usual HBO soap opera and gratuitous sex and nudity, but what I enjoyed most was all the fabulous period detail of Rome during Julius Ceasar’s reign. It puts colorful flesh on lots of the Roman ruins that I’ve seen. You and Terry might enjoy it. ~James
Two weeks in Rome would have been wonderful. We felt fortunate to have had one week. I will check into the “Rome” HBO series. A little gratuitous sex and nudity never hurt anyone. 😉
For some reason I had it in my mind that is was the Orinoco that was the South American river, thanks for saving me from a potential pub quiz failure! As ever amazing photos my friend and I shall catch your earlier posts when I have the time.
Always glad to help Ste J. Hope all is well on your end.
Things are alright here, it’s an odd feeling to be honest haha!
Glad to hear that! I think back about our trip to Europe often and find the one piece missing was a meet-up with you. Next trip to your neck of the woods for certain.
I am sorry about that, it will happen though!
No need to apologize Ste J. And yes, I know it will happen.
You’ve made Rome come alive, LuAnn with your photos. Like many people, I’m especially fascinated with the Pantheon which you’ve shown so beautifully and I can’t wait to visit this marvelous city for myself. I’m planning to take my time and soak it up slowly over several days. So much to see and learn!
Rome was one of our favorite cities…centuries of history!
Thank you Shane.
Thanks so much for the reposting!