When in Rome …

We are Olympians!! Well … at least we are staying in the former 1960 Summer Olympic Village in Rome.

Italian Pasta

When in Rome … sample the pasta. It is raining and cool outside today providing an opportunity to research some simple and authentic Italian pasta recipes because on a recent shopping trip we found a wonderful variety of gluten free pasta choices. The Carrefour grocery store near us has one entire long grocery aisle dedicated exclusively to pasta plus a couple other partial aisles. Italians believe that the pasta is more important than the sauce and there are reportedly more than 500 varieties of pasta in Italy with each having a suggested ideal way of preparing and serving.

Italian Pasta

Chiese, Basiliche e una Cattedrale

When in Rome … visit the churches.  In our first 10 days we visited 20+ amazing churches and basilicas plus the Cathedral of Rome. That, however, is a mere fraction of the more than 900 that exist in the city, not to mention the 15 churches in Vatican City. Other than one or two, most were not on our radar as unmissable visits. That being said, they were each well worth every minute we spent in them. And the history and stories we have learned about each is incredible. We have seen magnificent Caravaggio and Raphael paintings, Bernini sculptures, glorious multicolored marble features and unforgettable floor and ceiling decorations. Each colorful church has truly been worth stepping inside. We added brief notes in the gallery below but there is so much more fascinating history here. From Nero’s ghost, to national churches that were the embassies of the day. From amazing paintings, chapels and frescoes to famous people who visited the area and Christians who were martyred, it has been an inspiring journey.

Church of San Giacomo in Augusta

Papal Archbasilica di San Giovanni in Lateran

Since arriving in Rome we have observed, at least initially, a confusing phenomenon whereby many sites and churches, often have two or three or more names and each are regularly used and completely interchangeable.

For example “The Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in the Lateran” is a formal name but the principal dedication is to “Christ our Saviour”, thus “The Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior” is one name. Subsidiary dedications are to SS John the Baptist and John the Evangelist so those names are used as well but with a little history attached. The church was built on the site of a Roman palace belonging to the Roman family of Plautii Laterani with the palace, now a museum, adjoining the church and the district being named after the ancient Roman family. So others may refer to this church as “St John Lateran” or more accurately “The Church of St John in Lateran”.

This majestic Cathedral serves as the seat of the Bishop of Rome, who is also the Pope and, as the Cathedral of the Pope, it ranks above all other Roman Catholic churches, including St. Peter’s Basilica. It is the oldest and highest ranking of the four papal major basilicas in Rome giving it the unique title of “Archbasilica”.

In Latin across the facade it states:

Dogmate papali datur ac simul imperiali, quod sim cunctarum mater et caput ecclesiarum (“It is given by Papal and Imperial decree that I am the mother and head of all churches”).

Papal Archbasilica di San Giovanni in Lateran

Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

In the 1560s, Pope Pius IV ordered the building of a basilica within a part of the Roman ruins called the Baths of Diocletian and Michelangelo was commissioned to design it. We thought the exterior of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs is quite magnificent in this raw-ruin state and liked that the basilica is dedicated to Christian martyrs, known and unknown who died while building the Roman Baths of Diocletian.

Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

The interior also has one rare feature we had not encountered within a church.  In 1702 a meridian line, a sort of sundial, was built diagonally across the floor inside the basilica and it is still operational. The bronze line is 45 meters long and set in a beautiful yellow-white marble.

There is a small hole in one wall of the basilica and when the sun shines through that hole it casts its light on the meridian line each day. At the summer solstice, the sun appears highest, and its ray hits the meridian line at the point closest to the wall. At the winter solstice, the ray crosses the line at the point furthest from the wall. At either equinox, the sun touches the line between these two extremes. The longer the meridian line, the more accurately the observer can calculate the length of the year.  

It was designed by Francesco Bianchini, and its function was to check the validity of the new Gregorian calendar. An accurate calendar was especially important as regards the date of the Spring Equinox, since the date of Easter depended on it.

Bianchini’s Sundial

The Pantheon

Around 126 AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian, completed a Roman temple that today is a church and is commonly called the Pantheon. It is also known as Santa Maria Rotonda or more formally Santa Maria ad Martyres. There had been an earlier temple built on the same site by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa between 27 BC and 14 AD but it burned to the ground in 80 AD. When Hadrian dedicated the new Temple he chose to retain the inscription of Agrippa’s older temple.

Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome remains the world’s largest un-reinforced concrete dome. The height and diameter of the interior circle are the same at 142 feet (43 meters). If you envision the bottom half of the dome to be completed you would see a perfect sphere just touching the floor of the church. Incredible! It is also considered one of the best preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings making a visit inside the Pantheon an extraordinary and uncommon opportunity.

The Pantheon

Il Pincio or Pincian Hill or Pincio Promenade

Another example of a site we found that has multiple names, was a beautiful area called ‘The Pincio’ as well as ‘Pincian Hill’ and ‘Pincio Promenade’. It is located high above Piazza del Popolo and while exploring the grounds and scrutinizing the numerous statues, we came across a hydro-chronometer, also known as a water clock. It sits inside a fenced island in the center of a small pool or lake. In 1867 a Dominican Friar, Giovan Battista Embriaco invented this creative mechanism. It works when water fills two basins alternatively and time is measured by the regulated flow of liquid into, or out of, the basin. The water clock continues to work perfectly, all day, every day, these 152 years since it was built.

Water Clock

We found a second water clock in the courtyard of Palazzo Berardi that Father Embriaco designed and built in 1870, but this one sadly had no water in the fountain so of course wasn’t working.

Fontana di Trevi

When in Rome … toss a coin in the famous Trevi Fountain. Legend has it if you toss a coin in the fountain, you will someday return to this spectacular city.

Building of the fountain began in 1732 and it officially opened to the public in the spring of 1762. It is one of the largest fountains at 86 feet high (26 meters) by 161 feet wide (49 meters) we have come across. The fountain is an extremely popular tourist site but we were able to enjoy it briefly one afternoon, toss in our coin and return for another visit one evening to see it all lit up. One advantage of slow travel is we can return to popular tourist sites and enjoy them when they are quiet.

We learned that in 2016 an estimated $1.5 million dollars was thrown into the fountain and are pleased to know the money was used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy.

Did you know Trevi fountain has appeared in numerous movies including Roman Holiday, La Dolce Vita, Three Coins in the Fountain, The Lizzie McGuire Movie, and Sabrina Goes to Rome?

Fontana di Trevi

Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps are a set of 174 steps that were built in Rome between 1723 – 1725 to connect the Piazza di Spagna at the bottom with the Trinità dei Monti church at the top of a steep hill.

The steps were initially called Trinità dei Monti, after the church and the upper piazza, then later renamed the Spanish Steps, after the lower piazza – Piazza di Spagna or The Spanish Square. The square itself was called the Spanish Square because the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See was located nearby.

Seemingly out of place, at the base of the steps in the Piazza di Spagna is a baroque fountain called “Fountain of the longboat”, built between 1627–29 by the famous sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and his father. There is a story that Pope Urban VIII had the fountain installed when during a flood of the Tiber River, a longboat had been carried by the waters all the way up into this Piazza.

We were surprised by all the potted flowers on the steps during our first visit and learned that on the anniversary of the founding of Rome, April 21, part of the steps are covered by pots of azaleas. So between crowds of people sitting on the steps and all the flowers it was difficult to get an impression of the actual steps. A return evening visit a few days later was much more rewarding. The flowers had been removed and with only a handful of people relaxing on the steps, we were able to see the interesting shape and design of the Spanish steps. It is forbidden to eat while sitting on the steps – an excellent rule as it keeps these popular steps free of garbage.

Spanish Steps

When in Rome …. there is so much to see and love. We have vacationed before in Italy but the chance to live for a month or more at a time in one place is far more enriching and relaxing. However, we could easily spend many more months exploring this fascinating city.

Salute from these Romans,

Ted and Julia

View the Churches of Rome photo gallery here

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