Civitavecchia -- the name translates to ancient city -- serves as Rome's harbor on the Tyrrhenian Sea. From her docks, it is just a short train or bus ride into the Italian capital where we began our tour by walking toward The Arch of Constantine along the Via Triumphalis, the very path that triumphant emperors used.
The arch is one of many triumphal spans erected in ancient Rome to commemorate major victories. This one for Constantine's prevailing over Maxentius in the year 312. Adjacent to the arch stands one of the most famous landmarks anywhere on Earth, The Colosseum.
The Colossal Colosseum
The famous name for the magnificent amphitheater is thought to stem not from its own enormous size, but from a colossal statue of Nero that stood nearby.
One thing that has always struck us about The Colosseum is how similar modern stadiums adhere to the design, right down to numbered sections.
Of course it is Roman numerals above each of the archways that mark the entries leading into the seating area at this old arena.
It was heading in to one of those archways that we discovered a huge advantage to joining a tour group from the Royal Princess, we got to jump right past the extensive line of folks waiting to get inside.
Even approaching its one thousandth birthday the place looks pretty good. In fact, although damage has been caused by earthquakes and age over time, the majority comes from scavenging when marble and bronze stonework clamps were taken to be used for other buildings. Still the theater has survived well enough that the staging was still in place from when Paul McCartney performed in it a few years back.
The Fabulous Forum
Most of the main attractions in Rome are close enough together that they can be easily walked from one to another so we hoofed it over to The Forum.
Surrounded by government buildings, temples, statues and monuments, this was the epicenter of ancient Roman life.
. . . and the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, dedicated to these two emperors from the Flavian Dynasty.
But the white marble Arch of Septimius Severus, a triumphal arch dedicated the Parthian victories of Emperor Septimius Severus, is remarkably well preserved.
There are also a couple of temples that have been used as churches in modern times, The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, which became the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda. . .
. . . and The Temple of Romulus, now known as Santi Cosma e Damiano, that are in good enough condition that they can still be used.
A Saint in Chains
Near the Forum our next stop was previously unknown to us - San Pietro in Vincoli.
The small church is one of the oldest in Rome, dating back to 431 AD. What this little church lacks in grandiose size it more than makes up for in impressive artifacts.
The church takes its name, meaning Saint Peter in Chains, from chains displayed below the main alter that are said to have been used to hold Saint Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem.
But perhaps even more interesting was the remarkable statue of Moses by Renaissance master Michelangelo. Pope Julius II commissioned the statue in 1505 as a part of a massive sculpture for his tomb, but the pope died long before Michelangelo could finish the work.
Julius was buried in St. Peter's Basilica, which he also commissioned, and Moses ended up in this lesser known San Pietro.
We noticed an odd feature to the prophet, small horns on his head. There seems to be some debate as to why Michelangelo did this. There are many theories... see more St. Peter in Chains
Exploring The Vatican
There's no debate that any trip to Rome, no matter how whirlwind, is complete without a stop at The Vatican.
We were in reality making an international journey because this is an independent country within a city. Oddly though, as venerable as The Vatican seems, it has only held its current status within Italy since 1929, but it has endured in this spot for centuries.
The incredibly imposing Basilica of Saint Peter was constructed over the course of 120 years beginning in 1506, but it was replacing its namesake that had stood since Constantine began it in the year 323.
Tradition held that this was the site of Peter's execution and burial so the cathedral was built in his honor. Now it serves as the final resting place for over one hundred popes.
Once again we got to bypass a really long line when we slipped inside St. Peter's. We were certainly awestruck by the structure itself, but the basilica also houses a vast array of art treasures.
Of these we found Michelangelo's The Pieta, showing Jesus just after his crucifixion laying across Mary's lap, to be the most captivating. We spent most of our limited time inside taking in this monumental work. The master sculptor captured the emotion in the figures in a way that seems almost impossible.
Too soon we were being guided back out into the enormous square in front of the church, didn't want to miss our bus back to the ship, but we took some time to gather the scene in.
While it was crowded, it was nothing like the hundreds of thousands that gather for special occasions from time to time. Such as when the new pope, Francis, was chosen recently.
Speaking of Francis, we decided to take our last few moments before the bus left to check out the souvenir shops for some Pope swag. Somehow it seems a tad inappropriate, but they did not disappoint. We found lighters, playing cards, thimbles, refrigerator magnets, and even bobble-head dolls of The Bishop of Rome. (see all of the best? worst? most inappropriate? Pope souvenirs we found!)
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
Thanks to Princess Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own. See our entire Mediterranean voyage aboard the Royal Princess here
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