BASILICA DI SAN PIETRO
Symbol of Catholicism, St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican is the largest church in the world: the central nave is 187 meters long and the dome is 136 meters high. The construction of the actual building began in 1506. Its elliptical colonnade, that embraces the faithful who come every Sunday to attend the prayer of the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, was designed by Bernini in the seventeenth century and consists of four rows of columns. Looking at them from a given point on the Square, known as the “center of the Colonnade”, the four rows of the colonnade seem to converge into one. The facade was designed by Maderno, the collonade by Bernini and the dome that dominates the skyline of Rome was conceived by Michelangelo: a real symphony of masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance. It is interesting to note that most of the sacred images inside the basilica, overlooking the magnificent altars, seem to be paintings, but in reality they are mosaics. The Pietà by Michelangelo is worth a moment of silent contemplation!
The funeral mausoleum of the Emperor Adrian was built in 125, in front of Campo Marzio which were then connected by a the Ponte Elio (bridge). This bulwark of the Roman Empire encompasses almost two thousand years of history. It was a shelter for the many Roman Emperors and Popes, as it still is connected to the Vatican City through the narrow passageway known as “il Passetto di Borgo”. It was also used as a prison for many years. The castle took its current name in 590. Rome, that year, was severely affected by the plague and to cure it, Pope Gregory I organized a solemn procession that lasted three days. When the procession was near the Mole Adriana, the Pope had a vision of Michael, the Archangel, sheathing his sword. The vision was interpreted as a celestial sign of the imminent end of the plague—an event that actually happened. Since then, the Romans began to call the fortress “Castel S. Angelo” and, in remembrance of this incident, in the thirteenth century, a statue of an angel in the act of sheathing his sword was erected on the highest point of the castle—an effigy that can still be appreciated today. On the terrace you can enjoy an amazing panorama of Rome.
Symbol of the eternity of Rome, the Coliseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, is located in the historic center. It was able to hold up to 50,000 spectators. It is the largest and most important Roman amphitheater, and the most imposing monument of Ancient Rome that still exists. It was built on the eastern side of the Roman Forum. The construction was started by Vespasian in 72 AD, but was inaugurated by Titus in 80 AD. No longer in use after the sixth century, the huge structure was reused in various ways over the centuries, even as a quarry. The name “Coliseum”, which derives from the nearby statue of the Sun God, Colossus, became widespread only in the Middle Ages. Today, it is a symbol of the city and one of its major attractions. It was used for gladiator shows and other public events, such as hunting exhibitions, reenactments of famous battles and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building forms an ellipse of 527 meters in circumference, while the arena inside measures 86 meters long and 54 meters wide. It was also listed among the Seven Wonders of the World.
At the time of ancient Rome, it was known as the Domitian Stadium as it was built by the Emperor Domitian. It was 276 meters long and 54 meters wide and could accommodate up to 30,000 spectators. The stadium was decorated with statues, one of which is Pasquino’s, famous for the “lampoons” (letters of protest that ordinary people wrote and left on the statue). The statue is now placed in a nearby square.
The square’s name was originally “in Agone” (from Latin agones, “games”) because the stadium was exclusively used for athletics. It is not true that Piazza Navona was used for naval battles; it is a simple urban myth generated by the fact that the square was usually flooded, when, to ease the summer heat of August, the drains of the three fountains were purposely clogged and the water let overflow in the streets.
With its architectural elements and sculptures, Piazza Navona is the pride of the Baroque Rome. Its conception engaged the artistry of great masters such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who designed the Fountain of the Four Rivers, that lays in the center in the square, as it represents the Danube, the Ganges, the Nile and the Rio de la Plata, and the four corners the earth; Francesco Borromini and Girolamo Rainaldi, responsible for the Church of St. Agnes in Agony, in front of Bernini’s fountain; and Pietro da Cortona, executor of the frescoes in the gallery of Palazzo Pamphili.
The great rivalry between Bernini and Borromini was well known; the mutual dislike was nothing hidden, to the extent that, in his Four Rivers Fountain, Bernini placed a character who, as he faces the Church of St. Agnes, seems to take shelter with his hand raised, in fear of the collapse of Borromini’s construction.
The essential destination of tourists who, by throwing a coin into the fountain, will be sure to return to Rome. The coins, collected on a daily basis, are distributed by the municipality of Rome to charity organizations. The theme of the sculptures is the sea. The scenery is dominated by a shell-shaped chariot, on which lies Pietro Bracci’s large statue of Oceanus. The statues of Filippo della Valle of Health and Abundance are situated in the adjacent niches. The chariot is pulled by sea horses, which in turn are preceded by newts. In the fountain, built in the middle of the eighteenth century, Baroque sculptures and architecture blend perfectly into a striking aquatic show. The unforgettable set of Federico Fellini’s film “La Dolce Vita”, the fountain is powered by the most ancient Roman aqueduct called “Acqua Vergine”.
The Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s masterpiece alone, would be enough to justify the traffic jams around the Vatican Museums, and the more than 5 million tourists who visit them each year. The Museums includes a variety of collections, masterpieces from the immense collection built by the Roman Catholic Church throughout the centuries starting from the era of the Ancient Egypt to the Renaissance. We find priceless works of art collected by or commissioned by the long list of Popes that led the Church, such as the Raphael Rooms or the Sistine Chapel itself, whose beautiful original colors have been recently restored.
For the millions of visitors who come from all over the world to admire its wonders, the Vatican Museums looks like one big museum, but in fact, the “Museums and Papal Galleries” are a museum of museums, which displays work of art of the various collections. Several collections often take on the name of the pope who began them. There are more than 70,000 objects on display to the public, in an area of about 42,000 square meters while 50,000 other pieces are kept in storage. Seeing all in one visit is simply impossible.