Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Pompeii, located in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, was a prosperous town. It had been dormant longer than any humans remembered - no history of its destructive nature had survived. Prior to its devastating eruption, there had been a violent day filled with earthquakes, but that was 17 years earlier and while buildings and homes were still being repaired, life had returned to normal for the community of Pompeii.
It began with earthquakes, small, seemingly insignificant and people ignored them. Then the calm sea turned into giant waves but still, it didn't bring a warning. Finally, the volcano burst, spewing smoke, mud, flames and burning stones with a rain of ash and rock spread throughout the area, swallowing farms, orchards and villas.
People fled their homes while others locked themselves inside rooms, hoping to keep the ash out. Between the excessive heat and fumes of poisonous gases, the people of the city were killed. By the end of the day, the town of Pompeii was covered in a layer of debri 30 feet thick.
While small things had been found over time, it wasn't until the late 1700's that excavation of the area began. It is startling to realize how organized, how "civilized", cities at that period of history could be. The streets were paved, with stepping stones so that one could walk across the street without stepping into puddles or dirt that could have been tracked by a horse. The roads had proper sidewalks that you could walk along. Along the streets there were stores, sometimes homes that sold something from their front porch. The bakers had ovens, grinders, carts for hauling the bread. And the counters - they're fabulous, made out of marble. They even have holes with warming areas underneath to keep the food they were selling hot!
There were some common elements to the homes in Pompeii. From the entranceway, the visitor would enter into an atrium where there would be a small pool to catch rainwater. Sometimes these were outside in a garden area, such as the picture here with the faun or they might be inside the house with a hole in the roof above it. Many of the houses would have a small garden in back, though some of the larger homes could have quite extensive gardens. The other rooms of the house would open up onto the atrium or areas surrounding the garden type area.
Some of the homes have beautiful paintings on the walls, many of them quite well preserved. The paintings were apparently used the way we hang pictures. Many homes had mosaics in the entrance way, other outside areas or covering the floors of their homes and some are quite well preserved.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Mc What?

I couldn't resist this sign. Here we are, wandering the streets of Rome...the coliseum, the forum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain...the list goes on. As we wind our way through the streets, some large, some small, we notice these red signs...with yellow on them...and realize that each on is pointing to a particular historical well as the ubiquitous McDonald's. We truly spread junk food around the world.

So what's with the gold ball in the courtyard?, we're roaming around the many museums in Vatican City when I look out a window and discover a gold ball in the courtyard. I immediately have to wonder what in the world it is...why is it there. Well, after a little searching (and finding out I'm not the only one with the same question), I have discovered it is actually bronze (could have fooled me) and it's called "Sphere Within Sphere" - and if you're on the other side, you can actually see the 2nd sphere. It is just that, a sculpture placed in the middle of the courtyard. 
The museums at the Vatican are some of the most interesting museums I've been to. Throughout the ages, various popes created the museums to house wonderfully interesting items from around the world. Not only that, the rooms that the collections were housed in were masterpieces in themselves with fabulous paintings on every wall and ceiling. It was fabulous to wander the halls. 
The Gallery of the Tapestries was one of my favorites. The intricate work, the details of the animals, houses, trees, and especially the expressive faces was incredible. Not only that, they were huge! The walls were about 2 stories high and the tapestries filled the walls. Absolutely stunning. This is just a small corner of one - but it had an Even though the room was designed to hold these tapestries, the ceilings were intricately frescoed with various paintings. 
Another personal favorite was the Gallery of the Maps. This particular room had maps of Italy painted directly on the wall, each depicting a region or island of Italy. The maps were very detailed and in the process of being restored. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pictures of Rome

Here is a link to Jeff's wonderful pictures of our trip to Rome.

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica is one of the largest churches in the world, however, it is billed as the "the largest interior" of any Christian church...has to be a qualifier in it somewhere. It also sports the world's largest dome (no qualifier on that least not yet). It is impossible to describe the incredible sculptures, marble, paintings, and history incorporated into this one building.  
The interior is filled with 45 altars (no, I didn't count them). The sculptures are incredible, including the famous Pieta by Michaelangelo and the throne and altar by Bernini. Just absolutely stunning. It was breathtaking to walk around the church, looking at the incredible detail and richness of the basilica. 
For the uninitiated, including me, a basilica is an "important church building" that has been given basilica status by a pope. The cathedral is a church that holds a bishop's throne, important but not as high on the hierarchy as a basilica. Now you know. 
Once we viewed everything from the halls below, we began our climb to the dome. We chose to ride the elevator for the first part - a wise move since the walk to the cupola was at least 1.5 of the elevator ride. We entered first into the upper reaches of the basilica with a stunning view of Bernini's throne. After circling the lower dome, we moved outside and into the circular stairs that took us ever higher to the top. The view of Vatican City was spectacular as well as an impressive view of the square in front with its matching fountains and obelisk. 

We did get an interesting perspective of some of the many huge statues located on buildings and in niches across Rome. I've honestly never given them a thought before, anticipating that like the magnificent work of the masters, they would be spectacular, rich with detail, and complete...wrong. We discovered that what you see is not always what you THINK you're seeing. It looks ornate and detailed from the piazza below but when you're up on's not.
The Swiss Guards (yes, they must be Swiss and yes, they must be men) that you find around the Vatican are there to protect the pope. While around the Vatican and at various checkpoints, you will find them in their distinctive uniforms, when they travel with the pope they are often in "plain clothes". Here, even a nun can't get past them to enter another section of the great basilica. 

Spanish Staircase

The Scalinata, or Spanish Steps, have the distinction of being the "longest and widest staircase in Europe". Really??? We headed off in search of them, a prime spot for watching the sunset in Rome. It is indeed a popular site with hundreds of people hanging out by the fountain (yes, all piazzas must have a fountain), up the steps, and along the distinctive church perched on the top, the Trinita de Monti.
Hmmm...seems the word "longest" got lost in translation...must be the qualifier "widest" that gives it the distinction. At only 138 steps, it hardly qualifies for long. It is, however, quite striking in the sinking rays of the sun and everyone was out en mass to enjoy it; dances going on around the fountain, a film of some sort being shot, street vendors nestled into every flat space, every hand had a camera, and the voices were from every language.


Rome has a hundred, at least, piazzas dotting the landscape and most of them have a fountain of some sort. The roots to the fountains come from early Roman history, when aqueducts were first built to bring water to the city. It became a custom to create a fountain, or mostra,at the entry point of an aqueduct in the city. Back then there were 39 fountains and 500 plus basins where people could get clean drinking water. Just building the aqueducts was a feat in itself. Plus, they had two aqueducts as a source for each major fountain so that if one was being worked on, there would still be water available. What planning!
The most famous fountain is Trevi Fountain. The fountain is a spectacular combination of heroes and gods, horses and flowing water. The effect is breathtaking, and extremely popular with the tourists. The place was absolutely mobbed both times we went. It's because of the time it was sunset and the next in the middle of the day. Jeff, however, is the custodian of the spectacular pictures.
Piazza de Navona has a number of striking fountains, apparently one isn't enough when you have to compete with the popularity of some other fountains. This one includes Neptune fighting an octopus! Just for added interest, there are also some added horses and other figures along the outside of the basin. picture seems to have disappeared into cyberspace. Check out the link for pictures of it.

Roman Forum

The center of economic and civic life was the Roman Forum. This was where anybody who was anyone conducted their business. The Senate met up here and it was also the location of Palantine Hill, where the rich and famous primarily lived. At one time this must have been an absolutely unbelievably busy and gorgeous place to be.
Since the various gods played such a large role in Roman life, and since it seemed that any number of new gods were adopted at various times, numerous temples and altars could be found up here. You didn't even have to be a god to get a temple...Julius Casear and Romulus each had one as well as Jupiter, Venus and Roma. There was also the House of the Vestal Virgins, with the all important job of keeping the fire provide security for Rome but hmmm.... seems it didn't always work so well....
With all these temples, basilicas and arches commemorating victories and people, it seems that it might have been difficult to have ruled from up seemed pretty cramped and we were looking at only partial buildings. Course then again, all the buildings listed may not have existed at the same moment in time...after all, they were great recyclers... They did mention that the Temple to Casear was used for meetings and that there were some unground areas. Still, must have been a tight squeeze with up to 300 elected senators. Capitoline Hill, opposite Palantine Hill, held many other buildings where meetings were held at various times.
Palantine Hill was the home to emperors and Kings, all of them bent on outdoing the previous ruler. While it's hard to imagine the extent of some of the homes from the rough walls now left, you can see the extent of them and with the reconstructions they have made it is almost unbelievable! These homes were spectacular, extensive, and, of course, expensive. Sadly, Romans had a great need for slaves to build these lavish homes as well as to keep them running smoothly, hence their constant push to capture more land, more cities and thus have more money and more slaves to continue building and expanding. Have to say, though, that I'm sure the lower classes didn't look on things in quite the same way. This shot was from the top of the hill in an open area just past an arena, on its way to some of the plush homes on Palantine Hill. Nearby there's a view of the famous Circus Maximus - a huge track primarily used for horse racing and maybe mock battles.


Once again, we have intelligently chosen to take the wonderful red eye flight out of Doha, slaves to the ever ellusive cheap(er) flight. On the plus side, I finally watched all three of the Twilight when will number four come out?
I'm happy to say we are in the world of public transportation. Train from the airport was cheap, but slow. Took us within blocks of our apartment but we had no idea. The 10 minute walk took almost 20 by cab...and cost twice what it should have. We now have week long metro passes and have roamed everywhere for less than the first taxi.
When we finally settled in...and took a greatly needed nap, we headed off for the Roman Collesium. It is an enormous ampitheater that was an early symbol of the city of Rome. Apparently, according to the stories, the citizens of Rome could come to watch the games for free. They also had free food and wine for them inside!
The building itself would hold 80,000 people. It's hard to imagine that many people living in the area at that time. They had gladiator fights, wild animal fights, as well as naval battles! They would flood the arena and then stage great battles between two or more ships! Hard to imagine the required technology to allow them to do all of that in the same space. They also had a cover that could be pulled across the top to protect the people, particularly the dignitaries, from the rain and sun!Over time they added the understructure here where they housed the wild animals they would bring up to the arena. Apparently this was not in place when they were doing the naval battles (good thing too, if you wanted to keep your ship!)
A couple of earthquakes brought down a large section of the outer wall but that didn't stop it from being used, although,overtime, it has been abandoned, used to stage wild boar hunts ( hmmm...wild boar, I think of being in the foothills, not an arena), a fortress and a quarry. Sadly, the marble that once covered it almost entirely has been almost completely removed for other projects long ago.
These people really believed in recycling. Whenever a ruler was ousted or found in disfavor, any temple, arches, or other edifices that were built for him would be torn down. Not to let the building supplies go to waste, they would be incorporated into a new something for the new favored person. Situated next to the colosseum is the Arch of Constantine, built to commemorate his victory over somebody(history is not my strong suit here) and was created out of pieces from other, older, arches.