Sunday, January 28, 2007

Italia Rome - III

Left the Vatican to explore the city further, but just before that we caught a bite to eat at one of the roadside vans which you will find near every tourist spot. Now the van was being run by Bangladeshi brothers. Infact everywhere in Rome, you will see lot of Bangladeshi guys selling stuff on the street, managing souvenir shops and other things. Since my friend is a Bengali he managed some cool discounts and some handy travel tips throughout our stay in Rome.

From Vatican we started walking towards out next destination, the Spanish Steps. En route we came across Castel Sant'Angelo. The Mausoleum of Hadrian, popularly known as Castel Sant'Angelo, initially was commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building spent over a thousand years as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum.

It was in the late 16th century that the French king comissioned the building of the steps to reach the Trinità dei Monti church, which is one of the two french national churches in rome(other one being San Luigi dei Francesi). However the steps were finally built between the 1723 -1726. Now the square below was called Piazza di Spangna hence the steps got the name Spanish Steps. In the early 19th century Keats & Shelley lived and worked here. During that time so many English were there that it was nicknamed ‘The English Ghetto’. The house right to the steps where Keats died in 1821 now houses the Keats Shelley Museum.

In the middle of the square you see a fountain which was comissioned by Pope Urban VIII to commemorate a destructive flood in Tiber around 1600. After the water receeded the boat was found at the spot. La Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Boat). It was the last work of architect Pietro Bernini, father of the famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
On the steps and around the fountain a lot of people assemble just to laze around, catch a breath or just do nothing. You may also see a lot of locals there. At the top of the steps you will find the church and lots of artists displaying their work. The street which leads you to the steps is lined on both sides by some of the best names in fashion - D&G, Versace, Gucci et al and you may also find a line outside each such shop for entry.

From Spanish Steps we headed to Fontana di Trevi. Probably one of the most famous fountains in the world. Some of you readers might recall the famous scene from Federico Fellini’s movie La Dolce Vita, with Swedish actress Anita Ekberg in the fountain. One of the most celebrated images from cinema.

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The fountain is located at the intersection of three roads hence namedtre-vi(a). Work started in 1732 under architect Nicola Salvi and got completed in 1762. Giuseppe Pannini finished the work after Salvi’s death in 1751.

On top of the fountain is the coat of arms of Pope Clement XII, who began work on the fountain. In the center is the magnificent figure of Oceanus(Neptune), son of the Sky and the Earth, which dominates everything in its regality. He is the power of water, impressive in his capacity to give life and at the samer time destroy it. He advaces in a chariot in the form of a shell. His chariot is pulled to two sea horses accompanied by tritons. The horse on the left advances violently symbolizing the sea in tempest, indicative of its violent, destructive nature. While the horse on the right advances calmly representing the calm state of the waters, useful and life giving. The two niches at the sides of Oceanus are the allegoric statues of Fertility(left) and Healthiness(right).

The foutain looks most impressive during night when the sculptures n the water is floodlit. A traditional legend says that if a visitor throws a coin into the fountain, he is ensured a return to Rome. Two coins will ensure a marriage will occur soon, while three coins leads to a divorce. However you need to throw the coins in a special way. Turn your back to the fountain n throw the coin with your right hand over your left shoulder.

After Trevi it was time to head back and we made a walk till our hotel stopping shortly in between at the Piazza della Republica. The Fountain of the Naiads sits in the center. Naiads are the nymphs who protect rivers, lakes, oceans and the underground. Although finished in 1900, the fountain was not turned on until a year later because the female statues were considered by many people too provocative for the times.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Italia Rome - II

Moving on from where we left. After Vatican Museums n Sistine Chapel it was time to visit Basilica di San Pietro (St Peter’s Basilica). The first thing you’ll notice about it is that it’s HUGE. The basilica is built in high renaissance and baroque style & covers an area of 5.7 acres and has a capacity of over 60,000 people. St. Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, was allegedly buried here in A.D. 64 near the site of his execution, and in 324 Constantine commissioned a basilica to be built over Peter's tomb. The current Basilica’s construction began on April 18, 1506 and was completed in 1626. because of such a lengthy contruction the chief architect position was held by many artists. The first was Donato Bramante. When he died great painters n artists like Raphael and Michelangelo took over and finally Carlo Maderno finished the work.

On the front façade of the basilica you can see the words inscribed -
IN HONOREM PRINCIPIS APOST PAVLVS V BVRGHESIVS ROMANVS PONT MAX AN MDCXII PONT VII (In honor of the prince of apostles; Paul V Borghese, pope, in the year 1612 and the seventh year of his pontificate).

For a long time it was the world's biggest church, but in 2000 it was dethroned by Basilica of Our Lady of Peace situated in Yamoussoukro, the administrative capital of Côte d'Ivoire. This was built as a clone of St Peter's Basilica and has aroused much international controversy, for the lavish building glittering with Italian marble sits in the middle of an impoverished African city where only a minority of homes have running water and adequate sanitation, and the cost of the basilica doubled the national debt.

St. Peter's has a strict dress code: no shorts, no skirts above the knee, and no bare shoulders. You will not be let in if you don't come dressed appropriately. And ladies if you find the Swiss guards cute then don’t bother coz they have to be single, devout Christians to qualify for the job.

As you enter the basilica the grandeur and beauty of the interiors hits you in the face. There are more statues, monuments and memorials than I can remember. Immediately on the right aisle is one of the Vatican's greatest treasures: Michelangelo's Pietà, depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Christ. This is considered by some to be one of Michelangelo's greatest works of art, completed when he was 24 years old in 1499 AD. It is the only work signed by Michelangelo (on a diagonal ribbon carved across Mary's breast - MICHAELA[N]GELUS BONAROTUS FLORENTIN[US] FACIEBAT - Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this). Its noteworthy that, Michelangelo makes Mary and Christ appear to be about the same age. Mary has youthful features, although she would've been middle-aged at the time of the Crucifixion. Michelangelo portrayed her as a young woman to convey her purity and chaste character. An act of vandalism on May 21, 1972, after which the Pietà, is secured behind reinforced bulletproof glass.

Over the main altar stands a 30 metres (98 ft) tall baldachin held by four immense pillars, all designed by Bernini between 1624 and 1632. The legendary location of the burial place of St. Peter after his crucifixion is reportedly under the massive baldachin.

The Basilica’s Dome is also a dominant feature of the Roman skyline. The paraboloid dome is a double layered structure with a spiral stair case between the outside and inside layers of the dome is 42.3 metres in interior diameter, rising to 120 metres (394 ft) above the floor.

For a fees of €7 you can take an elevator and then climb to the top of the dome. Def worth a visit believe me. I especially enjoyed the part where u walk between the narrow space between the outer and inner shell of the dome. The space is very less, hardly 2 feet at some of the narrowest points and almost claustrophobic.

From the dome you get a magnificient view of the Piazza di San Pietro (St Peters Square). The open space before the basilica was redesigned by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, from 1656 to 1667, under the direction of Pope Alexander VII, as an appropriate forecourt, designed so that the greatest number of people could see the Pope give his blessing. At the center of the oval stands an Egyptian obelisk of red granite, forty meters tall to the cross on its top and the surrounding Colonnade which has 284 columns made in classic Baroque style.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Italia Rome - I

6 days, 20 hours of travel, 3 missing bags, 2 wonders of the Medieval world, several new kinds of pizzas and dozens of lingering moments. That's how I would sum up the trip to Italy.

Italy has been a place which has captured the imagination of many a people. Some of the world's most famous monuments. (If u haven't heard about the Colosseum, u've probably been living under a rock...go n watch Gladiator for God sake). There were many things in my mind when I was planning the trip and along with those a secret fear… Will it be as beautiful as I expect it to be?? It would be a shame to come out of it thinking 'it's good but I expected more' (I will enlist one such experience in Italy later).

Now, u might have heard many people say that Italy is a lot like India. We knew how right they were when the flight landed in Milan without the check-in luggage. I as a thumb rule travel light when on vacation and don't check-in anything for intra Europe travels. But the rest of the people weren't so lucky. What resulted was an awefully long wait for the luggage and an even longer in the line to register missing bags. Apparently half the flight's luggage was missing. The next thing we did was catch a shuttle to reach the city center using the shuttle bus which plies every 20 mins or so (This is the cheapest way to reach the city center. Ticket €5). Malpensa airport is a mere 48 kms from the city center so the shuttle took another hour. All this ensured that we just had time to grab a bite at the Milan central railway station and board the train for Rome. All the plans to see the
Duomo di Milano went down the drain. Ah, what a beginning!!!

The better part of the journey was spent sleeping so I won't comment on how beautiful the countryside was. 4 hrs and 45 mins later we were in Rome Central station. The delay can be attributed to
Tren Italia. Did I hear someone say another similarity? :) Anyways we decided to cool off our heels that night and attack Rome the following morning. The missing baggage, the wait n the effort to explain the Italian lady at the reception, who spoke no english, that we were expecting luggage the next day took its toll I guess.

The next morning after a hearty Italia breakfast of croissants, butter, cheese, honey and a lovely cappucino we were off. First up - Musei Vaticani & Cappella Sistina. Here lie some of Michelangelo's greatest works like The Last Judgement and Histories of the Genesis (which adorns the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel).

The Vatican Museums displays work from the extensive collection of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Julius II founded the museums in the 16th century. It consists of the Gregorian Egyptian Museum, Gregorian Etruscan Museum, Sistine Chapel, Raphael's Rooms, Pinacoteca and the Ethnological Missionary Museum, the most famous being of course the Sistine Chapel. Tickets cost €12 per head. The Sistine Chapel is such an important and popular historic place that it has a swarm of people in it. Its fame rests on its architecture, which evokes the Temple of the Old Testament, its decoration, frescoed throughout by the greatest Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo whose ceiling is legendary, and its purpose as a site of papal religious and functionary activity, notably the conclave, at which a new Pope is selected.

The Sistine Chapel is named after Pope Sixtus IV and was built at the end of the 16th century. His nephew Pope Julius II asked Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the chapel. From 1508 -1512 he painted the ceiling all the time lying on his back. His paintings show the scenes from the old n new testament. Instead of the 12 figures of the apostles that the Pope had suggested Michelangelo ended up painting more than 3000. The ceiling was unveiled on October 31, 1512, and the whole world came running to see what Michelangelo had done and certainly it was such to make everyone speechless with astonishment. Central to the ceiling are nine scenes from the Book of Genesis of which the Creation of Adam is the best known. God is depicted as a bearded old man with His arm wrapped around a female figure, normally interpreted as Eve, who is not yet created and waits in heaven to be given an earthly form. God's right arm is outstretched to impart the spark of life from his own finger into that of Adam, whose left arm is extended in a pose mirroring God's. The ceiling can be better understood with the help of the below diagram.

Dr. Frank Lynn Meshberger of St. John's Medical Center in Anderson, Indiana believes that the famous 'Creation of Adam' panel contains an image that has been misunderstood for half a millenium - a brain that symbolizes God bestowing intellect on man.(more...)

More than 20 years later he was asked to paint The Last Judgement. The Last Judgment is a depiction of the second coming of Christ and the apocalypse. It took 5 years to complete. The work is massive and spans the entire wall behind the altar of the Sistine Chapel. When it was unveiled in 1541, the Pope Paul III’s MC, Biagio da Cesena, was upset to see a caricature of himself in the painting. During the five years of work this guy had bothered Michelangelo so much that he decided to paint him in the caricature of Minos – Judge of the underworld. (The guy with the snake around him in the bottom right corner). In the painting Michelangelo shows himself as a limp skin held by St Bartholomew near the cloud (The saint is just near the left foot of Christ).

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From 1981-94 the Chapel was restored. This work was sponsored by a Japanese TV channel, Nippon TV, in return for the exclusive media rights for the ceiling.
Video of the Chapel:-