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Italy X – 15-20 July: Roma - part 2

Rome day 4: Vincenzo had an early start, so was up and out before the alarm prompted me to get up and move. After a shower and my banana for breakfast, I began transferring my clothes and stuff from the old to the new big roller. It was about an inch-and-a-half taller, so I had a bit of concern as to whether it would meet airline measurement regulations. But, realizing I wouldn’t have to deal with that until I got to New York, my next concern was to dispose of the old bag. Then I headed over to Termini to catch the bus north. Again, a broken ticket machine, so I rode for free. My first objective was the Santa Maria della Pace - Chiesa Prelatizia dell'Opus Dei., one of my reference tools, marked it as a cathedral (as it had the Basilica of St Bartholemew (since removed) and the Three Fountain Abbey Church,) and I know that this very conservative organization has been headed by a bishop or cardinal in the past, since being founded in 1928. (Under a ruling by Pope Francis, the organization cannot be led by a bishop.) After a 45-minute ride, I walked to the corner building where the church and organization is based. There was little to give away that this was a religious building.

Tenacious, I tried the door after not getting a reply to the buzzer, and it was open. I began prowling, trying to keep track of corners and stairs as I kept getting deeper. Well-appointed with polished marble floors, marble and dark carved wood on the walls, and murals on the ceilings, I came to what appeared to be a chapter room, two rows of benches paralleling the long-windowed walls, an altar raised at the far end. A cathedra-like seat was behind the altar. Up the stairs behind the altar, a chapel contained what I suspect is the crystal coffin housing the founder of Opus Dei, and a gravestone in the floor marked “El Padre”. Deep inside, I found another altar behind an elaborate locked fence. Somehow, I managed to retrace my steps and found my way out.

Once on the street and staring at the phone, a priest came by so I asked if he thought the building could be called a cathedral, to which I got an unequivocable reply of “no”, as there is no chief prelate/bishop at the moment. (But I saw that two bishops are interred, and that might imply the building is a former, or ex-, cathedral?)

Getting to the bus stop, I waited 25-minutes for a mini-bus to arrive, and finally activated my 72-hour transit card. I stayed on until it got to its turnaround point near the Trevi Fountain, and near my next address. With some spare time, I stopped for breakfast at a café with seating situated in an alley between two buildings. An omelet (eggs and slices of mozzarella), juice and coffee. And the WC. Leaving, after 2-3 blocks, I passed Trajan's Column and the Victor Emmanuel II monument.

I went to check the address in the email and found I was near, finally figuring out where the entrance was in and which building on the square. After getting buzzed in, up two flights of stairs and I arrived at the Anglican Center in Rome.

Meeting Nikki, with whom I’d communicated 3 years earlier, I decided to stay for the Tuesday Communion service, waiting in a high-ceilinged room where filled bookcases filled the upper walls. The Archbishop wouldn’t be available, as he had been called to the Holy See for a conference. Short, pleasant service, no music, good sermon. The celebrant, Rob, a Canadian based at All Saints, and I got to talking over the pizza and salad lunch, and he invited me to his church on Thursday.

Facade, Chiesa Principale di Santa Caterina da Siena a Magnanapoli / (Military Ordinariate) / Cathedral of St Catherine of Siena
Chiesa Principale di Santa Caterina da Siena a Magnanapoli / (Military Ordinariate) / Cathedral of St Catherine of Siena

Departing the ACR, I continued my walk towards the flat. Realizing that I was nearing St Catherine’s, the cathedral I’d been closed out of on day 1, so I headed to see if it was open. The Chiesa Principale di Santa Caterina da Siena a Magnanapoli / (Military Ordinariate) had open doors. A single aisle baroque church, I wondered how military attendees reacted to being surrounded by art, embellishments, flourishes while at a service. While the interior was fairly dark, the natural light coming from the tops of the many side chapels allowed me to get good shots of many of the vaulted arches of these spaces.

Still frustrated with the initial exterior shots taken on Saturday, I walked the other side of the raised mound of brick-enclosed dirt, looking for a way up to the park overlooking the cathedral. Having passed the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II on my way there, when I got to the top (having found stairs at the opposite end of the block,) the pair of three horses pulling chariots atop the nearby memorial was the first building I saw. From the wall looking out towards the Military cathedral, I was able to find a great angle with the Torre della Milizie rising behind, albeit I was pretty close to shooting directly into the sun. Feeling that I’d accomplished a goal, I spent a little more time walking around in the park of the Villa Aldobrandini before making my way down to Via Mazzarino.

Heading down Via Nazionale, I walked by (across the boulevard) the Palazzo delle Esposizione before I spotted a discount clothing store where I bought a pair of plaid shorts and a t-shirt. Staying on the (slightly) shady side, I soon came to St Paul within the Walls, the Episcopal church in Rome. [At the ACR, Bob had touched on the friendly competition between the two Anglican congregations.] With a five-story bell tower on the corner, the exterior is covered in uneven stripes of red and white. The walls above the columns of the wide center aisle, raising to a clerestory, and the actual side aisle walls are of red-and-white horizontal stripes of bricks and plaster.

The dark coffered vault was filled with squares of navy with an eight-pointed star at their centers. A mosaic fills the half-dome of the apse, filled with images of angels, as well as saints. While not a cathedral, a throne of white marble sits at the center of the back wall, on a platform up three steps. A small tree-filled garden area within low walls and an iron fence buffers the side of the church from Via Napoli. When I was there, a staffed table was selling tickets to a performance. No church staff was available for questions.

Via Napoli took me in the direction of Maria Maggiore and the flat, and since I hadn’t heard from the shipper, I stopped in to determine my package’s status. They confirmed the email address and said I would get a message that evening. Getting to the empty flat, I took a tepid shower and then sat and plowed through emails, trying to be cool. After updating my journal, I took a laydown.

Once 7pm rolled around and I felt comfortable to leave to search for an early dinner (it seemed most locals were settling into dinner from 8 to 8:30) and headed down Via Urbana to the fork and up to the Ristorante “Il Tettarella”, a trattoria and pizzeria. They didn’t have AC, but their fans were working and moving around the air. I was seated inside, against the front wall and about as far away from the kitchen and pizza oven as I might get. I had a charming woman waiter, full of smiles and chuckles, a delight. My antipasto was a misto di salumi tipici, a plate of thinly sliced meats surrounding shredded lettuce and red olives. [My notes reflect on a memory that this invoked: my mother would make my brother Bob and me lunch to take to parochial school. Frugal, she would buy a combo pack of deli meats at the local A&P to make sandwiches. The flavors would blend, with me only liking liverwurst and especially hating the mortadella. (Only head cheese was worse.) Absolutely the worst food for kids, now here I was having it for dinner in Rome.]

To accompany my meal, a Birra Moretti – La Rossa (amber) at 40cl. Which got repeated when the Pizza Diavolo arrived. (Mozzarella, tomato, hot salami. Added garlic, gorgonzola and salsiccia.) Spicy enough, plenty of protein. Good gorgonzola, thin crust: I found it divine. And, following the recommendation of my waitress, a fruit tart (top of the menu.)

Rome day 5: GetYourGuide sent me an email for my Wednesday activity, telling me to be at

Waiting to tour the Coliseum
Waiting to tour the Coliseum

the rendezvous point half an hour before the start time of 8:45, so I was at the meeting point overlooking the Coliseum early. Those of us foolish enough to read emails waited in the little shade there was. As the rest of the group of 22 straggled in, Katia (our guide) hung with the other guides until 9 when we assembled, getting our radios and earphones. After an introduction and explanation of the tour, she led us through the entry gate (jump those lines!) and down into the lower levels.

Rough stone walls lined the corridors, bricks formed the supporting arches. We saw the rooms where prisoners, wild animals and fighters would wait, the elevators that were used to bring them up out of the darkness, blinding them in the sunlit sand of the Coliseum floor. We learned about the stage, where theatric spectacles entertained the masses. The emperors made entry free, but to use the facilities would cost; a clever way to recoup some expenses. After about a half hour in the lower levels, we came up into the arena where we could walk around the ring and see the remains of the walls and corridors of the “back stage”.

Once our time was up within the bowl of the arena, we were able to head up to get a better perspective of the stage, subfloor and seating rings. From here, you really get an idea as to just how huge this theater was, how it deserved the title Coliseum. Plus, with its height, looking out over the walls through arched breaks, I had a great vantage point to view much of the old Rome below the Palatine Hill.

After about an hour and a half, we exited the site on the opposite side, near the Arch of Constantine. Looking back at the Coliseum, the arch barely registered. Walking along the Via Sacra, the remains of columns marched along the wall above us as we walked to the Arch of Titus. Once we viewed the Arco di Tito, we moved to climb the Palatine, seeing ruins of former residences and palaces which must have had great views. Off in the distance were the Porto Medievale and the former temples, turned into churches as Christians overcame the pagans.

Once Katia left us, I continued to wander about the Forum, looking at and taking pictures of ruins and explanatory signs. To be honest, it was hot on that plain, with no available shade. I suspect that one could spend weeks exploring elements of this huge archeological space and still not see it all. But, by noon, I was looking to get somewhere cooler.

Front facade, Arcibasilica Papale di Santissimo Salvatore e Santi Giovanni Battista ed Evangelista al Laterano/ Archbasilica Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the Lateran (Lateran Basilica)
Arcibasilica Papale di Santissimo Salvatore e Santi Giovanni Battista ed Evangelista al Laterano/ Archbasilica Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the Lateran (Lateran Basilica)

Fortunately for me, the Lateran Hill was adjoining, and my final Roman cathedral was there. I approached the grassy triangle to the east of the Arcibasilica Papale di Santissimo Salvatore e Santi Giovanni Battista ed Evangelista al Laterano/ Archbasilica Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the Lateran (Lateran Basilica). I moved to the south for my perspective shots, only to find that I needed to walk the fence barricading the front steps to pass through security and enter the cathedral. A white marble façade, the lines are clean, free of elaborate frills and ornamentation, 15 statues of men, clerics, prelates, apostles burnishing crosses, staffs and croziers, with the two Johns closest to the Christ figure surmounted at the peak.

Looking down the central aisle from the narthex, excluding the vault, the inside appears almost monochrome, a mixture of both rococo and baroque. Murals, mosaics and carvings line the walls. Passing the six chapels on each side and reaching the presbytery, a railing marks the crossing. Ahead, a shrine rises above a cupola over the divot in the floor and shrine of John the Baptist. Behind which, in a half dome, the mosaic-decorated marble cathedra of the Pope as Bishop of Rome sits on a platform four steps up from the main floor. Down the north transept arm, massive fluted gilded gold columns support a rectangular baldachin over the tabernacle on the altar.

South of the south transept is a cloister, with a well at its center, a few olive trees in the grass and roses at the corners. The promenade around it is wide, with excavated fragments mounted on the walls. Much history is documented alongside these pieces of stone. Back in the nave, I studied the statues in the niches, all early eighteenth century, all larger-than-life size, of the twelve apostles. Blocks of marble, carved in bas relief depicting scenes from the life of Christ, filled the space over each apostle. The murals on the walls, placed above the arches into the side chapels, were detailed records of the history of the Church. And the geometric designs in the floor, mostly black, gray and white, covered the nave and side aisles. Only in the presbytery was color introduced. Yes, I did look up too; the coffering looked to be hammered brass with dark backgrounds, full of symbols and shields, in rectangles, squares and L’s of various sizes.

With St John’s, I managed to visit the four “major” basilicas: St Peter’s, St Paul’s and St Mary Maggiore. St John’s is the oldest, the only archbasilica, and the highest ranking, even over St Peter’s. All the other basilicas across the Catholic world are “minor”. [Unfortunately, I forgot the advice Peter the young Lithuanian had given me, and didn’t hire the audio guide. Next visit!]

I left, rode a bus north and headed to the flat. When I arrived, Vincenzo was just finishing washing the floors, planning to leave. I just sat on the steps to the third level and waited 5 minutes until the floors were dry. After rehydrating, I took a nap, and then looked for the train tickets I had purchased early in the week – two one way from Rome to Civitavecchia, and my ticket I’d need when I got off the cruise ship to get to Arezzo. (I had a 6-day ItaliaPass to use between the next two cruises.) I tackled more email, and tried to move more photos off the Chromebook to the spare 64GB SD chip, but had difficulties. If I ran out of room, I planned to tackle that issue again.

Vicenzo had suggested that I get to the station by Metro, so I walked the block and a half to Cavour and rode to Termini. Looking at the stairs and busy shopping arcade, especially knowing I’d be moving through about morning rush hour, I decided to taxi, but still purchased the train tickets I’d misplaced. I walked back, putting the tickets away safely, and got my journal and phone to head out for dinner. Walking up to the corner, I got a table at Taverna Urbana, and wound up talking with a pair of Australians. The woman was here for 5 weeks of business, her son an apprentice carpenter visiting for a week.

They left after a bit, to be replaced by a pair of men from Swansea in Wales, who vacuumed their food down; they had been in Split, and would be in Rome for a few days. They were followed by a couple from Chicago and their 10-month-old son. I’d ordered the Involtini di Melanzane and lasagna all’Emiliana, both specials, and had turned the two latter couples on to them, so we all enjoyed the food. I had a half bottle of Montepulciano. For dessert, zabaglione with biscotti, and a glass of vino santo on the house.

Back to the flat, I tried to do my backups but the transfer failed, then plugged in the phone and camera and crashed for the night.

Rome – day 6: Vincenzo was up and out well ahead of me, so I had a banana and then headed out. My friend Graham had rambled on and on about the Trastevere district, and I had the morning free. With no clear specifics, I got on a bus and rode until Maps said I was in the middle of the district, probably the Lgt Farnesina/Trilussa stop, as I wound up strolling the Via Garibaldi. A nice tree lined boulevard, nothing really looked that interesting, as it was just a busy neighborhood. The cicadas were chirping, the steady heartbeat of Rome. A set of staircases rose to my right, painted with the face of a woman in a bonnet, so I headed up the four sets of 21 stairs to see what was there. [Per an email to Vicenzo, the staircase in the photo is the staircase in via Ugo Bassi, in the "high" part of Trastevere which also leads to the Janiculum. It is the face of Elena Sofia Ricci, an Italian actress, in the 1990 Luigi Magni film "In the Name of the Sovereign People", portrayed by David Vecchiato.] I believe I was climbing the Janiculum Hill, as I soon came to a large brick wall of the Mura Gianicolensi.

More walking, I headed into a park, passing a children’s playground, and pair of old fountains and walking across to the exit on the far side. A modern white memorial was near the top of the rise, so I headed towards it to discover the Mauseleo Ossario Garibaldino, a monument to those fallen in the defense of Rome.

Very close by was a church, that of San Pietro in Montorio. The church is part of a complex, part of which is the Academy of Spain in Rome, which I entered (mainly for a WC, but I did get taken to several exhibition rooms, and then the Bramante martyrium, which sits in a cloister-like enclosure between the two buildings.) This Tempietto is a circular structure capped by a dome, simple columns encircling the outer walls to support a railed walkway over the porch. The temple was constructed to mark the spot where Peter was crucified. A circular grate in the floor defines that location.

From there I entered the church itself. Built at the end of the fifteenth century, it houses stunning art from the next century and a half. Three side chapels faced in multi-colored marble on each side, the nave vault is illustrated with trompe l’oeil wreaths. Oils and frescoes are fitted into the frames of the chapel walls, with artists names including Vasari, Bernini and Mazzoni. Some art, including a Raphael Transfiguration, have been removed to the Vatican Museum. While I was there, the priest met with a couple for whom the church was set up for a wedding.

After taking a few pictures from the balustrade overlooking the Trastevere, I took the stairs down into what I’d originally expected: narrow cobble-stoned streets, small cafés, and taverna under trees in a square. My notes called it urban bourgeoise/bohemian. With a vague goal of heading towards the Tiber, I thoroughly enjoyed my time and do want to return, now that I know where I want to be.

With a lunch date pending with Father Rob at All Saints, I just missed a bus after crossing on the Ponte Sisto, so waited 10 minutes and was a touch tardy getting to the church. After being buzzed in, Rob took me into the nave for a brief tour. To me, this felt like I was back in the midlands of England, in an Anglican country church: dark wood beams, ample space. Rob explained it was the third non-Catholic church built within the walls of Rome, the only one of True Gothic style.

The design was by the same architect as St Paul’s (within the Walls) that I’d visited the day earlier, but has less art and pomp. The congregations seem divided, with the Americans there and the British and Commonwealth here.

We headed out to Al Vantaggio, his favorite haunt. As a regular, he knew what he wanted, so I followed his example to have penne and salmon in a red sauce. It was properly seasoned so it required no doctoring by me! We went through two splits of the house red. Dessert was caramel custard with whipped cream, and coffee. My treat, as I’d enjoyed listening to his plans: upon imminent retirement (2-3 years,) to move to the southern Scottish countryside.

We returned to the church so he could give me his business card, as he already had mine.

Spanish Steps, Rome
Spanish Steps, Rome

On to another bus, I headed towards the Esquiline Hill where I would pick up my suit and accoutrement. I paid the seamstress fee of 10€ in cash, and left. I began checking stores to see if I could get a hanging travel bag for the suit, but the only options were serious bucks, and I just wanted to bring it to my Rome hotel to leave for 2 weeks. After dropping the stuff at the flat, I searched online and wound up heading back to the heart of tourist Rome (Municipio I, from Termini to Corso), poking into every menswear store and luggage store, not having any success. I finally punted, unsuccessful in my hunt, and took a bus back from Piazza Venezia (bus stop locations altered for construction) to the flat to chill.

Piazza Venezia
Piazza Venezia

My transit pass, while still good, was damp and foxed at the edges – the humidity in my pockets made it so I would have had difficulty putting it through the reader – fortunately, I was able to just ride around Rome all day without issue. Not too hungry, I had a banana, water, pieces of ginger. I’d only taken 60 pictures over the course of the day, so I skipped my backup routine. I noted that I’d walked my feet off, and used the transit system, so I could get a ride to the station in the morning. Getting on Uber, I scheduled my pickup to get me to Termini for the 9:12 train. I packed up the suit, shirt, belt and ties, and skipped dining altogether.

Book: Cathedrals to the Glory of God
Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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