Monday, October 7, 2013

Touring Rome - The Catacombs, The Zoo and The Trevi Fountain

Roman Catacombs

Ancient Roman Road on our way to the Catacombs!!  I hope I look this good when I'm this old!!!  What a pity our modern roads can't last through the next rain fall!!  

A sign, indicating this was a holy place we were about to enter.

It was a scorching hot day when we arrived at the St. Callisto catacombs (underground burial grounds) and once there, we discovered that cameras weren't allowed out of respect for the dead buried there.  I was pleased by this, even though it would have been nice to have photographs of the architecture.  But I did take this photo, of a small garden just outside the entrance.  It typifies the peacefulness of the area and many priests can be found on the grounds, giving tours, or in quiet meditation.

As you descend downward, you're suddenly enveloped in cool darkness, surrounded by tall walls of volcanic rock that, in some areas, allow only a small pathway to get through.  In places, your shoulders can almost touch both sides at once!  Definitely NOT a place for the claustrophobic!!

The St. Callisto Catacombs are the largest and best known in Rome.  They cover over 12 miles and extend 5 levels down, and they contain over 170,000 burial places.  Unlike the catacombs in Paris, where tourists are allowed into areas where they're actually surrounded by tall stacks of human bones, visitors are only allowed down to certain levels in Roman catacombs.  At the St. Callisto Catacomb, we went as low as the second level; remains of the dead were removed from the top two levels, and placed into the lower levels where only priests are allowed.

In the first crypt we visited, there had been 9 martyred Episcopal Popes buried!  But the majority of the "graves" consisted of large niches, about 4 feel wide, 2 feet high and about 4 feet deep, that were cut into the soft volcanic stone, one on top of the other.  One level consisted of about 10 niches high, with about 3 feet between them.  Bodies were wrapped in shrouds, placed inside the niches, then covered with lime.  Family members of the deceased would visit these areas, light small oil lamps which were hanging beside each niche, and pay their respects - much like we do today when we visit our cemeteries.

There are five major catacombs that have been excavated in Rome, although as I mentioned earlier, St. Callisto is the largest.  However, the tour guide told us that there are at least 47 more "known" catacombs in Rome that haven't been excavated yet!!

I asked our tour guide if anyone ever got lost, because it's literally like a gigantic maze down there, with "rooms" and tunnels turning left, right, back upon themselves, then up, down, and so on.  She said visitors and tour guides alike were getting lost "all the time"!  Not exactly a place I'd like to venture off on my own in, I can tell you!


Roman Baths

It was late by the time we left St. Callisto and on our way back into the city, we passed this ruin, which we later learned were the remains of ancient Roman baths!  Yet another nod to Roman ingenuity!!  Although these baths in Rome aren't in the best of condition, there are Roman baths located in the city of Bath, England which are in remarkably good condition!!  Although we didn't visit these baths, I looked up the following information and wanted to share it with you:

The baths were begun around AD 206 and completed about 11 years later.  They could accommodate about 2,000 bathers, and many thousands more in the complex that surrounded the baths.  The baths required huge amounts of firewood to feed the boilers that heated the saunas and steam rooms, and firewood was brought into the baths through tunnels and fed into underground furnaces! 

Also, bathing involved a lot more than it does today.  The baths were considered a social meeting place; there were gardens, libraries, sports facilities, stadiums, lecture rooms, shops and hairdressers!!  In the actual bathing process, the person would start with a series of small saunas, in what was called a sudatoria.  Then the individual moved on to a calidarium, which was humid rather than hot.  It was in the calidarium that the actual cleaning took place, but you were scraped (!) rather than washed, and a slave did this if you could afford it.  After that, the person would go into the tepidarium, where they would start to cool off, then on to the frigidarium, which was a cold water douse.  Then, if you were wealthy, you had a rub down with a scented towel and this could be done by a member of the opposite sex if you preferred!! The baths were open to both women and men, although the bathing did take place at different times!  Did you notice that the last two names (tepidarium and frigidarium)were obviously the origin of the words "tepid" (meaning room temperature) and "frigid" (meaning cold)? 

That's it for the baths, although I have to admit, I prefer my own private bath, thank you very much!!


The Roman Zoo

How's this for an entrance to a zoo??  There were two of these structures flanking the entrance.  

Not sure why, but I thought the zoo would be modern and not include any historic monuments.  Obviously I was WRONG!!  I've since learned that there's probably not any place in Rome that isn't historic - as you can see from this beautiful ruin! 

This particular site is the Villa Borghese central park, that includes the Biopark Zoo; it was laid out between 1613 and 1616 as the grounds of the Borghese family's summer villa! 
This particular park includes running and walking paths, woods, lakes, fountains, temples, a racetrack, playgrounds and, of course, the zoo itself.

As zoos go, it was rather small, but I did see my first black swan!!  Isn't it lovely?  I'd only read about them before, so this was a nice surprise!  I took other photos of animals, but they didn't turn out so well. I think my camera was going on the fritz!  Sorry!

At least I got this fantastic picture of a tiger.......

and this surprise photo of a lion with her cubs!!
Cool, huh? 
Strange though, they look a little like Isabel.  Hmmmmm.......

And this is Euro! We named him that because it cost way too many of them!!  But.....years ago, Laura started the tradition of getting Isabel a small stuffed animal from every place they visited.  So.....Euro now resides in Madison, Alabama!! 

 This ends the zoo tour.  As we were leaving, I took this photo of the park.  These trees are very typical in the Roman landscape. 


The Trevi Fountain

This is considered the most famous of all the fountains in Rome, and Rome has quite a lot of fountains, so you can imagine how lovely this looks!


It was virtually impossible to get a full shot of the entire fountain.  It was extremely crowded, probably the most crowded place we visited outside of the Vatican itself.  Everyone took turns getting close to the waters, then they would move back and allow others a turn.

As you can see, the architecture is stunning!  There was originally another fountain on this spot, called the Aqua Vergine, abut 19BC.  A "new" fountain was then built in 1453, ordered by Pope Nicholas V, who paid for it by taxing wine.  I bet he was popular!! And the present fountain (the one pictured above) was commissioned by Pope Clement XII in 1732.  It was finished in 1762 and it's design was inspired by the Arch of Constantine (more about the arch later).

Of course, this is all right in the middle of a very busy shopping district, as well as some very high priced, exclusive private residences.  However, I'd hate to live in the area, because there are crowds all the time!  Even at night, because I read that a visit to the Trevi Fountain at night is breathtaking.

Now who could this be?!?

It is said that those wishing to return to Rome toss a coin, over their shoulder, into the fountain.  No, I didn't.  This was the trip of a lifetime, but two weeks was enough for me!

Not sure what this building is, but it was too beautiful to pass by without taking a photo.  It's situated immediately to the right and front of the Trevi Fountain (as you're facing the fountain).

A close-up.  Fabulous architecture!!

More beautiful architecture near the fountain. 
This concludes the tour for today!!  Hope you're all having a lovely evening!