Category: Rome

Orvieto, Umbria, Italy – April 2015

I returned to Rome this Spring for a week+ of casual hanging out and visiting new and old sights. Things have changed a lot since my last visit; nowadays one can buy a sight visit pass and make reservations on line for a whole host of new and improved Ancient Roman excavations and tours. I also saw my Roman friends and visited the Tuscan hilltown of Orvieto. My trusty Canon 6D came along for the ride and never let me down.

Orvieto, Umbria

Orvieto is a classic Italian medieval hilltown but it is a mere 90 minutes from Rome. It has Etruscan roots, was a Roman settlement and then a center of medieval Italian education. It was part of the Papal Territories until Italian Unification. It sits on a nearly impregnable throne of volcanic tufa 300 meters above the valley floor a few minutes’ drive off the Autostrada del Sole. Orvieto’s main attraction is the Duomo, a 13th century masterpiece of Sienese school architecture. It was built in that typical style; with alternating white and dark gray/black marble layers, similar to the duomo in Siena and contains a chapel decorated with breath-taking frescoes by Fra Angelico (the ceiling) and Luca Signorelli (the walls and lunettes). It has a beautiful façade as well and truly is a masterpiece of medieval architecture and construction.

The Façade

The Duomo Façade in Orvieto, Umbria, Italy

A Multi-Image Panorama of the Duomo Façade in Orvieto, Umbria, Italy

Construction started in 1290 and lasted 40 years. The façade was started in 1310 and continued for nearly 300 years, finally completed in its current form in 1609.

The Madonna of San Brizio Chapel

As masterful and beautiful the facade is, though, the real treasure is inside in the San Brizio Chapel. The chapel is covered with incredibly beautiful frescoes. The ceiling was created by Fra Angelico in 1447, the walls 50 years later by Luca Signorelli. Signorelli then painted the lunette frescoes from 1500 to 1503.

The Ceiling of the Madonna of San Brizio Chapel

A Two-Image Panorama of the Ceiling of the San Brizio Chapel. Available Light.

The ceiling has two themes – “Christ in Judgement” and “Angels and Prophets.” Signorelli’s walls’ themes are scenes are of the Choir of the Apostles, of the Doctors, of the Martyrs, Virgins and Patriarchs. But the lunette frescoes are the true masterworks here; considered to be among Singorelli’s best work, the lunettes display a riot of color and of human figures in all sorts of poses, contorted and otherwise.

Signorelli's fresco

Signorelli’s fresco “The Antichrist Preaches.” Available Light.

Every square inch of wall, ceiling and lunette surface is covered with these gorgeous works, truly stunning, and the amazing thing is you can get right up to them.

The Organ

Above the entrance of the Chapel of the Corporal and directly opposite the entrance of the San Brizio chapel stands the organ. It contains 5,585 pipes and was originally designed by Ippolito Scalza and Bernardino Benvenuti in the fifteenth century.

The Duomo Organ

The Duomo Organ

The Maurizio Tower and Clock

In the Piazza Duomo, the square next to the duomo, is a building with this fantastic clock, complete with a 1.7 m tall bronze automaton “Maurizio” that rings the bell every hour. Built in 1347, this was the timeclock for the workers of the duomo. It was a true innovation; medieval timekeeping and even sense of time itself was very fluid; having a clock mandate start and stop times was revolutionary and very practical; the workers were paid by the hour, so the necessity of a clock to track each worker’s time is obvious.

The Maurizio Tower and Clock

The Maurizio Tower and Clock

Rome, Lazio

Of course, my days in Rome were spent walking around my second home, the city I most feel at home in when I am not here. I visited my favorite spots, sat at my favorite cafes and saw my favorite Roman people. I am always struck by how strong my ties are to the Eternal City and to my friends there. Even when I feel blasé about the trip at my departure, inevitably I feel happy and excited when I land.

I almost always come to Rome these days with a specific photographic agenda. A few trips ago I was interested in working at night or early morning. One trip I was focused on the apse mosaics in the early Christian churches. This time I decided to look for the unusual, or at least the lesser seen.

The Fall of the Empire

The Pantheon from an unusual angle

I visited the stadium superstructure ruins at the north end of Piazza Navona (Piazza Navona is built on the foundations of Domitian’s Stadium); for years all I could do was gaze longingly from the sidewalk down to the exposed ruins in front of the bank building that was built around them, but now they are open for close examination. At the Colosseum, I was excited to see that the third floor (as we Americans would say, the second level above ground level) is now open. That has always been a goal for me because until recently that level was off limits. There is also an excavated palace near Trajan’s Forum that is supposed to be very good as well. But I was unable to get into any of these because I had failed to make reservations weeks in advance. :-/ So, next time, I swear.

Link to the photo gallery – click the picture to enlarge it

The History of Rome – The Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain - Rome Italy

The Trevi Fountain


The Trevi Fountain (named because it was located at the junction of three roads or tre vie) marks the traditional point where an ancient Roman aqueduct called the Aqua Virgo – the Virgin Water – made a hard right turn to get to the ancient city center after flowing south for many miles. Legend has it that thirsty Roman soldiers were shown a spring by a young woman.

This spring, located approximately at the 8th milestone on the Via Collatina from the city’s 0 milestone in the Roman Forum became the source for the aqueduct, which was used for a major bath complex. Both the aqueduct and the bath was financed by Marcus Agrippa in 19 BCE. The source was only 8 miles (15 km) away but the run length of the aqueduct was over 20 km, but with an overall drop of only 4 meters end to end.

With the Goth invasion of 537/538 AD the aqueduct was cut and Late Antiquity Rome’s citizens lost their last fresh water supply for 1 000 years. Pope Nicholas V repaired the aqueduct in 1453 and built a small simple basin at it’s terminus.

Commission and Construction

Pope Clement XII held a competition in 1730 for a fountain design to cover the entire back wall of the Palazzo Poli. The competition was won by a Roman named Nicola Salvi and work commenced in 1732. It is designed in the Baroque style. The very last touches were applied to the fountain 30 years later with the installation of the statue of Oceanus (the god of all water) in the central niche.

Dimensions

The fountain is 20 meters (65 feet) wide and 26 meters (85 feet) high at it’s highest point. It is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome.

Iconography

Trevi Fountain - Rome Italy

The Trevi Fountain

The central niche contains a statue of Oceanus.

Trevi Fountain Abundance Statue - Rome Italy

The Trevi Fountain

The left niche has a statue of Abundance pouring water from her urn

Trevi Fountain Salubrity Statue - Rome Italy

The Trevi Fountain

and the right niche a statue of Salubrity with a snake drinking from her cup.

Trevi Fountain Virgin of the Spring Bas Relief - Rome Italy

The Trevi Fountain

The bas relief panel above the right side niche shows the young girl (the virgin of the spring) showing the Roman soldiers the spring.

Tossing the Coins

Various stories about tossing the coins in the fountain exist. The most common one is that one tosses a coin to ensure another visit to Rome, while extensions of that say 2 coins means one will fall in love and 3 coins means one will marry in Rome. Approximately 3 000 Euros are tossed into the fountain every day; the city of Rome collects the coins and gives them to various charities.


If you are planning a visit to Italy soon I have written 2 walking tour guide books to Rome that you can purchase here or at Amazon or Barnes and Noble plus I have a great deal of travel information about Italy and Rome here at my Travels webpages.

I have an album of photos from Rome and other places in Italy in my photo gallery.


The History of Rome – Beware the Ides of March

Beware the Ides of March – The Assassination of Julius Caesar

The Day

March 15, 44 BC was a bad day for Julius Caesar. He was murdered by a group of 40 Roman Senators (including a Senator he considered an ally, Marcus Brutus to whom as Shakespear famously wrote he said “Et tu, Brute?” (You, too, Brutus?) as Brutus approached him to stab him) as he was walking to the Roman Senate building in the Roman Forum. The place he was murdered was a meeting room in the back of a structure called Pompey’s Theater. He was later cremated in the Roman Forum after a eulogy given by his friend Marc Antony, who said “I come not to bury Caesar, but to praise him.”

He was murdered because he had recently been declared “Permanent Dictator,” thus threatening the existence of the Roman Republic. This was in response to his military victories in Gaul after which he returned to Rome and crossed the Rubicon River with his personal army – an illegal act – and declared “The die is cast” (or maybe more likely “Let the dice fly”) as he did it.

Important Sites in Rome

The Rubicon

The Rubicon’s original location is now lost (a river in the Emilia Romagna region, 300+ km north of Rome was determined to be the Rubicon in 1991. This river as with many in the Po Valley, has undergone a great deal of civil engineering over the centuries and so it’s original natural flow has been erased), but the other places – the Roman Senate building, the site where he was cremated, the site where his eulogy was given, Pompey’s Theater and the meeting room where he was assassinated all still exist and can be visited in various ways.

Pompey’s Theater

The Largo di Torre Argentina Sacred Area - Rome Italy

The Largo di Torre Argentina Sacred Area - Click for Larger Image

Pompey’s Theater was a permanent stone theater in Rome. Pompey was a powerful Senator who got around the rules forbidding permanent theater structures by putting a small temple on the top and a few meeting rooms in the back and calling it a temple and convention center. It exists today south of Piazza Navona as a series of apartment buildings built upon the theater superstructure hundreds and hundreds of years ago; you can follow the semi-circular curve of the building. You can also have a meal in a restaurant called Ostaria Costanza thereby sitting inside the support structure with the original brickwork and archways. The meeting room where Julius Caesar met his demise is at the eastern end of the complex; you can see it if you visit the Largo di Torre Argentina area, which is an excavated temple complex. The room remnants can be seen by standing in the right location on the eastern side and looking west. The area is a cat sanctuary and the room is now, believe it or not, a lavatory. In the photo above, the room in which Caesar was murdered is past the archways visible in the near background below street level. What survives of Pompey’s Theater is beyond and behind those large-ish buildings in the background.

The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum - Rome Italy

The Roman Forum - Click for Larger Image

The Roman Forum includes a rebuilt-restored Senate building and a small ruined temple room with altar that is supposed to be the site of his cremation. The spot where the eulogy was given is called the Rostra and was used for giving important speeches to the Senate building and to people gathered in the Forum’s open square. His cremation site can be seen in the photo above but just barely; locate the well-preserved Temple of Antoninus and Faustina on the far left of the photo. Follow the front stairs down to the dark gray “lump.” That lump is the ruins of the memorial and cremation platform. The Rostra is not visible but it is beyond the lower left part of the frame.

Consequences

The result of Julius Caesar’s assassination was a civil war between Marc Antony and Octavian, Caesar’s nephew that lasted years. It resulted in the defeat of Marc Antony’s army and the death of Cleopatra and Marc Antony via snake bite. Octavian became Augustus and was the first emperor of the Roman Empire. He was also the guy who commanded the Biblical Slaughter of the Innocents census that caused Joseph and a pregnant Mary to return to Bethlehem.

The Roman Calendar – Calends, Nones and Ides

Wikipedia has a great explanation of the numerous calendars Romans used during the course of their time on Earth, but basically the Romans described only particular points during the month with a title. The calends was the beginning, the nones was somewhere around the 5 to 7th days and the ides was usually the 13th but in March and a few other months it was the 15th. These points are generally thought to be based on moon phases (Calends = new moon, Nones = half moon, Ides = full moon). Other days were represented by “days after calends” or days before nones.” It seems that the Romans’ calendar is, like their numbering system, a lot more complicated than it needs to be.

So, from this one incident more than 2 000 years ago we get several common sayings (“Et tu, Brutus!” for betrayal, “Crossing the Rubicon” for an act that can’t be taken back) and even once in a while someone will substitute a well regarded individual’s name for Caesar in the famous eulogy and we can still visit the places at which these events occurred.


If you are planning a visit to Italy soon I have written 2 walking tour guide books to Rome that you can purchase here or at Amazon or Barnes and Noble plus I have a great deal of travel information about Italy and Rome here at my Travels webpages.

I have an album of photos from Rome and other places in Italy in my photo gallery.


The History of Rome: Santa Cecilia and Santa Maria in Trastevere

Another article in a series on the history of Rome, Italy.

Rome’s Trastevere District

Trastevere is a district of Rome to the west, officially Rione XIII. “Trastevere” (trahs TAY veh ray) means “Across the Tevere.” “Tevere” is the Italian name for the Tiber, the large river that flows through Rome. It is an ancient and medieval district full of narrow lanes and twisting alleyways. It is also home to two interesting very early Christian churches, Santa Cecilia and Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Santa Cecilia

The church is dedicated to St Cecilia, a 2nd century Roman martyr and patron of musicians. The Italian pronunciation is “chay CHEE lee ah.”

The first church on the site was built in the either 3rd or the 5th century, during excavation work its baptistery was discovered beneath the present Chapel of Relics.

The church was rebuilt in the early 9th century and St Cecilia’s remains were brought from the catacombs of St Calixtus to the church. It was rebuilt-remodeled again in the 18th century.

Santa Cecilia Courtyard - Rome Italy

The Courtyard of Rome, Italy's Santa Cecilia

The front façade was designed in 1725; you walk through the monumental entry and into a courtyard. In front of the church building proper is a garden courtyard with an ancient water vessel adapted as a fountain. The campanile is from the 12th or 13th century.

The 24 Corinthian columns are from the first church.

Stefano Maderno’s beautiful sculpture of Cecilia is in front of the sanctuary. The discovery of her body by Pope Paschal in a catacomb in the 9th century is depicted in a 12th or 13th century fresco at the end of the aisle. Her body was brought to the church and re-interred after the discovery. Her tomb was reopened in 1599 and her body was apparently found intact and incorrupt. Maderno made a sculpture of her; his inscription can still be seen on the floor, testifying that she was depicted just as he saw her.

Santa Cecilia Interior - Rome Italy

The interior of Rome, Italy's Santa Cecilia

The Gothic canopy was made, and signed, by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1292. It is supported by four columns of black and white marble and has Cosmatesque decoration.

The Byzantine style apse mosaic dates from 820 and depicts Christ in Roman clothes being crowned by the Hand of God. He is wearing lati clavi, which was a sign of high rank in Roman society. He is flanked by from left to right; St Paul, St Cecilia, Pope Paschal I, St Peter, St Valerian and St Agatha. Below them on the band 12 lambs surrounding the Lamb of God are seen leaving Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The church’s upper gallery was originally a women’s gallery and is now the nun’s choir

Excavation

Santa Cecilia is built upon an Imperial Era house. You can see the excavations; the ticket office is at the rear of the church on the left side as you enter.

Roman houses from the 2nd and 3rd century have been excavated. One of them is supposedly St Cecilia’s. Evidence of Republican period buildings have also been found. Back then this area was a commercial district; the brick basins uncovered indicates that it was owned by a craftsman; possibly a tanner.

Santa Maria in Trastevere

Some sources say this is the first church where Mass was celebrated openly. Legend surrounds this church’s founding; some information puts its construction at 221, although mid 4th century is more likely. It was rebuilt in the mid 12th century and again in the mid 19th century. Santa Maria in Trastevere contains an odd mixture of Ancient Roman artifacts and construction and early, medieval and relatively new Christian art and architecture.

Santa Maria in Trastevere - Rome Italy

The front of Rome Italy's Santa Maria in Trastevere Church

The façade was rebuilt in 1702; the four Baroque statues above the portal depict Sts Calixtus, Cornelius, Julius and Calepodius. The mosaics are 12th century. They depict the parable of the wise and the unwise maidens. The Blessed Virgin is in the center. The right side maidens are crownless and have allowed their lamps to extinguish.

The door has recycled Imperial Rome stone cornices and the narthex contains a collection of pagan and early Christian inscriptions (3rd century) on the wall and fragments of 9th century sculpture and medieval paintings. The sarcophagi are from the 3rd and 4th centuries.

The campanile is 12th century.

Santa Maria in Trastevere Mosaic and Arch - Rome, Italy

The Mosaic and Triumphal Arch in Rome Italy's Santa Maria in Trastevere

The spectacular main apse mosaic is also from the 13th century remodel project and is attributed to Pietro Cavallini. Christ and St Mary are enthroned and flanked by saints and popes. The mosaic’s left side shows Pope Innocent II holding a model of the church, St Lawrence and Pope St Callixtus. On the right side are Peter and Pope St Cornelius, Pope St Julius and St Calepodius.

The panels between the windows are also mosaics and are late 12th century. They show scenes from the life of the Blessed Virgin. From the left they are: The Birth of Our Lady, The Annunciation, Nativity, Epiphany, Presentation in the Temple and The Falling Asleep of Mary. The last one shows the soul of Mary in the arms of Our Lord.

Santa Maria in Trastevere Apse Mosaic

The Apse Mosaic of Rome, Italy's Santa Maria in Trastevere Church

The triumphal arch’s frescoes are 19th century, the episcopal throne in the apse is ancient.

Weird Stuff

And now for some of the oddness that is Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Inside the church in various places are the Latin words “Fons Olei (oil spring).” Legend has it that a crude oil spring bubbled up here during Augustus’ rule. The local Jewish community interpreted it as a sign that God’s grace would soon flow into the world. Later, because of this interpretation, this location became a meeting spot for the first Roman converts to Christianity.

Another oddness; at the steps at the end of the right aisle you can see some black marble weights. These are ancient standard weights, which the Romans first kept in the temples and later in the churches.

Santa Maria in Trastevere Front Stained Glass Windows - Rome Italy

The Stained Glass Wndows of Rome Italy's Santa Maria in Trastevere


If you are planning a visit to Italy soon I have written 2 walking tour guide books to Rome that you can purchase here or at Amazon or Barnes and Noble plus I have a great deal of travel information about Italy and Rome here at my Travels webpages.

 

I have an album of photos from Rome and other places in Italy in my photo gallery.


The History of Rome: Papal Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore

Another article in an occasional series on the history of Rome.

Founding and Construction

Santa Maria Maggiore Front

The Front of Santa Maria Maggiore - Three Image Panorama

Santa Maria Maggiore (St Mary Major) is one of 4 papal basilicas in Rome along with San Giovanni in Laterano (St John in the Lateran), San Paolo Fuori le Mura (St Paul Outside the Wall) and San Pietro in Vaticano (St Peter in the Vatican). It is one of the 4 churches the Pope holds Mass in and each church’s plot of land is a little piece of the Vatican. Built in 8 years from 432 to 440, Santa Maria Maggiore sits on the summit of the Esquiline Hill, on a place that legend says was the location of an August snowstorm in 358. A childless couple was visited by the Virgin during their sleep and were told to build a church on the spot where snow fell the next morning. This led to the church first being called Santa Maria della Neve (St Mary of the Snow). Every year in August the legend is re-enacted by Rome Catholics who drop white flower petals from the dome during the feast day festival. Over the centuries the church was expanded and remodeled but its interior remains true to its original construction; its layout looks very much like a 1st century Roman basilica, which for them was not a church but in fact a shopping mall/civic center building. It has a long tall nave, two aisles (one on either side) and a semi-hemispherical dome at the far end. Its overall length is 92 m, its overall width is 80 m and the nave is 30 m wide. It’s 75 m high. The ceiling is said to be gilded with gold brought back from the New World. The columns inside are recycled from an older Roman temple.

Mosaics and Art

Santa Maria Maggiore Apse Mosaic

Santa Maria Maggiore Apse Mosaic Created 1295 CE. Handheld shot at ISO 800.

The mosiacs in this church are nothing less than spectacular and should be the main focus of a visit. The dominant work of art in Santa Maria Maggiore is doubtlessly the apse mosaic. Created in 1295, it features Jesus and Mary surrounded by representations of the Tree of Life, the Apostles and other liturgical symbols. A truly stunning work, it set the standard for representations of Mary in Catholic art for centuries.

Santa Maria Maggiore Triumphal Arch Mosaic

Santa Maria Maggiore Triumphal Arch Mosaic and Baldochino. Handheld shot at ISO 800

The Triumphal Arch is also similarly beautiful. It illustrates scenes from Christ’s life and its theme is The Infant Savior. Because these works are older than the Council of Nicea, the Triumphal Arch in this church includes a scene that didn’t make the cut in the official New Testament (Christ as a baby is brought to a temple but His holiness causes the temple statues to crack and fall from their pedestals). Thus Santa Maria Maggiore’s Triumphal Arch mosaic is the only example of Christian art that contains a scene of Christ’s life not in the Bible.

Standing in the back of the nave you can see directly above the columns and architraves and underneath each window mosaics of Old Testament history. Research has dated them to circa 432-440, in the pontificate of Pope Sixtus III. Since the natural light in the church is very low, the best way to see them is to be in the church just prior to a service. They are then lit with artificial light and they absolutely glow! Some of them were heavily restored with paint during the Middle Ages, and some were reconstructed in 1593 and later.

Of the original 42 panels, 27 have survived to today. Fifteen have been lost through the ages; some of those when the Pauline and Sistine Chapels were built (you can see the archways at the end of the nave built for their entrances).

Additions

The Sforza Chapel is interesting because it was designed by Michaelangelo in 1564 (and completed in 1573 by Giacomo della Porta). So many of his works are now “off limits” to the general public that it is nice to be able to not only walk up to one of his creations but actually walk into it. The original entrance to this chapel was a large arch, but it was demolished in the mid-1700’s. This church also has a Sistine Chapel, but this Sistine Chapel is nothing like the famous one in the Vatican. Any chapel built by a Pope named Sixtus (there were 5 of them) is named “Sistine.” Laid out in a Greek Cross plan with a magnificent dome capping it, the Sistine Chapel known officially as Blessed Sacrament Chapel is a truly outstanding creation. It was designed by Domenico Fontana and work began on it in 1585 and is the burial place for Pope Sixtus V (ah ha!).


If you are planning a visit to Italy soon I have written 2 walking tour guide books to Rome that you can purchase here or at Amazon or Barnes and Noble plus I have a great deal of travel information about Italy and Rome here at my Travels webpages.

I have an album of photos from Rome and other places in Italy in my photo gallery.


The History of Rome: The Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica

Introduction – The History of Rome: St Peter’s in the Vatican (San Pietro in Vaticano)

St Peter in the Vatican Panorama

St Peter in the Vatican Panorama

The history of Rome is fascinating and is occasionally the subject of posts here such as the history of the Colosseum and the history of the Pantheon. I have been to Rome many times and consider it my second home. The area we call the Vatican was in ancient Roman times a suburban area of Rome and included a Circus (horse chariot racing track). The circus was called by various names including Circus Vaticanus, the Circus of Nero and the Circus of Caligula and is the site of St Peter’s upside down crucifixion. The church you see today is the second such structure on this spot and is sometimes called “New St Peter’s.” It has almost nothing in common with Old St Peter’s, the first church built here (by Constantine’s decree) in 321 CE.

The Ancient Topography and Architecture of the Vatican Area

The original structure here, the circus, is now buried well below the current level of Piazza San Pietro – St Peter’s Square – and is the bottom most of three layers. The topmost layer is New St Peter’s, next is Old St Peter’s and the lowest is the aforementioned Circus Vaticanus. The spina (the long narrow center divider) of the Circus is used to line up a pair of Imperial mausoleums intended for Theodosius from Old St Peter’s which were built over or near the traditional spot of Peter’s crucifixion. His tomb is located in a spot that both churches use(d) as their centerpiece; the high altar. Assuming you approached St Peter’s Square from the typical direction (walking westward from Castel Sant Angelo or southward from the metro station), you are at the eastern edge of Piazza San Pietro, looking at the church façade. What you see in front of you is a vast flat area with the largest church in Christendom as the centerpiece.

Approach to St Peter's Square

The approach to St Peter's Square

This area did not always look like this; in ancient times the area where the church is now was a hill; the original architects of Old St Peter’s carted off part of the hill to make room for the church; the architects for New St Peter’s carted off more to make room for the bigger project. The spot you are currently standing on marks the corner of the north side of the track and the carcere (car CHAY ray), the starting gates. A slight turn to your left (counter or anti-clockwise) and you face down the northern edge of the track. The spina, the central divide of the track, began at a point about a third of the way down the straight structure on the left that connects the ellipse with the front of the church. The far end terminated well beyond the back of the current basilica, but the spina ended at a point perpendicular to the current church’s outer apse wall. The obelisk in the center of the square was originally placed on the center point of the spina in Nero’s time. Peter was crucified upside down on that spina in 64 CE. The legend is that Nero himself rode a chariot around the track as Peter was dying on his inverted crucifix. There’s nothing left of the stadium above ground, but a palazzo to your left apparently has some carcere remnants in it’s basement.

St Peter's Square and the Vatican at Night

St Peter's Square and the Vatican at Night

Old St Peter’s in the Vatican

After Peter’s martyrdom, his followers buried him next to the circus, in a tomb that at the time was set into the bluff of the Vatican Hill. His was not the only tomb there, though. The necropolis was already well established, with a mixture of both pagan and Christian tomb sites. Constantine ordered a large church be built on the site to commemorate Peter’s martyrdom and to encourage the growth of the religion. The area was leveled and the church’s altar center built directly over the tomb. Construction was started in 321 and completed 8 years later. The original church’s design included a large atrium in the front surrounded by porticoes. In the center of the atrium was a fountain called the Fountain of Symmachus whose centerpiece was a large bronze pine cone. This pine cone still exists and can be seen in one of the courtyards of the Vatican Museum today. To help orient yourself; the actual entrance to the old church was pretty much in the same location as the entrance to the current church is. To get a very good idea of what Old St Peter’s looked like inside, we just need to visit San Paulo Fuori le Mura, a large basilica built next to the Ostiense Road south of the city. The layout and the style were very similar; both are and were five nave churches.

New St Peter’s in the Vatican

Eventually Old St Peter’s began to feel its age; the walls were threatening to collapse inward and destroy the church. A new church was decreed by Pope Julius II in 1505, construction began the next year and the project was completed in 1626, 120 years and 19 Popes later. Pope Julius II held a design competition and the winner was Donatello Bramante. Many of the entries can still be seen at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Michelangelo was given the title of capomaestro (literally “headmaster”) in 1547 and was able to ensure the completion of the project with his vision of the design nearly intact. It was during his time that the dome was begun to his design, an ovoid shape with two shells, an inner one and an outer one. The dome was completed in 1590 under the supervision of Giacomo della Porta. Standing above the altar under the dome is the 4 story high bronze baldacchino, created from the confiscation and melting of the bronze roofing tiles from the Pantheon. Designed by Bernini, this huge free-standing bronze altar cover and free-standing piece was started in 1623 and completed in 1634.

St Peter's Baldacchino

St Peter's Baldacchino

The final work in the area was to create the space of St Peter’s Square. The colonnade that surrounds the square was built to emulate the welcoming arms of the Church, with a trapezoidal area near the building that gives the illusion of the church being close than it is, and the second area further out, ellipsoidal in shape and surrounded by the almost but not quite enclosing colonnade.

St Peter's Square from the Dome

St Peter's Square from the Dome


If you are planning a visit to Italy soon I have written 2 walking tour guide books to Rome that you can purchase here or at Amazon or Barnes and Noble plus I have a great deal of travel information about Italy and Rome here at my Travels webpages.

I have an album of photos from Rome and other places in Italy in my photo gallery.


The History of Rome: The Pantheon

In keeping with a previous post about another Rome monument, this entry will be about the Pantheon. Built in the early 2nd century, designed by Hadrian and a temple dedicated to all the gods, the Pantheon is truly one of the great buildings of the world.

Rome, Italy's Pantheon at midnight under a full moon

It is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world and is 43 m across and from the top of the drum to the ceiling center it is also 43 m; a perfect hemisphere.

It was preserved even through Rome’s darkest hours; even the Popes knew this was a special building. It was dedicated as a Catholic church for all martyrs in the early 7th century and Raphael is buried in it.

The bronze doors you walk through are the originals; nearly 2 000 years old.

Rome, Italy's Pantheon interior

The columns in the portico are granite. The dome was originally roofed with bronze plates but a Barberini Pope had them removed and melted down to make the bronze baldocchino in New St Peter’s basilica in the Vatican.

Rome, Italy's Pantheon with Motorcycle
Easily my favorite place in Rome, the Pantheon remains as beautiful and artful as it was the day it was completed. I have more information about the Pantheon in my Ancient Rome Walking Tour Guide.

If you are planning a visit to Italy soon I have written 2 walking tour guide books to Rome that you can purchase here or at Amazon or Barnes and Noble plus I have a great deal of travel information about Italy and Rome here at my Travels webpages.