A Last Hurrah - Until the Next Time
This was my final trip to Rome for Lockheed Martin and Astrolink. I have quit the company and
am moving back to Southern California.
I said good bye to my Roman friends
with a night out at Hostaria Isidoro, a place that gives out an interesting souvenir calendar. The hostaria specializes in
unusual pasta dishes. My colleagues ordered a series of sampler platters and we consumed about
half of them. I really liked the bowties with spicy tomato sauce and the walnut. The asparagus
spaghetti was good too.
Here are a few photos from that
I had a few hours to sightsee one afternoon, so I decided to visit Basilica di San Clemente and
the Mamertine Prison, a place I've been trying to get into for years.
San Clemente is a fascinating place. It's one of the few places in Rome where you can
experience all 2500 years of the city's existence in one building. San Clemente is a 12th
century church at street level which was built over a 4th century church which in turn was
built on a 1st century Roman house containing a late 2nd century temple to Mithras.
The top level, the current church, is decorated with some of the 4th century church's
items. The marble choir screen is carved with proto-Christian symbols. The columns supporting
the structure look Roman to me. A LIT5000 charge gets you into the lower levels, where you
immediately feel you're in another world. It was an amazing maze of narrow dank halls and
tunnels, with the older church's spaces damp and cramped. Going further down the Mithras
templewas revealed. The most interesting aspect of this building ultimately was the spring that
is still flowing under the lowest building's foundations. The church has channeled the
water to flow under the lower foundation, but you can see the trail of lift-off plates that
track from one side of the building to another. The water eventually flows into the Cloaca
Maxima, the Republican-era original sewer main to the Tiber River.
San Clemente is a few hundred meters down Via di San Giovanni in Laterano, behind the Coloseum.
I spent a few minutes examining the ruins of the gladiator practice and training facility that
is located right on the street. The complex included barracks and a replica Coloseum arena (and
a few rows of seats, too) for practice. This complex was connected to the Coloseum via an
underground tunnel, thus allowing the competitors to enter the arena without having to walk
The Mamertine Prison is set in the
Roman Forum area, a little bit high up the northern side. It has been open erratically for
years; every time I go to Rome I try to get in, but it's been closed each time. This time
it was open (no doubt due to the Jubilee Year activities). The Mamertine Prison is now a small
church called San Pietro in Carcere (St Peter in Prison or Incarceration). The prison consisted
of two levels; a top level that was a small room with a 1 meter or so wide hole in the floor
and a lower level that was the single cell.
The legend is that this was where Saints Peter and Paul were held before their upside down
crucifixion and beheading, respectively. The cell consists of a small altar and a bowl in the
floor that represents the miracle St Peter performed of flooding the cell in order to baptise
the other men incarcerated with him.
Modern visitors enter the lower cell by walking down a well-worn set of steps; original
inhabitants were simply tossed down the hole. Many men were left to starve in here. Others were
garroted or otherwise left to rot. It's a very sad place, but I am glad I finally was able
to visit it.
Here are the photos.
A Day in Umbria
On our off
day we went to Assisi, an Umbrian hill town and the home of St. Francis of Assisi, the founder
of the Franciscan order. St. Francis was born here in 1182. At the age of 19 he renounced his
father's wealth and began a life of ascetism. His message of humility and living in harmony
with nature resonates with us today, but was at odds with the decadent Papacy and the corrupt
monastic orders of the time.
He died in 1226 and Church-sponsored construction of the basilica dedicated to him began two
years later. It was a controversial project, however, since the proposed church's elaborate
design conflicted with the Franciscan's values of simplicity and piety. Eventually a
compromise was forged and the result is the two-tiered church that exists today.
The art in the lower church commemorates Francis' life; the upper church pays tribute to
his sainthood and consecration. The 1997 earthquake damaged the ceiling frescoes in the upper
church; the lower church seems to have survived it very well. Post-quake engineering
investigations revealed that centuries of re-roofing on the upper church caused the building to
torque and sway more at the upper walls than the rest of the structure. The twisting motion
peeled the frescoes from the ceiling. As a result, the church's layers of old roof tiles
were removed and replaced with a lighter-weight material. The frescoes were reattached as best
they could, but large areas of white remain.
No matter, though, the church is a spectacular achievement and a truly uplifting experience.
Assisi itself is a very old town; it still has remnants of the Roman town that originally
occupied it. The central square at the top of the hill was originally the Forum. The
forum's temple of Minerva still exists. It's now a church of course, but the columns
and the lintle still face the square. There is also the skeletal remains of an amphitheater a
kilometer or so away.
The top of the town is capped by the Rocca Maggiore - the big castle. It, like the rest of the
town, glows a beautiful orange-pink. It is about a century younger than the basilica and is an
imposing structure, visible from the valley below. We all walked up to it and climbed all over
it. It was a great experience. I like climbing around old castles almost as much as I like
wandering around Roman ruins and contemplating old churches.
We ended up walking up to the top of the town for lunch; our restaurant was perched on the edge
of a bluff and overlooked the entire valley. We enjoyed our day at Assisi; I couldn't ask
for a better group of folks with whom to travel and explore.
Here are some pictures from that