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.

"Italians Only"

GroupI 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 evening.

More Sightseeing

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 outside.

GroupThe 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

Basilica di San FrancescoOn 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 day.