Friday, November 4, 2011

Pizza for Lunch

Day 2 of our Rome trip:
Saturday after breakfast (the kids were delighted to find that Italian breakfast includes lemon cake, blackcurrant tart, croissants and nutella as well as the healthier options of fruit salad, yoghurt and cereal) we grabbed a taxi from the square behind the hotel and nipped over to Vatican City. Not to go in of course (one day I'll do the Vatican museums and the Sistene Chapel, but it'll be without the children in tow, so that I can take my time, and appreciate the art, rather than having to repeatedly tell them to shhhh and racing through before they get too bored) merely to say "been there, got that photo," after continuing our competition to see who could the most nuns/priests or Minis* we meandered our way down to the banks of the Tiber and strolled along in the sunshine past the various street entertainers and market stalls before crossing back and along to Piazza Navona for lunch.

2:15 was our meeting time for a tour of the catacombs and crypts (chosen to keep a ghoulish 14 yr old entertained). Mike was our guide from Walks of Italy and there were only 6 of us on the tour. We started off at the nunnery of St Priscilla where, beneath the buildings are catacombs - 100's of meters of tunnels underground where 1000's of Christians were once buried back in the 2nd century, these particular catacombs are famous for containing the first documented image of the Virgin Mary which apparently the Vatican are keen to remove it to the safety and sterility of their museum.
From the catacombs, where there are no longer any bodies (removed years ago for a proper burial by the Vatican, to prevent tourists wandering home with a tourist trinket that's more than just a pope on a rope) we headed back into the city of Rome to the Capuchin Crypt. This is a series of six rooms decorated with the bones of 4,000 Capuchin monks. You hear that and you think that the bones are just lying about maybe or piled up against the walls but no. Each of the rooms had a theme and each had at least five whole monk 'corpses' posed, most of these corpses were purely skeletal but some still had skin and hair, one in particular really didn't look like it had been dead 250 years (gossip has it that he's thought to have been especially holy which is why his body isn't decaying). In the last room there were three complete skeletons that were smaller than the others, one was the 'Princess of Rome' depicted on the ceiling as death and the other two were cousins of hers, all three little girls (none older than 9) had died around the same time and the Capuchin monks were asked by the Pope at the time to 'take care of his 3 nieces'.
Apparently a few years ago health and safety visited and decreed that although what was pinned to the walls could stay, they couldn't put any more bones up. It was the kind of place that had we visited it with no guide we'd have wandered in and been done with it in a matters of minutes, but with a guide we had the symbolism of every room explained to us (and many other tourists hanging off Mike's every word.)
Our last stop of the tour was the Basilica of St Clemente, this is somewhere else we'd never have stepped into without a guide let alone learnt so much. The current building that is visible above ground dates back to the 12th century, but it's built upon the remains of a 4th century church, which is in turn built over the remains of ancient Roman buildings, including the apartment where St Clemente (before his sainthood) back in the days of Emporer Trajan used to hold illegal Christian meetings, but there was also a temple to Mithras which was a new cult back in Clemente's day. This building was amazing, we were walking on original Roman flooring from the second century and even weirder, they think that beneath St Clemente's old floor is possibly another layer of ruins to be discovered, probably from Nero's time (apparently they kept finding burnt wood before they had to close down excavations last year due to funding issues) wow!
As you can see, Saturday was a pretty historical day, we still managed to fit in a pizza or two though!

* At the beginning of the trip I bet Jas that I could count more nuns/priests in Rome than she could Minis. We clearly didn't hang about the Vatican area (or 'Pope City' as I like to call it) long enough as Jas saw twice as many cars as I did people in black!

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