Yes, it's been a while. It would probably be even longer, but I need something to do while I'm praying that the Italian washing machine doesn't destroy my clothing. It's probably in my best interest to update more constantly anyway, since I now have to cover two weeks worth of material in my entry.
Trying to go in roughly chronological order:
The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel
A bit of a letdown, honestly. It would have gone better had our art history professor not spent close to an hour talking in front of a copy of Michelangelo's "Pietà," which happened to be by the gift shop in the Pinacotecca. Apparently, sometime in the early '70s, "a mentally disturbed geologist named Laszlo Toth walked into the chapel and attacked the Virgin with a hammer while shouting 'I am Jesus Christ.'" Cool! Unfortunately, as a result of the attack, the statue has been moved to a more secure location in St. Peter's, and our professor doesn't like the way that the light falls on it in its current location. So the plaster copy it was! While gawking at comments about all of the "Oriental" tourists who were going to "come at [him] with a samurai sword," we spent an hour tantalizingly close to Raphaels, Caravaggios, Sebastianos, and the Sistine Chapel listening to a dissertation on an imitation. Mutiny was considered, but the resulting carnage probably would have damaged the paintings. And nobody wants that.
The Belvedere courtyard - this is where the popes used to watch bullfighting! Cool! Also, the enormous bronze pine cone is the symbol of either Pope Sixtus IV or Julius II. I can't remember which, but I'm pretty sure it's the former.
The Hall of Cartographic Maps. On the walls are a huge number of paintings by one of Italy's leading cartographers in the 16th Century, which depict in varying degrees of detail the regions, cities, small towns, and peninsula of Italy. The ceiling looks really cool in this picture. It has scenes of local saints performing their miracles, which solidified the popes' connection to the people of Italy.
Not my picture. To appreciate it, you need to see it in person, so come visit me in Rome and we'll go. My real question is this: who looks at the walls of the chapel and says "I know what this needs! More paintings covering the ceiling!" Utter sensory overload. Besides, I like the Last Judgment on the wall better anyway.
One fun fact! The image on the ceiling of God separating light from dark
God is depicted with female breasts, which was discovered when they cleaned it back in the '80s. This has something to do with the theology surrounding Genesis, in which God has both masculine (the powerful arms and legs, his beard, etc.) and feminine (the breasts) aspects.
From the chapel, Joanna and I hopped on a disconcertingly rickety train to go to Siena to celebrate our four year anniversary. Most of the rest of the Centro went to Florence, but we didn't feel like we were missing out on much; nothing good can happen when 21 people who are living together anyway decided to travel in a group. Besides, Siena is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, from the medieval
(a bit over the top, really)
(a bit over the top, really)
. I also ate two of the best meals of my life at this tiny little restaurant off of the main Piazza. Anytime a meal makes you completely change the way that you think about something as simple as spaghetti with red sauce, you know you've done well. The second night I had wild boar at the same place (why mess with success?), which was just as rewarding. We spent all of Saturday sightseeing and shopping (Joanna bought boots, I bought wine). I would like to take this opportunity to plug the Lonely Planet series of guidebooks, seeing as they lead us to both the amazing restaurant and a small enoteca near the Duomo, where the owner spoke to us in very patient Italian, let us taste an enormous number of wines, and gave us a free bottle when we left! We were already purchasing three of the four DOC wines from the region, and he wanted us to have a complete set. An awesome end to a nearly perfect weekend.
I was very happy to be in this wine cellar! Not only is it full of delicious wines (the man who ran the store took this opportunity to give us a lesson in Brunello), but it also used to be an Etruscan tomb!
St. Catherine's head in a box! Early Christians were so weird...
Interestingly enough, we saw the rest of her body on an art history field trip last Friday. The paintings are by Il Sodoma, or "The Sodomite." Again, weird.
Not my finest moment, but you try getting someone to take a picture for you when all you can say in Italian is "vino rosso." The fountain in the back is a late Renaissance work in the Piazza del Campo called "The Fountain of Peace"
Latium, Nemi, and Cicero's villa.
Heading back to school after that weekend was a struggle, but we had some decent field trips to make up for it. Last Tuesday, we went to Latium, Nemi, and some place on top of a hill to see some early Latin sites, including the legendary grave of Aeneas. In Nemi, we visited an old temple to Diana (incidentally, a popular hangout for neo-pagans for them to do whatever it is that neo-pagans do. More on this later) where we learned about all of the weird stuff that the priesthood got up to. Only a runaway slave who had taken sanctuary in the temple could become the high priest or "Rex Nemorensis" (king of the wood) - but to assume the position, he had to kill his predecessor. It was fun stuff, although I didn't get any pictures of Lake Nemi, which is also called "Diana's Mirror" because my camera ran out of batteries. I replaced them on the second half of the field trip when we went to see a couple of Caligula's "Pleasure Barges" these things were enormous,
. Finally, we went up to see Cicero's villa at the top of an enormous hill, which felt like a bit of a pilgrimage for me. Appropriate for Rome, I suppose.
(this is only the rudder, and it goes about 7 feet deeper into that hole)
(this is only the rudder, and it goes about 7 feet deeper into that hole)
Heroon of Aeneas!
Doing a jig on said Heroon. Aeneas is the worst epic hero EVER.
Neo-pagan graffiti at the Temple of Diana. Classy.
Killing Matt "Due" to take his place as high priest.
The temple itself
Happy to be at Cicero's villa? I've got to start getting some better pictures of myself. I don't know what prompted that facial expression.
Forum Romanum and the Mamertine Prison
Last week was also the week of my joint oral report, which constitutes something like 10% of my grade for the Ancient City class. Three guesses as to with whom I worked. We did a report on the Mamertine Prison, where people like Vercingetorix, Jugurtha, Sejanus (played by Patrick Stewart in I, Claudius), and the Catiliniarians were taken to be strangled. There is also a legend that SS. Peter and Paul were kept there during Nero's persecution in 64 C.E., which means that the space is remarkably well-preserved since it holds the shrine of St. Peter in Carcere. Naturally, we gave an amazing presentation. Our report was a part of our first trip to the Forum Romanum, which holds things like the Arch of Titus, the Arch of Septimius Severus, the Curia (where the Senate met), the Temple of Castor and Pollux, and basically everything interesting and ancient in Rome that isn't the Colosseum.
Giving our presentation in an idyllic spot. I wore my Bean boots thinking that it was going to rain, but as you can tell by our long shadows, it was a beautiful day. Can't say that I'm complaining. The thing around my neck is the cool "Whisper Phone" that we use to communicate in crowded places. While the technology is nice, it makes me feel like a huge dork. Then again, I'm a classics major...
This is what happens in the Mamertine Prison: people get strangled. Or beheaded, or sentenced to starvation, or left to rot before being chucked off of the Tarpeian Rock.
The Arch of Titus. You can't see the reliefs of the prisoners being led off from the sack of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., but they're really cool.
The Arch of Septimius Severus, a later Roman emperor.
Ok, I really geeked out about this one. It's one of the earliest known Latin inscriptions and reads (backward) "Regei," or "to/for the king." Nobody knows what the rock was used for. Augustus thought that it was the grave of Romulus, but then again, Augustus thought a lot of things. It was located by the Curia under the Lapis Niger, where Julius Caesar buried it when he renovated the Forum toward the end of his life.
The remains of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, these columns are known as "The Three Sisters." They're also enormous, but you can't get too close to them.
I swear, I have other friends. I just don't post pictures of them. Overlooking the Forum, with the Arch of Septimius Severus right behind us.
Santa Maria del Populo
Last Friday's art history class involved the Chigi Chapel in the church of Sta. Maria del Populo right inside the Aurelian Walls. Apparently, its best known to contemporary readers from Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, but I've never read it and I never plan to . There was a tour of middle-aged Scots outside the church while we were waiting for our professor (he was an hour late because the Italian bus workers went on strike [you know, just to pass the time] that morning) who signed up to be lead around the city based on the sights Our Hero sees throughout the course of the novel. There were a few cool things there, but since we mostly just hung out in the Piazza del Populo, there's only one good picture:
It was hard for me to get this, because the priest in charge didn't want pictures taken, but this is an icon of the Madonna and Child supposedly painted by St. Luke. You can tell that it's authentic because it's glowing.
This past weekend was fun, but that's a story for another day - my laundry is surely done by now and I've got to put it in the dryer (with the requisite sacrifices to the laundry gods to see my t-shirts through to the end of their journey) before dinner. The next update will come more quickly, mostly because I don't want to have to try to recall two weeks worth of events again.