Our next stop was to visit inside St. Peters' Basillica. St Peter was the first Pope and it was here that Jesus told him to build the church. This is also where he was crucified (upside down) under the persecution of Emperor Nero. His body is buried here under the alter. This Basillica is huge and beautiful beyond words. The statue below is of Mary holding Jesus after he died. It was sculpted by Michaelangelo, and is the ONLY piece of art that he signed. It is now behind bullet proof glass because a few years ago, some crazy person started destroying it, but it was fixed. Let me show you some of the pictures..instead of my words.
This church is absolutely beautiful. There were so many people here all day long. We actually made it back here to go to mass on Sunday. Feliciti and Jakob were so happy to be able to go to communion here (as were Thom and I). The mass was offered in Italian, and we couldn't understand much of it, but still were happy to make it here. The choir sang absolutely wonderfully. There were probably about 400-500 people at mass. While mass was going on the rest of the public (who did not want to attend mass) had to wait outside of the area, and were not allowed to enter until 4pm.
The next day was our walking Rome tour. This time we actually took a guided tour. Our tour guide was very nice and "sympathetic" for the kids...therefore didn't make any of us rush around. I think the other people in our group appreciated that too, because again it was very hot. The only difference was today we had a bit of a breeze. She told us a lot of interesting facts about Rome (ie, 1. the city was orginally 20 feet below where it is today, and had to be built higher because it always flooded 2. there is always excavation going on, and therefore is very dusty). Our first stop was the Pantheon. It was the Roman temple of "all the gods" and later became a church. Raphael so loved the Pantheon that he was actually buried here in 1520. The dome became a symbol of Rome.
We were able to see the famous Trevi Fountain. Honestly I never heard of the Trevi Fountain before this tour. There are a lot of fountains here, and we all enjoyed a bit of cool relief from them. But this fountain is probably the biggest and most "glamorous" of them all. We were finally ready to see some some Roman ruins. We had a long walk and half of it was through loose gravel. Our guide told us more interesting facts and pointed out certain things...like the balconey where Mussoulini gave speeches from when he visited Rome. Once we got to the Roman Forum, the center of political, commercial and judicial life, we saw a lot of the original Roman buildings, but a lot of them were either destroyed or are still being excavated. Julius Caesar was buried here, and people still place flowers at his gravesite (which is just a pile of rocks). After climbing the "Triumphant Road" which was a steep hill with huge boulders embedded in the ground, we could see the Collisseum.
At the Collisseum, we were able to skip the lines again (woo-hoo!!). After a brief history, the tour guide left, and we explored the Collissum on our own. Actually the term Collisseum is incorrect. It is officially called the Amphitheater, but was "renamed" the Collisseum (not because of the size) but because it was close to a huge statue of Emperor Nero called Collosus. The statue was destroyed after Nero's death to "erase" all the memories of him. The Collisseum was finished in 80AD and only took 10 years to build. There are 80 arch entries that allowed the 80,000 people to be seated in 10 minutes, this was a place considered to be "after-work" entertainment. The columns were built with white limestone ~ and it has been said that the original seating was removed and used to help build St Peter's Basillica. There is a cross here that symbolizes the defeat the Christians had over the pagans, and since 1749 each year the popes do the Stations of the Cross along the walkway of the Collisseum on Good Friday. The steps to get to the uppermost level were very steep (like everything else here) and poor Dominick was literally crawling up them..we found the elevator when we came back down.
Our day was ending now, and we had about a 1 1/2 mile walk back to the hotel. We did a lot of walking today, and we probably drank about 8 liters of water between us all. This was the average on what we drank everyday.
The next three days we did not have any tours, or anything pressing that needed to be done. We bought a 48 hour bus pass...hop on-hop off.
*Pointer #4: because of the heat, this is another good investment....use the transportation to get you from place to place. *
We took the bus around for one complete rotation (about 2 hours), and then decided what we wanted to do. Over the next 2 days we went to a lot of "little" stops. I am going to summarize what we saw now. Piazza del Popolo. Here we saw another fountain (the same place where they had a Moby concert). Here is also where they have the "twin" churches Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto....two churches that look identical...except the tops are a bit different, one is more oval than the other.
We also walked through one of the many shopping district to get to the Spansh steps. Everyone counted the steps and we got 132-137. This was the Spanish area, and if you were caught in this area you could be drafted into the Spanish Army. Once we got to the top, we had to take a break because it seemed to be extra hot and sunny up there. We were a bit disappointed b/c the things we wanted to see were closed.
*Pointer #5: make sure to look in your tour book to check on opening and closing hours. A lot of places close for lunch which is between 1-4pm. *
There are also a lot of obelisk's...many of which came from Egypt...they are tall pointed columns...one of which we saw down in Spanish steps area. Many of them have statues or crosses on the tops. To waste some more time, since we had about 3 hours before anything reopened (at least in the area we were at) we walked up to the Pincio Gardens. This is not the typical gardens we are use to. There were no flowers...just a bunch of trees. But there was a small fountain (nothing extravagant) that the kids played in for about an hour. A little middle-eastern 2 year old girl was up there and her and Dominick played together...she even cried when we left....how sweet!!!!
There are over 900 churches in Rome (most of which are Catholic)..we were only able to see about 10 of them, but passed many more. One of the churches we stopped at was Santa Maria Maggiore..it was here in 356AD where Pope Liberius had a vision of Mother Mary ~ she told him to build a church at the spot he found snow. It was August 5th when it snowed and so he built this church ~ the church was completed in 440AD. Every year the church has a tradition to throw down white flower petals from the ceiling. The ceiling tiles were believed to be the gold that Columbus brought back from the Americas. Once again the artwork, detail and thought in this (and every church we visited) amazed us ~ it is so beautiful!! Many churches also hold tombs of saints, popes, archbishops, bishops and cardinals.
Most of the Italians are very friendly. At one of the restaurants we ate it...Thom and I shared a Carbonara Calzone (which was very yummy) and the kids shared some pasta and pizza. As we were leaving, Emilee ran into a pole, and the owner ran over to her and picked her up and gave her a free ice cream. She told us that we are very blessed to have so many kids ~ and Thom and I both agreed. We have been told by many locals that our family is great because of the size, and they are not use to seeing so "many" kids in one family...the average is 1.5 kids per family.
We also visited Castel Sant' Angelo. The castle was built by Pope Gregory the Great because he had a vision of St. Michael (the archangel). The castel was a papal residence one time and also served as a prison at another time. It has an underground corridor that leads from the Vatican to the castle that would be used for the pope in case he was in danger ~ it was built in 1277 and has no public access. We went to the top of the castle and got some great overview pictures of Rome. There were some beautiful frescos (which we couldn't touch or take pictures of) along some of the walls.
We were needing to get some souvenirs before we left. The kids got to pick out a few things with the money they saved up. Between all of them they got snow-globes, t-shirts, hats, pens, rosaries, fans and postcards. Thom and I got some presents for family (for Christmas) and then a few things for ourselves (rosaries, scarves and postcards). But our biggest souvenir were the 2 oil paintings we bought from a local artist. One was a night-time picture of St Peter's, the Tiber River and Castel Angelo. The other one was a generic scene of Italian houses along the ocean side with beautiful flowers. I made a deal with the artist and actually saved about 50 Euros (about $80) for both of them ~ Not too shabby!!!
We saw a lot more of what I have actually written, but a promise is a promise...I didn't want to make it too unbearalbly long. I hit the hightlights...but just know, no matter what I could write and pictures we could share, seeing it first-hand is the best way to experience what we experienced. Visiting Rome is an experience we will all remember forever!!