Saturday, February 10, 2007

dem bones

Finally a great night of sleep! Could have been the velvet draperies drawn around the bed creating a cavern for sleep. But it was needed & welcome.

We had planned on this day being a Vatican day since we'd scheduled a tour of the Scavi for the afternoon. We didn't plan, however, for a rainy day in which every other tourist in Rome would try to seek shelter in the Vatican. The museums changed their admission times for individuals this year - tour groups get in at 8, individuals at 10. Since I didn't get a reservation, seeing the Sistine Chapel would have required a multi-hour wait. And since you can only enter the Basilica through one door with metal detectors, that line wrapped through the colonnade all the way around Piazza San Pietro. We quickly abandoned there and strolled along the Tiber toward Campo di Fiori (Field of Flowers) to see the outdoor market and a bite to eat.

After our snack we wandered around and stumbled on the Area Sacra, ruins of the 4 oldest temples found in Rome (4th cent. B.C.). We continued along Corso Vittorio Emanuele and I realized we were standing in front of Gesu, the Jesuit Mother Church. I hadn't planned on visiting but since we were there we went in. What serendipity! It was gorgeous, an amazing site full of art. We spent most of our time with necks craned looking at the ceiling. This snapshot doesn't do it justice. The fresco was of all these people at the pearly gates and some looked as if they were falling right on us. Actually the intention was that they were falling to hell - built during the reformation, this was a message to the Protestants, told in no uncertain terms that they were wrong.

Since we hadn't planned on visiting Gesu, we were surprised when they came shuffling us out after 15 minutes. They close for the afternoon so our exploration there was done.

The one thing I did have planned was a tour of the Vatican Necropolis. Since we had tickets, the Swiss Guard let us in the back entrance and we were able to skip the looong line and take a quick peek inside the Basilica. Back at the Scavi (necropolis) office we met out guide and began the descent. Here's the quick history courtesy of

After being crucified, Peter was buried in a hillside necropolis, a city of the dead. It was a place, fashioned to look like a city in miniature, where wealthy pagan families entombed their dead in houses where they could continue their new lives. Emperor Constantine eventually became a Christian and, in the 4th century, ordered the construction of a church over the tomb of St. Peter. The church also covered the other mausoleums in the ancient cemetery.

In the 16th century, the present basilica was built on the site. Donato Bramante designed the basilica; Raphael, Frea Giocondo da Verona, and Antionio da Sangallo continued the design after Bramante's death. When the last of the new architects, da Sangallo died, Michelangelo was commissioned to complete the design. He designed most of the apse and the main dome before dying. The dome was completed by Domenico Fontana in 1589, and inaugurated in 1593.

As the centuries passed, so did the memory of the necropolis beneath the basilica. In 1939 workers digging a tomb for the deceased Pope Pius XI, broke through a wall beneath the church and rediscovered the necropolis. Pope Pius XII ordered the excavation of the necropolis, but kept the work secret in case Peter's tomb was not found. Since the necropolis acts as the foundation for St. Peter's Basilica, the entire area could not be uncovered without the possibility of having the Basilica collapse. Work continued for a decade and on December 23, 1950, Pius XII announced the discovery of St. Peter's tomb. On June 26th 1968, Pope Paul VI announced that the remains of St. Peter had also been discovered.

The tour began by winding down a narrow path between the mausoleums of ancient Romans. We could see into several excavated crypts decorated with mosaics and many holding urns from pagan cremations. It was a narrow path but we had plenty of headroom. The guide had us imagine blue skies overhead, as that was the scene 2000 years ago. She told us of some pagan burial rituals, including large parties held several times a year at the crypt. The deceased weren't left out of these parties, as the survivors poured wine to them through tubes.

As we progressed through up the street, she noted carvings on crypts that indicated Christian burials were taking place - words like "rest in peace" and mosaic scenes from scripture. All this was leading up the path to the place where St. Peter was buried after his own crucifixion. It was hard to tell exactly where, but they illuminated the spot with a red light. From there we ascended to see the monument erected over the grave by Constantine. The tour ended in a beautiful chapel adorned with green marble. The altar was erected in front of the grave of St. Peter, and apparently this was the original "St. Peter's." The Basilica was built over the chapel. Around the side of the altar, we could view the bones that were found and are said to be St. Peter's. While there is very little dispute of the site of Peter's grave, archaeologists have none of Peter's DNA to prove beyond a doubt that the bones are his. However, it is generally agreed that they are based on the age of the man at death and the fact that the dirt on the bones matches that in the grave.

The exit of the tour led through the grottoes of the past popes. I realized too late that the crowd was gathered around John Paul II's tomb. We couldn't get back to see it. We trudged back to the hotel, winding through streets and circling around a few times. We grabbed some pizza near Piazza Navona before heading in and crashing hard for a nap. I checked the pedometer - 24,558 steps before 3pm!!!

After our nap we got ready for dinner. We decided to stroll toward the Spanish Steps to find something. We enjoyed the window shopping at some designer shops, then found Hostaria al 31 on via delle Carrozza. We had some wine & bruschetta then I enjoyed spaghetti with pesto and Wayne had spaghetti with tomato, chili and bacon. All very delicious. On the way home we circled over to Giolitti for dessert - lemoncello & fragola for me, cafe & ciccolatta for Wayne. Yum! Hard to believe we only have one day left. Tomorrow it's off to the Forum of ancient Rome.

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