Originally, we had hoped to hop a bus and head down to the Appian Way to visit some tombs and catacombs on this day. Unfortunately, Rome transit workers had different plans. Note: it’s important to remember that European citizens strike as a hobby. Chances are that if you are traveling to anywhere within the EU right now, you will at some point encounter some sort of strike or demonstration. For us, in Rome, it was a transit strike, and in Naples, a hotel workers’ strike. But it’s all good. Europeans simply do this thing better than we do and I’m slightly jealous of their ability to continuously thumb their noses at their major industries and get what they want. … I’m digressing. Anyhoo, the buses were off schedule and overcrowded, so we decided to go with Plan B for Day 3.
This meant starting the day over at the National Museum of Rome, about a 5-10 minute walk from the hotel. Here you’ll find a wide selection of amazing pieces of sculpture, mosaics, frescoes, and material remains from Ancient Rome. They have an interesting room downstairs that has pieces of money dating from the 5th century BCE all the way thru the modern Euro. It’s pretty cool to see just how many different types of coinage Italy used to have at different periods (which of course does make sense since Italy was not a unified county until way late in its existence). There are some great frescoes from the House of Livia and from some of the homes in Pompeii. We also saw lots of famous pieces of sculpture that I had studied over the years in different art history classes (the Boxer, the Warrior in contrapposto stance, the Plotina bust, the Discus thrower).
Once we’d had our fill our beautiful artworks, we crossed the street to the lovely Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. This church is noted because it was originally part of the Diocletian Baths, the largest bath complex in Rome. During the Renaissance, Michelangelo redesigned part of the existing bath structure turning it into a church that still stands today. (In fact, we visited during the final moments of a mass that morning.) Being that this church was originally part of the largest bath complex in Rome— it is freaking HUGE! The interior is over a football length wide and seven stories high. It is jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring. I’m very glad we decided to work this site into our visit! It’s also pretty incredible to think that as large as the church is, it was only a fraction of the baths so it really gives you pause on just how huge the entire complex must have been. There are still several massive columns from the original baths in the nave of the church and there is also a meridian line that served as a sort of calendar/sun-dial.
With two sites down, it was time for a quick take-away lunch and afternoon siesta. I’m telling you, the Europeans do this whole afternoon nap thing RIGHT! After a shower and nap, we decided to wander over towards the Pantheon area and spend the evening there. First, we stopped in the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. This is the only gothic church in Rome, built in the late 13th century over (and near) several ancient Roman temples. It was the church where Galileo rejected his scientific findings that went against church teachings. It now houses the tombs of Renaissance painter, Fra Angelica, and the body of St. Catherine of Siena. The church also houses a sculpture by Michelangelo and has an Egyptian obelisk out front that dates from the 6th century BCE. *Interesting side note: Rome with it’s 11 or so, has more obelisks than all of Egypt.
Around the block from Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, we continued to our next stop– the Pantheon. This is one of the few buildings that survives from Ancient Rome and has been in nearly constant use since then. The original building was constructed during the 1st century BCE but was lost in a fire. The current building was constructed during the early 2nd century CE. It was originally a temple where one could go to worship any (or all) gods within the Roman theistic world. Now, it is an operating church that still holds mass every week. There is a large oculus at the center of the dome, and Roman architects were ingenious enough to design the floor of the building so that it has a slight slant with small holes in the tiles, thus the rain water could pool and drain easily. The architecture of the dome and portico have inspired generations of planners and builders. Our own Capitol building is said to be based on the Pantheon’s design and anyone who has as much love for Mr. Jefferson as I do, knows this design intimately. (WaHooWa, baby!) The Pantheon sits in a popular piazza and maintains a pretty steady stream of visitors, but it’s not overwhelming nor does it take long to pass through the doors and wander amongst the masses. I did listen to Rick Steve’s audiotour (it’s about 30 minutes) while we walked around, but it didn’t have much information that the guidebooks didn’t.
After visiting the Pantheon, we continued our stroll over towards the Piazza Navona. In Roman times, this area was part of a circus arena. Now it is decorated with obelisks (!), fountains, overpriced restaurants, and shops. It is populated with street performers, artists, musicians, and tourists. The evening we were there the police band were performing after parading around the Piazza. It was really a lovely spot to just sit by a fountain and soak up a little of Rome for a bit.
After sitting in the Piazza for a while, we headed out to find dinner. We ended up a couple of blocks away at Taverna de Coppelle. This small restaurant was probably my favorite in Rome. It was open air, onto a small back alley, and had a friendly staff. A liter of the house wine was only 10E. Our entire bill with an appetizer, two pizzas, wine, and water was just over 30E. For starters, we split the fritti misti plate– a selection of fried offerings that included a crabcake, an olive, a ball of mozzarella, a piece of cod, a potato cake, a rice cake, and a zucchini flower. Those little zucchini flowers would become one of my favorite things to order for the rest of the trip– zucchini flowers that were stuffed with cheese and then fried….. soooo tasty!! The husband then had the quattro fromaggio pizza (4-cheese) and I had the prosciutto. The pizzas were phenomenal. Roman pizza is made on a cracker-thin crust and it was delicious. We ended up returning here for our final meal in Italy later on. After dinner, we grabbed some more gelato from Il Gelato di San Crispino right beside the Pantheon. The husband had banana, chocolate, and limoncello. I had pistachio, honey, and ginger with cinnamon. The honey flavored and the ginger/cinnamon flavor were honestly two of the best flavored gelatos I tried during the whole trip. We took our gelato back to the Piazza della Rotonda and sat and ate and enjoyed the Pantheon by night. While there, we were serenaded by a group of kids giving a mini-concert under the portico of the Pantheon… nothing like hearing a little ABBA at a true Roman landmark!