Italy 2006:  Chapter II

More of Rome:  St. Paul's Outside the Walls
* Spanish Square * Pantheon * Catacombs
Also:  Abbey of Monet Cassino * Pompeii

Here we are again continuing our Roman Saga!

We picked up Ulysses at his home in Rome and headed out to the Basilica of St. Paul.  It was only Tuesday, September 5th.  Our trip had just begun and we had already traveled 2,000 years!

This Basilica, built over the tomb of St. Paul, is located outside the walls of the Vatican, whereas St. Peter's Basilica, built over the tomb of St. Peter, is located on Vatican Hill.  The name "Vatican Hill" was given long before the founding of Christianity, and it's located on the side of the Tiber River that is opposite the traditional seven hills of Rome.

Ulysses explained to us that Peter was a Jew turned Christian, while Paul was a Roman turned Christian, and that's what dictated their burial grounds a well as their manner of martyrdom.  As a Jew, Peter was crucified.  As a Roman, Paul was beheaded.  Beheading was seen as a swifter, less cruel death.  We were told that Peter and Paul were martyred on the same day -- June 29th, 67 A.D.

The first St. Paul's church was built over his tomb by Emperor Constantine in 324 A.D.  Ulysses told our group (pictured above) that there was a great fire in 1834 that destroyed the church, and that it was rebuilt exactly like it had been, through gifts of the nations.  He pointed to four monolithic columns of alabaster from Egypt and a tabernacle from Russia.

I believe it was a chord of continuity that endeared the Basilica of St. Paul to me.  A large painted mosaic medallion of every Pope from St. Peter up to and including Pope Benedict XVI is prominently displayed above the arches and colonnades of the church.  The one spotlighted above is our current Pope Benedict.

St. Peter is depicted in the first medallion above, on the left, in blue and gold garb.  Said Ulysses, "Most of the Popes are painted with halos because most of them were martyred."

When asked about running out of space for the medallions (see more of them above), Ulysses replied, "We will always find a space for more popes.  If we get to the last Pope, we will get to the end of time."

As with St. Peter at St. Peter's Basilica, the tomb of St. Paul lies below the baldachino and main altar of St. Paul's Basilica. 

There were also impressive side altars and statues at St. Paul's.  Ulysses was excited about the next stop, the next story.  "You wonder why I am so happy?" he asked.  "This is the life, from one beautiful museum to another!"

As we drove back into the city, we saw that not only the Vatican was protected by a wall.  The entire city of Rome was encircled with a wall.

For lunch that afternoon we were let loose near the Spanish Steps, which were designed by the French and made famous by French designers of clothing.  It's where fashion shows take place today.

The Spanish influence was evident in a statue of the Blessed Mother adorning the top of an obelisk at the Square.  Romans love to build obelisks.  I believe Ulysses said there are 13 in Rome.

We shopped quite a bit that afternoon -- for shirts and underwear.  Remember the lost luggage?

The sun was hotter than Hades so we sat very still in what little shade or comfort we could find and waited for Mhairi to rescue us and guide us to the Pantheon.  It was within walking distance.

But so was the Trevi Fountain, which looks much the same, only hotter, during the day.

It's really quite a phenomenal structure.  We learned this fountain is at the ending part of an aqueduct constructed in 19 B.C.  It was commissioned by Pope Clement XII in 1732 and completed in 1762.

Those red strapped contraptions we are all wearing are known as "Whispers."  A battery operated control allows us to hear our guide as we move hither and yon, when we put on the headphones.

Finally we saw the huge domed roof and giant monolithic (from one piece of marble) pillars.  It was built about 125 A. D. -- almost two thousand years ago -- as a pagan temple, but became a Catholic Church in 609 A.D.

Eight of the pillars are solid pink granite, eight are solid gray granite, all from Egypt, said Ulysses.  The place was built by slaves.

Ulysses told us that modern architects have not been able to recreate what the Romans did way back when.  The composition of the Roman concrete used in the un-reinforced dome remains a mystery.

We saw the tomb of, among others, Raphael, one of the great Renaissance artists.

There's a large hold in the domed ceiling and, yes, when it rains the floor gets wet but there are drains to take care of that situation and it's not deemed a problem but a method of ventilation and a place for pigeons to enter.  Later that afternoon we toured the Catacombs, but were not allowed to take pictures.  We were told there are over 100 miles of tunnels in the ancient burial ground.

Oh, yes, we had a little time to kill again -- in the shade -- by the fountains.

On Wednesday morning, September 6th, we left Rome and headed south.  As we traveled, Mhairi enlightened us on many things Italian, including hilltop cities such as shown above.  We saw many such cities as we drove down the Autostrade -- similar to the Autobahn in Germany.

"Because of the closeness of the family," Mhairi said, "they don't have the social problems here The population of Italy is 58,103,000 They're bombarded with immigrants because the sea is on three sides and they're close to North Africa It's much warmer and more easy going in the south."

" The south was ruled by the Spanish The north was ruled by Austria for a time The north is more efficient and everything works The southern Apennines (photographed above) more or less cut Italy in two "

I found it all interesting.  Mhairi continued to inform.  "Many churches here are so old and people can't afford to upkeep them and open them every day Italy only united in 1861 Garibaldi came along in 1860 and unified Italy Italian only became a language unto its own after World War II and wide TV communication Each province had its own language prior to that Old people still speak it "

About two hours from Rome, and into the distance, we could now see the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino built on top of a mountain overlooking the city of Cassino, thus its name.

The hairpin road that led us up to the abbey kept us on pins and needles at every turn.  The view was getting more and more fantastic.

Mhairi told us that 120 monks are affiliated with this monastery.  It was founded in 524 by St. Benedict and destroyed and rebuilt four times.  See the many levels of terracing built by the monks.

Terraces and blooming shrubbery surrounded the abbey.

It was like a church in the clouds to me, like a stairway to heaven.

We could see the great plains and mountains of Italy from every angle.  The view was spectacular. Nothing was higher than the monastery.

The monks obviously enjoy both indoor and outdoor gardening.

Off in the distance, but brought closer with a zoom lens, we saw the Polish cemetery that contains graves of more than 1,000 Poles who died in 1944 during the Battle of Monte Cassino.  We were told that Hitler occupied the Abbey, and the Allies lost a lot of blood to retake it, hence the Polish cemetery and the latest rebuilding of the abbey.

The inside of the church was replete with an astoundingly beautiful altar

pipe organ ...

awesome paintings I missed the enlightenment of Ulysses, (whom we left in Rome) ...

frescoes, angels, accents of gold, all heavenly ornate.  St. Benedict and his sister St. Scholastica are buried at this monastery.

Has anyone seen these guys on posters at the U.S. Post Office?

As we descended the mountain, Mhairi said, "Through the plains below marched all the armies of Rome We'll now be driving further south to the Land of the Midday Sun It's getting drier as we head south Peasants lasted longer here than in the north because of the feudal system There are still all kinds of Mafia-type gangsters here The Mafia is still strong in the south."

Then we saw the ruins of the city of Pompeii and we promptly got put into a long line to tour them.  It was hotter than ever and there was no escape from the midday sun.

Robert, our personal Pompeii guide (who reminded me so much of my late Uncle Don I could hardly believe it), said the city was buried in ashes when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.  At that time the city was already 600 to 700 years old.  He said it was rediscovered when Italians were digging a canal.  More of the city continues to be discovered. 

During the tour we saw mummified people, buried alive and in position for centuries.  It gave me the willies.  After 30 minutes I wanted to leave the heat of Pompeii.  It was sweltering.

NOT the End.
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