Rome: Various Attractions

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Rome: Various Attractions

(COURIER: Use these miscellaneous notes for your various bus transfers downtown, especially for Walking Tours or other sightseeing activities. You should know which of these places you'll be passing so you can point them out to the group.)

Trastevere  Once an Etruscan settlement and colony on the left side of the Tiber, Trastevere became the popular quarter of Rome, the center of the common people's dialect, customs, and tradition. (The word "Trastevere" means "across the Tiber" in Italian.) The people living there claim to be the only true Romans, descended from classical stock. In fact, the population was fairly cosmopolitan in ancient times. It became the Jewish quarter until the Middle Ages and when the Jews moved across the Tiber, they were replaced by sailors from all parts of the world. Today there are fewer real Romans than before, because it has become a fashionable place for foreigners and intellectuals.

There is still a very ancient festival held in July called La Festa di Noiantri. This is one festival to which all Romans flock. It probably comes from a festival held in ancient times recalled by the poet Ovid in the 1st century A.D.

Tiber Island (The Tiberina)  It was believed by ancient Romans to be formed from the grain stores hoarded by the last king, Tarquin the Proud, who was expelled at the end of the 4th century B.C., according to the story, the people threw the grain into the river. The Island has always been associated with healing. There is now a modern hospital (Fatebenefratelli) which stands near the site of a Roman temple dedicated to the Greek God of Medicine Aesclepius (built in 291 B.C.). The Church of St. Bartholomew now stands on the site of the old temple. The bridge linking the island to the mainland is the oldest in Rome, dating from 62 B.C. It is near the old Pons Sublicus where Horatius and two companions, Herminius and Lartus, defended Rome single-handed from invaders.

The Jewish Quarters and Synagogue (across the Tiber)  By the Middle Ages, the Jews moved to the other side of the river. The largest synagogue in Europe is located here — built in 1904 in modern style.

Largo Argentina  Its full name is "Largo di torre argentina". The word "Argentina" has nothing to do with South America. The name comes from the 15th century tower built by the bishop of Strasbourg whose diocese was called Argentoratum.

Walls enclose the excavations of 1926, during which republican temples were discovered. No one knows their names. They are some of the oldest buildings in Rome.

A Public Lavatory was also found. It dates from the empire. It was a magnificent place for socializing. One could even have a pedicure or listen to music.

Cats are numerous in the area. They used to be eaten during the last war. (Romans now put food out in gratitude.)

Column of Trajan  113 A.D. It is 120 feet high, located in the middle of Trajan's forum. It was built to show the height of the hill which had stood there. It is completely hollow inside. Once it contained the casket of Trajan's ashes in a funerary chamber at the foot of the pillar. The pillar itself is covered by about 2,500 beautifully carved figures commemorating Trajan's victory over the Dacians (101- 3 A.D.). On top is a statue of St. Peter, placed there in 1587 to take the place of the statue of Trajan.

Capitoline Hill  It is the smallest and highest of the seven hills of Rome, now the center of the municipality, and the place where civil weddings are held. It is noted for the Capitoline museum of ancient sculpture. The stairs were designed by Michelangelo in 1536. The square at the top was also designed by him. The palaces: (left) Capitoline Museum, (right) Pinacoteca. In the latter are pictures and some ancient remains of Egyptian sculpture. Michelangelo designed them, but they were executed by others at different times. The two palaces are identical. A sweeping view over the forum is available from the square.

The Statue of Marcus Aurelius (2nd century A.D.) was saved from destruction in the Middle Ages because it was thought to represent the Christian Emperor Constantine. Originally it stood in another square, but Michelangelo placed it there in 1538. It had so impressed him with its lifelike appearance that according to an old story, he asked it to "walk" to its new location.

Church of Aracoeli (adjacent to Michelangelo's staircase). The church stands on the highest point of the hill where, (according to legend) a syble prophesied the coming of Christ to the emperor Augustus. It has a very ancient foundation, although the present building dates from the 13th century.

Monument to Victor Emmanuel (known popularly as "The Wedding Cake"). This marble monument was constructed in 1885 to commemorate the unification of Italy in 1870. Its name comes from the first king of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II. It is the tomb of the unknown soldier, and is guarded day and night by the Italian armed forces. The monument houses the Museum of the Risorgimento.

Imperial Forums of Augustus, Trajan, Nerva (left), and Julius Caesar (right)  These line the Via dei fori Romani built by Mussolini for military parades. Unfortunately, at least 80% of the forums lie beneath the road. They were destroyed when the street was constructed.

Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheater)  The name comes from the statue (Colossus) of Nero which stood by it. It was the scene of gladiatorial contests and mock naval battles. The Arch of Constantine is located in the street between the Palatine and Celio hills. It honors the Christian emperor, and was built in 315 A.D. to commemorate Constantine's victory over Maxentius (a rebel general). In 312, just before the battle, Constantine had a vision of the cross and heard a voice declare "Under this sign shalt thou conquer". He was then converted and baptized on his deathbed in 338.

The Circus Maximus  This is the arena where chariot races were held from the 3rd century B.C., and continued until after the fall of the Roman empire as late as the 6th century A.D.

Baths of Caracalla  The baths are located in a wooded area where vestal virgins came to draw water for their rites. Septimus Severus (206 A.D.) began the building of the baths. Caracalla, his son, finished them. They were in use until the 6th century A.D., when the Goths built the aqueducts into the city. They are the second largest baths in Rome, and were capable of handling 1600 bathers at a time. The interior was sumptuous.

Piazza Venezia  The Venezia Palace was built in 1455 for the Venetian ambassadors. The balcony in the center of the plain facade is the spot from which Mussolini addressed the crowds for important announcements such as the declaration of Italy's entry into World War II. Imagine the scenes of hysteria and delirium. Opposite is an apparently identical palace built in this century as a copy to attain symmetry in the square.

The Quirinal Palace is built on the Quirinale Hill. The palace was built in 1547 to be the summer papal residence (now the Castel Gondolfo serves that purpose). Bernini and Maderna had a hand in the decorations. The palace is now the residence of the Italian President. When he is in residence, a flag flies from the palace, and there is a marching band to accompany the changing of the guard. The Obelisk in the center is from the mausoleum of Augustus. The basin of the fountain is taken from the Forum, and features the status of Castor and Pollux.

Trevi Fountain  This large wall fountain is made up of numerous allegorical figures set in rocks. This was done by Salvi in 1735. It represents Agrippa showing Augustus the place to bring the waters from the Virgin spring outside Rome, along an aqueduct. The fountain, in fact, dates from the days of Augustus. It is said that the valuable water of the Virgin spring was found by a young girl who showed it to a thirsty soldier. He brought back the news to Rome, and from then on the Virgin springs was used as a major source of water; it also furnishes the water which flows through the fountains of the Piazza Navona, and the small fountain at the Spanish Steps. More than 17 million gallons of water per day flow through it.

Spanish Steps  The church at the top of the steps is Trinita dei Monti. The three flights of steps are said to refer to the Trinity, commemorated by the church. The actual church is 16th century and was built before the steps. These were built in 1723 with a gift of money from French diplomats — hence "Spanish Steps" might seem a misnomer. The name actually derived from the fact that in the mid-18th century, the Spanish Embassy was housed in the left hand palace as you face the steps. Note on the right the house of the great English Romantic Poet John Keats, the "Baccaccia" (little old boat); a small fountain done by Bernini's father Pietro.

Piazza del Popolo  This is one of the greatest squares in Rome. The Obelisk in the center is the oldest and highest in Rome. On the right as you come in you see the beautiful high waterfall fountain of Valadier at the top, and the Pincio gardens. (Go up and get a view from the terrace.) On the far right is the church of Santa Maria del Popolo. It sits on the site of a monastery which itself was built over the place where Nero was said to be buried. The church was built to exorcise his spirit. Inside are works of Raphael, Pinturricchio, and the great Baroque artist, Caravaggio

The apparently identical church on the far left was made to give the square symmetry, while the two unimportant and identical 17th century ones were also constructed for the symmetry of the whole piazza.

Piazza Navona  This is one of the most beautiful Baroque squares in Rome, now thronged in the evening by Romans going for a pleasant Passegieta (stroll). Originally, it was Domitian's stadium for athletic displays. The Circus Agonalis, whose name was corrupted through the years to n'Agona, now became Navona. The square retains the oval shape of the Roman stadium, but has otherwise changed beyond recognition since the 15th century. The ruined arena was razed by Sixtus IV who paved over the entire area to make it a public square. It was in the 17th century that the Piazza Navona was transformed to its present beauty by Pope Innocent X (1644-55). Two of the greatest architects and sculptors of the age, Bernini and Borromini, were commissioned to perform the transformation.

Main Monuments:

Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers (in the center) is a masterpiece. The Rivers represented are the Nile, Plate, Ganges, and Tiber. Sculptures surround Domitian's obelisk (once in the Circus of Massentius on the Appian Way). The water in the fountain is from the "Acqua Vergine", the spring which also supplies the Trevi Fountain.

Borromino's Church of St. Agnes was hated by Bernini, Borromino's rival (Bernini lost the commission for it!). Legend has it that the statue on the Four Rivers Fountain facing the church is covering its head so that it does not have to look at the "ugly" church. A more likely explanation is that the head of the Nile was not known in Bernini's time, so he showed it obscured.

Good restaurants and ice cream shops abound, with artists selling their wares and souvenir hawkers peddling novelties.


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