Wednesday, July 15, 2009
The Roman Emperors loved to haul back to Rome the great treasures of cultures more ancient than their own. Thus, the explanation for the dozens of Egyptian obelisks planted around the city. In turn, this concentration of antiquity's great art inspired Roman artists and craftsmen to their own heights of artistic creation. Nothing is more emblematic of the Popes as successors to the Roman Emperors than the Vatican Museums. They are filled with the great treasures of the Mediterranean and were to a great extent one of the catalysts for the Italian Renaissance which is obviously well represented here as well.
I warn you if you love art, do not try to do the Vatican Museums in one day. But if you are just curious about what all the fuss is about or want to learn more about the "best of the best" then put on your hiking shoes and prepare to move at a near jog through room after room, after courtyard, after hallway of what made the Renaissance such a big deal (according to every history teacher since the 1600s).
This is not a paid advertisement but one of the main reasons the Vatican Museums are at the top of our list is Professor Enrico Bruschini. He is available as a guide but if that doesn't work he has two wonderful books available on Amazon: In the Footsteps of Popes and The Vatican Masterpieces.
So what is the official Trinca list of the best-of-the best? (I warn you the list is long) First, Fra Angelico paintings -- another artist who seemed to anticipate modern painting; Raphael's Transfiguration painting which seems to out Michelangelo, Michelangelo; the shocking sketch/painting of St. Jerome by Leonardo da Vinci; Caravaggio in general, his Deposition specifically which is arguably his best; the many, many marble statues from antiquity (look how the Greek and Roman artists were able to express the shape of the human body even through clothing), the must-sees of which are the Hermes (a picture of which I will be taking to my next trainer), the Lacoon, the Belvedere torso (both of which influenced Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel paintings) and don't forget to look for the statue that is a dead ringer for President Bill Clinton (I kid you not); and one of the best Egyptian museums in the world.
But don't overlook the Gallery of Tapestries (notice how the perspective changes on the Christ Resurrection tapestry -- almost impossible to do in a painting let alone a woven tapestry); the Gallery of Maps (we were able to find the small town from where the Trincas emigrated). Prepare to spend time in the Raphael Stanze and pay particular attention to the School of Athens (see if you can spot the brooding Michelangelo and the Raphael self portrait. Finally, pay attention to the floors! Many of them are 2,000 year old mosaics -- yes they are originals torn out of many an emperor's palace.
Remember, the Vatican Museums are not a check-the-box sort of Rome experience. You could literally spend a lifetime studying and enjoying their contents. So, get your tickets on the internet ahead of time and go back more than once if you can.
The Sistine Chapel can be overwhelming. It is as if Michelangelo was trying to excise some sort of fresco demon from his system by covering absolutely every inch of the chapel ceiling. It is a little busy to say the least. Also, it is on the darn ceiling! Could it be any more awkward to view? All that being said, it is spectacular. Three pieces of advice: 1. Take some time to study it beforehand (see http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/vatican-sistine-chapel.htm); 2. Do not make it the end of a long day at the Vatican museum -- go first and just sit; and 3. move around to different vantage points -- if you try to look straight up at a particular frame, you will be uncomfortable. Progressively move to the back of the chapel as you take in each section. Enjoy, it lives up to all the hype.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
As the headquarters of Catholicism, St. Peter's is intended to overwhelm you with its size, splendor and majesty. Truthfully, Mrs. Trinca was not necessarily overwhelmed in a positive sense, but even with this negative vote weighing down on the decision, St. Pete's comes in near the top. First, the view of the dome from every hilltop of the city helps make Rome uniquely - well -- Roma. St. Peter's square -- despite the partial blockage of the dome -- is awe inspiring. The inside of the building itself is an odd combination of Grand Canyon and red wood forest. Kim developed a little kid fascination with the sun beams filtering in through the various windows and columns of the Basilica. The main dome is a lens into the heavens. It is hard to get a sense of its immensity until you realize there are people standing up their peering down -- ant size people.
What propels St. Pete's to the front is the art and Michelangelo's Pieta is the engine. It is sad that we have to see one of the greatest works displayed behind glass but such is the crazy world we live in. Like most great works, it leaves us with many questions: why is she so young and beautiful? why are the two figures out of portion to each other, considering the mathematical genius of Michelangelo. why isn't she gazing at his face, but instead his mid-section? How could a man in his early 20's be able to carve such perfection out of a single piece of stone? These questions add to its mystery, but let's face it, in the end we are just awed by its simple beauty.
Other mentions: the statue of St. Peter of the rubbed foot; Bernini's monument to Alexander VII (got to love his depiction of death lurking under the stone blanket); Raphael's transfiguration mosaic; the Baldacchino made from bronze taken from the Pantheon; and much more. Don't forget, however, in the midst of your tour book check list to just stand and admire how Michelangelo and others use light throughout the building. It is heavenly.
Monday, July 13, 2009
The Pantheon is a hard thing to describe or photograph in a way that captures its real life beauty. The outside of the building looks all of its 2,000 years. Barbarians, the Barbarinis (an inside joke which apparently requires you to be both Roman and a student of the Renaissance Papacy), and the Romans themselves have through the last millennium or so hacked off almost all of its outer shell of marble. The inside, however, is another matter altogether. Through the pure serendipity of barbarian greed for pagan gold and finery, the inside of the Pantheon has evolved even more into a sublime expression of architectural simplicity. It is the essence of a dome. Unfortunately, most structural emulators have failed to make this connection through the centuries: when it comes to domes, austere simplicity is better.
The result: what you do not think about when viewing the Pantheon's dome is its engineering virtuosity. There are no visible arches or vaults holding up the dome to distract the viewer. The mathematics are equally as simple. For example, the diameter is precisely equal to its height. And, to this day it is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in history.
What you DO think about is its other-worldliness and unexplainable beauty, only made more pronounced by the 9 meter hole opened it is middle. The light streaming in through the hole moves throughout the day with the rotation of the earth recreating the Pantheon's look every few minutes.
One of our most memorable half hours in Rome was spent simply standing and watching the rain and hail come in through the hole and disappear down the Pantheon's ancient drainage system. Sun, rain, hail, darkness -- all a fitting tribute to the pantheon of gods, who the ancients endowed with personifications of these natural phenomena.
From the original Marcus Aurelius in its new setting, to the Dying Gaul, to the ancient bronze She-wolf statue, to the view of the Roman Forum from the old Tabularium windows, to one of the most beautiful mosaic in existence (Doves drinking water), to the rooms full of busts of Roman emperors (warts and all), the Capitoline Museums are one of the main reasons why we want to go back to Rome soon.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
What can I write here that hasn't been written a thousand times before? The building is 2000 years old and is an engineering marvel by even today's standards. In its day it seated over 50,000 people and was in use for over 500 years. It is estimated that over 500,000 people died in the Colosseum as well as over a million animals. It defines Roman engineering and cruelty at the same time.
Friday, July 10, 2009
I can hear the cries of cheating already. But, hey, if the dogs eat the dog food, it's got to be good. The reality is if the Trincas had any chunks of spare time in Rome this is where we headed (though we tried others, including the traditional upscale shopping area nearer the Spanish steps). The Pantheon's hood is officially defined by the Trinca family as follows: the Via del Corso to the East; the far side of the Piazza Navona to the West; Corso Vittorio Emanuele II to the South; and a straight line drawn west from the Column of Marcus Aurelius. Ok critics, some Trinca-wanna-bes may have already defined this area as "Centro Storico" but hey we consider ourselves to be the original discoverers.
This hood has it all: great sights, great people watching locations,art,shopping, and of course gelato. We especially loved checking the art at Piazza Navona, the stationary store near the Pantheon - Il Papiro, Aperitifs at either Piazza Navona or the Piazza de Rotonda, the Caravaggios at S Luigi del Francesi, finding all the Bernini fountains and statues hidden all over this area and so much more. Plan to spend lots of time getting lost in this hood.
Ok, I admit this is cheating because Rome is ripe with Caravaggios and they show up in half of our other choices on the top 10 list. But, I don't care. I warn you once you have the Caravaggio fever, you will walk into a room full of masters (other than Michelangelo) and walk past them all to see the Caravaggio and spend your entire time soaking it in. The light! His realism is over the top! See the Vatican Museum, S. Agostino, S. Maria del Popolo, Villa Borghese and S. Luigi dei Francese for the "best of the best."
Everyone had a different favorite flavor: mom: creme caramel; Dad: Caffe; Harrison: cioccolata; Mason: anything but cioccolata; and Shelby: well, 2 scoops was basically her favorite flavor. The great thing about Italian gelato is that it comes in almost every flavor you can imagine. So, no one has an excuse not to eat it. Our favorite places to buy it were Giotti's near Italian Chamber of Deputies (it was fun to watch the Italian Parliamentarians slurping gelatos in their business suits and see if you can spot the Italian secret service in their dark Armani suits) and a nameless local hangout near our apartment my wife and I would stroll to every night. Very romantic, despite all the Italian adolescent lovers!
Thanks to Massimo, one of our first stops was Piazzale Giribaldi on Janiculum Hill. The view was fantastic from San Giovanni in Laterano to St. Peter's. As one commentator said, "the View of Rome is like seeing a forest of Domes."
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
We all became quite skilled at moving around the city by the Roman subway and, of course, by taxis. The buses remained a mystery, however. So, in those areas not served by metro, the Trinca clan experienced what it was like to be a Roman centurion on a forced march down the via Appia.
Meal times were always an adventure as we wondered through our neighborhood looking for somewhere where the locals ate. Usually, we were rewarded with an excellent meal. In fact, the only time we were overcharged for a lousy meal was in the tourist area, but even there we had some good meals and were generally treated kindly by the locals. Favorite food discoveries: Shelby found out that tomatoes were not so bad when they have real buffalo mozzarella loaded on them; Mom might have even gain a pound on the trip from daily multiple scoops of her favorite gelato – crème caramel; Mason, one word – beer; Harrison ate spaghetti until it ran out of his ears; and dad loved it all. But, most of all he loved hearing the family saying Buon giorno or ordering corneti, per favore, and saying grazie by the end of the week.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
"Terribilita" (terrifying awesomeness) is how the citizens of Renaissance Rome described both Michelangelo and Julius II -- the Pope who convinced the stubborn young artist to set aside his beloved sculpting (by essentially threatening to invade Tuscany and drag him back to Rome) long enough to paint the Sistine chapel and who also at the head of an army subdued most of central Italy under the papacy. The intensity of their personalities and devotion to their respective causes - perfection of art and restoration of the glory of the Holy Roman Church - apparently tended to frighten their contemporaries. For example, Michelangelo's biographers describe how he would forget to eat, sleep or bath as he carved his best sculptures -- seemingly endowing his works with his own life force.
Aww, such passion is rare in this day-and-age but after two days of storming around the Capitoline museums, the Roman forum, the Vatican museum and the Sistine chapel, the Trincas are firmly convinced that Terribilita lives on in Enrico Buschini.
The name of Professor Enrico Bruschini may be strangely familiar to those bravehearts who bought the official guide book to the Vatican and set out on their own to see its treasures because Enrico is the author. It is sold everywhere in Rome and everywhere we went with him, he would point to the multi-lingual stack of guide books and with a giant smile and a flurry of his arms boom out that "the English version was sold out; Must be a good book."
So what did Terribilita teach us? To love -- and I do mean love -- Roman frescoes, mosaics, arches, great sculptures of antiquity (as opposed to the run-of-the-mill ancient carvings), the elegance of Raphael,and even the stones we walked upon everywhere we went. "Look at those tiles over there! Those carvings here! Just look at the elegant balance of the Piazza del Campidoglio. Just look at it!" And look, we did, (being a little frightened of what he might do if we didn't) as he beamed, mopped his brow from the hot Roman sun and headed off a a near trot to show us the next hidden treasury.
At times, he would stop, look at a room in a museum only to pass it by muttering, "Not enough time, must show you only the best of the best."
But, it was when we encountered any blundering or senseless acts on the part of official keepers of the great Roman cultural legacies that we would witness true Terribilita. "Stupido, stupido" he would shout when we came upon poor restorations or less than ideal displays. At one point, he bent over almost to the ground to point at stones set along the Via Sacra, "now these are originals. notice how they are level and smooth and have just enough room between them to allow proper drainage. Those over there" -- pointing at unlevel, mispaced stones -- "those are stupido, bad restorations. How will people learn of the glories of Roman roads, if this is all they see." Then Off he strode toward the Colosseum with the five of us trotting to keep up.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Everyone should have a best friend when they travel to a foreign land. Someone who has already unlocked all the local treasures: the great places to eat, how to ride the local transportation, all the short cuts and little secrets for bypassing the annoying tourists (which obviously you are not). Laura Weinstein is our friend in Rome. Though she is a professional guide extraordinaire, her style is more in the best friend mold. She recommended Massimo to us, which the savings alone came close to covering her guide fee. During our second full day in Rome we met her and had lunch in the old Jewish Ghetto. As we wandered the serpentine streets, she greeted old friends, one she admitted in a whisper to have once dated. She pointed out hidden ruins bypassed by most tour guides. Helped us recognize key streets and landmarks. During our time together, we gazed at one breathtaking Caravaggio after another (I loved her line that he was the first photo journalist because of his unflinching realism - imagine, the saints with dirty feet).
But, most of all, she quietly showed us how to explore Rome on our own. She taught us how to navigate between the great sites: Campo di Fiori, Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, the Trevi Fountain, Spanish steps and much more. Most importantly, she showed us the best places to buy gelato and to find a clean bathroom.
I knew she was worth every dime when the Trincas all split up on our own one day and scurried off to different points of the compass. At the agreed upon time we all reappeared at the Pantheon just ahead of a thunderstorm of biblical proportions. If you have never weathered a storm -- lightening, hail, rain -- in the oldest building in the world, which by the way has a 13 meter hole in the center of its heavenly dome -- then you have not truly lived! We were Italian explorers in the line of Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo.
Laura can be found at http://web.me.com/RomanHoliday. She can also help you find Massimo.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Ask my boys what they remember most about Italy and if there are no adults within ear shot who might report back to dad and Kim that it wasn't the art or the Roman ruins, they will no doubt go on for 20 minutes on -- drum roll please -- cars (Though, Italian women certainly will be a close second for Mason). As we walked along Rome's picturesque streets next to 2000 year old ruins or one of thousands great historical sites, the boys carried on a continuous dialog about the merits of Lamborghinis vs. Maseratis, FIATs vs. Audis.
It began the moment we stepped out of the airport. After a shaky "mi chiamo Harrison" and settling back in the "suicide seat" of Massimo's 5 seater mini-van/car/limo, the first thing that came out of my near-teen's mouth was "do you have a Ferrari?" Without breaking a smile, our hero replied, "yes but there would be no room for your luggage."
But it is not just the Italian go-fast cars that fascinate the boys, it's the wide array of rollers skate size cars -- here the mini is considered a mid-size! Mercades, Ford, Audi, Toyota and along with the usual list of Italian suspects all sell the cutest clown car wanna-bes. Harrison's favorite is so small that apparently you do not need to have it registered and you only have to be 14 to drive. It was at that point that Harrison decided that his heart belonged to Roma.
Our first day in Rome! Plane arrives at 7:45; Apartment available at 2:00pm. What to do? Answer: Massimo. For a very reasonable fee -- unusual in Rome -- our hero, Massimo, picks us up at the auroporto (10 years and I had forgotten how grubby Italy can be) and gives us a whirlwind tour of Roma by car. Early Sunday morning transforms what is the usual insanity of Roman traffic to, well, something quite sane.
Rome has 4 main Catholic Cathedrals served by the big guy himself, the Pope: St. Paul Outside the Wall, St. John in Lateran, Santa Maria Maggoria and of course St. Peters; and we hit the first 3 on the first day. As I expected the kids were at first awed, quickly become numb and then turned slowly catatonic viewing churches. The problem with Rome is the shear magnitude of the art and history - and much of Rome's art and history are to be found in their churches. With a few exceptions, most major cities in the world don't have 1/10th of Rome's art, and 1/20th of its history. Usually, I cannot get enough of either, but by 3pm in Rome I am done - stick a fork in me. For the kids, the time limit is more like 11am.
So, I have learned over the years you have to play tricks on them. My favorite is to suck them in with pop culture. Lucky for me there have been 2 recent movies using Roman history as a back drop: Gladiator (Imperial Rome, featuring the great Emperor Marcus Aurelius) and Angels and Demons (set in modern times but using the Baroque architect, Bernini as a major plot prop). Ok, confession time (in honor of my setting): Marcus Aurelius and Bernini play a much more substantial part in my version of Roman history and art then they did in reality. Luckily the kids' recollections of the movie were foggy enough that I was able to claim that every church we visited on our grand auto tour of Roma on that first day was somehow featured in the Tom Hanks' movie.
In addition to Churches, Rome has many Hills, not mountains but Hills -- in fact on a number of occasions I am afraid I might have insulted our able hero by seeming to be questioning whether in fact we were on a proper Hill or not. But, I will say that the views from two were spectacular: the Janiculum and the Aventino. One guide book referred to the view of Rome as "a forest of domes." We agree. Churches 0, Hills 1.