This is a story back when I was doing study abroad in Paris, 2015. We took a weeklong trip to Italy, with our third stop being Rome and Vatican City. We stayed a few nights, touring, walking around for probably a marathon’s distance over that time, and checking out some watering holes. Two of the folks on the trip, Matthew and Nick, are Italian-Americans so we had the joys of experiencing it through their lens, as well. This bit’s somewhat lengthy so I divvied it up into five parts; three in Rome itself and two in Vatican City. Again, it’s always fun to note what you thought was important to note, back when. Old writings can be commented upon on their own merit, even separately from the topic at hand. In any case, enjoy!
We then just continued to wander throughout the city, and found a place called the Tomb of the Unknown Solider (self explanatory, explanation forthcoming), which was a massive monument with steps leading in every which direction, and in the middle of the steps were two torches and two guards at all times. There were bronze statues everywhere, and on the inside was a museum which seemed to amount to a collection of Italian flags. It was obviously much more though, as flags are greatly symbolic of a particular history, and in this case it detailed the colonial and military history essentially of the late 1800s until the world wars.
Anyways we moved on, this time to Trajan’s Column, which is actually my brother’s favorite piece of Roman architecture. (He studied Classics in college.) It’s a monolithic piece of marble, with a frieze spiraling all the way up to the top. It depicts a story during the Dacian Wars it’s wonderfully intricate and stunning all the same and it captured no less than 5 minutes of staring. Maybe someday we can all go with my brother, Chris, and he’ll explain this stuff more than a certain online encyclopedia can.
We then continued to walk on to Piazza Navona, which was essentially a massive square with lovely fountains in it. This was probably the first part of the city we saw which wasn’t run down apartments or just a collection of ruins. It was quite the opposite. The apartment buildings all seemed nice, the aged fountain in the center was cleaned and working, and really it was quite beautiful. We were basically getting to the city center, closer to the major river in the area, the Tiber.
Moving on we saw the Pantheon, and again it’s incredible because from the outside there’s just an old brick overlay, and it’s entirely unassuming but both the interior of the building and the entrance’s facade are stunning, with columns running along the front, and an obelisk in the center square.
Before we went in though, we saw this rally for the Ukraine. I really don’t like being near rallies, particularly when they involve the most politically charged situation of our time.  Something about intense Italian politics frightens me, and this is was just unnerving, so we headed quickly inside.
It’s the storybook version inside and more. It’s somewhat associated with the pagan Roman gods (ie “in the Pantheon of gods”) but it was refitted to be a church around 600 well after Constantine’s conversion, and the inside is decorated like a church as gorgeous as the rest. The same type of red marble, and gold, and slew of religious symbols. At the top is the famous hole to let light (and rain) in, and underneath that is a drain and a roped off area. Crosses all on the wall, and symbols everywhere.
We didn’t really expect to walk three or four miles, and just kept on walking til we saw the river, Ponte Sant’angelo, and Castel St. Angelo. Ponte means bridge, so it was this really pretty bridge over the river toward the Vatican lined with statues of angels; however it lead directly to this castle with the same name as the bridge, which was or has been a mausoleum, a fort and a museum over the years. The sun began to set so we figured we’d make a beeline to the Vatican City walls and head home after.
The first thing I noticed when approaching the Vatican was a flag of Taiwan (as opposed to China) as most countries must pick between one and the other (essentially.) China has a weird relationship with organized religion and so it would make sense that the Vatican, which has virtually no economic ties to China (or any country really except Italy) would elect to maintain ties with Taiwan, and Italy would opt for ties with China.
The Vatican, simply, is stunning. The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is imposing, but like I said its facade is less than it really deserves, though apparently there’s a reason. We later spent a full day touring the Vatican, so it was time to head home. In short though, we watched the sunset over St. Peter’s and it’s just an overwhelming sensation, being in the central square of what was both simultaneously the center of the ancient world, and of Christianity.
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