Travel: Longest Travel day EVER (II)

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Coming out of the Basilica di San Nicola, the gorgeous weather took a turn, and I decided to venture to my next destination as quickly as I could. Unfortunately, being an old port town, the street alignment was very similar to Venice, meaning nonexistent. so I confusedly zigzagged and took a few random detours before finally reaching the Bari Cathedral.

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Despite being a lesser-known church than the former, it is actually senior to it and the seat of the Archbishop of Bari-Bitonto. The documented presence of a bishop can be traced back to Gervasius , who attended the Council of Sardica in 347, and his successor Concordius, who was present at the Synod of Rome of 465.  Elevated to an archbishop in the 6th century, the presence of a cathedral is documented during this period.

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The present building, however, was constructed between the late 12th and late 13th centuries, although the present nave does still contain traces of an ancient apses church building from before the first millennium, which had three aisles and square pilasters, and foundations on an axis slightly out of alignment from the current cathedral.  One of the mosaic pavements bears an inscription with the name of Bishop Andrea (758 – 761) and it seems highly likely that these are the remains of the first cathedral, which was destroyed in the 9th or 10th century.

It is an important example of  Apulian Romanesque. (I’ll have to come back to this style when I have more time to research it, as my dear friend Wikipedia has little to say). 

FYI: It is sometime around here when I started to mess around with my camera settings, and then I didn’t know how to undo them. 😦 SO I didn’t realize that the quality of my pictures for this set were off until too late.

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After this, I had, as a friend I met in Venice would put it, ABC (Another Bloody Castle/Church to see).  I suppose the common terminology would be Bari Castle, but it is known as the Castello Normanno Svevo. It lies within the Apulia region of Italy, and was built around 1132 by the Norman King Roger II, but was destroyed in 1156 by William I of Sicily before being  rebuilt and reinforced in 1233 by the Holy Roman emperor Fredrick II.

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During the Angevin domination, it went through several transformation, and after being acquired by Duke Ferdinand of Aragon, was donated to the Sforza family and passed to Bona Sforza, Queen of Poland. After Bona’s death, it was returned under the King of Naples and transformed into a prison and barracks.

The castle is surrounded by a moat on all sides, except the northern section, which was bordering the sea and can be accessed from the bridge and the gate on the southern side. It is mainly composed of the Aragon walls and the main Swabian tower, and is currently used for exhibitions.

I am almost grateful that Greece is not a nation known for its castles or churches. Of course, the equivalent is that it is known for it temples and the gorgeous beaches and breathtaking landscapes. More on this later.

Travel: Longest Travel day EVER.

The last leg of my trip, I was excited to rendezvous with some good friends from home sweet home, New Jersey. 🙂 Unfortunately I was meeting with them in Athens, Greece, and getting there from Italy is not quite as straight forward as it seems with the EuroRail Pass. I first had to manage to get myself to the Eastern side of Italy to a town called Bari. From there, I was to hop a ferry (paying only the fuel surcharge and port tax) which would get me to the Grecian Peninsula Town of Patras (I’d figure out the last leg when I got to Greece.)

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Rather than rushing through each transit option, and to avoid a stopover on my train, I chose a 7 AM train. This allowed me a few hours to explore Bari before being sequestered on a ferry for the 18-hour cruise time.

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Arriving in this quaint town around 10 AM, I strolled to the port to acquire my tickets and stretch my legs. Being a port town, the sun was bright, the air was fresh with salt, and the atmosphere was relaxed.

2013-06-03 05.49.38After obtaining my tickets and boarding time, I decided to embrace the concept of aimless wandering, particularly because I hadn’t planned on having time to explore Bari.

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I first ventured into the Basilica di San Nicola.  Built between 1087 and 1197 during the Italo-Norman domination of Apulia, the foundation of this church has roots in the theft of St. Nicholas‘s relics from his original shrine in Myra (present-day Turkey).

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 According to the legend, the saint, having passed by the city on his way to Rome, had chosen Bari as his burial place. Despite the competition against Venice, Bari succeeded, and the relics safely landed on May 9, 1087 under the custody of its Greek custodians and Muslim masters.

It has maintained  religious significance as an important pilgrimage destination both for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians from Eastern Europe.

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I paused to take a picture of my self with St. Nicholas himself! The storage place for luggage was closed since it was the off-season and a Sunday, so I did all this exploration with an approximately 25-lb backpack strapped to my back.

Travel: Bidding Addio to Rome

Italian is an artful and complex language, it tops my  list of five languages that I want to gain fluency in,  and it is with this prose that I bid Addio to Rome. It was a long and prolonged day for both myself and my poor, ravaged feet. Despite this, I wanted to cherish the feeling of history beneath my footsteps, and inhale my final breaths of roman air.

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I could think of no better place to experience this, than to ponder the epic feats and legends of Ancient Rome whilst gazing at the Trevi Fountain at dusk with the sun retracting its golden rays. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I passed by the Pantheon during my stroll, I’m still not sure how this two-thousand year old structure missed my list of must-sees.

The circular building is composed of a portico supported by large granite Corinthian columns  beneath a pediment. This links to the rotunda which lays beneath a coffered concrete dome containing a occulus. To this day, this dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome at a diameter and height of 43.3 meters (142 ft). It is from this building, that Paris’s pantheon derives its name.  The Pantheon contains the tombs of Raphael, Peruzzi, Carraci, Corelli, two kings of italy, and one queen. I will certainly have to remember to visit this beautifully preserved structure at a future date.

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Nonetheless, I continued onwards to treat myself to some Gelato from the famous Giolitti‘s. As the oldest ice cream parlor in the city, it has been owned and run by the same family since its founding in 1890.


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Famous amongst tourists and locals alike, it maintains a diverse range of unique flavors, such as champagne, ricotta, and rice. Not aware of this, I opted for some more traditional choices.

I rounded off my night by tossing a Euro into the Trevi. The tradition is to use the right hand to throw a coin in over the left shoulder.


One coin means you’ll return to Rome, two mean you’ll return and fall in love, and three mean you’ll return, find love, and marry. I wish I had known about the superstition behind multiple coins, because my love life is seriously lacking . . .

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Travel: Barbarians or Heroics?

Although my muscles were silently crying tears, I made my way onwards toward the Colosseum that silently towers in the background. However, I first attempted to give my bones a reprieve by pausing in the shadows of these ancient roman giants and taking in their confident stances that have stayed steadfast despite the centuries.

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I know I’ve used this word far to often, but the first thought that comes to mind is ‘breathtaking.’ Its no wonder that it has consistently held its title as a ‘Wonder of the World.’ The structure is a monstrosity after all; built of concrete and stone, it has weathered the ages and remains the largest amphitheater ever constructed to date.

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The iconic name ‘Colosseum’ is believed to be derived from the nearby (although no longer in existence) colossal statue of Nero that was erected in bronze and towered at a height of 30m within the vestibule of Emperor Nero‘s imperial villa the Domus Aurea.

Considered a pinnacles of Roman Architecture and Engineering, it lies east of the Roman Forum and was erected during the Flavian dynasty under the reign trifecta of VespasianTitus, and Domitian.

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Shadows creep as the sun sets.

It held between 50-80 thousand spectators and was the site of gladiatorial contests and public spectacles for the entertainment of the public.

Events such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, reenactments of famous battles, classical mythological dramas, and even executions were regularly on display.

Unfortunately, it fell into disuse in the early medieval era, and was only reincarnated by necessity as  grounds for housing, workshops, religious quarters, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine. It even maintains close connections with the Roman Catholic Church, as each year, on Good Friday, the Pope leads a torchlit “Way of the Cross” procession originating from the Roman Ruins surrounding the Colosseum.

An epigram by the Venerable Bede often misattributed as a reference to the colosseum states the following:

 Quamdiu stat Colisæus, stat et Roma; quando cadet colisæus, cadet et Roma; quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus 

“As long as the Colossus stands, so shall Rome; when the Colossus falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome falls, so falls the world”

Although the correct structure in question was the previously stated Statue Of Nero, one can’t help but consider the subtle symbology behind this statement.

The Roman’s were certainly an articulate and knowledgeable civilization that flourished for centuries despite systematic weaknesses. They knew how to effectively wield power across long distances, develop a unified army, distribute responsibilities amongst individual civil administrations, develop a system to control public finances, and maintain a class system. The empire didn’t fall in a sudden blaze of glory, but was whittled away at by circumstance, much as the Colosseum continues to lose it skeleton to greedy stone robbers.

I realize this is a de facto analogy, but it really causes one to ponder. What do you think?

Travel: In the Steps of Michaelangelo

English: Capitoline Hill, Rome. Image:Fratelli...

Before we could enter the Roman Ruins that day, my new friend and I stumbled upon the tail-end of a parade in celebration of some unknown national holiday. I’m still not clear on what it was, but I would have been thrilled if I had managed to catch sight of all the festivities. Unfortunately for us, we discovered that it delayed the opening of our attractions for the day. Rather than being open that morning, neither the Imperial Forum, nor the Colosseum were going to open until that afternoon. Instead, we took a long stroll around Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome and the original Citadel of the first generation.

The Abduction of the Sabine Women, by Nicolas ...

It is at this site that the Sabines, were granted access by the Roman maiden Tarpeia. For her treachery, she was the first to be flung from a steep cliff overlooking the Roman Forum. Later named the Tarpeian Rock after the Vestal Virgin, it became a frequent execution site.

The first Sabines immigrated to Rome following the Rape of the Sabine Women.

You may recall an earlier post from the beginning of my trip when I went to visit the Fatima Sanctuary, the following brings to mind how individuals can be so devout to subject themselves to pain in the name of their faith. Legend says that  Julius Caesar approached the foot of the hill and Jupiter’s Temple on his knees in penance for his actions in the civil wars and to avert an unlucky omen of Jupiter’s wrath. He was moved to do so after he suffered an accident during one of his triumphs. Despite this, he was murdered six months later, and Brutus and his conspirators barricade themselves within the temple.

Excuse me, I’ve gotten a bit off track from my original topic., back to Michelangelo!

What I’ve come to love about Rome are the subtle nuances that pervade every cornerstone and recess of its ancient culture and architecture. A prime example of this is the Piazza del Campidoglio.

Michelangelo's design for Capitoline Hill, now...

In his prime, he was commissioned by the Farnese Pope Paul III to design a plaza. The Pope wanted a symbol of the new Rome to impress Charles V, who was expected in 1538. Having an opportunity to build such a monumental civic space, granted Michelangelo the opportunity to make a resonating statement reestablishing the grandeur of Rome.  His initial designs for the Piazza date from 1536 and were formidably extensive.

In an emblematic display, he chose to accentuate the reversal of the classic orientation of the Capitoline. Instead, the gesture turned Rome’s civic center away from the ancient Roman Forum  to face the direction of Papal Rome and the Christian church  represented by  St. Peter’s Basilica.

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His made a bold metaphorical statement:

“This full half circle turn can also be seen as Michelangelo’s desire to address the new, developing section of the city rather than the ancient ruins of the past.” ~In the wise words of Wikipedia

I have so much more I want to say about how Michelangelo used his ingenuity to address problems such as a sloped site and the lack of building facades facing each other squarely, however, I will leave that to your research. The structural engineer in me is trying her hardest not to bore you with devious architectural solutions.

Travel: Roman Ingenuity

I suppose I could have visited these vestiges of Roman Power earlier on during my stay in Rome, but those days were fraught with cloudy skies and doubtful rain. The scenery and the nobility of these shrewdly crafted sprawling complexes is best observed by admiring their height against the deep, blue sky, and pondering the shadows they leave behind. Still standing 2 Millenia later, the longevity of these structures are a testament to the Roman Empire‘s influence and power.

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The word awe-inspiring has certainly been used by me more times on this trip than I can count. In this case, I feel that it is well deserved, although my tender feet may not acknowledge this compliment since the square area that was traipsed across tested their limits.

As you can imagine, the lines to get into these archaeological ruins tend to be lengthy, I ventured there with a girl who was staying at the same hostel as me, unfortunately, it is at the lines that we split up. I had invested in the Roma Card, a visitor pass that allowed me to bypass the lines, and I was simply not eager to bide my time with her.

My first stop was the Roman Forum.

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This complex was located in the center of the city and houses the important government buildings of this ancient civilization. It was the main social environment for its citizens, a square for public speeches, criminal trials, triumphal processions and elections. The venue was used for gladiatorial matches and was the nucleus for the commercial affairs of the city.

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I literally lost more than half my day here! There are so many towering structures and secret little niches that are delicately foiled in bright green moss. It’s definitely not an area that you can rush through, because smelling the air, and envisioning the daily lives of Roman Citizens is a must.  Believe me, my feet were absolutely KILLING me by the end of it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to rush through the subtle nuances of heritage that are exuded with each step. (I think that is a grammatically correct sentence…)

Travel: Legacy of St. Peter

So, I meant to wake up super early to line up for St. Peter’s Basilica in order to avoid the long lines. This turned out to be a useless endeavor, since my travels had worn down my energy stores. I ended up not arriving in Vatican City until around 10 AM, unfortunately, at that point there was a line wrapping around the circumference of St. Peter’s Square, and it was beginning to drizzle.

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I ended up standing behind a nice couple from the states for the duration of 1.5 hours, and we enjoyed a conversation concerning the weather, traveling, the current state of the economy.

Due to my professional line-waiting experience (from attending the Shanghai World Expo) I was the first to jump on a group that budged their way in front of us. I was not able to eject them however, due to a language barrier, and the lack of efficiency in the overall line system. No barricades or lanes are offered, and all of a sudden a two-person wide line suddenly expanded to an eight-person wide line. I certainly have many suggestions to offer concerning how to improve the basilica’s egress.

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Finally getting inside, I was completely floored by the beauty of the interior. Designed by Donato Bramante , MichelangeloCarlo Maderno, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, it is known as the most famous example of Renaissance Architecture. Following Roman Catholic tradition, this landmark building lies on the burial site of Saint Peter, the first Bishop of Rome and therefore first in the line of the papal succession. His tomb lies directly below the altar.

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The Pietà was particularly moving. Michelangelo never fails to accurately depict the gradual caress of robes across the human form, or the somber emotion of an event. In this case, it is Mary, lamenting in her loss as she cradles the dead body of her son Jesus.

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After fighting my way out of the masses, I took a break for lunch and treated myself to a delectable Tiramisu (My personal favorite dessert :D).

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I then headed onward to a church known as St. Peter in Chains. It is the resting place of Michelangelo’s Moses.

In the words of Giorgio Vasari:

“Seated in a serious attitude, he rests with one arm on the tables, and with the other holds his long glossy beard, the hairs, so difficult to render in sculpture, being so soft and downy that it seems as if the iron chisel must have become a brush. The beautiful face, like that of a saint and mighty prince, seems as one regards it to need the veil to cover it, so splendid and shining does it appear, and so well has the artist presented in the marble the divinity with which God had endowed that holy countenance. The draperies fall in graceful folds, the muscles of the arms and bones of the hands are of such beauty and perfection, as are the legs and knees, the feet being adorned with excellent shoes, that Moses may now be called the friend of God more than ever, since God has permitted his body to be prepared for the resurrection before the others by the hand of Michelangelo.”
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This minor basilica was originally built to house the chains that bound Saint Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. According to legend, when Empress Eudoxia presented the chains to Pope Leo I, he compared them to the chains of St. Peter’s final imprisonment in the Mamertine Prison and the two chains miraculously fused together.

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Thankfully, the sun reemerged from behind the clouds in the afternoon, and I wrapped up my day by taking a leisurely stroll on the Palatine Hill and exploring the Domus Aurea, a large landscaped portico villa built by the Emperor Nero.

What’s your take on all these Reliquaries? Do you have faith in the miraculous powers they are said to have?

Travel: Roman Art

After exploring the depths of Rome, I ventured onwards to Trajan’s Forum. This Fora was the last Imperial fora to be built, and was overseen by Apollodorus of Damascus. Built between 106 to 112 AD, it was constructed from the spoils of war amassed from the conquest of Dacia.

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The most notable icon of this sprawling complex is Trajan’s Column, a triumphal tribute commemorating Trajan‘s victory during the Dacian Wars. Completely freestanding at 98 ft high (125 ft including the pedestal), the shaft is composed of a series of twenty 11 ft diameter colossal Carrara marble drums, each weighing  32 tons. It is most recognized for its spiral bas relief, at a total length of 625 ft, the frieze winds around 23 times, and depicts the epic wars of Romans Vs. Dacians. (I saw a miniature replica of this exact column wrought in gold in the museums of Vienna, Austria).

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Taking another breather (after all, one can only ponder the historical significance or art and architecture for so long), I stopped by to admire the Monument to Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy.  This monument is also home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a sobering reminder about the tragic losses of war.

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Around the corner I decided to take a leisurely stroll through a park. This area was formerly the Circus Maximus, the first and largest stadium used primarily for Ludi in Ancient Rome. Ludi are public games directly connected to Roman Religious Festivals, and were sponsored by noble Romans or the State for the benefit of the people and the gods.

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The last stop of my day was the Vatican Museum After Dark. Despite not having a full day, I was so proud that I discovered these tickets as it allowed me to enter at an allocated time and avoid the massive lines that tend to form during the day.


I can’t even explain the overflowing stores of art that burst from the confines of each room. I was completely overwhelmed by the detail of the marble sculptures, the intricacies of the woven tapestries, and the breathtaking wonder that overtakes you when mortal eyes lay their gaze on the beauty of the Sistine Chapel.


Do you not feel humble when you see the masterpieces of renowned artists that consistently challenged the constraints of art? Are you not jealous of the skill that they were blessed with? If you could have any artistic talent, what would it be, why?

Travel: Beneath the Streets of Rome

My day started off fairly morbidly as it began by exploring a Capuchin Crypt beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. When moving from an old monastery in 1631, the monks arrived bearing 300 cartloads of deceased friars. Fr. Michael of Bergamo then oversaw arrangement of the bones amongst soil that had been brought from Jerusalem by order of Pope Urban VIII.


During the lifetime of the crypt, as monks passed away, longer-buried remains were exhumed to make room for the newly-deceased and the reclaimed bones were added to the decorative motifs.The average time span of decomposition was 30 years, and the total skeletal remains number 3,700.

Six rooms with individual themes bear the following names:

  1. Crypt of the Resurrection
  2. The Mass Chapel
  3. Crypt of the Skulls
  4. Crypt of the Pelvises
  5. Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones
  6. Crypt of the Three Skeletons

If you recall a former post, from my visit to Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic, despite modern-day opinions on death, bones, and gore, one could understand the thought behind such a display. It is not meant to be macabre, but a gentle reminder that each lifespan is but a swift passage on earth and even we can not escape our own mortality.

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Experiencing a strong desire to bask in the roman air and sunshine, I emerged from these depths to stroll above ground. This led me to pensive pondering while admiring the infamous Trevi Fountain. I’ll speak more about the history and myths behind this landmark site in a future post as I came back to this location a multitude of times.

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A hop, skip, and jump away is an archaeological dig called the ‘City of Water.’ Discovered in 1999 during reconstruction of the former Cinema Sala Trevi, it is a little-known tourist destination.  The excavation is merely 400 m², but reveals a 4th century Roman mansion built upon two former insulae and a section of aqueduct. This section is part of the Acqua Vergine and actually connects to the Trevi Fountain!


Travel: Catacombs of Rome

I woke up early this morning to catch a fast train back to Rome. It only took about 1.5 hours, and I didn’t want to waste my entire morning by sleeping in (although there’s no denying that I was very sleep-deprived at this point). After arriving at my hostel, I gave myself some decompression time to regroup while I figured out where I could most optimally spend my day.

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My first stop was the Catacombs of Callixtus, it is an underground graveyard that is 20 km long and occupies 15 hectares.  The tomb got its name from the belief that it was created by Pope Callixtus I, a deacon of rome, by enlarging early pre-existing Christian hypogea during the 2nd century. It was continuously used for burials through the 3rd and 4th centuries. As the years passed into the 9th century, the crypt suffered from disuse and decay as it was subject to enemy ransacking and the relics were translated to the various churches of Rome.

The catacombs are best known for containing the Crypt of the Popes as this site held the remains of 16 popes and 15 martyrs.


It was a little creepy walking through these arcades. You could see the narrow niches that had been carved into the bedrock, and imagining oneself lying in those small spaces was quite, gruesome. It was a true maze, and it’s terrifying to consider the possibility of getting lost in the cold, damp, passages.

2013-05-30 08.37.45From there, I strolled down Appian Way,  one of the earliest Roman roads of the ancient republic.

It was strategically important in that it connected Rome to Brindisi, Apulia, in southeast Italy. 

This is represented by its very common name, as recorded by Statius

Appia teritur regina longarum viarum

“the Appian way is the queen of the long roads”

At the beginning of Appian Way, lies the Church of Domine Quo Vadis. The small building lies on the site where, according to the legend, Saint Peter met Jesus while the former was fleeing persecution in Rome.

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The presence of St. Peter is confirmed by an epigraph in the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian that reads Domus Petri (House of Peter). It is here, that according to the apocryphal Acts of Peter, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” (Domine, quo vadis?). Jesus answered, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again” (Eo Romam iterum crucifigi).

On a marble slab in the center of the church, are two embedded footprints. They are believed to be a miraculous sign left Jesus.

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The final stop of the day were the Baths of Caracalla, the second largest Roman public baths built between AD 212 and AD 216 during the reign of Emperor Caracalla. A slightly longer construction period between 211-217 AD is provided by Chris Scarre.

To meet this constricted deadline, over 2,000 tons of material would have had to be installed every day over a six year period. Historical records show that the idea for the baths were drawn up by Septimius Severus. A complex  hypocaust system burning coal and wood beneath the ground was utilized to heat the water that was provided by a dedicated aqueduct.

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I would have loved to experience them at the peak of of its life. Can you imagine having a FREE spa experience in this huge architectural complex? What is your favorite relaxation activity?

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