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.

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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.

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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.

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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?