Day 13: When in Rome



June 6, 2019

Today was a huge day for walking! So far it was second only to Paris, coming in at 18,335 steps, which is about 8.1 miles. It started off with us sleeping in a bit which is always a treat, and a great breakfast. There was a delicious cake-like food with chocolate chips in it that I hadn’t seen before–soo good!! They also had tiny sausages and salami for breakfast, not something I think of when I think of breakfast food, but it was a nice savory meat go alongside the sweet foods.

We first headed to the metro and got off at the stop called Colosseo. It’s quite the experience getting off at this station…as soon as you get up to the street level, BOOM! The Colosseum is right there! It was still an amazing site to see even for the second time. We walked around the exterior since we didn’t have time yesterday. We were curious why there are huge sections missing, yet the rest of it is still so well preserved. Along the way, we were probably asked by 10 or 15 different people on the street if we wanted to go inside. Some of them looked legit, others…not so much. I guess you can guarantee that if someone isn’t sure how to get in, these guys will fix that problem real quick!

The Roman Colosseum
The Roman Colosseum. Notice the holes in the stone where the iron staples have been removed.


Plaque on the Colosseum
A plaque on the Colosseum which states: “The amphitheater, one consecrated to triumphs, entertainments, and the impious worship of pagan gods, is now dedicated to the sufferings of the martyrs purified from impious superstitions.”


Colosseum entrance
One of the entrances to the Colosseum. Many of the original outer entrances have disappeared with the collapse of the perimeter wall, but entrances XXIII (23) to LIIII (54) survive.


The Arch of Constantine
The Arch of Constantine which lies adjacent to the Colosseum

Next we headed to the Roman Forum area. I had to look up what it was–it’s a rectangular plaza surrounded by the ruins of several important government buildings; citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum. It was quite amazing to see so many structures still standing, or at least have pieces of them still in tact.  We didn’t book a full tour, so we couldn’t see everything but we caught glances of most of it. In the moment, it wasn’t super impactful and seemed just like a lot of ruins. I want to read a little bit more about it, because I think if I learned a bit more about the history, it would mean more to me that I’ve actually seen some of those places. Even if we had an official tour of the Roman Forum, it probably would be information overload anyway, so we might not walk away with a whole lot of information committed to our memory, who knows.

The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum

Having seen enough of the ancient city, we headed to the newer side of the city (as opposed to the “Ancient City”) in search of some pizza for lunch! We roamed the streets of Rome in search of a great place. We took a bit of the road less travelled, which was quite nice since everywhere else is just so crowded–the main streets, the ancient city, the subway…eek.  We found this great pizza place and split a Margherita pizza. I learned yesterday that that this pizza is a “patriotic pizza” since it features tomatoes, bread/cheese, and basil. Thus, the colors of the Italian flag! (More about this below.) I don’t think I’ve had a Margherita pizza this good before, just perfect!

Then we headed towards the Vatican to meet up with our tour group–we signed up for a Vatican tour through Expat (though given through a private company). Side note, we learned that tour guides must be licensed and properly accredited in order to give tours in many Italian cities. Our Expat leader Emma could not give one.  Yesterday during our waking tour, the authorities randomly asked our guide Anna to provide her tour guide credentials. They take it very seriously, as tourism is a huge source of their country’s income!  Anyhow, we got there a bit early so we could sit down and take a little breather before the tour started. While sitting there, we saw so many people going into the Vatican museum for a tour. And people from all nations. It was at that moment when I realized how famous this place really was.  We were instructed to meet at 2:45, but we didn’t enter until 3:15 or so, as our group joined another Expat group who was also in Rome, putting our group size around 65. Then we had to go through security and get our headsets issued and hooked up, so around 4:00 we finally started our tour.  I was really scared that they wouldn’t let me go through because I was wearing shorts. So many people in our group made comments about how I should have pants on. However, our tour leader said shorts are OK as long as they’re not short shorts. So I pulled them down just a bit more, and they let me in! There were so many people going through security and in the area in general. It was basically tourist central. At that point we were a bit skeptical of why we were going on this tour…too many crowds! But it wasn’t long before we realized why, and why the droves of other people were doing the same.

The first stop on our tour was an overview of the important paintings in the Sistine chapel. I knew the creation painting, but I didn’t realize how many more there are! We headed inside to the rest of the museum and went to several different sections: 1) old Roman relics including bath tubs, coffins, and sculptures, 2) everyday objects such as vases and candlesticks, 3) tapestries (these were absolutely gigantic, apparently some were done in only 7 years BY HAND, and 4) the various maps of Italy which were drawn up by friar and geographer Ignazio Danti and were actually 80% accurate…that was before any sort of aerial imaging! The best part came up next…

Sculpture Art
Sculpture art in the Vatican Museum


Gallery of Maps
The vaulted ceiling in the Vatican Gallery of Maps, which are the work of a group of Mannerist artists including Cesare Nebbia and Girolamo Muziano.

We finally made it to the Sistine chapel! It was overwhelmingly beautiful. We were able to stand in the middle for about 10 minutes and gaze around at the paintings. The colors were so vivid! We were told that a Japanese television company helped restore the paintings in the 1980’s under Pope John Paul II, as they had become blackened over the years to do oil lamp smoke. The company gave the money and thus got the rights to all of the paintings, which is why we could not take pictures in the chapel. They left a few squares untouched to allow comparison between the unrestored and restored areas.  We also learned that Michelangelo was a sculptor, NOT a painter. Michaelangelo argued this to the pope, but the pope specifically asked him to do the paintings. He said no the first time, but couldn’t the second time. Also, he used cheaper paints because the Pope didn’t pay for them. However, when he came back later and painted The Last Judgement, Michelangelo made sure that the Pope paid for the paint, thus he used the most expensive paints (lots of blues). There are really no words to describe the beauty of the paintings. One just has to see them with their own eyes to truly grasp their beauty.

Moving out of the chapel, we finally got to see St. Peter’s Square, just at the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica. We saw where the Pope makes his first blessing after being elected, as well as where he does his weekly blessing from the window of the former Pope apartment (he doesn’t live there anymore, but goes to the same window to do the blessing). Such a beautiful square. That is, except for the hundreds and hundreds of chairs that were scattered around the whole square. We weren’t sure what they were used for, but we assumed for the formal Wednesday address. We also saw the Swiss guard at one of the entrances to the square (more about the guard below).

St Peter's Square
Looking towards St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Obelisk in St. Peter’s Square.


Swiss Guard
A Swiss Guard stands at one of the entrances to The Vatican

We eventually made our way into St. Peter’s Basilica. Once again, there are really no words to convey the beauty of the interior.  It was absolutely massive. We could say with confidence that it is in fact the biggest Roman Catholic cathedral in the world, which then I began to wonder…what happens if someone tried? Would they be denied by the Vatican? Hmm…  I didn’t get over to see Michelangelo sculpture of Mary, but we learned that he did it in a single year with a solid piece of marble. We saw the tomb of Pope John Paul II, which was located in the second chapel on the left. We also learned that the doors of Jubilee are opened only once every 26 years. Which meant there are 6 years left until they are opened again, on the day when all Catholics come to the church and have their sins “washed away”. Our tour guide made a joke that there are 6 years to keep sinning. We couldn’t tell if she was joking or serious! Anyway, there was just such beauty in this place!

St Peters Basilica
Ceiling panorama in St. Peters Basilica


The Papal Altar
The Papal Altar around which the Basilica is centered. Only the Pope celebrates Mass here. Rising above the altar is the baldacchino (95ft. canopy). The ancient tomb of St. Peter lies directly below the altar.

At this point, our feet were so tired we headed back to our hotel. It probably took an hour (as the other trips have) as we had to get on the metro, then the bus.  The metro was insanely crowded. We had to change to the B line at the Termini station, as did most other people. This meant that almost the entire train (which, again, was absolutely packed) had to get off, while about the same amount of people had to get on. There were people pushing from behind and people touching all around me…it was nuts. It made me think of Hong Kong where they have designated “people pushers” just to stuff more people on the train. Man! Never living in a big city, that’s for sure!

We finally made it back and headed to the shopping mall to get dinner. We found this pretty nice sit-down place in the food court, and were also bribed by someone handing out samples of Focaccia at the entrance. That’s also something we’ve noticed about Italian restaurants. There’s often someone standing outside trying to get people to come in. It’s like they’re advertising. It worked on us, I suppose! I ended up getting Gnocchi, and Emily got a salad which advertised as having ham, but in reality it did have ham, but looked raw (maybe it was cured?). The Gnocchi was good, and it reminded me of the Margherita pizza from earlier. Basil, tomatoes, and gnocchi instead of the bread/cheese.  We also headed to Vinci’s to get some gelato. Not quite as good as the place next to the Trevi fountain, but it was still good! Side note, it’s surprising to me how well people speak English here. I don’t know if it’s more due to the fact that we are in tourist hot spots or if the Italians all learn English in school. We have yet to speak to an Italian who didn’t understand our English!

Food in Rome
Food in Rome! Pizza Margherita, Gnocchi, and Venchi’s gelato.


Step Metrics: 18,335 steps; 8 miles; 838 cal; 3h 23m time


Self Q&A

Q: How is the Colosseum so well preserved, yet there are massive sections of it missing?

A: Following the fall of the Roman Empire the Colosseum played many roles: as a fortress, convent and hermitage. It also suffered from lightning strikes and earthquakes, but most damaging of all, it was used as a quarry and handy source of building materials. Its stones were used to make the steps of St Peter’s Basilica and innumerable churches of the Baroque era’s building boom (from History Today). 

Severe damage was inflicted on the Colosseum by the great earthquake in 1349, causing the outer south side, lying on a less stable alluvial terrain, to collapse. Much of the tumbled stone was reused to build palaces, churches, hospitals and other buildings elsewhere in Rome. Additionally, the bronze clamps which held the stonework together were pried or hacked out of the walls, leaving numerous pockmarks which still scar the building today.  Later popes initiated various stabilization and restoration projects, removing the extensive vegetation which had overgrown the structure and threatened to damage it further. The façade was reinforced with triangular brick wedges in 1807 and 1827, and the interior was repaired in 1831, 1846 and in the 1930s. The arena substructure was partly excavated in 1810–1814 and 1874 and was fully exposed under Benito Mussolini in the 1930s. The most recent project between 2013 and 2017 was a €25 million restoration which aimed to 1) clean and restore the Colosseum’s arcaded façade and replace the metal enclosures that block the ground-level arches, 2) replace the floors, 3) create a services center, and 4) restore the galleries and underground spaces inside the Colosseum (from Wikipedia).


Q: What is the Colosseum built out of?

A: Travertine limestone (set without mortar–it was held together by 300 tons of iron clamps), tuff (volcanic rock) , and brick-faced concrete.


Q: Why are there brick sections of the Colosseum? Are these original or just used to help preserve it?

A: Probably both. The original materials included brick-faced concrete, but there were also some reinforcements added in the 19th century.


Q: When they dug the tunnels for the subway, did they come across a lot of ruins?

A: Yes indeed! When constructing Line A, archaeological discoveries occurred often, especially in the area of Piazza della Repubblica.. The uncovered remains were put on show in protective glass display cases in Repubblica station. Additionally, while constructing Line C, crews came across the ruins of a military barracks and commander’s home dating back to the second century AD. This was a significant discovery especially due to the size–13,000 square feet! They also discovered the remains of a farm with sophisticated irrigation systems dating back before Christ.


Q: What is the project they are working on next to the Colosseum?

A: The project is the creation of a state of the art Line C subway route which runs right by the Colosseum. As mentioned above, this project has unearthed some archaeological discoveries, which have been amazing, but have also put the project behind schedule by about 20 years.


Q: What’s the story behind the flag and the Margherita Pizza?

A: A widespread belief says that in June 1889 the pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito, Pizzeria Brandi’s chef, invented a dish called “Pizza Margherita” in honor of the Queen of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, and the Italian unification, since toppings are tomato (red), mozzarella (white) and basil (green), representing the same colors of the national flag of Italy.

The legend of pizza Margherita is considered a false history, as a pizza made with the same toppings was already present in Naples between 1796 and 1810, although it probably was not called “Margherita”. In 1830, in the book Napoli, contorni e dintorni, written by Riccio, it was described as a pizza with tomato, mozzarella and basil. In 1849 Emanuele Rocco recorded different pizza toppings like basil, tomatoes and thin slices of mozzarella; the mozzarella was thinly sliced, and arranged with a flower-shape over the tomato sauce, along with the basil leaves: this may be the real origin of the name Margherita (meaning daisy).


Q: What are the details behind all of the individual paintings in the Sistine Chapel?

A: Rather than list all the information here, see Wikipedia.☺


Q: What are the chairs used for in St. Peter’s Square?

A: They are used during the Wednesday Papal Audience when the Pope is in Rome, giving pilgrims and visitors the chance to “see the Pope” and receive the Papal Blessing. The Audience with the Pope consists of small teachings and readings mainly in Italian but also in English, French, German, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese and sometimes other languages depending on groups visiting.  The Pope will do a greeting in each language and special visiting groups, choirs etc from various countries will get a mention. At the end of the Audience the Pope will pray together with those attending the Audience, the Our Father prayer in Latin. This Prayer is normally printed on the back of the Papal Audience Ticket. At the end of the Prayer as Head of the Catholic Church he will impart his Apostolic Blessing upon the crowd which also extends to loved ones that are sick and suffering and blesses any religious articles such as rosary beads that people have brought with them for the purpose of the blessing. (From Palpal Audience)


Q: Why is it a Swiss guard in the Vatican?

A: Late in the Middle Ages, it became a tradition to recruit Swiss mercenaries as special military units. The Swiss soldiers were famous for their military professionalism. Pope Sixtus IV (1471–1484) made an alliance with the Swiss Confederacy and built foresaw the possibility of recruiting Swiss mercenaries. The pact was renewed by Innocent VIII (1484–1492) in order to use them against the Duke of Milan. Alexander VI (1492–1503) later actually used the Swiss mercenaries during their alliance with the King of France. During the time of the Borgias, however, the Italian Wars began in which the Swiss mercenaries were a fixture in the front lines among the warring factions, sometimes for France and sometimes for the Holy See or the Holy Roman Empire. The mercenaries enlisted when they heard King Charles VIII of France was going to war with Naples. Among the participants in the war against Naples was Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II (1503–1513). 

The expedition failed, in part thanks to new alliances made by Alexander VI against the French. When Cardinal della Rovere became Pope Julius II in 1503, he asked the Swiss Diet to provide him with a constant corps of 200 Swiss mercenaries. This was made possible through the financing of the German merchants from Augsburg, Bavaria, Ulrich and Jacob Fugger, who had invested in the Pope and saw it fit to protect their investment.

In September 1505, the first contingent of 150 soldiers started their march towards Rome and entered the city on January 22, 1506, which is given as the official date of the Guard’s foundation.

Many guards died protecting a later pope during the looting of Rome of 1527 (commemorating the anniversary of this ‘martyrdom’ has since become a tradition). (From Wikipedia and Frans Willem Lantink)


Q: Why are there so many chapels in the Basilica? Are they ever used?

A: Chapels are generally part of the layout of large cathedrals, with side chapels sometimes in the ends of the transept as well as in the apse. Chapels are holy areas set aside for some specific use or purpose: for instance, many cathedrals and large churches have a “Lady Chapel” in the apse, dedicated to the Virgin Mary; parish churches may have such a “Lady Chapel” in a side aisle or a “Chapel of Reservation” or “Blessed Sacrament Chapel” where the consecrated bread of the Eucharist is kept in reserve between services, for the purpose of taking Holy Communion to the sick and housebound and, in some Christian traditions, for devotional purposes. (from Wikipedia

Here is an interactive floor plan of St. Peter’s Basilica that shows all of the chapels and other features in the cathedral.


Q: When is St. Peter’s Basilica used?

A: Papal Masses are held on many Holy Days and some special occasions, but Saint Peter’s Basilica has a regular Mass schedule with a regular parish community (the local community and the thousands of visitors who happen to drop by throughout the day). As of August 7, 2019, the regular schedule is as follows:

  • Daily Mass Times at Saint Peter’s Basilica
    • 7:15 a.m. Mass at the Altar of Saint Michael
    • 8:30 a.m. Mass in Italian in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel
    • 9:00 a.m. Mass in Italian at the Altar of Saint Joseph.
    • 10:00 a.m. Mass in Italian at the Altar of Saint Joseph.
    • 11:00 a.m. Mass in Italian at the Altar of Saint Joseph.
    • 12:00 p.m. Mass in Italian at the Altar of Saint Joseph.
    • 5:00 p.m.Mass in Latin at the Altar of the Chair. (My usual.)
  • Sunday and Holy Day Mass Times at Saint Peter’s Basilica
    • 9:00 a.m. Mass in Italian at the Altar of the Chair.
    • 10:30 a.m. Mass in Latin at the Altar of the Chair.
    • 11:15 a.m. Mass in Italian in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.
    • 12:15 p.m. Mass in Italian at the Altar of the Chair.
    • 1:00 p.m. Mass in Italian at the Altar of Saint Joseph.
    • 4:00 p.m. Mass in Italian at the Altar of the Chair.
    • 5:30 p.m. Mass in Italian at the Altar of the Chair


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