Rome’s Pantheon…Did You Know?

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Michelangelo described the famous Pantheon in Rome perfectly after seeing it for the first time in the early 1500’s when he said it was “an angelic and not a human design.” The architecture is mind-blowing and incredibly devised. Built by Emperor Hadrian in 120 AD, it is the best preserved ancient Roman monument as well as a testament to the ingenuity of the early Romans and their fascinating knowledge of mathematics, balance, and measures.

The Pantheon today is better known to most people as the film locations in the famous movies Roman Holiday and Angels and Demons. But the dome of the Pantheon is what the Renaissance masters Brunelleschi and Michelangelo, to name a few, studied and adopted architectural knowledge to build the Duomo of Florence and St. Peters Basilica.

I’ve listed some intriguing details below about the Pantheon that will deepen your appreciation of Roman technology.

  1. The Pantheon was the largest dome for 1300 years but is still the largest unsupported dome today.
  2. It was the first pagan temple transformed into a church named St. Mary of the Angels in the year 609 AD. This was a blessing in itself because as a result it was saved from destruction during the middle ages. Today it exists more as a tribute to history than a religious institution.
  3. The original marble floor still exists.
  4. The Pantheon is 142 ft. in diameter and the U.S. Capitol dome is 96 ft. in diameter. They are both in perfect proportion with the distance from the floor to the top of the dome exactly equal to the diameter.
  5. Sixteen massive Corinthian Columns brought from Egypt, most likely by barge, weigh sixty tons each and used to support the portico.
  6. Tombs including that of the famous Renaissance painter Raphael along with several Italian kings and poets are housed inside.

It wasn’t until I took Art History in college that I understood how the dome of the Pantheon could stand for almost 2,000 years without support. It was quite amazing to learn that the concrete used was thinner at the top than the bottom. Volcanic stone was used as the aggregate in the concrete near the oculus (opening at the top) whereas heavier granite was used as the aggregate nearer to the base. The bottom of the dome was made heavier using brickwork as a counterbalance. If you look up at the dome, you will see small indented rectangular designs called coffers used to decrease the weight. The oculus at the top not only lets in sunlight but also adds no weight.

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photo credit pxhere

Brilliant, wouldn’t you say? Have you been to the Pantheon in Rome? Whether you have or not, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to share in the comments below.

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Notice the inscription across the front of the Pantheon. It reads “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, consul for the third time, built this.” Agrippa did build the former Pantheon in 27-25 BC., but it burned down. As a result, Emperor Hadrian rebuilt it into what we see today but left the inscription giving Agrippa the credit.

A Garden Stroll in the Green Heart of Rome

 

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The 18th century Fontana dei Cavalli Marini stands in the middle of a round plaza surrounded by trees and walkways at the Via Pinciana main entrance of the Borghese Gardens.

 

I woke up this morning inside my little mountain cabin in NW Oregon to a world as pristine, fresh and beautiful as can be imagined. With a steaming mug of coffee in hand, I stood in front of the window to observe the new day. The broad expanse of blue sky draped the valley below like a canopy, backed by the long silhouette of distant hills. Evergreen trees dusted with snow ran like rivulets down the hillside before me, skirting open meadows here and there.

My snow-covered deck dimpled in the sunlight. Chill air filled my lungs as I read the thermometer on the front porch. Only 24 degrees. Yet I felt beckoned to go for a long walk in the sunlight. To let the sun’s golden rays brush my face on this cold winter day.

I thought of another place and another time not so long ago. While in Rome on a much warmer day, my wandering feet took me from Piazza del Popolo and up to the Borghese Gardens. It was here that I found my heart-shaped green oasis away from the maddening crowds. Long roads of shade trees kept me cool as I explored the gardens. It quickly became my favorite place to walk in Rome. There is so much to see along the way, from playful, splashing fountains, gelato and refreshment stands, benches to rest, the zoo, and the Borghese Gallery. Several spots along the edge of the park offer gorgeous viewpoints to survey the expanse of the Eternal City.

For a moment I found myself suspended between two different worlds, each as beautiful as the other. Today I will enjoy my brisk walk in this winter wonderland while I dream of returning to that garden stroll in the green heart of Rome.

 

 

Fried Artichokes, Legacy of the Roman Jewish Ghetto

Jewish Fried Artichoke, Rome
Jewish Fried Artichoke

Jewish artichokes are a delicacy I was eager to try while in Rome. I’ve heard them described as delicate chrysanthemum-shaped with a crispy, salt-kissed taste. I knew I just had to try one given the opportunity.  They are a big attraction in the restaurants of the old Jewish Ghetto. Also known as cardiofi alla giudia,  artichokes were once a mainstay of the Roman Jews during times of scarcity and extreme hardship.

How could exquisite culinary delicacies evolve out of such extreme poverty and oppression?

Women of the Jewish Ghetto in Rome, established in 1555 by Pope Paul IV to sequester the Jews into one area, used what little they had to provide tasty meals for their families while also keeping them kosher. Artichokes, cheese, salt cod, and aubergines were cheap and used to create dishes that are considered gourmet cuisine today and served in fine dining restaurants throughout Rome.

Jewish Ghetto in Trastevere
Jewish Ghetto in Trastevere

The Jewish community began in Rome as early as 63 BC after the Romans invaded Judea and brought many of them back as slaves. Settling predominately on the east bank of the Tiber River, the walls (built in 1555) surrounding the ghetto kept them isolated for almost 300 years. The ghetto in Rome was one of the poorest in Italy. Desperately cramped, the Jews were forbidden to own property. They “were excluded from most professions except money-lending, dealing in old cloth and bric-a-brac, and selling food in the street. Many of them became friggitori-street vendors of deep-frying morsels, mainly of fish and vegetables for which they became famous,” describes Claudia Roden in her article “The Dishes of the Jews of Italy: A Historical Survey.”

The Great Fountain of the Ghetto that once provided the only fresh water in the ghetto.
The Great Fountain of the Ghetto that once provided the only fresh water available.

The Roman Jewish Ghetto today is a maze of narrow winding streets, interesting shops, and several cute Kosher restaurants emitting delicious smells.  Locals and tourists alike still flock to the old ghetto for carciofi alla guidia, Jewish style artichokes.

The Synagogue of Rome stands in the midst of the Jewish Ghetto where the original synagogue stood at one time. The ghetto is described as one of Rome’s most charming and eclectic neighborhoods, with restaurants serving up some of the best food in the city. The same little pieces of fried vegetables (artichokes, zucchini flowers, and salt cod), and fried fish chunks that are now served as fritto misto in the finest restaurants of Rome were sold centuries ago by the friggitori  for only a few coins.

Ironically, today’s Jewish Ghetto property, which during the ghetto oppression was considered very undesirable, is now some of the most expensive in Rome.

Have you visited the Jewish Ghetto in Rome and tasted acarciofi alla guidia? What were your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you so please feel free to leave a comment.

 

Two Places Where Italy Isn’t Really Italy After All

Did you know that Italy’s borders encompass two separate, independent countries? Most people are familiar with Vatican City as being one of them, but the other has escaped my attention until just recently. Because of my curious nature, I did a bit of research about these two countries and discovered how uniquely different they are from each other.

The picturesque little country of San Marino, Europes third smallest country after Vatican City and Monaco, has a population of just over 32,000 spread out over its 24 square miles of hilly land. Founded in 301 AD, it sits high on a mountaintop in north-central Italy toward the Adriatic side and is popular with tourists. San Marino is the oldest republic in the world and has a parliamentary government based on rules written in the late 16th century. Although not part of the EU, it uses the euro as currency like Vatican City.

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Fortress of Guaita, San Marino (photo credit en.wikipedia.org)

San Marino has managed to keep its independence for a long time mostly because of its hilly terrain. In the 1800’s many supporters for the unification of Italy found relief from persecution in these hills. As a result, a friendship treaty was signed by the Italian state that would guarantee San Marino’s independence permanently.

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Borgo Maggiore, San Martino (photo credit simple.wikipedia.org)

If you find a chance to visit San Marino, be sure and climb the historical towers for gorgeous views of the town and countryside. The Centro Storico di San Marino is a great place to discover the heart and soul of its people. If you like a private local tour guide, you can contact Tours by Locals. They have several options, and the personal touch can be very enjoyable.

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The flag of San Marino displays a coat of arms with three towers on three peaks of Monte Titano. White stands for peace and blue for liberty.

Vatican City, a semi-walled city-state inside Italy’s capital city of Rome, is ruled by The Holy See, the central government, of the Catholic church and is the centre of the Roman Catholic Church. As a monarchy, it is lead by the pope. Vatican City is also the world’s smallest country on only 100 acres and owning a population of 800. As one of the most powerful countries on earth, it is also, unsurprisingly, one of the richest.Each of the two countries has their own flag, anthem, stamps, coins, and licence plates. Both countries are internationally active, including U.N. memberships, but they are not entirely in line with the Italian government and politics. San Marino has a parliamentary government based on rules written in the late 16th century.

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St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City (photo credit flicker.com)

Have you ever wondered how someone becomes a citizen of Vatican City? To begin with, unlike any other country, acquiring citizenship in Vatican City has a due date. It is temporary and only for people directly working in the Vatican which can include their close family. Cardinals resident in Vatican City or Rome, diplomats of the Holy See or people residing in Vatican City because of their office or service all comprises the body of citizens. However, it is only the last category that requires an actual grant of citizenship.

Pretty exclusive, wouldn’t you say?

 

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Vatican City flag displays the Keys of St. Peter, one in gold which signifies spiritual power, and one in silver for worldly power. The Papal Tiara can also be seen.

There is much to see inside of St. Peters Basilica and Vatican City. For tours through its extensive museums, the Sistine Chapel, or the underground, visit Vatican Tours.

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Gardens of the Vatican City (photo credit en.wikipedia.org)

While touring Italy, take a couple of short detours into these little countries. They have a lot to offer anyone seeking to understand and enjoy another region. Of course, they are very Italian, but they also conduct their lives and affairs as proud independents.

 

 

 

 

How to See Rome on a Shoestring

If I could add one item to everyone’s bucket list, it would be to see Rome. Just once. If walking in the steps of the first-century emperors and saints don’t make an impact on you, the food and fashion culture will.

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The good news is that spending a couple of days or a week in Rome is very affordable if you determine to know a few ropes. In fact, living on a budget is a gift in disguise…it gives you the opportunity to experience the authentic Rome that you came to experience in the first place. Since I’ve had the good fortune of spending time in Rome on several different occasions, let me share just a few things that I have learned and used to keep me on budget and loving it.

Lodging: Where to stay

Convents are the absolute best way to go, in my opinion. Not only are they affordable, but I love the sisters. They are accommodating without being an interference. Just understand that few if any speak English. The rooms are usually quite spartan but clean. Often there is a simple breakfast served each morning which, bare minimum, consists of bread, butter, and coffee or cappuccino. Afterward, you are ready to go out sightseeing. However, there is often a curfew so be sure to check out the time you need to be back. They guard their keep quite religiously…and your bed will sound oh-so-good after a day in Rome. Check out Istituti Religiosi or Monastery Stays.

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This is Casa Santa Lucia Filippini where I stayed for 3 nights. It is right next to Torre Argentina and close to the Pantheon

 

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And a good breakfast included

Airbnb is another option that many people have had great success with. Although I have not personally stayed in one in Rome, I have in other places with great success.

The small streets near the Vatican are a good choice for affordable lodging in a quiet and safe environment. I highly recommend the Guest House Sant’Angelo in the Borgo neighborhood near the Vatican. The rooms are clean and comfortable. Prices are good and the location is where you want to be if the Vatican, Trastevere, and Castel Sant’Angelo are on your agenda. I got lost here one evening searching for my room but I never felt vulnerable.

Food & Drink:

Neighborhood trattorias are a great option for some home-grown Roman fare. The owner is most often the chef as well, so the service is personable and prices good. You will likely run into more of the local residents here. I usually look for a place that is unassuming in appearance. It there is a big menu outside with photos of the food and prices, or if a waiter is standing there trying to call me inside, I will pass it by. Trastevere is one of my favorite neighborhoods for dinner. The evening ambiance is great. Remember, the house wine is locally produced and usually delicious.

Another option is, of course, pizza. Now you can buy a slice of pizza (pizza taglio) and a drink for 5 euros. Just keep your eyes open for a Pizza Taglio sign.

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The real deal…salad in a pizza dough bowl for a pittance in Trastevere
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Loved this outdoor ambiance…good food…but more of a tourist’s restaurant with an outdoor menu

Another great option is to find a market and purchase the makings for a picnic such as cheese, prosciutto, bread, olives and wine or water. I suggest that you take it to the Villa Borghese Park in central Rome. It’s cool and shady with lots of statues, lawns, gorgeous plants and people watching. Not to mention views and a beautiful white marble art museum. If you think ahead, the marketer may supply you with a couple of plastic cups and uncork your bottle for you.

Inexpensive things to do:

Find an outdoor table in the late afternoon before dinner and enjoy a glass of wine or caffè while you people-watch. Another idea is to find a rooftop restaurant and go before the dinner crowd for a glass of wine and take in the Roman skyline.

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From the rooftop of Hotel Raphael by the Pantheon

If you need a refresher from the heat and crowds of tourists, step inside a church. It is free, quiet, peaceful and cool. I’ve used this reprieve many times while I enjoyed the fabulous architecture and artwork. Walk Rome after dinner with a gelato and enjoy getting delightfully lost. There is no better, or romantic, way to see Rome than this. Since Rome has its landmarks, being lost is only temporary. We ended up on the Janiculum hill once and caught a bus back down. Also, consider a stroll around the Colosseum at sunset and watch the walls reflect the sun’s soft orange glow.

Transportation

My favorite way to see a place is on foot. Thankfully, Rome is a foot-friendly city at best. Since all of the major sites are within walking distance, this is very doable. However, the best deal Rome has to offer is the Roma Pass. It gives you 3 days of unlimited travel plus access to two museums for free.

The subway is cheap and efficient with only two lines: Linea A or Linea B. Depending on where you want to be, it is easy to figure out which line to take. It’s old and dirty with lots of graffiti, but a great way to get from point a to point b. Reserve cabs for essentials like long distances after dark and car rentals for outside of Rome since in the city parking can be a  nightmare.

Have you been to Rome? What are your penny-pinching methods? Is Rome on your bucket list? I hope so…there is more than you ever imagined in the Eternal City to overload your senses. Rome is reachable for those who long to experience it.