Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Egypt in Rome

In the Vatican Museum
Thanks to some far niche in my brain, the high school history storage unit, I knew that Rome had dominated all of the Mediterranean during the height of it's empire. Even so, it just never occurred to me to expect so much Egyptian art to be present and in incredibly good shape in Rome. There are Egyptian obelisks all over the place. An enormous one in front of St. Peter's Basilica, another mounted on top of an elephant sculpture in front of the Sta. Maria Sopra Minerva Basilica, and several others within the Vatican. In addition the Vatican has devoted a large amount of space to Egyptian art. And the museum that sits atop Augustus' Palace on Palatine Hill also has a large collection.

The Romans loved to collect the best art available in the countries they conquered. Much of the loot came to Rome and has subsequently come back to the light during excavations. Some of it never was abandoned in the first place, it always had a adoring audience.

Clearly the Roman artists were influenced by what they saw and studied of other cultures. Here are some statues of Egyptian women predating a Roman woman, the similarities are striking:

In the Vatican Museum

In the Augustus museum

The many obelisks brought from Egypt have ended up incorporated into sculptures, fountains, and the centerpieces of many piazzas. Here are some examples. 

Sits atop the Four Rivers Fountain 

Sta. Maria Sopra Minerva Basilica,
elephant with obelisk.

Piazza del Popolo

In addition, there is a pyramid! It was the tomb of Gaius Cestius, and was built in 12BC. Incorporated into the city walls, it is an impressive edifice, but has no signage or information. Plundered in antiquity, there is no body inside, and very little trace of frescoes either. All the information I got is from the Internet, it's not open, though there appears to be much excavation and archaeological work going on behind it and the Roman wall it is incorporated into. 

The Egyptian part of the Vatican museum has a mummy and many beautiful pieces of funerary art. It's an impressive collection, but a bit off the beaten path as most people probably follow the route that leads directly to the Sistine Chapel. 

Several sarcophagi in the collection

And yet more fountains

The public works of Rome, many of which date back to 1300-1600 and financed by the Catholic church, are some of the most impressive in the world. In searching for the famous fountains like the Trevi, my friends and I came across many others. Some are hidden like the organic fountain inside the Vatican, visible only with a museum ticket. Others are obscure like the one near the Colosseum, a sheet of rock with ridges, colored by algae and glistening in the setting sunlight. Many are dwarfed by the fabulous attraction they sit next to, and therefore aren't really "seen" by tourists, like the interesting fountain in front of the Pantheon. And one, atop Palatine Hill was once part of Augustus' palace courtyard, and is now filled, not with water, but with flowers.

So here are a few more of the wonderful fountains in Rome:

Very modern fountain near Ponte Cavour

Two Mermen in front of a Roman Temple
along Via della Greca

Ancient 2000 year old fountain pond
in the palace of Augustus.

This boat-like fountain sits at the
bottom of the Spanish Steps

Garibaldi Fountain with
porphyry columns

Organic growth in the middle of
a pond in the Vatican. The constant
drizzle of water keeps the plants
hydrated, eternally.

Small fountain in a garden somewhere....

The marvelous weird fountain
in front of the Pantheon.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Romans in Rome

At the Colosseo, our guide joked that the ancient Romans were military geniuses, organized, on time and very motivated, not like Italians today. The Colosseo was built in just 8 years with the "help" of tousands of Jewish slaves brought from the middle east. With so many entrances, 50,000 people with wooden "tickets", pouring in from all round, could fill the entire stadium in 15 minutes.

Going on a guided tour is often a mixed blessing. Sometimes a lot is learned and other times a lot of money is spent for very little.  At the ruins we joined a  tour group to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, walked up Palatine Hill and saw the Arch of Constantine. The guide inside the Colosseo was excellent. He explained how the building got its name. A colossus is an enormous statue, and there was one in ancient times, a 30 meter high bronze sculpture of the emperor Nero, which was modified into the Sun God, Sol Evictus, as soon as Nero was in his grave. The amphitheater known today as the Colosseum was actually the Flavian Amphitheater and got the name Colosseum due to its proximity to the colossus statue. The circular "playing field" inside was a wooden platform with a maze of pathways and trapdoors underneath for the emergence of combatants and animals. It was covered with sand, called 'arena' in both Latin and Spanish. The sand made for easy removal of blood and body parts, more sand was added for the next performance.

An archeological mix: ancient Roman Forum ruins
in the foreground, less ancient Christian churches (left)
and the modern monument to Vittorio Emanuel II, the
first king of Italy (white building) 
Palatine hill is where the she-wolf supposedly raised Romulus and Remus. It was also the site of many royal palaces and stately homes for the cream of Roman society. At the bottom of the hill, the center of Rome, the Forum, was the economic and religious center for the city which at one time reached a population of over 1 million people. Excavated ruins occupy several square kilometers and represent a long period of time. In addition to homes and shops, there are temples to Roman gods and goddesses, as well as Christian churches which sprung up or took over existing temples when Constantine became a Christian. Around the excavated ruins, which are about 6 meters lower than the surrounding city, there are many more ruins buried beneath the city. The view across the ruins clearly shows how they extend under modern buildings.

The guide explained that after the Roman Empire began to fall apart, the population of the city dropped to under 20,000 people, and much of the city was abandoned. Regular silty floods of the Tevere eventually deposited 3-5 meters of mud preserving the ruins, but also providing fertile, relatively flat land for farms and eventually new buildings. On the higher land north and east, some buildings like the Pantheon continued to be used as a temple and then a church for two thousand years. Today it is a Basilica of the Catholic Church. The technically innovative and enormous dome is still intact, with a large hole in the top and drainage in the floor where the rain pours in. It was designed this way to reduce the weight the roof must support. Inside are the crypts of various popes and the artist Rafael, as well as impressive sculptures and paintings.

Further to the north and east, there are other large and impressive ruins. One exposed section is the Largo de Torre Argentina, mentioned in an earlier post as the no-kill sanctuary for Cats.  Most of these smaller sites are not on the average tourist's radar, but things we tend to stumble across while walking or riding the public transport.

In addition, there are large areas south of the Colosseo and Forum that are full of catacombs and ancient baths. Most of the Roman settlement was on the east side of the Tevere, the Vatican occupies much of the western side along the river. Vatican City was much larger in earlier time, with a surrounding wall, a section of which can still be seen in the Trastevere neighborhood. Compared to the Roman walls and aqueduct systems, it is thin and not very defensible, an athletic teenager could climb right over it.

Long section of Roman wall that kept out
invaders and the river at one time. 

Inside the amphitheater, with a small section of platform
indicating the "floor" of the arena. Look closely for stairs
that once led up to trap doors on the arena's floor.

View of the Forum, from the Colosseum

A structure called The Basilica, for which all Basilica
Churches are named. This is only one side, it once
had a domed ceiling reaching across to an identical
structure opposite which is now gone.

The Arch of Constantine (and me) 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Overpowering emotions

St. Peter's Basilica, seen from one of the
bridges crossing the river,

I am definitely not the sentimental type, easily given over to emotions or tears. People like me have strong emotions, we are just more adept at keeping them to ourselves.  Once in a while, we surprise ourselves with an overwhelming emotional reaction to something we never dreamed we could shed a tear over.

One of dozens of large sculptures
that line both sides of the bridges
that cross the Tevere River headed
into the Vatican area.
Sheila, Ann, and I spent our first full day in Rome on Sunday. They are Methodists and knew of a Methodist church near the Vatican, so while they attended the church service I hiked the streets along the Tiber (Tevere) River that separates the old Roman city (the Roman Forum) from Vatican City.  That was the day we discovered the cat sanctuary (see the previous post), looked for the best pizza in Rome (which was never open, even days later), and saw numerous fountains that were on my "must-see" list.

It was nightfall. Being unfamiliar with the city, we weren't sure what bus to take that might get us back into our neighborhood, Trastevere. (Tras = across, Trastevere = across the Tevere) At the far end of the street we could see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Sheila got very excited and said, "It doesn't look that far, let's just go see what it looks like outside". We were all tired and our feet hurt, but we decided to do it.

A woman begging in front
of an angel on the bridge.
The Basilica was lit up but not brightly. St. Peter and St. Paul's statues flanked the front facade and we could see a Swiss Guard standing ramrod stiff and perfectly still guarding an open arched entrance. Other security types told us we were at the exit and needed to go way back out almost to the street and around the many barricades designed to herd people into the Basilica. The whole scene reminded me of standing in line at Disney World, where you creep forward in a snake pattern getting ever closer to the ride entrance, only to find, once inside, the line extends in the air-conditioning an equally long distance. The big difference in this scene: it was night and there wasn't a single person in the line. We quietly moved aside some barricades and crossed over into the entrance.

Statue of St. Peter in front of the Basilica.
There was no entry fee, and once inside, my jaw simply dropped open. Off to the right was Michelangelo's Pieta, carved when he was only 23 years old. Designed to be seen from some distance, the body of Jesus, a grown man, is smaller than it should be in real life, but the composition works beautifully. The emotion of that one sculpture alone can bring tears to the hardest of souls, and that was just the beginning.

A choir was singing, music filled the air till is seemed angels flew over our heads. We gestured to the security men that we would like to join the mass and sat on folding chairs at the back. Everywhere, on every wall, covering every inch of floor, there was exhibited the pinnacle of human artistic endeavor, devoted entirely to the human ideal and idea of God. In the soft light, sculptures and paintings by Bernini, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rafael, and hundreds of others, the best artists of the last two thousand years, sat in niches and formed parts of the nave, the ceiling, the canopy and St. Peter's tomb in the center of the enormous room. High overhead the domes were painted with scenes, the woodwork gilded; they were works of art entirely unto themselves. I had never been inside such an intense concentration of the world's best talent, in any place so profoundly religious, reflecting the desire of human beings for more than this life can provide, the desire for an eternal existence.

It was beautiful and so powerful, it was overwhelming. Tears ran.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

In Search of Fountains

Of course people go to Rome for all kinds of see the Vatican, go through catacombs full of bones (and spiders), visit ancient Roman ruins, and to see sculptures and paintings by some of the world's greatest artists.

Detail of the Four Rivers Fountain
I am here with two friends, Sheila and Ann from New Mexico, who have been on a two week trip through Turkey to see the places St. Paul visited. They've come specifically to see the Vatican and to hear the Pope give his weekly blessing. I came to see fountains.

On Sunday, we rode the tram up Trastevere and caught a bus next to some ancient Roman ruins called Largo di Torre Argentina. This square, about a kilometer from the Roman Forum which was the old center of Rome, contained the Pompey Theater where Julius Caesar was killed. The street level of the ruins is about thirty feet below the current street level. Down there amongst the ruins dozens of cats were lounging around. A group of women known as the gattare, the Cat Ladies, formed a no-kill shelter inside the ruins. Over the last twenty years they have sterilized and then set free, more than 30,000 cats. The ruins make an ironically fitting place for the shelter - two of the four Republican temples, built in the first and third centuries, were sponsored by men from the rich family Catalus!!

Largo de Torre Argentina, the no-kill cat sanctuary

Ann had the address of the best pizza place in Rome, so we hiked around looking for it, but discovered it closed on Sunday. I had a list of fountains I wanted to see, but limited ideas about where they might be found. We stumbled upon Piazza Navona and lo, there were three incredible fountains inside the huge rectangular plaza. Only after we got home did I realize that one of the fountains I'd been looking for, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, the Four Rivers Fountain, had been the magnificent central piece in Piazza Navona! I can't give Rome much credit for signage, there are few signs, and even fewer with English translations.

Four Rivers Fountain by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1651

Fontana del Moro, 1575, with the "Moor" added
by Bernini in 1673
Neptune Fountain, 1574

The map showed the location of the Trevi Fountain, probably the most famous in the world. We traversed narrow streets until we saw signs for McDonalds At Trevi. That world famous restaurant was thankfully not close enough for the Golden Arches to sneak into any photos!

Coming out of the narrow labyrinth of streets, around the corner into the Trevi Plaza, all three of us  audibly gasped. The structure occupies the entire side of a marble building and is filled with sculptures, water pouring from the rocks beneath their feet and around the bodies. The crowds were thicker than any place we'd yet visited. Still, it was not the mob scene it must surely be in summertime. We could easily get down the stairs to the pool where we could see it in full splendor without interfering tourist bodies.

It's not possible to fully appreciate the Trevi without some background on all the fountains of Rome and the history of the Roman Aqueducts. The water comes from springs in the mountains to the north east, about eight miles away and to this day is transported via the Aqua Vergine and the even older Aqua Virgo built in 19 BC. The springs were discovered by Roman engineers with the help of a virgin (hence the name Aqua Virgo) and the theme of the Trevi Fountain is the virgin showing the engineers "the way". The name Trevi comes from the confluence of three roads, tre via. Water came into the city and supplied the population with clean drinking water, and led into the baths of Agrippa, serving the population for more than four centuries. Around 538, the Goths destroyed the aqueducts. For the next 900 years, the surviving population had to get drinking water from polluted wells and the Tiber River which served equally as their sewage system.

There was a Roman custom of building a fountain at the endpoint of an aqueduct. Pope Nicholas V had the old water system repaired and in 1453 created a simple large pool where the Trevi now stands.  All the fountains of Rome are fed by the same waters flowing through the Trevi, and frequently you will find small fountains with a spigot where the locals get drinking water that is pure and healthy.

In 1629, Pope Urban VIII asked Gian Lorenzo Bernini to design a possible renovation of the fountain, but the Pope died before it could be started. Bernini's sketches survived and though the fountain today is not his design, there are many Bernini touches. In 1730, Pope Clement XII organized a contest which was won by Nicola Salvi and the fountain was completed in 1762 even though Salvi himself died in 1751. The central statue of Oceanus, God of all Waters, is the work of Pietro Bracci and the final supervisor/artist was Guiseppe Pannini.

The Trevi Fountain!

Oceanus, God of all Waters

Detail showing the virgin pointing
at the spring.

Detail of woman on the Trevi
Fountain facade

Post Note: In the post that was sent to subscribers, the Moor's fountain and Neptune's fountain were referenced incorrectly. The labels are correct now. Also more photos were added, taken on a sunnier day.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

End of house-sitting in Turkey

House-sitting has been an interesting way to spend time in one place, get to know it, and not spend much traveling money in the process. There are a fair number of websites out in the world catering to people who need a house sitter and those who want to do it. Generally speaking, no money is exchanged; though some long term “sits” require the sitter to pay the utilities. If a business is involved like running a B&B or lots of watering and harvesting then perhaps some salary or like-exchange could be involved.

Most countries have strict rules about working, mostly tied to their tax revenues and the fact they don’t want jobs taken from their own people. Although in the US, if it weren’t for all the undocumented workers, there might not be any food production at all. Not many Americans, as spoiled as we are, would be willing to toil in fields all day for less than minimum wage. Days of toiling in my aunt’s garden as a kid convinced me that an education and a profession would be an excellent idea!!

Yesterday I finished up a month in Ortahisar, Turkey, house and dog sitting. It was actually only 3 weeks with one week off to go touristing about the countryside. Initially I was quite fearful of coming to a country where I didn’t speak a word of the language, but there have been so many helpful people; several Brits are retired here, and there are a few Turks who speak English well so I’ve not been lonely at all.

I’ve gotten a chance to learn about Turkish culture, to hear the gossip and rumors about men who beat their wives, and wives who have exacted revenge. Though most of my observations have been of  compatibility based on the fact (I think) that in this culture men and women rarely socialize together. Most daily interactions are in the company of one’s own sex, and while same-sex relationships can be stressful, they generally don’t lead to much violence. Married couples with children are often seen, especially on Sundays having picnics in the parks. People live in extended family groups, or if not, the extended family lives nearby. This is so healthy for children, to be exposed to many people giving them the same messages about how to behave. With many people to love and support them it provides a great security.

That sense of family importance finds its way into business. I had a bunch of photos printed by the FujiFilm store in Urgup. The young man was just about to close the store, but offered to stay open to print them for me. I said, no, I’d come back on Monday and pick them up. He asked if he could deliver them to me in Ortahisar. I was so surprised. I told him I could get them at Hezen Cave Hotel if he wanted to drop them off there. The next afternoon, on my way past the hotel I stopped and sure enough, there was a package with my name on it. I’d only paid the equivalent of $5 for the photos, and got next day delivery in a different town!! That’s the kind of service you could only expect from family, and not a whole lot of families either!

Crazy Ali is another example. I have gone almost every day to sit in his shop, drink a Turkish coffee, or a freshly squeezed orange juice, and have a Turkish lesson. Mostly we just chat about life, and lately I’ve been telling his other friends their “fortunes” looking at the coffee grounds or reading their palms. I just make it up as I go along; based on all the fortune teller tricks I’ve picked up over the years. And of course if the statements are poetic enough, or vague enough, they hit the mark for each person. He’s never once mentioned my purchasing anything, though I did insist on paying for a book once. I asked to buy some blue evil-eye beads like the ones he uses on the hangers for little painted globes, so he ordered several hundred. He looked them over carefully and picked the best 100 for me. I paid barely twenty-five cents for each one.  Then, as a parting gift, he gave me a turquoise necklace. Not all customers get this kind of treatment, but it makes me want to come back to Cappadocia, it makes me sad to leave.

And of course when house sitting involves animals, it becomes even harder to say goodbye. Milo and Zeno both sat on the stairs at chest level to me with my an arm around each one. They snuggled and nuzzled as if they knew I was saying good by. It brought tears. I’d snatch either of them in a microsecond and take them home if I could. And Evelien would certainly spare no expense to come after me and take them back!!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cappadocia's Cave Hotels

Typical cave hotel room
There must be 50 cave and partial cave hotels in Cappadocia, spread from Uchisar, Goreme, Ortahisar, Cavisun, Avanos, and probably other towns I’ve not yet visited. Some of them are pretty cheap, a simple room dug out from the tuff with a bath at the end of a tunnel or walkway, shared with numerous other guests. Others, like the Hezen Cave, are boutique hotels that serve a large breakfast, sometimes a wine-cheese welcome party in the evening, and feature large romantically lit rooms with cuddly beds.

The Hezen Cave has been my personal landmark. It’s the place I aimed for on arrival, as Evelien’s home was more difficult to find. The hotel had signs pointing downhill from the main road to its landing. I took my first photo in Cappadocia, of the castle of Ortahisar, while standing on the hotel’s wide veranda at sunset.  And in my first couple of days, lost and disoriented, I could ask anyone where the Hezen Cave Hotel was and be pointed in the right direction.

Later on I met Nil, the hotel’s manager, at a party on the eve of Kurban Bayrami, and a few days ago had breakfast with her at the hotel’s lovely breakfast room. She is the face of Hezen Cave and has a smile like sunrise. Sunday, I toured the whole place with the owner, Murat Guzelgoz, who also owns a rug and textile gallery, Le Bazaar D’Orient, in Urgup. He’s quite a businessman. Hezen Cave has only been open since May 2011. It had been a cave hotel before but was run down. In four months, he remodeled it into its current state, and now has purchased the cave home next door. On that side, he is creating a large garden and a trio of three-room suites accessed by a tunnel through the rock!

This cave hotel is the perfect example of high-end luxury lodging in Cappadocia. The rooms are unique; each has a different size, layout, and décor. Some have fireplaces; others sitting caves, but all are equipped with modern plumbing, electricity, and hot water heating. Air conditioning is not really required, the caves keep a year round temperature of about 45-60 degrees F, lovely in summer but not quite warm enough in colder seasons.

Nice details in the reception area
There is a lot to do in Cappadocia besides look at the unusual rock formations and eat Turkish Delight. There are many hot air balloon companies. On most still mornings, the sound of burners flaring is as common as the canyon wrens calling to each other.  In the surrounding areas, ranches provide long horseback rides into the hills.  The staff at any hotel can arrange day tours by bus and van, horseback rides, or sunrise balloon trips.  The more touristy towns like Urgup and Goreme are lined with rug, kilim, and ceramic shops, small cafes and good restaurants. Clothing stores run the gamut of outdoor sportswear to slinky beaded belly dancing outfits. And in between there are bakeries and sweet shops. Every town has a museum of sorts. Mr. Guzelgoz also owns a museum of carpets and textiles in Urgup complete with princely Ottomon Kaftans.

Now, in mid-November, most of the hotels, cafes, and tourist-oriented businesses are closing up for winter which can be harsh and very cold. It’s a good time to do repairs, finish projects, or do like many locals: go the big city of Istanbul. For those who can afford it, four months of vacation from working seven days a week catering to a booming tourist industry is just the ticket. Until next season!!

Here's their website:  HezenCave

Cave rooms and lots of stairs

Typical well-appointed bathroom

Many outdoor spaces to enjoy

Breakfast area

Nice little tucked-away sitting areas

Such romantic lighting
Working on rooms for next summer!