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Ancient (and Modern) Rome May 9, 2013

Posted by stevenseligsohn in Travel Log.
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Historical significance is one of Rome’s best-known qualities. Roman ruins are ubiquitous throughout the city, in the most expected and unexpected places: the coliseum, subway stations, the Roman Forum, in a McDonalds. But by far the most wonderful thing about Rome was how the city now lives and thrives atop such a rich and well-preserved history.

The first thing we did (after eating some authentic Italian pizza, of course) was to leave Rome and head to Vatican City. Walking through the Raphael rooms of the Vatican museum is an incredible experience. Every surface in the room is painted with a different beautiful mural, each with its own story and complex meanings. Originally intended as papal apartments, they were painted by Raphael and his followers in the early 1500s, but have been used as reception rooms in the papal palace. Perhaps the most famous fresco here, The School of Athens, [pictured below] was painted by Raphael to portray truth acquired through reason, as a series representing the transition from classical philosophy to religious faith.

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Clearly, it was well worth the cost for us to take the paid tour: we learned of the history underlying the exhibits in the Palazzo di Popolo.

After the Raphael rooms, we were allowed a tour of the Sistine Chapel. Of course, it is very famous. I never understood why, exactly, until I was permitted to wander through it. The walls and ceilings are not only very beautiful frescoes, but they all tell stories that impart meaning on the viewers. The ceiling, painted by Michelangelo, tells the biblical stories of the creation of man and mankind’s fall from grace. The walls, commissioned later, tell the opposing Old-Testament story of the life of Moses and the New-Testament story of the life of Christ. Regardless of one’s belief system, these paintings are beautiful and meaningful, and it was awe-inspiring to absorb them.

Then, we found ourselves in St. Peter’s Basilica. Again, the place was fraught with religious sculptures, paintings, and relics. Meandering through the walkways, seeing these incredible works of art and architecture contrasting life and death, salvation and damnation, was hauntingly beautiful.

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After afternoon gelato, some wandering, a hearty pasta dinner at a romantic Italian restaurant, and a full night’s sleep, it was time to explore Rome on Easter Sunday.

Because many tourists were at the Vatican that day, many of the secular Roman historical attractions were less crowded. Therefore, we started our day with some exploration of the Roman Coliseum. The 2000-year-old stone structure is amazingly intact. It is very easy to imagine the throngs of Roman spectators bustling through the walkways, sitting in the tiered seats, watching some great spectacle of animal against man.

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Afterwards, we walked through the Roman Forum and the Palatine hill, the ruins of many ancient Roman government buildings and palaces. The buildings and structures are incredibly intact and well-put-together for the tools that the Romans must have used – such structures would be expensive and time-consuming, even with modern tools.

Wandering through the streets of Rome, experiencing the juxtaposition and coexistence of ancient and modern throughout the city was a very new experience for me. The people of Rome today are familiar with and proud of their history, and they gladly help others to learn from it. Rome was an experience I will never forget. 

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