Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Rome: Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Piazza Navona, Castel Sant'Angelo and the Pope!

Castel Sant'Angelo
My stay in Rome was hectic and intense, but I was able to visit a few sights I'd neglected during previous visits. After getting settled in a guesthouse near Termini train station, I headed out on bus 64 to Torre Argentina, near the Pantheon. I know this area well, and headed directly to Piazza della Minerva, most noted for Bernini's statue of an elephant with an obelisk on its back.

Pulcino della Minerva
This time I wanted to visit the church behind the statue, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, so called because it was built over a temple to the goddess Minerva. The church was built in a gothic style, and was modeled after Florence's Santa Maria Novella. One of the highlights here is Michelangelo's marble sculpture Cristo della Minerva, also known as Christ Carrying the Cross, made in 1521. The cloth covering his private parts was added later.

Cristo della Minerva
My next stop was Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, noted for its unique suite of private family apartments and its art gallery, with works by Caravaggio, Rafael, and Titian among the 550 in the family collection. An audio guide by Prince Jonathan Doria Pamphilj, the current heir,  provided an intimate family history that was an enjoyable addition.

Next, as I headed towards Piazza Navona, I noticed a crowd gathered on one of the streets. I couldn't see what was happening, so asked someone about it, and learned that the Pope was saying Mass at the Basilica di Sant'Agostino, celebrating the Feast of St. Augustine. Since it was impossible to see through the crowd, I continued on, only to find another crowd on the next street, lined up and waiting for the Pope to come by. I was able to get in the front line, and sure enough,  a normal black car with the Pope drove by, surrounded by security guards. I caught the event on video, with Pope Francis waving from his window.

This is one of the things that I love about being in Rome: you never know what might happen, just around the corner. I've witnessed some amazing events that I could never have planned for, just by being in the right place at the right time.

After that, I spent some time hanging out in Piazza Navona, enjoying the music and art that is a common event in this popular Roman spot.

Piazza Navona
My last stop on this LONG day, which had included a transatlantic flight from home, was visiting Castel Sant'Angelo, where they were giving night tours of the fortress, originally built by Hadrian as his family mauseleum. Later, it was used by the popes as a fortress, prison and castle, and it's now a museum.

View of St. Peter's Basilica from Castel Sant'Angelo
One of the most interesting parts of the tour was being able to enter a secret passageway that led from the fortress to the Vatican. You can see from the photo above that it's no short distance. Now read on:

"The Passetto di Borgo is an elevated passageway some 800 metres in length that passes evocatively above the bustle of the everyday world as it runs along the top of the walls that used to surround and protect the Leonine city, connecting the Castle to the palaces in the Vatican. The walkway was added to the wall so that the Popes could reach their private apartments in the Castle without descending to street level, but more importantly so that they could escape from the Vatican in case of impending danger." This info comes from the following site, which has more photos:

Notti d'estate a Castel Sant'Angelo

I walked part of the way along the passetto, then returned to the Castel for a free concert, which was another surprise. A lovely performance that included music by Puccini, Gershwin and Morricone, among others, was held in an open room atop the fortress. About 11 pm, I decided I'd had enough for one day and boarded a bus that took me across town and back to Termini. From there I had a short walk to my hotel, where I crashed, satisfied by the full day I had spent enjoying Rome.

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