290-299/366: Offbeat Rome

Kate and I spent last week in Rome, to attend the wedding of a friend of mine from college, who was marrying an Italian woman. I've always wanted to see Rome, so this was a great excuse, and of course I took a lot of pictures-- over 1,600 all told.

This happens in part because when I'm visiting a major tourist site with a camera, I'm trying to do two things at the same time. One, of course, is to get good photos of the big attractions, to supplement my memories of the actual sites. But this is always constrained a bit by the knowledge that, you know, major tourist destinations have plenty of money they can use to buy the absolute best shots from professional photographers who have better access and equipment than I'll ever get. The best photo I can get of, say, the Colosseum, isn't going to be as good as I could get buying a postcard in the gift shop.

Which is where the second activity comes in, namely taking pictures of oddball things that aren't likely to be turned into high-quality professionally-photographed postcards, but that are interesting or amusing to me. So, while you can see a lot of photographs of big attractions and masterpieces in the five sets of unprocessed photos I put on Google Photos (I, II, III, IIII, V), I'm mostly going to avoid that here and instead give you shots that very few people other than me would bother taking.

290/366: New Head

Seagull on a headless statue atop Castel Sant'Angelo. Seagull on a headless statue atop Castel Sant'Angelo.

One of my friends arranged a bunch of guided tours for our group, one of which went to the Castel Sant'Angelo, former tomb of the Emperor Hadrian turned into a military redoubt for the Popes. The top level of this has a great view over the city, decorated with some rather battered statues, many of whose heads were removed for use as projectiles to hurl at beseiging forces. This gull helpfully tried to replace the head of one such.

291/366: Waterworks

A part of the Aqua Claudia in the Parco degli Acquedotti. A part of the Aqua Claudia in the Parco degli Acquedotti.

A different organized tour was part of the wedding, bringing a bunch of us out to the suburban neighborhood where the bride grew up. This happens to be right near the Parco degli Acquedotti, which as you can probably guess from the name features two aqueducts: a piece of the Acqua Felice from the late 1500's, and a piece of the Acqua Claudia dating back to about 52 CE. The 2000-year-old one is arguably in better shape than the newer one, a testament to the engineering prowess of ancient Rome.

We probably wouldn't've gone out there if not for the wedding event, and from the look of it basically nobody else does either, other than residents of the (very pleasant) neighborhood. It's a very nice park, with walking/jogging trails going around the aqueducts, and has a great view of the Colli Albani in the distance, as you can see above.

292/366: Memento Mori

A great grim reaper statue from a memorial at the Basilica  of San Pietro in Vincoli. A great grim reaper statue from a memorial at the Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli.

Our hotel was very close to the Forum, and down a steep hill from the basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli, which houses the shackles used to bind the Apostle Peter when he was arrested by the Romans. This is most famous for the memorial to Pope Julius II that includes Michaleangelo's statue of Moses (which stands in a shadowy corner of the church that you can illuminate properly for a minute or two by putting a one-euro coin into a machine). Being a Renaissance church, though, it has all manner of elaborate memorials around the walls, and I liked this skeleton quite a bit.

293/366: Church Ladies

Female figures on the side arches of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo. Female figures on the side arches of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo.

The meeting place for one of our group tours was the Piazza del Popolo, which includes the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, which legend says was built over the grave of Nero to put down the angry ghosts associated with that malicious bastard. Like San Pietro in Vincoli, this is most famous for housing works by a famous artist, in this case two paintings by Caravaggio. (Also like San Pietro in Vincoli, these stand in a dark spot that you can illuminate briefly for one euro a pop...) I enjoyed the random statues of women perched atop the arches lining the nave; these are most likely meant to represent angels or some other religious figures, but I find it amusing to imagine them as gossips from the congragation, especially these two. "So I says to her, I says..." "Talk to the hand, Lucrezia, because I don't want to hear it."

294/366: Arches

The Forum seen from a window in the Tabularium at the Musei Capitolini. The Forum seen from a window in the Tabularium at the Musei Capitolini.

The largest batch of photos by far came from our last day, when Kate and I visited the Roman Forum, and then I went to the Musei Capitolini while Kate went to a different museum to see more modern stuff. The Musei Capitolini occupies two large palaces facing each other across the Camplidoglio, connected by a tunnel underground. One of the galleries is the Tabularium, which has windows looking over the Forum, from which I got this shot of both of the triumphal arches at either end of the ruins: the Arch of Septimus Severus in the foreground, and the Arch of Titus at the far entrance, over by the Colosseum (which you can't see in this).

295/366: Mask

A statue of a small child playing with a theater mask from the Musei Capitolini. A statue of a small child playing with a theater mask from the Musei Capitolini.

The museums have a gigantic collection of ancient statues, many of them temple statues of various gods and heroes in very formal poses. There are odd bits of other, more lively subjects, though, such as this charming statue of a toddler playing with a theater mask. These odd bits always make me wonder how skewed our picture of ancient statuary is-- were these lighthearted subjects really odd exceptions, or did people just make more of an effort to preserve the more Serious statues of various divinities than odd fountain decorations?

296/366: Fresco

8th-century fresco from Santa Maria Antiqua, with a rectangular area showing the effect of modern cleaning and restoration. 8th-century fresco from Santa Maria Antiqua, with a rectangular area showing the effect of modern cleaning and restoration.

Rome is, of course, home to a lot of famous frescoes, and we saw the Sistine Chapel (the ceiling is really high up) and Raphael's frescoes at the Villa Farnesina (the man was a great painter, but had clearly never seen an actual dolphin...). The fresco photo that goes in here, though, is from Santa Maria Antiqua, a seriously under-advertised church on the Forum. This is full of frescoes dating back to the 8th century, and has only recently reopened after extensive restoration work, whose effect you can see in the photo above, from a section that has deliberately been put on display only partially cleaned.

This is seriously under-promoted in guidebooks and at the Forum itself (a British man there at the same time as us was holding forth on this: "Did you notice the incredibly banal little sign saying 'Oh, by the way, your ticket also admits you to this...' Why would you not promote this more heavily?"). It's really amazing, though, not to be missed if you're in Rome doing touristy stuff.

297/366: Other Forum

The Forum of Trajan, with weird white sculpted trees. The Forum of Trajan, with weird white sculpted trees.

Across the street from the main Forum there's the Forum of Trajan, a market area which a guide described as the world's first shopping mall. There's a museum associated with it that we didn't have time to get to, which I mildly regret because it probably would've explained what the deal was with these weird and clearly modern sculptures of white trees displayed in the forum itself.

298/366: Dome

The dome of the Pantheon The dome of the Pantheon

I said I was mostly avoiding pictures of major tourist attractions for this post, but I have to make an exception for the one site we found impressive enough to visit twice: the Pantheon. This has a gigantic concrete dome dating from around 120 CE, with a hole in the center to admit natural light. It's incredibly impressive, and also really difficult to get a photo that captures the immensity of the thing. This is the best I managed; you can see the crowd of people milling around inside (it was consecrated as a church in 609, which helped keep it intact and also explains the Christian decorations), all the way up the dome to a bit of the oculus. It's simply breathtaking in person, though-- we saw it as part of a walking tour on Monday, and Kate and I went back on our own on Friday before we left.

Also, there's outstanding gelato just a block or two away, found via Ex Urbe's gelato atlas, an essential guide for tourism...

299/366: Candlelight

The stairwell of our hotel lit by candles as we made our departure. The stairwell of our hotel lit by candles as we made our departure.

This one's a cell-phone snapshot, not all that great in photographic terms, but important as documentation of our final morning in Rome. Our hotel was very close to the Forum, occupying one floor of an old building. It had some quirks, including an elevator whose door needed to be closed manually, but was mostly good, and the location can't be beat.

The last night we were there, though, the building suffered a power outage-- the proprietor said something about a fire in the underground electrical lines while writing down my credit card information. Which meant that we had no air conditioning for the last several hours of our stay, and more importantly no elevator, so we had to lug our bags down from the fourth floor ourselves. In a interior stairwell that was kind of dim even when the electricity worked, now lit only by these tea lights that somebody placed on the landings.

So, you know, not the most glamorous circumstances under which to depart, but we managed. And now we're home, where SteelyKid and The Pip are starting summer day camp today, and I'm easing back into a more normal routine by writing a blog post at Starbucks...

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