Sunday, June 23, 2013

Borghese Gallery, Pantheon, and Four Rivers Fountain - Rome Italy - Italy and France trip Day 3

There's lots of fun stuff to see today.

I thought this might be a fun way to keep track of all the places we ended up going. Our hotel is at #1 and we continue from there.

Well we still haven’t adjusted to the time yet. This time though, we overshot it on the other side. We had intended to wake up early to go see the Coliseum and other things before heading over to the Borghese gallery for our reservations at 1pm. We set the alarm for 9am, looked at each other then decided to fall back asleep. 2 hours later we wake up again and by the time we rolled out of bed, it was 11:30am and too late to go see the Coliseum.

Leaving the hotel, we stopped at a paper shop and bought our Roma Pass. For 34 Euro each, it gets us into two attractions for free, reserved entrance lines when we get there, plus a 3 day metro pass. We jumped on the bus that would take us up to the Borghese museum, made really good time up to the museum and got off the bus at 12:10pm, plenty of time before our 1pm reservation. The only trade-off for making good time, was a headache for Theresa. She doesn't like the cabs and she doesn't like the bus. This was actually the only time we used the metro for our entire stay in Rome.

It was lunchtime and we still hadn’t eaten anything, so we wandered a few side roads. Theresa saw this place had a few locals out front and decide if they're eating there we should too. Inside was a small counter with pre-made sandwiches and pizzas. I wasn’t too impressed and was ready to leave, but the older gentleman behind the counter started talking to Theresa telling her to wait right there as he brought out more items. I think she was tempted to leave too, but she waited to see what he brought out.

Every time he came from the kitchen, he’d say what he was bringing then show it to Theresa. Fresh fish! Potatoes! Meatloaf! Rotisserie chicken! That one got Theresa’s attention. Lasagne! Green beans! That sold Theresa. I think we had caught them just before lunchtime and their tiny selection didn’t represent all the foods they offered. We’re glad we waited around to see the rest.

Theresa ordered chicken “from the top of the chicken” (breast meat), plus a side of green beans. I have been a fan of the pizza so far, so I ordered a mozzarella pizza. We split a bottle of strawberry kiwi Fanta, and everything was delicious. We both decided it was the best meal we had had so far in Italy. That and the way the owner was doting on us made us smile. Here was a guy who really enjoyed the food that was made, wanted to you try it, and had fun serving it. He was even singing while he was working. It ended up being 20 Euro for the meal, which wasn’t too bad for the food and the experience.

Leaving there, it was just a short walk to the Borghese gallery just outside the city walls. At least it was a short walk to the garden entrance.

It was still 600 meters or so to reach the museum itself.

At this museum, they don’t just let people in because it would be too crowded and ruin the experience. Instead, only 200 people at a time are let in for a period of 2 hours. When your time is up, out you go, and the next 200 people can come in. We made reservations the Wednesday before coming here, and picked 1pm. When we arrived at the line, there were lots of people waiting hoping some people wouldn’t show up for their reservation and they’ve be let in in their place. It’s a Sunday, and they were fully booked for reservations until Wednesday.

We made our way to the front of the line and picked up our tickets with no problem. They don’t allow any cameras or bags at all inside the gallery, so we checked our bag with the attendant. An audio guide was available for 5 Euro and Theresa and I held it up to both our ears to listen in.

Like I mentioned above, no bags and no cameras were allowed. All these images were found online after we got back. The audio-guide here was wonderful. It's one thing to walk around and see a large painting, but quite another to know the story behind it and what the artist was thinking.

In the first room we see a ceiling painted with a scene depicting the Judgement of Paris. It's not the painting below, but I couldn't find the exact one that's there.

The story is as follows: Zeus was holding a banquet to celebrate a wedding of two gods. Eris the goddess of discord was not invited and angered by the snub, threw a golden apple into the banquet with the words "for the fairest one" written on it. Three goddess stepped forward to claim the apple, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, asking Zeus to declare who was the fairest. Not wanting to take that on himself, he deferred to a mortal man named Paris. Each goddess offers him a bribe, but eventually he chooses Aphrodite.

Dominating the room below the painting is a statue of Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon's sister and wife of Camillo Borghese. Created in 1805 by Antonio Canova, this statue caused controversy because while it was typical to depict a goddess nude, it was not common to show royalty naked. An even more bold statement is the apple in her hand, showing that even above the goddesses, Pauline is the fairest of all.

The detail of the sculpture was incredible too. The cushion even had wrinkles in it where you’d expect, plus there was an intricate pattern seemingly woven into the stone.

In the next room we David by the famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini. He chose quite a different pose than Michelangelo’s David. David is in motion, winding up to swing his sling. His face is contorted with determination.

Entering the next room, we see a statue that amazes both of us. Apollo chasing Daphne also by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Bernini was commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese to create multiple sculptures for the Medici household, and this was one of the last.

Apollo, having been struck by Cupid's arrow, sees Daphne, the daughter of the river god Peneus. He chases after her, but Daphne has been struck by Cupid's love-repelling arrow and runs away. Just as Apollo catches her, Daphne prays to her father to change her body so Apollo can't have her. Peneus changes her into a laurel tree, and that's the exact moment this statue captures.

You can see Daphne's skin turning into the bark of a tree. From her fingers, branches and leaves are suddenly sprouting.

The most amazing and intricate work was done on the leaves in between the two of them. I'm amazed by how much stone was actually cut away, creating such a perfectly natural looking bunch of leaves. The angles and positions they must have used to carve away everything that wasn't a leaf just boggled my mind.

Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius is another sculpture by Bernini. Only 20 years old when this work was completed, it shows the story of Aeneas (the progenitor of Rome) leaving his city after it had been attacked by the Greeks. He carries his father and his son follows him. It's been said that Bernini drew inspiration from one of Michelangelo's sculptures called Christ Bearing the Cross. We'll try to see that one later today.

Bernini certainly has quite a few statues here. The last one we'll look at before we go upstairs is The Rape of Proserpina (Persephone). In it, Persephone is abducted by Hades and carried down to the underworld.

We can see Hades' fingers digging into Persephone's thigh and side. It really looks like skin transformed into stone.

We also get a peek at Cerberus, Hades' three-headed dog.

Many of the works here were acquired by the Borghese family themselves. Cardinal Scipioni Borghese was nephew to the Pope and one of the wealthiest men in Rome.

While the first floor houses mostly statues, the second floor has multiple paintings.

This work by Titian titled Sacred and Profane Love measures 3.8 x 9.2 feet, was commissioned by Niccolò Aurelio to celebrate his marriage to Laura Bagarotto. It depicts the bride dressed in white, sitting beside Cupid and Venus. But who represents Sacred Love and who represents Profane Love? In 1899 an offer was made to purchase the painting for 4 million lira, when the entire Borghese estate and all the artwork there was only valued at 3.6 million lira. That offer was refused though and now this painting has become the symbol of the Borghese Gallery.

I think this is the first Raphael painting we've seen on this trip. Check off our first Ninja Turtle. This 6 x 6 foot painting titled Desposition was painted kept in the church of S.Francesco in Perugia in 1507. The Borghese's wanted the painting for themselves and 101 years later the painting was taken overnight by a priest and sent to Pope Paul V, Scipione Borghases's uncle. He then gave it to his nephew and it thus became the property of the Borghese family.

Boy with a Basket of Fruit was a painting by Caravaggio in 1593. The work remained in the collection of Giuseppe Cesari, one of Caravaggio's teachers, until 1607. Cardinal Borghese became obsessed with the painting and used his power and influence with the Pope to throw Cesari in prison and seize the painting. This has to be the 5th or 6th painting we've heard the same type of story of how it came to be in the collection of the Borghese's. He's want a painting, have the person accused of something and thrown in prison, then offer to get them out if the give up what he wants. He sounds like a bit of a jerk when it comes to collecting art.

Diana is the goddess of the hunt, and in this painting of Diana and her Nymphs by Domenichino, we peek into their secret world and see them at play. There is an archery contest going on, two women returning from the hunt with a deer, and even a wrestling contest in the distance.

For men, to be caught spying on these women would mean death, but to the far right of the scene, we see two men risking it. One holds his finger to his lips, imploring us to stay quiet, as we too are gazing upon them unawares.

But it's too late! The nymph bathing at the bottom has certainly caught us spying on them.

At 2:50, we were through all the exhibits, and would be escorted out anyway in 10 minutes, so we moseyed out. We walked back to the bus stop and waited a few minutes for the bus, but then just decided to walk through Rome and back to the hotel.

On the way, we swung by the supermarket and picked up a late lunch.

Once we got back to our room there was another surprise waiting for us. A fruit tray! That was very thoughtful of the hotel.

Here's all the stuff we picked up from the grocery store. I got bread and butter, plus a prosciutto and cheese tray. T got salad, chips, cookies, etc. Strangely, our whole time here and even at the multiple grocery stores we went to, no one had salad dressing. Everywhere only offered olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

After reading, snacking and chilling for a while, we left the hotel and headed out to the Pantheon. This will now be the third time ever going to see it and we still haven’t been inside. The first was 6 years ago, and it was too late and closed. Earlier this week we went and it was closed for mass. Today though, it was open for visitors and we walked right in.

The dome on the inside is pretty impressive. The room inside is exactly as wide as it is tall. A sphere 142 ft tall would fit inside perfectly. This dome was the model for another dome inside the Duomo that we'll see in Florence later, the dome on top of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, and even the US Capital Building dome.

Also impressive is that this building has been continuously used as a church for the past 1400 years. It was originally built as a tribute to all the gods: Pan – All, Theos – gods. Once the Catholic church took it over though, it became a tribute to one God. It was around 5:30 when we arrived and would be closing at 6pm.

It was fairly busy when we first arrived. We took a seat on the benches up front and listened to the Rick Steves' audio-guide.

In the niches are tombs of famous Italians. Raphael is buried here. Also buried close by are the tombs of two of Italy's kings, the Savoys, along with their queens. One of those is Margherita di Savoia, for whom the margherita pizza was named, with green basil, white mozzarella and red tomato sauce, the colors of the Italian flag.

Around 6pm, we were told that the Pantheon was closing and it was time to leave.

The trick to getting these shots and not being asked to leave by the attendants was to always get a little closer to the entrance than 1-2 other people. That way they are the ones getting asked to hurry up, and you can stick around just a little longer.

We hung back, so as to be one of the last ones out, so we could enjoy and appreciate it with no people crowding it and it was almost quiet inside. It was awesome!

The heat just doesn’t agree with T right now, so we sat beside the Pantheon for 10 minutes or so to chill and drink water. Here's what she looks like when I saw I'm taking a picture.

And this is what she's really feeling like.

So this is the back of the Pantheon. Not quite as impressive as the front of the building, and you can see that it's made of brick and cement instead of marble like some other famous sites. The base of the walls surrounding the Pantheon are over 20 feet thick to support the weight of the huge dome atop it.

The very back of the Pantheon has alcoves that look to have once housed statues. Now though, all the attention is at the front, and we saw hardly anybody back here.

Just down the corner from the Pantheon is Santa Maria sopra Minerva, which houses a Michelangelo sculpture called Christ bearing the Cross. The statue above of Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius by Bernini was supposed to have been inspired by the pose of Christ. It may not look like much from the outside...

...but inside it looks pretty amazing.

Our timing was poor though. Mass was being held and the entire front half of the church was closed to visitors. We'll have to try again later. Good thing our hotel is so close.

Our last site of the day is Piazza Navona, home of the Fountain of the Four Rivers. Designed by Bernini, yes that same Bernini was saw earlier at the Borghese Gallery. Surrounding the Egyptian obelisk are four river gods: the Nile representing Africa, the Danube representing Europe, the Ganges representing Asia, and the Río de la Plata representing the Americas.

This fountain is also the fourth stop on the Path of Illumination from the Dan Brown book Angels & Demons. This fourth altar of science of course represents Water.

I remember when we were here 6 years ago, Theresa had what she described as the best strawberry gelato ever at a shop just behind here. We've got to eat dinner first though, so we walk back to the hotel.

But first we see Fountain of Neptune, showing Neptune battling an octopus.

A quick stop at the hotel, then we were ready to head out to dinner. The front desk again recommended the place around the corner for pizza, so we went there. This time, it was an enjoyable experience. We sat outside by the walkway watching people walking up and down the street. The sun was just setting and the sky was a magical blue. Our table was lit by candlelight and just a few yards away was an accordion player playing classic Italian love songs. I demanded Theresa hold my hand and make this romantic.

Seeing as how two different people recommended it, we both ordered pizza. Mine was smoked beef, Parmesan plus one other cheese. I couldn’t tell from the menu, but mine had no tomato sauce. It was good pizza but not great. T’s had tomato sauce, plus green olives, asparagus, boiled egg slices, and prosciutto. Her favorite part was the egg slices, and she picked off the prosciutto and gave it to me. That improved the taste of mine, and it was much better. She followed that up with an even better idea. On the table was olive oil and balsamic vinegar. She poured the balsamic on her plate and dipped her crust in it. Oh yes, now that’s how to really make this tasty.

It was a beautiful night and we both really enjoyed ourselves. We commented on the people walking up and down the street, wondering why some of the women would wear stiletto heels in the cobblestone streets. All the people stopping by our table selling roses, or light up gadgets, or picture prints were successfully ignored without much trouble. T’s getting pretty good at sending off the “Don’t bother me, there’s no way I’m buying anything” vibe. Our bill was 24.50 Euro for the two pizzas and bottled water, including the 2 Euro table charge. Much better than dinner last night and half the price.

Just around the corner, once again we stopped for gelato. It wasn’t as crazy as it was last night, but it was still pretty crazy. There was still pushing and shoving to get to the counter to get your gelato. The guy scooping seemed to be making fun of some people’s orders. You can get 2-3 flavors on each cone, and some people were getting things like nutella and melon, or white chocolate and lemon. He’d shake his head and tell the other guy scooping and he’d shake his head too. When he offered whipped cream on top and they said yes, he’d be like “Sure, why not. It’s already a mess, why not put whipped cream on it.”

I got nutella, chocolate and crème and before I even got out the door, it was finding its way down my hand. T decided on a coconut and chocolate chip, but didn’t think the coconut was as good as last night, too sweet, and scooped it onto the top of mine. Wow, four flavors for me tonight.

After finishing mine without spilling any on my clothes, which Theresa can’t claim, we walked back to the hotel.

Neither of us were tired, so we decided to watch the movie Angels & Demons since tomorrow we’re going to see the Vatican. It’s now 3:30am and Theresa’s still awake beside me reading. Our sleep schedule is really going to be off now. We set the alarm for noon tomorrow. We’ll see if we wake up before then or not.

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