Religious Rome: the Pantheon and Vatican City
Yesterday was our first full day in Rome, having landed the morning before and I was just getting into the swing of the city, on what was our penultimate day. So far we had seen some of the famous sights like the Trevi fountain and Rome’s ancient wonders at the Colosseum and Roman Forum. We had a plan for today, as I mentioned on the previous post in this series when we visited the ancient sights we went round with a guide who gave us a great tour and really made the sights come back to life. I certainly learned a lot more this way than if we had just wandered around ourselves. The plan for the day was to visit Vatican city in the afternoon with the same tour company, all be it a different guide. As we were going to visit the seat of the current religion of Rome, we thought we would start with a trip further back in time to one of the few, and best preserved Roman temples, which is still in use today, the Pantheon.
We walked through Rome’s beautiful streets and boulevards, some narrow and cobbled and others wide and spacious, all through were definitely ‘Rome’ in their feel. We found out yesterday morning you need a bus ticket before boarding so picked some up with a little coffee at a cafe near the hotel and made our way across the city. We had actually passed the Pantheon whilst walking around on our first day here and would have gone in to visit it, if a catholic service wasn’t going on at the time. That’s the strange thing about the Pantheon, it’s still in daily use today almost 2000 years after it was built!
Pantheon & history
The Pantheon was originally built during the reign of the first emperor, Augustus and later remodeled by the Emperor Hadrian. It’s called the Pantheon as it was dedicated to all the gods, not to a specific one as was often the case in Rome. It was built on what would have been the edge of the city back then but has become more central over the centuries. From the outside I thought it looked more modern than it was. Although there is an impressive facade and portico at the front, the remainder is made of brick which I never really connect with Roman architecture.
Inside the Pantheon is a large circular space spanned by a huge dome, still the largest concrete dome in the world and a massively impressive piece of engineering. I could try and explain more about its construction but I could end up going on for ever, suffice to say it is impressive. Hollowed into the inner wall are spaces where statues of the various gods would have stood. Some have been replaced with monuments to famous people such as King Victor Emmanuel and other statues were modified to become christian saints.
The Pantheon survives in such a good condition compared to similar buildings which would have been at the Forum as it was converted to a christian church in the 7th century. It has helped to preserve it in much a similar way to how a Roman would have seen it when first built. Today the Pantheon is also known as the Church of St Mary and the Martyrs.
Top tip: If you are visiting the Pantheon there is not much by way of literature or info on offer so I’d recommend getting an audio guide which only costs a couple of Euro’s.
Lunch in Piazza della Rotonda
I am kicking myself I didn’t note the name of this restaurant in Piazza della Rotonda as the food was really lovely. We had a great starter of meats and cheeses followed by Lamb for me and clams for Hana. A really great lunch. As we were right next to one of the main tourist attractions it was a little pricy, but if you are on holiday then sometimes it good to push the boat out a bit.
Where to begin with the Vatican city? I guess I’ll start as we walked up from the river along a wide street towards St Peter’s Basilica and St Peter’s square. I have seen it countless times on tv over the years and though very, very impressive and imposing in person, it didn’t seem as large as it often looks on tv. We met up with our tour party and, after a quick trip to their offices, headed into the complex that is the Vatican museums with our very knowledgable guide.
Vatican Museums & Sistine chapel
I have always been fascinated by Vatican city. As we were walking round to the museum entrance our guide told us a little about it. As a separate country to Italy, the Vatican has its own laws, currency (a Vatican Euro), post office, police and embassies ~ the really odd bit of this is that most of the embassies are in Rome (Italy) not Vatican city (Vatican state). Confusing? I think so.
Whilst you can queue up, buy a ticket and go around the Vatican museum by yourself, don’t. There are miles and miles of corridors and if you took all the artwork and lined it up you’d have 45km of it. So with a lot to see, a guide can show you the highlights, such as the Sistine Chapel or the strange giant pine-cone.
If you visit you’ll be treated to seeing some amazing artwork from paintings to frescoes and statues and carvings and beautiful ornate maps and….. I could go on forever. If you are on a tight schedule then make sure to see Emperor Nero’s bathtub. Today it sits in the Vatican and is worth an eye watering 400m Euro’s which is crazy, I’d shudder to think what the whole Vatican is worth.
The one thing you can not miss is the Sistine Chapel. I don’t have a picture from it as photography is banned in there but it is impressive. Whilst famous for Michelangelo’s fresco on the ceiling and front wall there are other impressive art work’s by just about all the major painters of the day. The story of Michangelo painting the Fresco is quite funny and my favourite bit has to be him painting God’s bum on part of it so the Pope would see it every day, he didn’t really get on with Pope’s.
St Peters Basilica
After our tour of the museum Hana and I headed into St Peters Basilica. It is hands down the largest and most impressive church or cathedral I have ever been in. All through it are amazing statues and works of art from different periods. Those Pope’s do have some power to get what they want. I think Hana found it quite impressive too and the whole Vatican experience was the highlight of our trip. It’s not just the scale of the place but also the immense wealth of art and culture here, drawn from across Europe.
Top tip: take a guided tour of the museums then head into St Peters Basilica, arrive in the afternoon when the queues have gone down too!
Pizza at Dal Paino
We chose to have dinner at Dal Paino as we had seen a few different reviews saying it was one of the best places in Rome to get an authentic Pizza. It might not look like too much from the outside but don’t be put off. Inside you can see the kitchen with a real wood burning pizza oven, something which lets you know they are serious about pizza here. We were there for the Pizza but the waiter recommended we try the fried courgette flowers (or zucchini) or Fiori di Zucca which is a courgette flower stuffed with a cheese mixture then breaded and deep fried. Delish!
This was my first Italian pizza experience and I wasn’t disappointed. It came super, super thin and crispy, very different to what we get at home. It was delicious and the toppings worked perfectly. I really wanted to order a second Pizza with a different topping, thought I might not have been able to finish it all!
Recipe, text and photos By Russell Bowes