atop St. Peter’s + my favorite sculptor

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Wednesday the 18th of July found us beginning to split up for visits and re-visits to some less necessary, but still very popular, locations in Rome.

Mom, Dad, and I got up and left the apartment around 8 in order to beat the crowds to St. Peter’s to climb to the top of the dome and have another look around. Climbing St. Peter’s has a price, of course: 7€ per person. I think it was worth the price. Several hundred winding stairs brought us first to the inside of the larger, lower dome to inspect the huge mosaics and for areal view of some of the chapels of the ground floor of the basilica, populated by early mass attendees. More steps deposited us on the outside of the smaller, higher dome from which we could see the entire sprawl of Rome. St. Peter’s is the tallest building in Rome; we were atop of the center of the ancient world.

Once we descended the steps, we wandered the inside of St. Peter’s, which was still mercifully free of tour groups. I visited the crypt where most of the popes – and, supposedly, Peter the apostle – are buried. Though most of the crypt was roped off, it was incredible to see the tombs of popes inscribed with dates in the 1200s and 1300s. So long ago! Also, while I was down there, a choir was singing somewhere in or above the crypt, and their a capella voices drifted through the stone corridors to me. It was beautiful.

I headed home for a leisurely lunch and some blog post work while Mom et al walked down to some building that did not interest me. Assuming Mom and Dad would come home and eat before the three of us headed to the Borghese Gallery for our 1:00 entrance time, I did not check my phone until it seemed rather late for them to have time to eat. Whoops. They wanted me to meet them at the metro station. I stuffed the rest of my wonderful sandwich down my throat, – alas, I wished I could have enjoyed it properly – grabbed my bag, and ran to the metro station, arriving just as they appeared from underground. No time to work out a route on our bus map, we power walked through a dry, dusty, and water fountain-less section of the Borghese Gardens and, thanks to Dad’s iPad GPS, straight to the Borghese Villa Gallery and to the back of the line out in the sun.

Mrs. Bowman told us to go to the Borghese. She said it was her favorite Museum in Italy. That’s why we were there. That, and Mom’s guidebook said if we only visited one museum in Rome, it should be the Borghese Gallery. But, we went on Mrs. Bowman’s insistence. And she did not steer us wrong. The museum allows only a certain number of people inside for two hours at a time, so its rooms are not at all crowded. In fact, it is possible to be alone in a room, just you and the art. Oh, and it’s properly air conditioned. That was a first and last for any of the museums we visited on our entire trip.

Despite its manifold attractions, I admit I was unimpressed with the Borghese at first. I felt art-saturated, and the the art in the first few rooms on the second story, though impressive in its own right, I’m sure, was just more of the same. I chortled to myself that the Borghese was probably Mrs. Bowman’s favorite museum because it was air conditioned, uncrowded, and relatively small – the perfect combination for someone who loves art museums as little as Mrs. Bowman – and myself, truth be told. However, after I breezed through the first few rooms of stereotypical paintings and small sculptures, I discovered an incredibly intricate mosaic, then a decorative fireplace, and finally a statue by Bernini, and another, and another, and another! I was impressed,  – I’m sorry I doubted you Mrs. Bowman! – very impressed with Bernini’s statues. Though he lived and sculpted more than a century after Michelangelo, Bernini’s work, in my mind, is as incredible as Michelangelo’s, if not more. I circled and wondered and stared at his David, Pluto and Proserpina, Apollo and Daphne, and unfinished Truth Unveiled by Time for longer than I have ever spent inspecting any art, excepting, perhaps, Michelangelo’s David itself. I even listened to the audio guide for the sculptures! And that never happens. In his sculptures Bernini successfully, convincingly transformed marble into delicate leaves, flowing cloth, rough bark, strong fingers, taut rope, soft flesh, plated armor, and sinewy muscle. His figures are dynamic, frozen mid-stride or mid-swing. I don’t think I used to have a favorite artist/sculptor. I do now, though: Bernini. You really should flip through Google images of his sculptures. Really. Do it.

In the evening the whole family – all 13 of us! – traveled by bus, cab, and foot to the Piazza Navona to wander what I assumed was an ever-present art fair and to eat out as a group for once. On the way we somewhat accidentally came upon the Pantheon, so of course we popped inside for a quick, jaw-dropping look around and some pictures. Once we arrived at Piazza Navona we split up for 20 minutes to explore and allow someone to find a restaurant able to accommodate our numbers and offering an adequate selection of both pizza and pasta. Dinner, once the location was decided upon, was scrumptious. I accomplished my goal of eating real, Italian gnocchi – which I make on occasion – by consuming an obscene amount of the soft, potato pasta drowning in four-cheese sauce; it must have contained enough calories to fuel an olympic athlete. The day ended with – what else? – gelato.

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5 comments

  1. Claire,

    I laughed out loud as I read this blog!! I am so glad you decided to “suffer through” the first few rooms. The statues of Bernini are what blew me away! How someone could create such inticate details in stone is beyond me – I can’t even do it in clay! I was especially wowed by Pluto and Proserpina. I always worry when I recommend something to someone but I was pretty confident Villa Borghese would be a hit. I am glad you all were able to visit it while in Rome. On another note, do you remember the name of the restaurant in Piazza Navona where you all dined? We had dinner at one on two different occasions but I can’t remember the name. Maybe David remembers.

    1. Yup, it was an excellent recommendation. No, I never even looked at the name of the restaurant near Piazza Navona. It was down a side street and then down another side street, so it definitely wasn’t right on the plaza.

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