May 11, 2011

I woke up this morning hungry for adventure.  Today was my first day in Rome.  I had seen Roman and Romanesque statues, plazas, and architecture throughout Europe.  Croatia was home to an impressive Roman palace.  The ruins of a Roman Amphitheater in Ancona, Italy gave me a glimpse into public life in first century central Italy but this was Rome.  This was where The Empire began. My morning began with a quick metro trip from my campground on the Tiber River to Piazza de Popolo.  I stepped out of the station and Rome towered before me…

This is the northern gate of The Aurelian Wall, which stands at the entrance of Piazza de Popolo.

Inside the Piazza de Popolo a stage was being erected for use at a voting rally later that evening.  I was walking to the opposite side of the open plaza to admire Giovanni Ceccarini’s Fountain of Neptune when I heard a loud thud and a squeal.  Behind me the rally’s sound man was starting a mic check.  Italian words crashed against the marble walls across the plaza and came racing back at the God of the Sea and I.  Then the echos increased in frequency as they bombarded us from all directions.

Behind me is the Piazza de Popolo.

The Fountain of Neptune

As I neared the southern end of the piazza I had to make a decision:  Which street do I take?  I had never been to Rome but I had a general idea of where the Pantheon was located so I headed down the Via del Corso.  Many hours later I realized just how general of an idea I had about the location of the ancient Roman temple. As I wandered the unfamiliar streets I came upon a familiar sound.  It was the buzz of activity that accompanies street performers and artists across Europe.  It was the salesman and the tourists who followed them everywhere.  It was the sound that becomes comforting to adventurers like myself.  It meant that I was almost guaranteed to see something unique and unforgettable.  When I walked into Piazza Navona I got all of those things…

In the foreground is an ancient Egyptian obelisk atop The Fountain of the Four Rivers. In the background is the Church of Saint Agnes.

Ganges, the River God, on The Fountain of the Four Rivers.

The base of the Fountain of Four Rivers in Piazza Navona.

I left Piazza Navona having forgotten what I was looking for.  I wandered the streets until they turned into tiny alleys that hid from the buzz of Rome.  One path ended abruptly so I turned around and headed right.  I was poured out of the cramped alley into another plaza.  This plaza seemed more familiar than the others.  At the far end of it there was a dome.  I had seen this dome many times before.  It was in every book that I had ever read about Rome and appeared on half of the covers.  This was The Pantheon.

I circled the temple twice, respecting the ruins and revering the renovations.  Then I stood inside the portico.  I looked up at the massive slabs of granite and out at the piazza.  I thought about how many times I had seen The Pantheon.  It was probably in the thousands.  I had seen every angle of the exterior.  I had even seen some of the artworks that decorate the interior but I had never imagined seeing it like this, on the inside looking out.  After savoring that thought for a moment I stepped inside.  This is what I saw…

EPIC.

The natural light beaming from The Pantheon’s open dome gives life to the statues below.

One of the lively statues.

Two of the most abundant resources Rome has to offer: marble statues and oil paintings.

Here lies Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, better known to the world simply as “Raphael.”

I left The Pantheon and thought, “now what?”  I had seen one of the most famous historical monuments in the world after wandering through a town made of marble and gold.  All this and it was barely noon.  I thought about what I had gone through to get here; the work, the research, the sleepless nights on buses, the terror that occasionally struck when I was in the streets of a new city after dark with no hope of a warm bed.  I thought about how great it was to be here and how I would do it all again just for a chance to see my next “Pantheon.”  I smirked at the world as I reentered the narrow alleys that had brought me to this place.  I headed east and hoped to find The Vatican before sundown.

Well, this was my first Roman adventure.  I hope you enjoyed it.  I will share the rest of this day, and the weeks that followed, in the near future.  Until then…

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