Monday, May 13, 2013

Italy - Saint Peter's Basilica & the Appian Way

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31 miles - Saturday, October 15

We pack up and ride to Saint Peter's Square. Because of the tourist's throng it's prime location for theft. Andy offers to stay behind with the bikes, taking first watch while I slip a paisley skirt over my shorts to comply with regulations.

Saint Peters Basilica is the largest cathedral in the world. As I step into its cooler interior, red, white, and green marble covers the floor, the walls, columns. I am in awe. I've always loved churches for their solitude, a place for contemplation, but this space is unique. I feel it's historical significance, its grandeur. It has riches beyond compare. Tall columns line the interior. Bernini's Bronze Canopy, supported by four ornate, twisted columns stands beneath the main dome, which towers 120 meters overhead. The dome itself, full of scenes, with the light filtering downward from its green and golden hues, is breathtaking.

An example of one of many 10 foot high paintings.
Every wall is highly decorated. Panels of Renaissance art. Cherub sculptures. Gilded Latin writing. There are wooden confessionals, each one in a different language. Incense faintly perfumes the air. Several 10-foot high canvases painted by famous artists and many colossal statues adorn the basilica. Visitors are but specks. Footsteps sound like whispers. The whole effect is grandiose yet unpretentious. I am thankful the Vatican preserves artistic wealth and keeps it in the public eye. Full of riches, Saint Peters holds the power to entrance, to understand the influential role the Vatican plays in this region. Even for far reaching prayers, as Andy notices later, a candle lit for the Bosnian/Serbian conflict.

Bernini's Bronze Canopy

There is a better photo of La Pieta here.
In an alcove, I stumble on Michelangelo’s La Pieta, protected behind glass. It's smaller than I expected, but to understand the artist carved this beautiful sculpture at 21 years old, the intricate expressions, the draped clothing, all sculpted from a minuscule marble brings me to tears. And I hadn't even seen the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo’s culmination of his life's work, drawing on existing plans and forming a cohesive architectural plan for Saint Peters Basilica, is a tribute and lasting testament to a great artist.

Out in the heat, we confer on the 15.00 per person admittance to the Sistine Chapel and decide to bypass a visit. The chapel is currently under restoration, also. It's a difficult decision, however, not knowing when or if we'll ever return.

Andy, on the left, while a local pedals by the Colosseum.
We pedal eastward across the city, now unafraid to ride down the wide avenues. We stop at the Colosseum again, mainly to gobble pizza slices we'd purchased. We visit briefly with two guys from Colorado on mountain bikes who we'd run into the previous day. They'd spent their first night in the woods. On a five week holiday, their plan is to catch a ferry to Sardinia and eventually to Greece. Andy and I clued them into Italian customs. At the same time they explained the Colosseum today was free to visitors. We took advantage of this news and took turns gawking at the oval interior before heading out of Rome.

A drawing in my journal.

Inside the Colosseum.
Aqueduct on the Appian Way.
We wait at a traffic light with Port San Sebastian arch ahead, an ancient entrance once connected to Rome's walls. Three gypsy kids skillfully begged, moving around the cars. One girl has an infant on her back, coaxing it to look sad and hungry.

Past the arch we leave the city behind and gain the Appian Way, one of the oldest roads left from the Roman Empire. It connects Rome to southern portions, once a strategic, “appian”, means “queen” or long distance road. We quickly pedal a one way, low trafficked paved road along a broad, open ridge. The landscape is dry. Intact aqueducts surprisingly appear in the distance. A few pine trees line the Appian Way, where two high-heeled prostitutes step out, one dressed in red miniskirt, and wiggle an index finger at my husband. We chuckle at their brazenness. It seems like some scenarios remain unchanged, the same profession once tempting Roman legionnaires.

By way of back roads we reach the coast at dusk. With numerous directions we encounter two closed campgrounds. At the second place, the manager understands our situation, allowing us to stay the night. Showers are not available, but water and pit toilet suffice. Grazie! We eat a hearty meal of pesto con pasta and wash it down with a 2.00 bottle of Merlot. And call it an early night.

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