Saturday, July 04, 2015

Vatican City and Rome

Thurs 4 June 2015

We ventured after our breakfast was delivered to our room at 8am. Our destination today is Vatican City, which is a country of its own - it is the smallest nation in the world and located within the city of Rome. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site listed under Vatican City. The state is ruled by the Pope. St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums are all located in Vatican City. The economy of Vatican City is supported by the sale of postage stamps and tourist souvenirs, fees for admission to museums, and the sale of publications. The city state has an area of 110 acres with only 842 citizens, mostly clergies.

We entered Vatican City through Rome via the Metro Ottaviano station and did not need to pass through Passport Control. The currency used here is Euro. Upon exiting the Metro station, we were swamped by tourist agents pestering us to join the tour of the Vatican Museum and entering St Peter's Basilica without queuing. Indeed the queue was snaking very long, but we declined all the offers. It was not a long walk from the Metro to St Peter's Basilica.

St Peter's Basilica is a Catholic church built in based on architecture of the Renaissance era and completed in 1626. Its name is derived from the burial site of St Peter, one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ. It is famous as a place of pilgrimage, religious ceremonies and appointment of the Pope. Entrance into the St Peter's Basilica is free but brace yourselves for a very long queue. As for the Vatican Museum, the entrance fee is EUR 16 but on the last Sunday of each month, the Vatican Museum is open to the public for free from 9am to 12.30pm.

St Peter's Basilica facade

St Peter's Basilica Square
St Peter's Basilica square

Panoramic view of the Square

There is a unique Swiss Guard of the Vatican City in their traditional uniforms who are enlisted from the Swiss Army and responsible for the personal security of the Pope, and resident in the state. All recruits must be Catholic, unmarried males with Swiss citizenship who have completed their basic training with the Swiss Army with certificates of good conduct, be between the ages of 19 and 30, and be at least 174 cm in height. Facts about Vatican City are excerpted from here and here

Swiss Guards

From Vatican City, we moved on to Castel St Angelo. It is a cylindrical tower mausoleum for the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his family. The building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum, Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant'Angelo. It was built on the right bank of the Tiber or Tevere river, between 134 and 139 AD. The view of the Castel from the Ponte Sant Angelo across the Tevere is magnificent. Entrance into the museum is EUR 10.50

the circular Castel St Angelo

view of Castel St Angelo from Ponte Sant Angelo
Ponte Sant Angelo across the Tiber river

From Castel St Angelo, we took the bus towards Pantheon using the Roma 48 hour pass we bought yesterday. The bus was packed and we had to squeeze ourselves in. There is no Metro from the Castel to Pantheon, you either had to walk or take the bus. It was scorching hot, so we decided to flag the bus. People could easily enter the bus without a ticket because it was impossible to scan our pass to the machine in the packed bus.

The Pantheon is yet another circular building with Corinthian columns built during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD) and completed by the Emperor Hadrian in 128 AD. It has been used as a church during the Medieval period and a tomb during the Renaissance era, and now back as a church. What is unique about the Pantheon is the Rotunda or dome. The dome is made of concrete poured in moulds, probably mounted on temporary scaffolding and is the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. The oculus (a hole) is the main source of natural light of the Pantheon. Throughout the day, the light from the oculus moves around this space in a reverse sundial effect. The oculus also serves as a cooling and ventilation method. During storms, a drainage system below the floor handles the rain that falls through the oculus. Facts excerpted from here.

Facade of the Pantheon. Note the circular shape of the Pantheon at its side

the oculus in the Pantheon at the top of the dome

From the Pantheon, we took the packed bus again back to Roma Termini and had our lunch of roasted chicken and briyani rice at one of the halal restaurants nearby the Termini. After lunch, we went back to our room to refresh and rest a bit before making our way to the Rome Grand Mosque. Oh yes, I do recommend that you buy your drinks, water and snacks from the supermarket at the Termini as it is really cheap! Thanks to Barbara our host for her tips.

yummy lunch

To get to Rome Grand Mosque, we took the Metro from Termini to Flaminio station. Then we took the urban train from Viterbo to Campi Sportivi station. We can still use the Roma 48 hour pass to access the urban train. Please cross the railway track via the overhead bridge and exit from there as it is nearer to walk to the Mosque from there. The urban train is more run down than the Metro with its walls full of graffiti.

Viterbo station

the urban train
the old urban train
Campi Sportivi exit for nearer access to Mosque by crossing the railway track

The Rome Grand Mosque has an area of 30,000 m2 and can accomdate more than 12,000 people which makes it the largest mosque outside the Muslim majority countries. The mosque was jointly founded by the exiled Prince Muhammad Hasan of Afghanistan and his wife, Princess Razia and was financed by Faisal of Saudi Arabia, head of the Saudi royal family. The land for the project was donated by the City Council of Rome in 1974 but only completed in 1994. The height of the minaret is shorter by approximately one meter from the dome of St Peter’s. During our visit to the Mosque, only a small prayer hall was opened for visitors / worshipers.

Rome Grand Mosque

inside the Rome Grand Mosque

That evening we went back to Colosseo then walked further along Via dei Fori Imperialli towards  Piazza Venezia. It was named after the Cardinal Venezia and built in 1455. We then walked back to Colosseo passing through Trajan Forum, Forum of Augustus and Forum of Nerva.

Piazza Venezia

Trajan Forum forum was built on the order of the emperor Trajan with the spoils of war from the conquest of Dacia in 106 AD. In the past, a triumphal arch with a statue of Trajan in a six-horse chariot, Basilica Ulpia, a temple dedicated to the deified Trajan, Trajan's Column and libraries were built. Today, only the Column of Trajan and columns of the Basilica Ulpia remain. Fact excerpted from here

Trajan Forum market
column remains at Trajan Forum

Forum of Augustus was built by Imperator Augustus, the founder of the Roman Empire (27 BC - 14 AD).  He instructed the building of Temple of Mars Ultor, honouring Mars, the Roman God of War after he avenged the assassination of his adoptive father Julius Caesar. The temple and forum were completed in 2 BC, which makes it older than Trajan Forum.It was also used as another space for legal proceedings, as the Roman Forum was very crowded. Facts excerpted from here

Forum Augustus

Forum of Nerva was started by Emperor Domitian before the year 85 AD, but officially completed and opened by his successor, Nerva, in 97 AD. A temple dedicated to Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom was built here. Fact excerpted from here

Forum Nerva

We then called it a day and went back to our hotel. Tomorrow we would be going back to Amsterdam and the day after catch the flight back to KL sob sob. Thank you Rome for the valuable lessons in history!