***THIS IS A LONG ONE***
After our rough version of Rick Steves’ Trastevere Walk, we were still at only about noon on our first day in town (on only a tiny tiny bit of sleep in 24+ hours). We crossed the Tiber (image above) and headed into Rome proper …
I mostly knew where we were going, and we kind of didn’t care which streets we used to get there … Heading into the heart of Rome to the Pantheon.
We walked into the piazza where the Pantheon is located … and, wow. Just breath-taking. So amazing to turn the corner and have the space open up to this view:
We held off going inside until after we had lunch. Rick Steves had several restaurant recommendations in the area, but we just kind of walked around … restaurants everywhere. All of them have tables outside, along with a menu. Difficult to chose a restaurant, just based on the menu. All places have basically the same dishes.
But we got lucky.
We just stopped by this small small little place – one couple already sitting/eating, with about 4 or 5 tables outside. The storefront was so small, there was only room for 2 tables right outside the front door, and the rest were across the ‘street’ (read: alley). So neat and so different from the U.S.
Our waitress was this cute 17-ish-year-old girl with very limited English. But she was soooo sweet. Andrew just asked for a recommendation (she didn’t know the word ‘recommendation’) and the waitress told him the steak (whatever the dish was called) was really good.
Take a look at the pics. The steak was bigger than his head. It was HUGE. HUGE HUGE. Served with roasted/ rosemary potatoes (on this amazing pan/tray thing that kept both hot throughout the meal) and a salad and we ordered bruschetta w/ prociutto and cheese (yum).
Andrew thought he was being made fun of. “Oh, you’re American? You must love steak.” … but it was REALLY good … and then (since we were sitting outside), people kept walking by and doing double take. At least one person stopped a waiter to point and ask what Andrew was eating. And I would bet that the 4 other tables that filled after we sat down were because they saw our awesome food.
Good good lunch. One of my favorite meals the whole week.
Note: The accordion player (along with 95% of the street performers we saw) was playing Dean Martin songs. Everywhere we went and heard music I kept thinking, I know that song!
Note #2 for those who have never been: When you order water, they will ask if you want ‘gas or no gas’ (still vs sparkling). And then bring it to you in this bottle. Good water. Great to be able to serve ourselves, really, and not have to wait for the server to come back. I wanted to steal this bottle. Someone find one just like it for me.
After lunch, to the Pantheon.
From Rick Steves:
The 40-foot, single piece granite columns of the Pantheon’s entrance show the scale the ancient Romans built on. The columns support a triangular, Greek-style room with an inscription that says” M. Agrippa” built it. In fact, it was built (fecit) by Emperor Hadrian (AD 120), who gave credit to the builder of an earlier structure. This impressive entryway gives no clue that the greatest wonder of the building is inside – a domed room that inspired later domes, including Michaelangelo’s St. Peter’s and Brunelleschi’s Duomo.
Note: Hadrian is all over. More later for you non-European History students
More from Rick Steves:
The Pantheon looks like a pretty typical temple from the outside, but this is perhaps the most influential building in art history. Its dome was the model for the Florence cathedral dome, which launched the Renaissance, and for Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peter’s, which capped it all off. Even Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Building was inspired by this dome.
The 40-foot-high columns of the portico (entrance porch) are made form single pieces of red-gray granite (not the standard stacks of cylindrical pieces). They were taken from an Egyptian temple. The holes in the triangular pediment once held a huge bronze Roman eagle.
Check out the size of the doorway (image below):
Into the Pantheon. This time of day was pretty crowded. I understand early early in the morning and later at night it’s pretty empty. Just locals coming by, or kids playing. Would be amazing at, say, 6a? Next visit.
From Rick Steves:
The dome, which was the largest made until the Renaissance, is set on a circular base. The mathematical perfection of this dome-on-a-base design is a testament to Roman engineering. The dome is as high as it is wide – 142 feet from floor to rooftop and from side to side. To picture it, imagine a basketball set inside a wastebasket so that it just touches bottom.
The dome – newly cleaned and feeling loftier than ever – is made from concrete (a Roman invention) that gets lighter and thinner as it reaches the top. The base of the dome is 23 feet thick and made from heavy concrete mixed with travertine, while near the top, it’s less than five feet thick and made with a lighter volcanic rock (pumice) mixed in. Note the square indentations in the surface of the dome. This coffered ceiling reduces the weight of the dome without compromising strength. The walls are strengthened by blind arches built into the wall (visible outside).
At the top, the oculus, or eye-in-the-sky, is the building’s only light source and is almost 30 feet across. the 1800 year old floor has holes in it and slants toward the edges to let the rainwater drain. Though some of the floor’s marble has been replaced over the years, the design – alternating circles and squares – is original.
Two of the tombs (images below) are of modern Italy’s first two kings (Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I).
From Rick Steves:
These tombs are hit with royalists. In fact, there is often a guard standing by a guestbook, where visitors can register their support for these two kings’ now-controversial family, the Savoys.
A note on the obelisks from Rick Steves:
Rome has 13 obelisks, more than any other city in the world. In Egypt, they were connected with the sun god Ra (like stone sunrays) and the power of the pharaohs. The ancient Romans, keen on exotic novelty and sheer size, brought the obelisks here and set them up in key public places as evidence and celebration of their occupation of Egypt. Starting from the 1580s, Rome’s new rulers – the popes – relocated the obelisks, often topping them with Christian crosses so they came to acquire yet another significance that guaranteed their survival: the triumph of Christianity over all other religions.
The obelisks were carved out of single blocks of granite. Imagine the work, with only man- and horse-power, to first quarry them and set them up in Egypt, then – after the Romans came along – to roll them on logs to the river or the coast, sail (or row) them in special barges across the Mediterranean and up the Tiber, and finally hoist them up.
Romans weren’t above cheap imitations. A couple of the obelisks are ancient Roman copies. The one at the top of the Spanish Steps has spelling mistakes in the hieroglyphics.
After the Pantheon, we were (finally) able to ‘check-in’ to our bed and breakfast … so, since Andrew literally was falling asleep inside the Pantheon, we headed back to the Trastevere neighborhood to get our lovely room and relax.