Rome and the Vatican are described as living outdoors museums. Pretty much in any direction, underfoot or overhead you’re looking at some great historic treasure.
Over three afternoons this week, along with the hordes, we visited Roman ruins, Catholic churches and galleries, and finally crypts and catacombs.
Some standouts for me were:
An unkempt large grassy field ringed by dirt tracks next to main roads turns out to be the ancient stadium for chariot racing.
A church dedicated to St Clement is known as “archaeological lasagna” for the three layers of history it sits upon dating back to 1AD.
Cappuccino comes from the word for ‘hood’. Learnt while hearing about the hooded Capuchin monks who built a series of decorative crypts out of the bones of their dead brothers in a reminder of the passage of time and our mortality.
Here are some photos from the three tours – all of which were about 3 hours long. They were worth it.
2. Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica (no photos allowed in the chapel, and it’s true you do need to cover your shoulders and knees to visit the churches)
3. Crypts and Catacombs, and a visit to St Clement’s church
We couldn’t take photos in any of the venues so here are descriptions via Wikipedia
And my tuppence worth…
The decorative crypts were small and ornate and creepy with skulls and bones but we were told the monks think of them as meditative. Spend some time pondering your own mortality. “What you are now, we once were.”
I thought the catacombs would be chokka with thigh bones and gnarly fingers poking out of the walls but no, their hollows were empty. The tunnels are well worth a visit anyway and I still wouldn’t want to hang out there alone.
Saint Clement basilica can be visited for free during open hours but I’d recommend a tour as there’s so much interesting history held between the layers under the church. It was all eventually unearthed after an Irish Dominican priest banged on about hearing water rushing at night. Turns out the church from 1200AD was built on one from 400AD which in turn was covering up an old temple from 1AD, plus you get to see the rushing water spilling from some spring no one’s traced. Didn’t even know we were coming here on the tour and it was a highlight.