August 6th, 2010
It is time, finally, to explore the maze of rooms beneath San Giovanni and Paolo on the Caelian Hill. The area was once just off the well-traveled Clivus Scauri, remains of a Roman shopping arcade built into the still-standing 5th century church, attest to this. But beneath the church, are rooms of amphorae from shop storage, a grand home from the 3rd century that reuses earlier apartment housing to create a frescoed atrium linked to large decorated rooms (a private spa is on the lowest level) and a 4th century Christian church that was home and burial place for the martyrs John and Paul, military officers who refused to go to war for Julian the Apostate (361-362). One area, “The Room of the Worshipper” is now considered to be a transitional space since a fresco shows someone with outstretched arms, a sign that the original, wealthy householder was interested in things religious, but not necessarily a Christian. Nevertheless, this room, which may have been used later by John and Paul, displays scratchings from pilgrims (their initials and a crudely-drawn boat -- symbol of the Church); visitors made their way here in the 4th century when the place was a house church. One level above this room lies the focal point for these worshippers, a marble box containing the martyrs’ remains and the niche for it, covered with praying figures. Brick columns from the large basilica above (which has gone through centuries of embellishments and redecorations of its own) come crashing through the ceilings of this area since all of it was thought to be, at one point, simply rubble for the foundation of something new.
August 8th, 2010
After two years of cleaning and replumbing, the Fountain of Moses is again tourist-ready. The subtle colors of the marble are back as well as three racing streams of water: one beneath a sumo wrestler Moses (much-beloved but an artistic failure), the other two splashing beneath panels of the grateful Israelites and their animals, drinking from water Moses produced after the prayerful tapping of a rock. This Old Testament story is lost on tourists who are more interested in posing with the four stone lions placed engagingly close to the sidewalk and spouting ice cold water.