Rome Diaries - Week 26

From 2006 to 2011 Paulist Father Tom Holahan served as vice rector of the Paulist church in Rome. During that time he had the opportunity to spend time exploring the historic sites of Rome as well as the hidden ones. The blog features excerpts from this travel diary. A new selection appears each week.

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July 10, 2007

For all its immensity, Rome is a fragile place. Take the Piazza Venezia, the key station in the new Metro line C (estimated opening 2014, but add a decade, just to be safe). A Renaissance glassworks was discovered underneath the piazza but we will have to take the archeologists’ word for it; the site could not be preserved because the huge Monument to Victor Emmanuel II has been sinking since it was built a century ago and plans to shore up the monument could not be jeopardized. If you take the train south, you can see electric poles affixed to the ancient aqueducts, taking precarious advantage of their right-of-way. A few weeks ago, a ham fisted parking lot contractor damaged the 2000-year-old Aqua Virgo aqueduct causing panic since it provided the water for the ultimate Roman destination: the Trevi Fountain (another aqueduct was quickly diverted to supply the water). Nero’s Domus Aurea (a dining pavillion) was closed for 21 years for repairs and now hosts limited tours focusing on how water seepage can ruin an Emperor’s fantasies. The Baths of Caracalla were off limits to the much-loved summer opera for seven seasons. Now, however, the ruins are back in shape. Tonight I see Swan Lake at the Baths. The tallest walls of brick are bathed in blue light and double for the palace of the prince. As if on cue, two swan-like birds soar above, calling to each other. A five year-old girl sits in the first row enraptured (it’s almost midnight!) and, during the breaks, she shows off her ballerina moves to her parents.



July 16, 2007

Many of the churches of Rome were built for political or civic reasons. A church dedicated to the apostles has been on the spot of Santi Apostoli since the 6th century when a victory over the Goths prompted the pope to construct one. In the 15th century, the building was treated as a family chapel by the single Colonna pope, Martin V, since it was right next to the family’s sprawling palazzo. A few decades after this, the weathly tastemaker Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere (soon to be warrior pope Julius II) commissioned Melozzo da Forli to decorate the apse with a large fresco of Christ, angels and the apostles. It lasted a mere two hundred years as Clement XI was intent on expanding the choir of the church to make it yet another example of Baroque Rome. In this tougher age, da Forli’s sweet faces and lush pastels just did not do the job. But these exquisite portraits of angels and saints speak to the consumer society of today. The angels we can see playing musical instruments on Christmas cards, commemorative plates, postage stamps and wall posters are the same ones rescued from the Santi Apostoli rubble heap; fourteen jagged pieces of the fresco are now licensed by the Vatican Museums, where they reside. When the summer palace of the popes was abandoned to unification forces in 1870, the Italian state also received the furnishings, including Melozzo da Forli’s Figure of Christ, from the old frescos of Santi Apostoli.


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