topics: pasta (food), Roma, hills of Roma, HISTORY, Order of the Knights of Malta; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: May 18-19, 1998

Food of the Day: pasta

Pasta, apparently translated in many languages as macaroni (which, in Italy, is a certain type of pasta, not all of them), is a food product we have already touched on a few of times: in minestrone soup, as something that must be carefully prepared "al dente", and as spaghetti carbonara.

Pasta is generally (though not always) made from wheat dough and then shaped according to the shapers fancy. (There are other varieties of pasta which use other base ingredients, for example gnocchi which uses a potato instead of wheat, or pasta all'uovo which uses egg.) The wheat that is most commonly used us called durum wheat. It is ground into a coarse meal from which the bran is removed. The resulting product is called semolina (from which couscous is also made). The moistened semolina is then kneaded into a paste (una "pasta") and then either shaped or forced through a mold that creates long thin strips of a similar shape. This is the product that is then dried for later use.

There are hundreds and hundreds of different kinds of pastas. Below is a very short list of only a few of the more common varieties:

Of course there are hundreds of others. If you know of some that you would like us to add to the list, please let us know! Write to us at

Person of the Day: our Roman hosts, Giovanni Congiu and Paola Bono

Once again, we have come across angels in disguise. click to view a photograph It is part of an ongoing lesson to all of us that the world, despite the way it may sometimes seem, is full of exceptional people with great stores of curiosity and warmth... and especially hospitality. So it is with enormous pleasure that we met, and present here, Giovanni Congiu and Paola Bono of Roma. click to view a photograph

Our good friend Gino of Napoli, who had so benevolently opened his doors to us, wanted to see if it was possible to find something similar in Roma. And so he set about calling different FIAB acquaintances. It took a little longer than expected, but then we are four people with quite a bit of equipment. Nevertheless, when we called Gino from the road between Napoli and Roma, he told us about Giovanni Congiu of Pedale Verde, one of the FIAB associations in Roma. Giovanni had agreed to put us up for a few days... which was great!

And so, once arrived in Roma, we met Giovanni, or Gianni. We rendezvoused with him first at one address, where he cheerily appeared with his Bi-Bici, an Italian version of the folding Bike Friday that is perfect for urban transport. He unwound his vehicle (which collapses into a wonderfully small, portable tangle), and then sped - yes SPED! - through the dizzying streets of Roma with us panting happily behind. We knew right from the start that he could not be taking the most direct route to wherever we were going. But we did not imagine that in so short a time we could see so much of Roma. Weaving in and out of small pedestrian lanes, zipping across busy avenues and boulevards, he took us by and through just about every major piazza and monument to which we would be returning. And he did it in record speed.

Before we knew what had happened, almost as if we were watching a fastforwarded bit of a film, we screeched to a halt before an obscure door on a quite little street - Padraic had only moments before gotten a flat tire - Gianni folded up his bike, and then he disappeared inside. We were home...

Gianni had extremely generously turned over his whole apartment to the four of us - he lives with his wife, Paola, in another apartment - for the duration of our stay. (Which was so much more than we ever could have expected... and for which we are forever indebted to him.) And what an apartment it is... almost a third person of the day (after Gianni and Paola) it has so much personality. Magical. Marvelous. A true feast for the eyes and the mind. And utterly indescribable.

Imagine three large rooms into which a lifetime of collectibles has been placed. Not willy-nilly. But not like in a museum either. Imagine an art installation of a lifetime of collectibles, but take away the fact that it is art for art's sake, and take away the show aspect, and take away the conscientiousness of someone making it a public installation. Just enjoy the Dali-esque, raw, magical (again that word!), and very humorous density of a free and creative mind making visual and utilitarian connections between unconnected things, hanging something from everything, indulging in the pleasure of memories connected with pictures and phrases and marbles and stickers and hats and maps and books and papers and bike lamps and fans and tools and canes and tin objects and newspaper clippings and postcards and matchbooks and art and knickknacks and toys galore. Make it a comfortable place full of cushions and sitting cubbies. Make it full of light, both natural from two walls with tall windows and lots and lots of creatively placed lamps. And only then will you begin to see what we saw and had the pleasure of living in for a few days.

Gianni, we later learned, works at finding, translating, reselling, and sometimes even producing humorous material for distribution in Italy in Italian. From syndicated cartoons, to tabloid articles, to essays and screenplays, he looks for any- and everything that might tickle the Italian funny bone... and we could not be more sure of his success.

After we had expressed a desire to be able to sit down and talk with him some more, and meet Paola, the evening following our arrival, they both invited us to dine at their apartment in front of which we had initially met Gianni.

Paola, whom we were overjoyed to meet in person after seeing her in so many photographs in Gianni's apartment, is a Professor at DAMS (Discipline delle Arte della Musica e dello Spettacolo) of the University of Roma. She teaches or has taught in many areas that touch upon English, Italian, languages, the theater, and Women's Studies. She has just recently had published a book that she co-wrote about the great Phoenician Princess Elyssa Dido also known as the Carthaginian Queen Dido. In addition to this, she has both written many articles for university journals and publications and edited a number of books about and used in Women's Studies. We're sure that there is plenty more we don't know, but we were already very impressed by what she has done and even more so by who she is: a welcoming, engaging and wonderful person who, along with Gianni, so readily brought us into their homes and their lives.

The dinner we enjoyed together was only a few hours that we wish could have gone on longer. We talked about languages and travel (they have traveled extensively) and cycling and people and learning... We laughed about the hilarity of some of the things we have experienced and paused in thought of those that were more serious. In short, we had a wonderful, wonderful time. We regret not having been able to repay their kindness in the spot, but we look forward to any forthcoming visit they will make to the States!

It will be with the greatest pleasure that we give them a chance to see some of the U.S. with the same comfort and assurance that they made it possible for us to see Roma.

Place of the Day: Piazza del Campidoglio at the top of the Capitoline Hill (Campidoglio)

One of the best places from which it is possible to get a magnificent view of Roma is from the top of the Campidoglio, or Capitoline Hill (one of the seven famous hills of Roma - see the Tech Fact of the Day).

At its heights sits the magnificent square - the Piazza del Campidoglio click to view a photograph - which, along with the façades of the palaces that surround it on three sides click to view a photograph, was all designed by Michelangelo in 1538. This is the hill from which the patrician magistrates and then the emperors of ancient Roma governed. (Brutus announced the death of Julius Caesar from here in 44 BC.) It is still today the seat of the city's municipal government.

Other than the three decorated palace façades, which certainly do distract the eye click to view a photograph, the most gripping thing on the square is a copy of the proud bronze equine statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius click to view a photograph (the famous late 2nd century AD emperor who presided over Roma's Golden Age).

Two of the three palaces on this piazza compose the Capitoline Museums whose rich and significant collections we unfortunately did not have the time to visit. One of the objects on display (that we did not see) is a famous 6th century BC bronze Etruscan statue of a wolf, called the Capitoline Wolf. In 1509 AD, two small babies sucking on the wolf's teats, were added. These represent Romulus and Remus, the fabled founders of Roma. According to myth and tradition, the twin sons of Mars were abandoned near the Tiber River and raised by a she-wolf. They together were set on founding a city, but fought over who should be in charge. Romulus is said to have won the battle by killing his brother (hence the city he supposedly established in 753 BC is called Roma, and not Rema or something like that).

We did however have a chance to take in some of the larger pieces shown in the courtyard of one of the buildings. They were mostly huge bits taken from an enormous statue of Emperor Constantine that had been in the Basilica of Constantine in the Roman Forum. Here Corinne is dwarfed by Constantine's head click to view a photograph, while Padraic couldn't lift a finger to Constantine's. click to view a photograph

Speaking of the Roman Forum, one of the best vistas click to view a photograph over this complex (and all of Roma for that matter), is from the other side of the hill. For more about the Forum, see the Rider Notes. Also abutting the hill is the famous Monumento Vittorio Emanuele II. click to view a photograph We'll come back to that later too, as we will the many monuments around Roma whose topmost reaches are visible from the Capitoline Hill, including the world-famous Colosseo (Colosseum).

At the foot of the back side of the hill (right near where the Roman Forum "begins"), we took a moment to visit the Carcere Mamertino, now the site of the Chiesa di San Pietro in Carcere (Church of Saint Peter in Chains). click to view a photograph The Carcere was where prisoners were held and starved to death. They were lowered through a hole in the floor and just left. Saint Peter (see the upcoming dispatch about the Basilica Saint Pietro) is believed to have been kept here and then miraculously created a stream of water with which he baptized other prisoners. He also is said to have escaped with some divine intervention. The underground holding area is now accessible via a narrow staircase. On display is the stone to which Peter is said to have been affixed, as well as the hole in the floor from which water flowed.

Tech Fact of the Day: the seven hills of Roma

Roma is famous for having been founded on seven hills. Looking out across the city today, it is quite difficult to identify them or see how their slopes attracted enough attention that they would one day be at the center of an enormous empire. And yet, that is indeed what happened. Perhaps they were more easily located and appreciated when there were not the houses, belongings and services attached to the lives of today's Roma's four million inhabitants.

It is commonly acknowledged that ancient Roma was first founded as a group of three Etruscan, Latin and Sabine settlements on the Palatine, Esquiline and Quirinal hills just east of the Tiber River. These are the central three of the famous seven. The remaining four - the Capitoline, Viminal, Caelian, and Aventine hills - are only slightly further afield.

Group Dispatch, May 18-19
photograph of Ethan

Our first full day in Roma, we basically did nothing at all that involved the city. And enjoyed it. Even if we were in Roma, both a World Heritage City visit the World Heritage City page and home to quite a few World Heritage sites visit the World Heritage Site page, and we felt the itch to take advantage of it, we have been falling behind in our writing and a full day with which we could focus on this was a full day we might not have again. So we wrote... and wrote... and wrote...

OK, we ate too. And Gianni (see the People of the Day) came over for a while during which we talked to him about many, many things, including his magnificent apartment, and BikeAbout and its goals. And Ethan and Corinne made a quick venture out to the nearby offices of, one of our Italian Internet service providers. We had already scheduled a meeting for the next morning but since we were in the area, we thought we should pay them an afternoon visit too and use the time for a little online research.

It wasn't until the evening that we all really emerged from the penman's cocoon and walked 30 minutes across town to Gianni and Paola's apartment. They had invited us over for dinner and we were thrilled to oblige. We took advantage of the time to show the BikeAbout Web site to Paola too and she immediately thought of some students at the University where she teaches who would be interested in our activities. We agreed that we would be in touch with her the following day about this. For more about Gianni and Paola click to view a photograph (and the delicious dinner), please see the People of the Day.

The next day was a wash of activity, people and places. It was a race around Roma almost too great to cover here, especially given the scope of the history involved.

Speaking of history, let us try to take a brief look at the significance of Roma and the Roman Empire through the ages and particularly in the context of our Mediterranean trip. For those of you whose eyes glaze over when they read something like that, skip ahead a few paragraphs to the meat of our day's activities. For the rest of you, read on! We promise to be brief.

Early Roma, as we have stated in the Tech Fact of the Day was no more than a few settlements collected around three of the now seven hills of Roma. click to view a photograph The whole area was probably under the rule of the Etruscan royal house (see tomorrow's dispatch for more about the Etruscans) until around 500 BC. The local Latin people, the Romans, revolted and established their own Roman republic. The power and influence of the Romans over the next few hundred years gained or lost ground (and changed) according to advances by the Gauls and the influence of the Greeks and the Phoenicians at Carthage. It wasn't until after the 146 BC final victory in the direct confrontation against Carthage during the 125 years of three Punic Wars that the Roman Empire really began to emerge. click to view a photograph By this stroke it took over the Western Mediterranean and then turned its attention east. By 14 AD, when Octavian (Augustus Caesar), the first real Roman Emperor, died, the Empire covered most of the Mediterranean click to view a photograph and the beginning of 200 years of prosperity had begun. The Empire reached its greatest extent from 98-117 AD under the Emperor Trajan. click to view a photograph Throughout this time period, power in the Empire had always been centered in the city of Roma.

But the path to domination in the Mediterranean had not been easy and would not last forever. As early as the Social Wars of 90-88 BC, there had been internal clash. The early republic was doomed and the great, but constantly warring, empire we know was on the rise. The 1st century BC saw fighting between two great generals - Pompey and Julius Caesar - with Caesar's triumph as master of the Roman lands. But Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC and by 31 BC, after some bitter and famous fighting (between Octavian and the combined forces of Antony and Cleopatra), Caesar's grandnephew Octavian emerged supreme as Augustus Caesar, first Roman Emperor. And the Pax Romana began. Many more roads were built (especially to and from Roma), commerce and industry were developed, the arts flourished, and the capital city of Roma was increasingly embellished with magnificent monuments. And, of course, fledgling Christianity was persecuted (especially under Emperors Nero [54-68 AD] and Diocletian).

The Empire truly began to fall apart, and the unparalleled city of Roma lost its role as the center of the Empire, soon after Diocletian. He had divided the Empire into four parts, two in the West and two in the East. His successor, Constantine the Great then actually moved the capital from Roma to Constantinople (today's Istanbul). For the history of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire, go back to the first of our Istanbul dispatches and check up on the history.

Meanwhile, the city of Roma floundered. Overwhelmed by invaders and subject to anarchy, it saw its last emperor in 476 AD. It is believed by some that Italy did not really recover from the fall of the Western Roman Empire (and the city of Roma) until the 19th century. Still, through the Middle Ages, the city of Roma slowly regained lost ground by virtue of the proximity of the administrative center of the Papal States established in the 8th century. Charlemagne and other Holy Roman emperors regularly appeared in Roma to consult and be crowned by the Pope, whose seat and authority were rooted around the area believed to have been where Saint Peter was buried, today's Saint Peter's Basilica and surroundings, known as the Vatican, or Holy See. (See upcoming dispatches for more about this.) In addition to this, the 15th-century Renaissance, although centered in Tuscany, saw great artistic revival in Roma and especially around the papal court. Much of the architectural treasure in the city today is from that period to which were added great 17th and 18th-century Baroque monuments.

The final period of turmoil around Roma came with its annexation to France by Napoleon I in 1809. The 1861 proclamation of the kingdom of Italy did not include Roma until the fall of Napoleon III in 1871, when it became the capital.

OK. Enough history. What you really want to know is what we did and what Roma looks like today, right? Well, here we go.

We began by ignoring everything about Roma's past and making a visit to its future - the offices of one of our Italian Internet service providers, called We met a number of people, all of whom we will greet in greater detail as tomorrow's People of the Day and took care of lots of Internet business. But we also had a surprise meeting with an unexpected visitor, Mr. Valeriani, who took great interest in the BikeAbout project. After a few swift organizational phone calls on his part, he invited us to take advantage of a special and rare opportunity which we were thrilled to have been offered: a guided tour of the Priorato of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta, a ceremonial sovereign extra-territorial estate on the top of the Aventine hill (yet another of the seven hills of Roma - see the Tech Fact of the Day) from which the many of the affairs of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta are managed. It was a once in a lifetime chance that we could not refuse.

So, eager to take in as much of the other sites of Roma as we could before our 4 p.m. meeting in front of the doors of the Priorato on the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, we raced back to our "home," lunched, and set out.

First we headed away from the traffic and along a lovely shaded path that runs along the Tiber (Tevere) River. click to view a photograph Like so many of the great European cities, Roma's primary waterway is spanned by some lovely arched bridges. click to view a photograph

Cutting back in toward the city, we climbed up to our Place of the Day, the Piazza del Campidoglio at the top of the Capitoline Hill. We enjoyed the Michelangelo-designed piazza click to view a photograph, some of the museum displays open to the non-paying public click to view a photograph, and a magnificent view out over the Roman Forum. click to view a photograph (For more about our time at the Piazza del Campidoglio, see the Place of the Day.)

The Roman Forum, which we chose not to pay to enter, having enjoyed the magnificent view from above, is one of Roma's greatest treasures. An extensive uncovered area in a valley between the Palatine and Capitoline hills, right in the middle of the modern city, it is the site of what was once the hub of ancient Roma. It took 900 years to complete the structures whose ruins we see today. This is not because of the care taken, but rather due to the additions sequentially made by various emperors. When Roma's importance declined after the 4th century, so did the value of the Forum. In fact, by the time the Middle Ages rolled around, so much had fallen into ruin that the area was known as the Campo Vaccino (Cow Field). It was during these years that the remaining standing structures found different uses and those in disrepair were stripped of most of the usable building materials and decorations. Basically, the rubble we see today is the refuse left by the Romans themselves who used the stuff of the ancient buildings for new ones. Today, and since the Renaissance when there was renewed interest in the classical period, the Forum continues to be excavated and preserved for posterity.

Looking at this panoramic picture click to view a photograph, you can see from left to right, the Arco di Settimo Severo (built in 203 AD and considered one of Italy's greatest triumphant arches); the 12 remaining columns of the Tempio di Saturno (also seen here with the three remaining columns of the Tempio di Vespasiano click to view a photograph) finished in 497 BC and one of the most important temples in ancient Roma; in the distance the white columns of the 8th-century Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Miranda, formerly the 2nd-century Tempio di Antonino e Faustina (dedicated to the eponymous emperor and empress); the Via Sacra or Sacred Way behind which is the distant façade of the Basilica di Costantino (seen here click to view a photograph more clearly), an enormous building completed under Constantine in 315 AD and the inspiration from many Renaissance architects; the triple row of bases for columns that supported the Basilica Julia (the seat of civil justice); and the three standing columns of the Casa delle Vestali (home of the virgins who maintained the sacred flame in the next-door Tempio di Vesta). Just over the top-left edge of these columns, the 81 AD Arco di Tito is visible, built to commemorate Titus and Vespasian's military victories against Jerusalem (at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple there).

Off to the right behind these ruins (and the many others not mentioned here) rose the Palatine Hill, a maze of ruins click to view a photograph where the wealthy of ancient Roma had their homes. This hill was especially spectacular when looked at across the Piazza del Foro click to view a photograph, the site of the original Republican Roman forum. Standing in the middle of this is the Colonna di Foca, the last object placed in the forum (in 608 AD). click to view a photograph

From the platform overlooking the Forum, we worked our way back west, skirted the edge of the enormous Circo Massimo click to view a photograph, a large field off the back of the Palatine Hill (and its many, many ruins) where there was a chariot racetrack with a capacity of 200,000 spectators. And then it was up the slopes of the Aventine Hill to our scheduled appointment for a tour of the Priorato dello Sovrano Militare Ordine Ospedaliero di San Giovanni di Gerusalemme di Rodi e di Malta.

But let's back up a second to our first encounter with the history of what we know today as the Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta (or simply the Order of Malta). Actually, we don't have to say much here since we have already written about this Order as a functional of earlier encounters with its history. This is just the final chapter in a story that stretches back to the time of the Crusades.

We first encountered the Knights of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitaller, when we stopped in Malta. There we were introduced to the Crusades and the monk-knights of the different chivalrous Orders that protected the pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. (For more about this in general and the Order of the Knights of Malta in particular, see our dispatches from Malta and Rhodes.)

Well, the Order, first established at the beginning of this millennium by Brother Gerard Sasso of the city of Scala and then sequentially chased out of Jerusalem, Rhodes, and finally Malta, actually still exists, and 45 generations later, has its headquarters at the Magistral Villa on top of the Aventine Hill. In fact, the Order exists as more than just a simple gathering of "knights" who share the ideals of the religious warriors of the past. Today, the Order of Malta is a sovereign state within the borders of Italy. This means that, like San Marino and Vatican City, it is a State within a State, presided over by the Prince and Grand Master - the head of state - the Sovereign Council (ten high officers), and the General Chapter. It has the right to legislate itself, trade ambassadors with other countries (it has diplomatic relations with 78 countries!), issue its own passports, and has its own emblem (the Maltese cross). It is also a Permanent Observer at the General Assembly of the United Nations.

The activities of the Order are today largely charitable, with medical and social service fields missions in West and East Europe, North and South America (including Central America and the Caribbean), throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Running hospitals, clinics, homes for the terminally ill, the elderly and the disabled, workshops for the disabled, rehabilitation and reeducation centers, and refugee centers, the Order relies heavily, in addition to its 10,000-plus members, on more than 70,000 permanent volunteers, one million regular donors, and 9,000 employees. The more than 15 million people helped, at a value of over $700 million, are a demonstration of their success.

But, enough background and off to our exceptional visit to the interior garden of the closed-to-the-public Magistral Villa. After a pleasant stroll up the hill and to the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta click to view a photograph, we arrived before the huge shut doors of the Priorato. click to view a photograph Most guide books suggest a peak through the keyhole as the only way of appreciating the interior of this extra-territorial garden. We were tempted, but did not want to spoil the surprise of the full vision when we would be invited inside. And we were wise to wait.

Right on time, the doors swung open and we were met by the daughter of Mr. Valeriani and someone from the Great Magistry of the Order of Malta who would show us around. Of course, we had to agree not to take any photographs, so we have nothing to show. But take our word for it, the visit was wonderful.

So we began by leaving Italy (and entering the Sovereign State of the Order) and visiting the elegant gardens. Right inside the doors is a corridor of manicured trees leading the eye to a perfectly framed view of the cupola of Saint Peter's Basilica. Off this to the left is a small area of clipped shrubs creating symmetrically designed patterns of walk paths between them. Of course, everything leads to a patio and a sweeping view of Roma. With a grand gesture, our hosts enumerated the seven hills of Roma (including the hill we were on and a few we could not see - see the Tech Fact of the Day) and talked a little about how the territory of the Great Magistry used to be much greater. However, as the role of the Order had changed and Roma had expanded, the Order had scaled back its presence and opted to share the hilltop with other religious groups.

The highlight of the visit was to the Magistral Church of the Sovereign Order of Malta, Santa Maria in Aventino. Designed by Giovan Battista Piranesi, the church is supposed to be the only white church in the world. Decorated inside and out entirely with plaster/stucco - and without any marble at all (highly rare) - if all the cloth decoration were removed, it would in fact be completely white. We all enjoyed a discussion of some of the finer points of the plaster embellishments - upside down torches, skulls, etc. - revealing that the church is really a sepulchral building. Plus, the façade, which borrows design elements from many earlier styles, has as a recurring motif, the snake. We learned that the snake symbolizes three things: the Roman origins of the area since the hill used to be known as the Hill of Snakes, the Hospitaller role of the Order since the snake is the symbol of medicine, and the Christian weight placed on death and resurrection. (For anyone interested in seeing recent photographs of this building, a recent documentary by the director Storaro captured many images of the church.)

Having completed our tour and learned the last chapter in the history of the 900-year-old Order, we "crossed the border" back to Italian territory, we said goodbye to our friends from the Order who slipped into a black ambassadorial car and drove off into the sunset. And we? Well, we continued our tour of Roma, of course.

And the first site of the afternoon was Roma's most visible monument: il Colosseo (the Colosseum) click to view a photograph, the largest Roman amphitheater in the world. Started in 72 AD by Emperor Vespasian and completed in 80 AD by his son Titus, this huge oval-shipped amphitheater click to view a photograph had seats for 80,000 people and was the site of huge and bloody spectacles involving hundreds of gladiators and thousands of animals. For example, when the Colosseo was opened, the first games lasted 100 days and nights and saw the butchering of more than 5,000 animals. During the Middle Ages, the Colosseum was used as a fortress. It has been damaged over the years by earthquakes, plundering humans, pollution, and vibrations caused by traffic. It is currently under restoration to protect it and hold it together. click to view a photograph

To be honest, we were not as impressed by the monument as we were the amphitheater in El Jem. Perhaps we have become jaded by all the magnificent things we have seen. Perhaps the barren setting in which El Jem is located, surrounded by low buildings and towering above the plain, spoiled us. Perhaps the better state of repair of the interior at El Jem made the whole Roman Colosseum seem disappointing, since the latter's interior is not as spectacular click to view a photograph and despite the magnificence of the exterior. click to view a photograph Who knows? But suffice it to say, despite the proportions click to view a photograph, the beauty click to view a photograph, and age click to view a photograph of this great remnant of life in ancient Roma, we were not quite as moved as we had been at El Jem.

Nevertheless, it was a golden moment during which we filmed a bit click to view a photograph and admired the marvel. click to view a photograph

Near the edge of the Colosseum is another of the triumphant arches click to view a photograph that we have seen in many places around the Mediterranean: the recently restored Arco di Costantino click to view a photograph, built in 312 AD.

Putting this edifice behind us and heading back toward the center of town, we strode up the wide Via dei Fori Imperiali, past the Forums of Trajan, Augustus and Caesar (which we did not have time to visit). Only the Colonna di Traiano (Trajan's Column) click to view a photograph caught and held our eye. In the 2nd century AD, it was placed where it still stands in commemoration of Trajan's victories and to hold a golden urn with his ashes (which disappeared long ago). The outstanding spiral relief click to view a photograph is a depiction of the battles waged and won click to view a photograph by the emperor.

Right across the street from this column, and dominating the Piazza Venezia, is the towering monument dedicated to Victor Emmanuel II click to view a photograph, the first king of the Kingdom of Italy that was declared in 1861. Also built into the glowing white marble complex are the Altare della Patria and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Many Romans hate this building - which they call the "typewriter" - since it is so unlike anything else in the area. Not a few proud city denizens would be happy to see it destroyed. On the piazza itself are some elegant Renaissance palaces, one of which was Mussolini's residence. Traffic is a bit out of control at this particular intersection which is probably why there is a London-style traffic cop constantly directing cars. click to view a photograph With elegant and wide sweeping gestures, the white-gloved master of the piazza turns traffic control into a ballet.

We went with the flow of people scampering across the street and then up the Via del Corso on our way to another of Roma's big hit monuments: the Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain). click to view a photograph This Baroque white marble fountain click to view a photograph, installed in 1732 at the mouth of one of Roma's earliest aqueducts, is a veritable feast for the eyes. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph A place to see and be seen click to view a photograph, its terraces and surrounding area are cluttered all day and well into the night by tourists and Romans alike. click to view a photograph

Beginning to flag from the combined effects of having walked so far and seen so much, we decided it was time to turn toward our oasis away from the tangle. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a direct shot in Roma, and certainly no path that does not swing by yet more monuments. Thus on our way back to the apartment, we could not help but bump into the Pantheon and cross the Piazza Navona.

The Pantheon, which is just too big on a small piazza to fit into the lens of our digital camera, is apparently the ancient Roman building in the best state of repair. The current structure, tomb for the likes of Victor Emmanuel II and Raphael, is a 120 AD rebuilding of the original one from 27 BC. The most spectacular part of the building is the dome which, along with the dome of the Ayasofia in Istanbul, is one of the great architectural accomplishments of ancient Roman architecture.

Finally, the Piazza Navona click to view a photograph, a marvel among piazzas in a city full of piazzas, took more than just a few minutes to cross (and not because of its size). Surrounded on all sides by Baroque palaces and home to three great fountains, its long narrow shape with rounded ends betrays its origins as a stadium. The primary attraction, other than the welcome air of calm, the expensive cafés, the milling crowds, the street performers and caricaturists/artists, is the Fontana dei Fiumi (Fountain of the Rivers) click to view a photograph, a masterpiece of the artist/sculptor Bernini representing four great rivers: the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Plate. A fountain full of life, it drew Ethan in as he turned around it again and again, appreciating the strength of the design and wondering which of the figures represented which rivers. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph click to view a photograph

Of course, there is plenty more to see and do in Roma, a city of infinite pleasures. However, we had had enough for one day. All we had energy for was a dinner out at a fine local restaurant, some more work, and welcome sleep.

Go to Previous Rider Notes PageGo to Next Rider Notes Page

Questions? Ask Ethan Go To Ethan's Page!

Return to Fast Facts

BikeAbout Itinerary & Journal Discussion Groups About Italy eDscape Projects BikeAbout Scrapbook
Discussions About

About BikeAbout Mediterranean Journey BikeAbout Partners Resource Library

ITNet Internet access in Italy was provided by ITNet. Internet access in the Trieste region of Italy and hosting for the Italian version of this site have been provided by Spin. Spin

Daedalus Design Group Computer Curriculum Corporation Compaq

Copyright 1997-2004 BikeAbout. All rights reserved.