Yesterday, the Calder Classics Rome group took a walking tour of Trajan and Hadrian’s Rome—mostly Hadrian’s—with visits to the Pantheon, Temple of the Deified Hadrian, and Castel Sant’Angelo. While very little of the Temple of the Deified Hadrian remains today, as its interior has long since been repurposed for the Borsa, or stock exchange, the Pantheon and Castel Sant’Angelo are very much intact in some semblance of their original form.
Our first stop, the Pantheon, was mostly restored during the Renaissance, but in a classical style, and is therefore considered to be one of the best examples of the full effect of ancient Roman architecture today— that is to say, impressive. With gorgeous, multi-colored marble floors and walls painted with the illusion of marble to match, and a massive concrete dome, the building is breathtaking. Its exterior is perhaps less impressive than it once was, due to its age and exposed brickwork, but the interior is extraordinary both in terms of aesthetic and engineering. The dome, with an oculus in the middle left open to the elements and cutouts all along its face, remains entirely intact from the time of its construction nearly two thousand years ago, and continues to be the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The Pantheon is still in use today as a Catholic church and is the final resting place of several Italian kings and artists, including the painter Raphael, but the structure itself was the real center of attention (as an architecture enthusiast, it was pretty extraordinary).
Next, we walked through the Piazza Navona to see the remains of its time as an ancient stadium, not unlike the Circus Maximus. We then continued to pass by the remaining façade of the Temple of the Deified Hadrian, until we reached our final destination: the Castel Sant’Angelo. Unfortunately, we were unable to go in, but the unusual, imposing building set against a backdrop of Rome and Vatican City was interesting enough. Originally built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family, it was later used as a papal fortress and castle (complete with a dungeon and passageways to the Vatican). Much of the castle-like structure comes from this later medieval period, although the round center chamber of the original design—the emperors’ tomb itself—remains intact. It was also featured quite prominently in Angels and Demons, which several of us watched last night, making for an amusing crossover.
Afterwards, our group split up during our break. Robert, Matteo, Tommy, Beth, and I headed to the Capuchin Crypt, a bizarre series of rooms decorated with human bones. Amongst the pillars of skulls and ornately arranged shin-bones, under chandeliers made of ribs and vertebrae, lay the bodies of fully-clothed Capuchin monks as if asleep, mostly decayed but ready for resurrection when the time should come (judging by the final room, which featured an image of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus, the Capuchins believed in such a thing). As morbid and ominous as it was, the crypts were strangely beautiful. The bones, such a peculiar choice of medium, were painstakingly arranged in patterns on the walls and ceilings, creating designs not unlike the intricate carvings of many Renaissance structures. Perhaps the most unsettling thing in those rooms was an inscription in the first chamber, translated into several languages: “What you are now, we used to be. What we are now, you will be.” It was a cheerful reminder of our own mortality, even if we can’t all hope to end up as a kind of macabre fresco.
Following our foray into the realm of the dead, we did the logical thing: stop for hamburgers, which were surprisingly good. Then, the five of us walked to the Villa Borghese in hopes of seeing some Bernini sculptures. Unfortunately, it was closed, but we rented a large bike and pedaled through the gardens, fully enjoying the beautiful architecture, sculpture, and, as the heat had finally nearly broken, weather. Though a bit dried out by the blazing sun, the landscaping was picturesque, like something out of a movie—a Roman Versailles, if you will; a modern Domus Aurea. Finally, we walked back past the Trevi Fountain (under construction, although we still stopped to toss in coins) to the school, where we finished reading parts of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura and Beth taught an introductory Greek lesson.
All in all, a long, fascinating day full of history, art, architecture, and—strangely enough—pelvic bones.
By Claire Schultz