Up before daybreak to get in some dawn photography. Rome is a bit more restless than some of the other places we've stayed on the Tour. Even at 6:00 AM there are people moving in the streets. I photograph the fountains in Pizza Navona, capturing the Tritons as they spout their streams of water. From there I cross the city to the Pantheon for a pre-dawn shot. As I near Marcus Agrippa's temple to all the Roman gods, I am doused by a rain shower. I duck under the protection of a canvas awning, waiting the storm out. For five minutes raindrops splatter down, and then, as if the shower had been designed to wash away the dust and do nothing more, the rain stops. The sky overhead is perfectly clear. Very strange.
The next stop on my morning walk is the bridge that leads to the Castel Sant'Angelo. This barrel-shaped castle was originally the tomb of the Emperor Hadrian (d. 138). It was built to hold his ashes, and turned into an imperial mausoleum when several other emperors also had their remains interred there. The mausoleum was reconfigured as a defensive fortress in the later empire, and when the city was sacked by Alaric and the Visigoths in 410, the Germanic invaders through the ashes out of the building.
As political tensions rose in 15th century, the popes converted the castle into a papal bolt hole. An elevated walkway runs from the Vatican to the Castle, designed to allow the pope to scurry to safety in times of emergency.
After breakfast, the girls and I set off south toward the Campo di Fiori. The campo is given over to a open air market during the week, and the girls happily browse through the stalls selling flowers, vegetables, and other tourist tat. I skulk about, snapping the occasional photo.
We then turn north and walk up to the Pantheon. By now it is both open and choked with crowds of people. The Pantheon is truly amazing. It is a great dome, shaped a bit like a beehive. At the top of the dome is a hole that admits light. When it rains, water enters through the roof opening, but there are 26 small holes in the floor to drain the precipitation. Once a temple to "All gods" (Pantheon), the building is now a church. Altars line the perimeter of the circle at ground level.
Our final outing of the day is a trip to the Trevi Fountain. We walk across the city, dodging motorized traffic and enjoying the feel of Rome. It is a marvelous city: loud, boisterous, overflowing with manic energy. It is definitely in my top three cities of the world.
On the way we pass the Church of St Augustine. I am amazed to find that it is open. I have had trouble gaining admission to this church in the past (it seems to always be closed when we visit), but it was well worth the wait. It is very beautiful inside, a rich opulence that Augustine might have found too much. My companions were quite taken with the statue of St Rita, who had a thorn sticking out of her forehead. Rita, as the story goes, was impaled with one of the barbs from Christ's crown of thorns as a reward for her faith.
Near the altar, in a chapel on the left side of the church, is the chapel of St Monica, Augustine's mother. Augustine tells us in his Confessions that Monica died in Ostia while the pair were waiting to take a ship back to North Africa. He buried here there, and returned home. According to one of the placards in the church, Monica's sarcophagus and body were removed from Ostia and brought to Rome when this church was built. Her bones now allegedly lie beneath the altar in the chapel that bears her name. Perhaps.
It is standing room only at the Trevi Fountain. The square is packed. People are heaving their coins into the fountain to ensure their return to Rome, while tour guides attempt to marshal their straying charges. It is a madhouse, and I am not disappointed to turn our backs on it.
On our way back, we spend some time in an exhibition about Leonardo Da Vinci, and then pass a puppet-maker's workshop. The puppet-maker's sign said his name was Geppetto, but that may just be local color. Next door to his workshop was a small store selling wood products. The walls are covered with all sorts of gee-gaws, ranging from puppets to a child's toothbrush stand, which was sold with an hourglass to time the brushing.
It is dark by the time we reach our flat. Overall it has been a satisfying day. Since we have been to Rome several times before there is no pressure to hit the big tourist sights. We hope to mix a little “off the well-worn path” exploration with a return to a couple of our favorite places.