My boyfriend and I got back from Rome last night, jet-lagged but well-fed, well-watered, well-traveled. There were things that we had planned to do but were unable to. The Baths of Diocletian’s hours were simply impossible; we never got inside, though we managed to walk around the building twice. And the Domus Aurea (Nero’s Golden House) was equally inaccessible. Last Friday morning, it took us three hours, including our hotel manager making two phone calls, being on hold for nearly half an hour and finally the human being he reached hung up on him; taking the #3 bus ten stops; and standing there at the Domus Aurea’s gate with 15 or so other tourists, completely ignored by the staff for half an hour. Though all of the tour bus people had no problem getting in. All told, three hours to Not see the Domus Aurea. Not our best Roman memory.
However, after that we walked over to the Aventino neighborhood, which at one time had a cattle and a vegetable market in it. We went to Santa Maria in Cosmedin, which has the Mouth of Truth on one of its outside walls. I stuck my hand in and it did not bite me (it’s supposed to bite you if you’re a liar; there’s a moment in “Roman Holiday” when Audrey Hepburn sticks her hand in it). On the inside of the church were some really great relics of St. Valentine: I didn’t think he was a saint anymore, but you’d never guess it to look at the bones and the votive candles lit in front of them. See photo by Tom Bovo above.
We wandered across the Piazza Bocca della Verità to the Via Teatro di Marcello, and saw as much of the ruins of the theatre as we could. I read somewhere that to give verisimilitude to some plays’ death scenes, criminals would actually be killed in front of the crowd. Makes off-off Broadway seem tame, doesn’t it? There are lucky present day Romans (though I doubt there’s an elevator) who have apartments on the top floor of the theatre, where the cheap seats would have been.
Then we stopped at a church that wasn’t on any of our maps (and we must have ten maps because none of them has all the streets). We had not read about it on any websites or in tourist guidebooks. It is the Basilica of St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was from Myra, in Turkey. Lovely old church which had been closed for decades, and reopened four years ago. We went in. My boyfriend was looking at the side altars, and I went over to a bulletin board to read about the basilica's history. A young woman volunteer approached me and asked if I spoke Italian. I said no, English. She then proceeded to give us a free private tour not only of the church, but of the ruins of the three Republican temples underneath it. The temples were dedicated to Hope, Janus, and Juno, and dated back to the Second Punic War (approximately 205-200 B.C.E.). The temples’ interiors were only for the use of the priests associated with those gods, and the Temple of Janus was only open during times of war, because he’s associated with war. The guide explained why the temples been built so close together: to makes the temples’ treasuries easier to guard, there were two very narrow alleys for access between the temples. She showed us how pieces of the temples had been incorporated into the construction of the basilica, both the interior and the exterior.
My definition of really old is George Washington’s pew at St. Paul’s Chapel down in the financial district. But 200 B.C.E. is before Julius Caesar was even a glimmer in his father’s eye. That’s really old!