Wow, today was amazing.
I knew I was going to have a lot to do, so I left relatively early and set out towards Ancient Rome. The hike wasn't too bad. I walked down Via Cavour down the hill from the train station towards the Colosseum. This thing is like the Eiffel Tower of Rome and as I am walking up to it from the top of the hill, I just cannot even believe I am looking at it. I walked up to it, all around it taking pictures and then went inside to look at what was going on. Now, maybe I'm not the smartest cookie in the box, but I had always thought the Colosseum was like, a bull fighting ring. A sandy arena in the middle of a huge set of circular stands. Well, that is not the case. See, the Colosseum was used for gladiator fights against animals and other humans. You'll see in the pictures, but the ground is a series of mazes made from tall stone walls. There are trap doors in the floor (which would have been what you think of the sandy floor, some of it is still left) and in various places on the walls where they would let more gladiators or lions into the maze/arena cross thing, to kill eachother. The stands go up from there, but there are no seats, just tiers of people standing. I think at some point there may have been benches, atleast in the lowest tier for the nobility, but not sure exactly. The place only held 50,000 people which is strange considering how large it feels. They killed thousands of people and animals in each match, one of the larger ones killing 50,000 gladiators and 9,000 animals in a 170 day battle to commemorate the winning of some war.
While I was inside there, there was also some sort of movie press conference going on in one of the endzone areas. It was really strange and I took some pictures so I could figure out who these people were when I got home. I'll explain who they were later.
After finishing up inside the Colosseum, I walked down to the entrance to the Roman Forum closest to the ancient fountain and the Arch of Titus. Basically, the forum was a huge mall with shops, statues, churches, temples and podiums. It takes a lot of creativity to imagine what this place used to look like. There's not much here. I'm talking like a couple pillars, one temple, a bunch of old cobblestone roads and a ton of marble just laying around on the ground. There were a couple cool places to see, one was the Temple of Romulus. It is a really large, pretty in tact temple with huge bronze doors. Just past this is the Arch of Septimius Severus which is a really cool arch that leads up to Capitoline Hill. Also, there was the Temple of Vesta and the House of the Vestal Virgins. Basically, there are these girls, who are chosen at random between age 6 and 10 to be these sort of, living gods. They are taught by older virgins for 10 years, then serve 10 years basically like being a beauty pageant queen. They would just go to parades, operas, gladiator fights and plays and just be the guests of honor. Then after 20 years, they would spend 10 years teaching the new generation of virgins and then they were finally allowed to marry. If a virgin was caught... well... you know... she was buried alive because since they are given almost god like status, you cannot spill their blood. Then the man who participated in her "crime" would be tortured to death. YIKES!! Anyways, the temple and the house where they lived is pretty big and was one of the most in tact areas of the forum. After spending a decent amount of time here, I headed up through the Arch of Septimius Severus and walked up to the top of Capitoline Hill. At the top of this hill (which is the tallest one in Rome) there is a series of government type buildings and museums surrounding the Piazza Del Campidoglio that lead to Michelangelo's stairs heading down to piazza Venezia. There is a great fountain my Michelangelo in the Piazza del Campidoglio and there's a nice equestrian statue in the middle that is one of the only ancient bronze statues that wasn't melted down to make money or destroyed when the Christian's took over Rome.
From here I walked down the steps and down to the Piazza Venezia to see the huge Vittorio Emanuele II monument. It houses the tomb of the unknown soldier and is so big. It is composed of the marble that was stripped from the outside of the Colosseum. It's kind of ugly, but you have to stare at it because it's so huge. The locals call is the typewriter, which... actually makes some sense once you see it.
After this I started the long hike to the Vatican. I walked down across the bridge and up the main road to the Museum. I walked along the outside of the city to the museum entrance. Although I went to the museum for the sole purpose of going inside the Sistine Chapel, I actually was distracted by quite a few exhibits that I found extremely interesting. The first one I stumbled upon was a special Egyptian exhibit called the Museo Gregoriano Egiziano. There were so many amazing things inside this gallery. There were atleast a half a dozen actual tombs and mummies. One of the mummies was shown laying down with the cloth peeled off of her. You could actually see her skin, fingernails, hair, etc. It was AMAZING. She was from around the 10th century BC. An actual human. It was crazy. Then next to her was a guy who was still wrapped up, so you could see the process. It was so crazy. Then in another room, there were these Egyptian letters that had envelopes and everything. But... they were rocks. There were little hyroglyphics carved on rocks and then put into little envelopes. It was so cute!!
From here I walked for about a half an hour through a couple of other galleries and then stumbled into one of Raphael's rooms. There are 4 rooms that are part of the papal apartments (sort of reception areas) and are open to the public when he's not using them. There were a ton of beautiful frescoes. Atleast a dozen HUGE ceiling paintings and quite a few wall murals. The last of my distractions was the Gallery of Maps. This is a huge hall with probably 50 wall sized topographical maps of Italy painted on the walls and on huge clothes. The ceiling is even more amazing and I got some good pictures of it.
After this, I was museumed out and needed to just get to the Sistine Chapel and peace out. I put it into high gear and started trekking through galleries like they were Philbrook. I realized I was getting close when the security guards got more frequent and then knew i was there when a guy wouldn't let me pass until I not only turned my camera off, but put it in my camera bag and zipped it up all the way. The chapel is just a chapel. It's mostly important because it is the site of the conclave (when a new pope needs to be selected). The reason people go see it though, is because of the amazing artwork inside. Michelangelo's Last Judgment serves as the main wall behind the alter and he also did the panels of the ceiling. I uploaded a picture, but I didn't take it. But I wanted you to be able to see what i'm talking about. I'll explain everything about it in the caption of the picture.
After the Sistine chapel, I walked back down the stairs outside and towards the front of St. Peter's. Here I started the climb up to the top of the basilica. I still say that Florence was harder of a hike, but this one was pretty bad. It was not as scary because the stairs were always leaning to one side. Instead of the stairs kind of zigzagging back and forth across the dome, these literally just walked up around the outside so you were always kind of leaning 45 degrees to the right against the wall. Anyways, so I get to the top and the views are absolutely amazing. It was a perfect beautiful 18 degree day and the sun was out and it was so warm, I didn't have my jacket on even. It was so beautiful. I got some great pics of St. Peter's square.
After I finished snapping, I walked down the stairs, grabbed a sandwich at a little food kiosk and then sat on a pillar and ate my sandwich, updated one of my journals and then took about a 45 minute nap. The angle of the trim on the base of the column made for a perfect little recline and i put my aviators on so people would think I was just sitting contemplatively. It was amazing. I woke up because I thought I needed to go ahead and go inside for mass. I had asked one of the little colorful Swiss guard men what time I should show up if I wanted a seat and he kinda looked at me weird and just said, "maybe an hour?" so I get up to start walking and I realize there is absolutely no line to get through security. Rather than go inside and sit and wait for mass to start, I decided to just sit tight and watch and wait until the line gets a little longer. Except, it never did. As I was sitting there, minding my own business, who walks in front of me? Sylvester Stalone!! I kind of look at him funny, he looks over at me, gives me a kind of stud nod/wink/point thing and then walks off. My jaw may have dropped... It was so weird. Anyways, when it was about 15 til, I decided to just go inside, walked in and sat right down on the 4th row. I couldn't believe how few people there were. When mass finally started there were probably only about 300 people and then probably another 100 standing in the back just taking pictures (they weren't allowed in because they weren't Catholic... suckers).
So switching gears slightly to discuss mass. This hour and a half was one of the most amazing times of my entire life. The procession that came in at the beginning of the ceremony included probably about 75 cardinals in full garb. There were about 2 dozen servers (all men and boys) and about 15 choir boys. All the while, they are singing in monotone latin harmony (i know that sounds like a contradiction, but they somehow managed to pull it off). There were two like, head cardinals, that walked right in front of the pope and then... the pope. He walked slowly down the aisle and blessed the crowd every few steps. I possibly cried the entire time he was walking down the aisle (I'm tearing up now just thinking of it). I felt like all of my insides were just churning from the blessing. It was such an amazing feeling. After this, mass was relatively normal. They did the readings and the gospel in Italian. Benny did his homily in Italian as well. And he was SOOO cute!! I wasn't really sure how much I liked the guy before. I think maybe I was just so upset about JP dying that I wasn't willing to accept his successor. He spoke great Italian though (well, atleast, I was convinced) and he was so passionate and animated. I really liked him. After the homily, he ashed the cardinals who then ashed all of us (I got one of the head cardinals) and then we did communion as well. I was hesitant at first to take communion because on the program it specifically said that if you hadn't done confession recently, you were not allowed to take communion, and I haven't done confession in quite some time. But I figured God would forgive me and when was I going to have the chance to eat something blessed by the freaking Pope! I did actually take communion from him. It was the strangest thing to walk up there and have him actually look me in the eyes. I mean, he was looking at me, only me and saying "Il cuerpo di Cristo." Most of the people in line were taking the body directly from his hand, like he put it in their mouth. But that made me really nervous because I didn't want to like, accidentally lick him or anything and I have never taken it like that before. So I just put my hands out like normal, and Benny totally gets it (I mean he is the pope, so he probably is used to seeing things from all cultures) and he is about to put it in my hand when the little server boy standing next to him starts freaking out that I'm actually touching it with my hands and proceeds to follow my hands with a tray. He held this little platter right under my hands as I put it in my mouth and then kind of lingered as I closed my mouth. He was trying to make sure I didn't drop the stuff on the ground!! I couldn't believe how freaked out he was, and honestly, I had never really thought about how big of a deal it is to drop Jesus on the floor. Anyways, I didn't drop, and I passed the test, went back to sit down (behind these two women in front of me who literally video taped the entire mass... so annoying) and finished it out. The other really cool part of mass was when we did "peace be with you" and everyone was saying it in different languages. Everywhere else I have gone, it's been solely in Italian. Here, there were atleast a couple other English speakers, some Italian, German and I think I caught a French. It was really cool. The inside of the basilica was also lit up so much more vibrantly than it was during normal times. Everything was so bright and so beautiful.
Anyways, so after my extremely amazing religious experience, I caught the subway back to my hostel to make it back in time for free pasta dinner (tonight it was a pesto chicken thing) and then met up with two of my Aussie room-mates to get a bottle of wine and watch the Godfather. We didn't get too far into it because we were interupted by some Spanish people who wanted to eat dinner at like 11:30, but we ended up just staying up chatting and getting ready for my big day trip to Pompeii tomorrow.
Hopefully I'll actually make it.