Rome Day 4: Streets, alleyways and executions
because in 1561 the pope commissioned Michaelangelo to use the ruin as the basis of a church, the Santa Maria degli Angeli. The resulting space (which incorporates some of the original Roman pillars) is only half the area of the original, but even so gives a magnificent impression of marbled space.
Inside there was a small exhibition dedicated to Galileo, a retrospective look at his conflict with the church, attempting a reinterpretation of the relationship between things spiritual and scientific. On the floor was a type of solar calendar
using light from the sun and the moon from a vent high in the ceiling to determine the date - sundial-fashion.
Outside, in a small courtyard, the link with science continued, with a bronze statue of Galileo standing amidst the Roman remains - a gift from the China Centre of Advanced Science and Technology and WFS and designed by its director and winner of the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics, Professor Tsung Dao Lee.
Another inconspicuous exterior, this time of scaffolding and tarpaulin, led to yet another Santa Maria nearby. This time the Maria was 'della Vittoria' and the interior was a much smaller 17th century Baroque church - stuffed full of Bernini statues. One of the most famous depicted the 'Ecstacy of St Theresa'. St Theresa was a mystic, whose descriptions of spiritual ecstasy reminded me very much of the descriptions of shamanic trances and transcendental meditation I've read. It seems to me that the human mind is just as much an unknown space as the celestial one above us.
We moved on, continuing by bus to the Campo de Fiori - the place where Galileo's predecessor Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake.
He was executed for heresy of declaring that the earth revolves around the sun, rather than the other way around. He now looks down on fruit stalls and packets of multi-coloured pasta and preserves.
Following Walk 1 in Elizabeth Speller's book, we walked down the neighbouring narrow streets that looked as though they had been there for ever (or at least since medieval times)
with interesting shops
bridges linking neighbours
backyards with scooters
and shrines, each lit with either streetlight or candle.
A bus ride took us along an older street: the Apian Way
and the Catacombs of St Callisto, and for about an hour we were led through the complicated underground passages by an English-speaking priest. Like a vacated ants' nest of cavities, these passages were drilled from the soft black volcanic tuff and were once filled with the bodies of the early Christians, with a couple of special little highly-decorated crypts reserved for popes. The catacombs are vast, with four levels deep into the ground - although only the two upper layers are open to the public - and the tunnels snake around each other in a confusing network. The passages themselves are quite narrow and low, and the tour is not something I would recommend for the more claustrophobic visitor. We were not allowed to take pictures.
It was now four o'clock, and we were becoming conscious of time running out. After taking the bus back into town we managed to get into the Forum before it closed, and wandered around yet another ancient street
trying to work out what was temple, tomb, living place, shrine..
and after a while left - bemused and with the increasingly sure of our conviction that in order to understand any of it we would need to come back - with Amanda Claridge's guide, and possibly a human one too.