This was a difficult day to plan. The ship was only docked in Civitavecchia for ten hours. In that time, we needed to get to the train station, take a 1.3 hour train into Rome, experience the wonders of this ancient region, and then catch the train back again, leaving enough time for any unexpected delays. I had everything planned out in advance, and we were going to attempt to visit three sovereign entities in one day – Italy, The Knights of Malta, and the Vatican City.
The ship let us off early so that we were able to catch the 8:57 train, getting us to the World Heritage listed Colosseum by 11:00 am. I had pre-purchased tickets on the web, so we were able to smugly walk past the long line of people waiting to buy tickets and get inside reasonably quickly. We had both pre-loaded Rick Steves’ audio guide onto our iPhones, and we listened to it as we walked through this immense structure. I enjoyed this particular commentary of Rick Steves’. Hearing the trumpets blare and his vivid descriptions, I could very easily look down into the centre ring and imagine the horrific theatrics that were played out in the second century CE. The underground passages that served as the backstage were also visible, giving an insight into the mechanics that were required for such a spectacle. To think that right on this spot, wild animals were brutally tortured, or that condemned men were placed in costumes and forced to act in a elaborate plays that would end in their death. This is the place where an estimated million animals and half a million people were put to death for entertainment. Although, having just seen the enormous bull ring in Malaga, I wondered how much has really changed in 1900 years.
I told Adrian that we had no time to stop and eat, so we grabbed a pizza and toasted sandwich to eat while on the metro. Our next stop was a visit to the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta. The order ruled over Jerusalem, then Rhodes, then Malta until it was ejected when Napoleon I captured the country in 1798. After the loss of Malta the Order settled permanently in Rome in 1834. The Magistral Villa is located on the Aventine hill, and hosts the Grand Priory of Rome, the Embassy of the Order to the Holy See and the Embassy of the Order to the Italian Republic. The Order still claims sovereignty, and thus the villa has extraterritorial status. I was able to peek through the keyhole and see St Peter’s basilica through the avenue of trees. That was our next destination.
After returning to Italy, it was time to cross another border into the Vatican City, and experience Adrian’s 100th World Heritage site (my count is around 50). The immense granite obelisk towers over the square. Originally carved by the Egyptians to honour the sky god Ra, then stolen by the Romans to venerate Jupiter, it now stands with a tiny cross at its peak to mark the transition from one superstition to another. There was a 100-foot tree nearby that was a gift from Belgium, and when the Pope received it he declared “May the Church in Belgium, and especially the Diocese of Liège, continue to be a land where the seed of the Kingdom, that Christ came to scatter on earth, generously germinates”.
Thanks to the terrible weather, the line into St Peter’s basilica was relatively short, and we were soon inside the church. Once inside, I was very impressed by the vast and ornate interior. The floor looked like a rich carpet, though it was really a pattern constructed in marble. Every surface was gilded or embellished in some way. We listened to Rick Steves’ audio guide, which irked me a little. I didn’t like hearing about his very statements about “Jesus’ message of love”, that “things are much more enjoyable here if you become a temporary Catholic”, and “your time here can be awe inspiring and beautiful if you accept and respect things on Catholic terms”.
However, he did touch upon the financing with indulgences, pillaging of the Pantheon, and torture during the Inquisition. He spoke of how the church betrayed Michelangelo, by promising they would be faithful to his plans and then altering them soon after his death. I learnt that the reason that the bronze statue of St Peter near the alter is wearing a toga is because it was probably originally of a Roman official, and later on the Catholics just replaced the head and placed some keys in his hand.
Suddenly it was 4pm, time to head back to the ship. We discovered that the metro station that google maps claimed was near the San Pietro train station did not actually exist, and thus decided it was best to catch the metro all the way back to the Roma Termini station and catch the train from there. By the time we finally got onto a train it was not going to arrive at Civitavecchia until 5:57pm, giving us only a half hour window for delays and getting back to the ship. Happily, the train moved towards the coast without delay, and we made it back onto the ship with ten minutes to spare.