26 Feb. 1956 (Rome letter, Part 2)
The tour left the hotel at two, stopping first at the Fountain of Trevi—of Three Coins in a Fountain fame. It was beautiful, built into the side of a building. Unfortunately, I was unable to give it the awe & admiration it deserved, because my camera chose this time to stop working.
It still was out of order when we reached the Pantheon, one of the magnificent buildings of ancient Rome. From the outside it is nothing much—a circular building with a large dome.
Inside, it is beautiful—a word which doesn’t nearly approach the correct description.
Built in the latter part of the second century, it was intended to be exactly what its name means—Pantheon, meaning "all gods." Here, in one temple, all the gods of Rome were honored. The dome is a vaulted masterpiece of stone paneling; at the very top of the dome is a hole, though which the gods entered. Rain has fallen through that hole for 2,000 years, & yet the marble floors are unharmed. All around the vast room are niches containing statues of seven of the Roman gods. When Christianity took over, the Pantheon was converted to a Christian church, with the condition that should anything happen to any of the statues—even the smallest chip from a finger or nose, the statue would be removed; & when all the statues are gone, the church will be taken away from the people.
The huge bronze doors—twenty feet high—are the originals; beneath the marble floor lies the tomb of Raphael, the great painter whose works adorn the Vatican.
After the Pantheon, we drove to the Forum—during which time I fixed my camera with a pair of nail clippers.
The Forum—the heart of the Empire, whose legions ruled the known world; where was plotted the murder of Julius Caesar, & where Marc Antony carried Caesar’s body & delivered his funeral oration.
Nestled in a valley flanked by the Capitoline & Palatine hills, the Forum begins with the Arch of Severus Septimus, through which Rome’s mighty legions rode, bringing the wealth of the world to one city. Directly to the left stands the Senate House, the only building still standing complete, stripped of its marble.
A wide boulevard ran down the Forum, with tall columns topped by statues, & lined on either side by magnificent temples & buildings of state. Near the end of the Forum, on the right, stands the remains of the Imperial Palace which looked on its left to the Forum & on its right to the Circus Maximus which could seat 250,000 people. At the very end of the Forum stands the Arch of Titus, bearing the proud words which were the symbol of Rome—"Senatus Populesque Romanus" (The Roman Senate & People). On the left after passing through this arch stand the columns of the Temple of Venus. And then the road spread out & around the Coliseum, that fabulous giant of a ruin—the epitome of Rome. Once completely circular, it was badly decayed when used as a fortress during the Renaissance, & later partly restored by one of the Popes, who placed a cross before the Imperial box—from where so many Christians had been watched die.
The Coliseum to the Vatican, & St. Peter’s church. On this spot, once Vatican Hill, St. Peter had been crucified upside down. Here, in 1216, St. Peter’s church had been begun—the largest in the world. Michaelangelo constructed the dome—502 feet from the floor of the church, without any braces or supports whatever.
In front of the church is St. Peter’s Square, which is actually a circle, surrounded by two curved arcades topped with innumerable statues.
To try & describe the inside of the church would take someone with a far greater power of words than I The first thing that impressed me upon entering was not its size, but its modernness. Not gloomy, like other cathedrals, with cumbersome cold pillars everywhere—but a soft blue-grey with flat columns blended in with the walls. Overhead, the rounded ceiling is all gold. Along the tops of the walls, in niches, stand statues of the saints who founded various religious orders—all in pure dove-grey stone.
The size is difficult to grasp at first, because the proportions are so exquisite.. On either wall, as you enter, two marble cherubs hold a bowl of holy water; these "cherubs" are six feet tall, at least—standing at one side, & looking at the other, they appear very small & delicate. Height can be noticed only by looking at a group of people half an inch high far down from you, & looking up slowly it’s awesome to say the very least. And the most beautiful thing is that none of it is the least gaudy or pompous.
Every cathedral in the world is measured according to St. Peter’s –their length is acknowledged by gold stars on the floor. Even St. Paul’s, in London—the second largest church in the world, would fit nicely inside St. Peter’s. Notre Dame is a good half-distance down St. Peter’s floor.
In the center, beneath the dome, is a coupella (sunken place in the floor) where St. Peter is buried. Behind this stands the main altar. The cathedral, as are all cathedrals, is built in the shape of a cross. It is directly in the center of this cross that the dome rises. Even the dome of our own Capitol building cannot compare with the tremendous height of St. Peter’s. To look up & up & up—it leaves you numb. The dome is the exact measurement of the entire Pantheon—it too has a hole in it, covered by a smaller dome—for our God to enter.
And so back to the hotel for supper. After supper, I went out, alone, to walk around. I’d bought an American paper—the Rome American Daily, & found out there were two theaters in Rome showing American movies with American voices. It only took two hours of walking to find it—tucked away on some side street—3 Via Nicolo de Tolino, to be exact. The name of the movie was Rebel Without a Cause with James Dean. I enjoyed it immensely; the theater itself was the nicest I’ve seen in Europe—nicer, even, than some back home. They permit smoking, there are no intermissions every ten minutes, & no one comes up the aisle selling pop & toasted almonds. No cartoon, & the newsreel was in Italian, as was a commercial for Motta bread.
Tickets cost 700 Lire ($1.13, roughly) & seats are assigned. Still nice, though. Of course, if you come in in the middle of the movie, you may find your seat sold from under you at the beginning of the next showing.
Well, this is one day—I haven’t time to finish tonite—will write more later.