Sunday, October 14, 2007


Day Three of the Great Italian Adventure

It was, in fact, a half day. Early closing in Rome for the two of us. It started with the hideous job of packing, booking out of out hotel and then we had a couple of hours before we had to leave for the Terminal and the rail journey south. What to do? There was no contest. We weren't leaving Rome without seeing the Pantheon, with it's great dome, that masterpiece in Roman concrete.

The bronze roof was robbed -- the story goes that it was used to make canons by an early pope to defend the Castel San'Angelo -- the marble has gone, apart from a few fragments that cling here and there. When it was new it must have looked liked a huge and glorious wedding cake.

It is still a stunning sight. The thing is, that on the television, you see these great momuments and the camera angles always suggest that they are in vast areas of space. On the contrary. They are all tucked away, hidden, so that you come upon them without warning, an architectural, historical kick in the guts. We passed Trajan's column on the way to the Pantheon, standing in the tiniest little square, surrounded by tall buildings. We didn't stop, there wasn't time and in fact a mould was taken of the column donkeys years ago and a copy -- in rather better condition than the original -- resides in the V&A. So we can take a really close look any time.

The Pantheon is fronted by a charming square. A street cafe where you can sit and just look. There's an obelisk in the centre for the photo opportunity, charming houses, a sign at the side indicating that something important involving a wedding happened in the 14th Century. By then the Pantheon had been standing there for fifteen hundred years.

The reason for its preservation is simple. It was converted from the Pantheon of the gods to a Christian church in the 5th century. It's still in use today, it's niches filled with saints rather than statues of Roman gods.

But forget all that marble. This is it's true glory. The roof.

The dome is half of a perfect sphere. A masterpiece of engineering design that still looks as crisp and new and the day it was finished.

Concrete as art.

Okay, I've been married to an civil engineer for thirty-five years, watched concrete being poured in more countries than I can remember and the enthusiasm tends to be catching. But there were tears in the engineer's eyes as he looked up in wonder.


There was just time for one more visit to our favourite spot in the Piazza del Popolo, time to take this photograph of Bacchus, then it was time to take the train and go south to Matera and the Women's Fiction Festival. The journey took around five hours, speeding through Italy on one of those fabulous tilting trains, with long tantalising view of both the Mediterranean and Adriatic before we arrived at Bari to be met by Matteo.

We arrived after dark at our hotel, deep in the Sassi caves, then stepped out to walk to a nearby restaurant. This was the view. And yes, that pale disk on the left is a great big full moon.


Barb said...

Ah, seeing the Pantheon and that lovely square in front of it brings back memories. I have a photo of myself eating gelato in that square.
And Matera! There's nothing quite like the sassi, is there? It's the second oldest city in the world after Damascus.
You know, Australia is full of Italian migrants, but it's hard to believe they could drag themselves away.

Michelle Styles said...

The Pantheon is fantastic. Although I have heard a slightly different explanation of where the bronze went -- Constantine II took most to decorate Constantinople in the 7th century and Bernini took the remaining bronze from the roof beams to make the canopy in St Peter's.
Anyway, it is truly a magnificent sight, a feat of civil engineering.
Your tour is making me want to go back...

Kate Hardy said...

Fabulous pics.

I need to visit Rome, I really do.

Liz Fielding said...

Although my guide book said "canons", Michelle, the guide in the Pantheon (I was ear-wigging) said something entirely different. Whatever happened to it, it's not there any more!

Barb, I understand that a lot of Matera men went to Zambia to work on the Kariba dam back in the 60s, which I've driven over, swum in and water-ski'd on. I guess, like all emigrants, it's the money that's the draw. There are quite a few in Wales, too. But then Swansea Bay has been described as the Naples of the north.