Scalpers

The average Roman is somewhat unfriendly, walking the streets or Rome you will bump into lots of them scurring along,  going about their business, oblivious to the people around, endlessly talking to their cellphones.

We are also quite suspicious which comes from living in a big city. We know this is a charming and quaint city, but for everything there’s a price to pay and for us is to be confronted with a wide assortment of dodgy people which tend to be in your face (that’s another of our pet hates) and won’t take no for an answer.

Usually people like that target outoftowners, problem is with the current crisis they can be really pushy. The streets around the Colosseum and the Vatican are crawled with people which are after a fast buck. These days it’s impossible to walk the distance from the subway stop to the Vatican Museums entrance without being approached by one of those people trying to sell virtually everything from postcards to any kind of stuff . The catch up line is usually: ‘Do you speak English?’ or ‘Skip the line to the Museums!’, too bad most of the times there’s no line at all.

Now the best way to skip the line is to book through the Vatican website, you are given a time slot to show up and that’s  about it. This is also the cheapest way without any mark-up.

So those frightening tales about waiting in line for hours are a thing of the past.  A few years ago it was impossible to book the tickets online so the whole world would go to the Museums in the morning, last entrance used to 1pm. Hence long line-ups.

At present the Museums are open til 6pm (last admission though is at 4 pm)six days a week and visitors distribute through the whole day so if you really wish to find a humongous line like the good old days your only chance is to go there on the last Sunday of the month when the Museums are open only from 9Pm until 12Pm and free of charge, or during some festivities such as the Christmas or the Easter week. In that case there’s still people who arrive around 7Am and wait for a couple of hours  in order to be the first to go in.

So my advice would be to book any ticket (be the Colosseum or the Vatican) online to avoid the scalpers and save time to boot. The museums are usually busier during the weekend, so if you are in the position to choose the day of your visit Tuesdays and Thursdays are the less busy days of the week.

Around the Colosseum the environment is even more hostile: people dress as Roman centurions who may charge you from 5 to 20 Euros for a picture, young students (I always wonder when do they actually study since they are out on the streets all the time) offering free tours: ‘Buy now pay later’ being their favourite catch-up line (whatever that means) and knockoffs galore.

As for the Vatican you can save yourself a lot of trouble by simply booking your tickets to the Colosseum in advance. It’s only an extra 1,50 euro per ticket.  Keep in mind we don’t believe in plastic money much around here, so make sure you always travel with a little cash. The Colosseum ticket office accepts some major credit cards but not all.

A lot of websites also  advertise their tours with VIP entrance to the Vatican or to the Colosseum underground areas(hypogeum): but beware since in most cases  it is not a real VIP entrance and you are going to pay more for something  you could simply reserve  on your own !

http://natgeotv.com/uk/scam-city/videos/tour-guide-con-artists

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The Basilica of San Clemente

It begins, as so many things in Rome begin, with a stout foundation of antique travertine, and rises high, in delicately quaint mediaeval brickwork – little tiers and apertures sustained on miniature columns and adorned with small cracked slabs of green and yellow marble, inserted almost at random. Henry James, Italian Hours

The quotation from Henry James does not refer directly to the Basilica of St. Clement but  to the nearly unique recycling of architectures in Rome, where every building springs from a previous one, thus creating an overlapping of architectures. One of my favourite expressions is that Rome can be considered a “huge  architectural  quiltwork” .
One of the most extraordinary examples of a layered city  can be found in the Basilica of  Saint Clement, a church located in the Colosseum area. Unlike other churches or buildings where you can visit only one level below, this basilica has two  underground levels open to the public!

This basilica is dedicated to  St Clement (92-101 AD) who is considered the third successor to Saint Peter in Rome. Unfortunately very little is known about  this pope, and the  story of his life is often combined  with colorful  legends.

Saint  Clement was a  martyr under emperor Trajan: he was exiled to Crimea and  forced to work the mines, but since  he stubbornly persisted in his  missionary activity the Roman soldiers bound him to an anchor and threw him into the Black Sea.  Sometime later, his body was  recovered  at the bottom of the sea when the waters miraculously receded . The remains were later brought to Rome and buried under the main altar of this church.

The visit normally begins with the upper basilica (built in the 12th century) which was for a long time mistakenly considered the only  church dedicated to Saint  Clement built originally in the 4th century. In 1857 Fr Joseph Mullooly,  Prior of Saint Clement’s, began excavations under the present basilica, uncovering not only the original, 4th century basilica directly underneath, but also at a lower level, the ruins of  1st century buildings.

To enter  the present day basilica I prefer the entrance on Piazza di  S. Clemente rather than the one on via di S. Giovanni in Laterano. Once you walk through the little gateway you’ll find yourself in a little and peaceful  medieval courtyard: when I am here I always like to think about the pilgrims of yesteryear, resting, drinking the water from the fountain or massaging their sore feet after a long day walking or on donkeyback.

The present day church  repeats the plan of the 4th century church below but it is smaller on one side. As you enter the first thing that will catch your eye is the superb mosaic on the apse: the crucifixion of Christ in a feast of gold and green acanthus spirals. Christ’s cross is no longer a symbol of torture and suffering but  the new Tree of Life planted on the hill of Paradise restored by Christ. This mosaic is probably a faithful reproduction of the one in the 4th century basilica.

The richly coloured floor is a typical example of cosmatesque floor which can be found in several Roman churches. It is a style that was devised in medieval times by a family of craftsmen, the Cosmati, who often used recycled materials for their ornamental geometric patterns.

If you look at the columns and capitals you’ll notice too that they are all different: due to marble shortage it was customary in the Middle Ages and also later on  to dismatle other buildings such as  temples to recycle their columns and other materials.

On the right side is a little door that will take you to the ticket office for the excavations below: the upper basilica has no admission fee but there’s a 5 euros ticket for the levels below.

Descending the stairs to the 4th century level is like travelling in a time machine: a dark subterranean area that was once the 4th basilica. At the bottom of the staircase you’ll be in a corridor with some openings overlooking the church naves: it was the narthex, a porch where  penitents and catechumens could hear mass. Here we can find some of the frescos regarding the legendary life of Saint Clement.

Upon entering the 4th century basilica one has a slight disappointment: the low ceilings, the rubble walls instead of the ancient free standing columns and a   few frescos only survive from  the obliteration done around 1100 when the church, considered  unsafe, was filled with rubble and the new one built on top. It takes a few minutes before you realize this was a church!

In the left nave a stairway will lead you to the other levels: humidity increases as you descend and the stairs metal railings are moist. Before excavations reached this level this entire area was flooded: you can still see and hear the water stream that once flooded all this area now  flowing  in a tunnel dug by the archaeologists.

This 3rd level, which is also the most ancient, shows ruins of two different buildings separated by a narrow alleyway (once in the open air!) and both dating from the 1st century AD: one is a brick building maybe a Roman house with a Mithraic temple of the end of the 2nd century installed in it; the other is a  larger structure, constructed around a courtyard, probably a warehose
In the 4th century, the ground-floor rooms of this structure and the courtyard were filled in to the level of the first storey so to provide  foundations for a church in memory of Pope Clement.

Mithraism  was  religion of Persian origin imported in Rome probably by soldiers. Mithra was  a god born out of a rock  to bring salvation and most of the time is portrayed in the act of slaying a bull. The places of worship dediated to  Mithras were normally  built below ground and windowless. In cities, the basement of an apartment block might be converted; elsewhere they might be excavated and vaulted over, or converted from a natural cave or grotto.  A considerable number of mithraic temples came to light in Rome during archaeological excavations. In this temples  most rituals were associated with feasting: initiates reclined on stone benches arranged along the longer sides of the mithaeum  and animal sacrifices were made too.

Snow in Rome!

Normally Rome is not a city where we experience snow very often. We are some  20 miles away from the coast and we have a typical Mediterranean weather with mild winters. Snow is an exceptional event.

Last time we had some snow for a few days it was  1986: it was general chaos!!!

Cars, buses and scooters were not snow equipped and the traffic went mad. Schools were closed and it looked like Doomsday!

This morning started snowing seriously and the snow was sticking on the streets, but now it is raining again and the snow will melt quickly probably: this could be a real disappointment for the kids  coming out of the schools at 4.30 pm! They won’t be able to  play with snowballs or make a snowman.

The adults driving back home from work instead will be relieved, since Rome is a already extremely chaotic when it rains, guess what could it be with some snow inches on the road surface!

Here are some pics from our window taken this morning, we  live in a suburb so there aren’t spectacular views:

umbrella pines in the snow

Here instead is a picture of the Colosseum in the snow from the news website:

http://www.ansa.it/web/notizie/photostory/primopiano/2010/02/12/visualizza_new.html_1702603887.html?idPhoto=1