Our Route to Sardinia and Corsica, then the Crossing to Rome...finally mainland Italy.
|Our travel route east.|
Saturday, June 11th - Buongiorno Italia!
|Raising the Italian flag.|
Wednesday, June 15th - Bonifacio, Island of Corsica, France
|Shores of Bonifacio inlet|
Well, this commercial, fishing and yachting harbour almost defies description. Our guide books say this harbour is certainly the most spectacular and attractive natural harbour in Corsica and probably in the Mediterranean....it was not kidding. The narrow, deep, fjord-like inlet, with high almost vertical sides of white rock crowned by a medieval walled town and Citadel, is without a doubt the most spectacular we have seen!
This extremely strategic natural harbour has been in use almost since the beginning of time. As with most Mediterranean ports, it has had its ups and downs, including a plague in 1554, which decimated the population.
Thursday, June 16th - Rue des Deux Empereurs (Street of Two Emperors)
|Entrance to the Citadel|
This day finds us exploring the old walled town and Citadel. We climb up the cobblestone streets and enter the Citadel through the drawbridge dating from 1598.
|Napolean Bonaparte house|
Once inside, the streets are colorful and very narrow, lined with tall, narrow stone houses. We are in search of Rue des Deux Expereurs, aptly named because Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles V once slept in the houses at Nos 4 and 7. Bonaparte was based here for several months in early 1793 while planning an expedition to Sardinia.
One of the many things we really enjoyed about Bonifacio was the availability of great hiking trails amongst the cliff tops. The white limestone cliffs sculptured by the wind and the waves, drop almost vertically into the sea and numerous lookouts afford dramatic views of the sea and across to Sardinia. Our exploration finds this old underground tunnel, part of a maze of them built for defense purposes. It is spooky as we proceed through the narrow, dark and damp walkways, where we eventually clamber down steps and come out to old gun positions at the sea. This kind of thing is a real hit with Joel and Gerrit as they imagine the stories of those who would have once built and used these fascinating tunnels.
Friday, June 17th - Wow! What a Ship!
|Tall ship in the Bonifacio harbour|
This beautiful 'Tall Ship Adventures' craft came into the harbour at Bonifacio and tied to the dock directly across from where we were anchored. It is one of the many tall ships, which provide the opportunity for youths to go to sea for a year, while completing their education. What an adventure for kids! Tomorrow we'll have a beach day and relax before raising anchor once again, on route to Rome.
Tuesday, June 21st - Fiumicino Canal, Rome
Thursday, June 23rd - Colosseum
On our first day, we decide to tackle the Ancient Rome section of this wonderful city. First stop, the Colosseum where we pay for a guided tour, which turns out excellent!
Built when the Roman Empire was at its peak (A.D. 80) for gladiator contests and public spectacles, the Colosseum represents Rome at its grandest. In essence, the Romans pioneered the use of the rounded arch and concrete, enabling them to build on this colossal scale, thus coloss-eum. There was even a structure of wooden beams to hoist an enormous canvas awning when needed....the first covered stadium! Only a third of the original Colosseum remains, earthquakes destroyed some of it, but most was carted off as easy pre-cut stones for other buildings during the Middle Ages.
Once inside, our guide does a fabulous job of bringing the arena to life as our imaginations scramble to visualize the ancient activities. One can clearly see the underground passages beneath what was once the playing surface, which would have been originally covered with boards, then sprinkled with sand. Like a modern stadium, the spectators ringed the playing area. The gladiators would enter the arena, parade around and stop at the emperor's box (the 50 yard line), raise their weapons and shout, 'Hail Caesar! We who are about to die salute you!'...and the fights would then begin. These fights pitted men against men, men against beasts, and beasts against beasts. The gladiators were usually slaves, criminals, or poor people who got their chance for freedom in the ring, while the animals were every sort imaginable from all over the world, kept in darkness with no food for up to three days before the fight....great way to improve an appetite!
If a gladiator fell helpless to the ground, his opponent would approach the emperor's box and ask, 'Should he live or die?' Sometimes the emperor left the decision to the crowd, who would judge based on how valiantly the man had fought. They would make their decision with the thumb in, to let him live , or the thumb down, which meant lop off his head! Here, Gerrit gets the thumbs down...yikes!
Arch of Constantine
|The Arch of Titus|
After a couple hours of break, our tour continues into the Roman Forum, which was the political, religious, and commercial center of the city. As the Roman Empire expanded, these few acres of land housing the most important temples and halls of justice, were considered the center of the civilized world.
Entry into the Forum is through The Arch of Titus, which turns out to be one of the best preserved structures remaining of the Forum. It was built to commemorate the Roman victory over Israel in 70 AD, and clearly displays Roman propaganda in the carvings, such as soldiers carrying a Jewish candelabrum and other plunder.
Saturday, June 25th - San Giovanni in Laterano
|San Giovanni in Laterano|
This poking-about day has one main item on the agenda, to visit the first Christian church in the city of Rome. Built in 318 AD, when Christians could finally 'come out' and worship openly without fear of reprisal, it has served as the center of Catholicism and the home of the popes until St. Peter's Basilica. Until 1870, all popes were crowned here, and even today, it remains the home church of the Bishop of Rome - the Pope himself!
|Inside San Giovanni in Laterano|
Scala Santa - Holy Stairs
Next, we cross the street to visit the Pope's private chapel and the Holy Stairs. In 326 AD, Emperor Constantine's mother brought to Rome the 28 marble steps from Pilate's residence. Jesus climbed these steps on the day he was sentenced to death! Each day, hundreds of faithful people climb these steps on their knees, and today we join in the pilgrimage.
Monday, June 27th - The Pantheon
Thursday, June 30th - Vatican City
|Vatican City grounds|
|The Long Hallway inside the Vatican Musuem|
In short, with the fall of Rome, the Catholic (or 'universal') Church became the great preserver of civilization, collecting artifacts from cultures dead and dying. These glories of the ancient world are displayed here in the Vatican Museum, a lavish papal palace, decorated by the likes of Michelangelo, Bernini and Raphael. The place is absolutely mind boggling and beautiful. With recently cleaned paintings and marble sculptures, the likes of nothing we have ever seen, we have a marvelous time.
|The Egyptian room|
The Egyptian room was very cool, especially for Joel and Gerrit who once again get to put history books into reality when they see this mummy as one from their many great history books. They proceeded to explain to their out-of-touch parents that this women died three millennia ago. Her corpse was disemboweled, and her organs placed in the jar nearby. Her body was then refilled with pitch and dried natron, wrapped in linen and placed in a wood coffin, the top of which is shown standing against the wall. Double click to see how well preserved she is!
|Sistine Chapel ceiling|
The way our guide book lays out the tour, The Sistine Chapel is left to the end. Being the personal chapel of the Pope and the place where new Popes are elected, it is obviously very special. When Michelangelo was commissioned by the Pope to paint the ceiling, he insisted he was a sculptor, not a painter. The Pope pleaded, bribed and threatened until Michelangelo finally consented, on the condition he be able to do it all his own way. He spent the next four years (1508-12) bent over on his back on scaffolding six stories up, covering the ceiling with frescoes of Bible scenes. In incredible detail, it shows the history of the world before the birth of Jesus. We could see God creating the world, creating man and woman, destroying the earth by flood and so on. Along the sides he painted the Old Testament prophets foretelling the coming of Christ.
|Sistine Chapel - The Judgment Wall|
The blue backed portion of the wall, below the double arch, was painted by Michelangelo 23 years later in 1533. In these 23 years, many events had occurred within Europe, which had Michelangelo questioning the innate goodness of mankind. His Judgement Day altar wall is painted in a very different mood. The powerful figure in the center, raising his arm to strike down the wicked, the dead at lower left leave their graves to be judged, the righteous ascend to Heaven, while the wicked on the other side are hurled down to Hell, where demons wait to torture them. The grim picture, where no one is smiling, apparently caused a public sensation when unveiled, and the Pope is said to have dropped to his knees.
St. Peter's Basilica and Square
|St. Peter's Basilica|
We head out a side exit of the Sistine Chapel and find ourselves in St. Peter's Square. Nearly 2000 years ago, this area was the site of Emperor Nero's Circus - a huge Roman chariot racecourse. The 27 meter high obelisk you see in the second photo, stands where the chariots made their hairpin turns, while Christians were being killed for half-time entertainment. One of those killed here, around 65 AD, was Peter, Jesus' right-hand man who came to Rome to spread the message of love. Peter was crucified upside-down on a cross because he felt unworthy to die as his master had. His remains were secretly revered for 250 years, until Christianity was finally legalized in 313, and Emperor Constantine built a church on the site of Peter's death. Old St. Peter's lasted 1200 years, until it was pretty much falling apart. The larger Basilica we see today was begun in 1506, and took 120 years to be built around the old one, which was then dismantled and carried out the door!
|St. Peter's Square|
Baroque architect Bernini designed the square and also did much of the work inside the Basilica. The Square is ringed with 284 columns, each 17 meters high, topped with Bernini's 90 favorite saints, each three meters tall. Today, the obelisk mentioned above, watches over the church, a reminder that each civilization builds on the previous ones.
Next, we head up the steps into St. Peter's Basilica.
|Inside St. Peter's Basilica|
The Pieta (pee-ay-TAH)
The Crypt - Pope John Paul's Tomb
|Pope John Paul's Tomb|
We finish off our day with a trip into the Crypt of the Church, where we are able to go down to the foundations of old St. Peter's containing tombs of Popes and memorial chapels. When we toured Europe 20 years ago, we were lucky enough to stand in St. Peter's Square and listen to Pope John Paul II give his weekly greeting to the masses. Now today, standing in front of his tomb, memories came flooding back and the reality of us all being mere mortals hits home.
Sunday, July 3rd - Good-bye to Rome
|Private Beaches of Fiumicino|
Once again after a glorious two week visit, it is time for us to head south and we must leave this magnificent city. Rome truly is one of the greatest cities in this world, definitely Sheila's favorite! Our log can't begin to portray all we did and saw while here. Numerous museums didn't even allow cameras, thus their images must remain forever etched in our minds. We sure hope you enjoyed the few photos of our highlights. As we head out this morning to grab some last provisions before we head off on our overnight passage south to the Naples area, we come upon the beaches and rows of umbrellas. Most beaches are private in Italy and this one is sectioned off with various proprietors selling you your piece of the beach for the day! Yikes...what a foreign concept to us. I think we'll stick to swimming off the boat as we travel the west coast of Italy and its wonderful islands.
Join us in Log 38 as we visit Pompeii and head to the Strait of Messina