>The third to last morning that Dr. P, Dr. H, and I were in Italy got off to a smoky start. We planned to visit the Catacombs of San Calisto, which Dr. P’s guidebook said was the best of the Christian catacombs. (Her book also listed a Jewish catacomb, which I thought would have been fascinating to see, but it turns out that you need to write the cultural department of Rome in advance to set up a visit. Next time, I will definitely do that.) Because the Romans did not allow burial grounds within the City walls, the catacombs are located in the countryside. To get there, we needed to take the subway to a bus. As New Yorkers used to public transportation, we were fine with that. We were even a little bit excited to try out the public transit system. However, when we arrived at the Termini subway station near our hotel, we were a bit concerned to find several people carrying buckets of water and dumping them on the subway tracks. While the fire seemed to be out, there was still smoke coming up from the tracks. Dr. P noted that it was interesting that they did not make people leave the subway station. In NYC, people would have been made to wait upstairs and the train would have been rerouted until all the smoke settled down. I’m not saying that one way is better than the other, but I do find the different levels of what constitutes an unsafe situation in various cultures to be quite thought-provoking. (I think the US is probably overprotective while Italy is a tad too laid back for my tastes when it comes to subway fires.) I took a quick picture, and wanted to take another one, but a subway employee came over and chastised me. “No pictures!!!” she said emphatically. I’m not sure if she meant of the subway in general or of the fire, but I put my camera away without further ado.
The rest of the subway and bus trip went smoothly, and we arrived at the Catacombs of San Calisto fairly quickly. As we arrived, an English tour was just starting, so we did not even have to wait for that. No pictures we allowed in the catacombs, unfortunately, although there was nothing of much excitement to photograph anyway. All of the bones have been removed from the tombs since asshole tourists kept swiping them as souvenirs, which I find gross as well as obnoxious. After the tour, I took a picture of the entryway into the catacombs. San Calisto is the largest of the catacombs in Rome, going as deep into the earth as a 10 story building. It was a scary maze down there, and it was also rather chilly. I found it to be a worthwhile experience, even if the gruesome aspects are gone.
After the catacombs, we walked a little down the country road, which is a very wide and scenic road from Roman times. We passed by the ruin of an ancient church and a lot of fields. I was a bit surprised that my allergies did not go completely ballistic. When we got near the end of the road, we took a different bus to a different subway station. I must say that service was very good, especially given that it was a Saturday morning. We did not have to wait too long for any of the buses or trains.
From Termini bus station, we took another bus into Centro Historico, the section of the city that has a lot of interesting sites. We decided to check out the market at Campo Ddei Fiori, which was bustling with veggie and fruit vendors, restaurants, and tourist-y knickknack sellers. As we walked from Campo dei Fiori to Santa Maria sopra Minerva, we passed by a deli with what I think must be the world’s largest mortadella. My next picture provides an unintentionally excellent compare-and-contrast opportunity. Right after I took a picture of the mortadella, we went to the church Santa Maria sopra Minerva, and I took a picture of St. Catherine de Sienna. I admit that I was crushed when I saw her. Until 2000, St. Catherine’s actual body was on display in the glass casket under the altar. St. Catherine de Sienna was a great diplomat; she convinced the Pope to return to Rome from Avignon, France. She also had invisible stigmata. There is nothing cooler than invisible signs that you are super special to God and Jesus. I also like that they happened to crop up whenever her family tried to marry her off. Anyway, as a result of her skills, St. Catherine is the patron saint of all of Italy. Someone finally gave her her dignity back and put her in a tomb. While it would have been way more interesting if her dried up corpse was out there, I still like comparing her plastic box to the mortadella in a plastic box.
While I was disappointed to not see St. Catherine herself, Santa Maria sopra Minerva is itself a very interesting church, though. The church was built on the site of a temple dedicated to Minerva, and it is the only gothic church in Rome, although the façade hides the outer gothic features. It is also chock full of art by famous painters. As I was heading out, a side chapel caught my eye. Under the altar in the chapel was another glass coffin on display. A sign in front of it said “St. Wittoria – Martyr.” I have never heard of this saint or why she was martyred, but St. Wittoria is exactly what I hoped to see when I sought out Catherine. I put 50 Euro cents into a little box and a light came on, allowing me to take some excellent pictures: What I would love to know is who the fuck posed this poor martyr like she was in a Playboy centerfold of the dead? Honestly, I am not sure that I could even come up with something this disturbing. She’s like the Mae West of rotting corpses. I can almost hear her say, “Come up and see me some time!” Talk about blasphemy! Definitely gag-licious.
On a lighter note, there is a very odd obelisk in front of Santa Maria sopra Minerva by Bernini. I love the elephant. I can only imagine what he was thinking when he came up with us, and what Renaissance Romans interpreted it as. Also, in this picture you can see a little bit of the unusual façade of the church. It's just a flat wall with big circular windows.
We went on to the Pantheon, which of course I have no pictures of because that would be normal, and I took pictures of it 10 years ago. Somehow I forgot that this ancient temple was converted into a Catholic church, which annoyed me to no end. Can these people leave nothing untouched? Everything has to be remade for their purposes. It really gets my goat. (I think that is why I liked The Da Vinci Code so much – it really goes after the corrupt powers that be. I’m glad the movie did well this weekend, although I heard it sucked and have no intention of seeing it myself.) After the Pantheon, we hit several other churches, which I will write about separately. There are only so many grotesque relics that should be in one post.