Jeff's Blog - Saturday, October 11, 2014 - Morning 10, Afternoon 0

WOW! Occasionally things fall right into your hands. Since I first saw this unusual building, I've wanted to go inside the House of the Knights of Rhodes (Malta), the building with several arches at the top, perched high up between the Forum of Augustus and Trajan's Market. But it's only open to guided tours of 10 or more, one day per week, so I never could do it. But this morning I was a little early for my first sight, so I walked behind the Forum of Augustus to see an arch cut into it in honor of one of his sons, who was to succeed him. His wife, Livia, killed both of his sons so her own son from her first marriage, Tiberius, could rise to the throne, but I digress. I saw the arch, then an open metal gate in the wall a little beyond it, receiving deliveries. As I've done all vacation long, when I see an open doorway into a courtyard or such, I walk in and have a look. I've seen a lot of fountains and statues and interesting walls in this way. Anyhow, jest inside this gate was a covered flight of steps that led into a large ancient banquet hall elaborately decorated like some kind of medieval place, with people scurrying around. I took some photos and saw another flight of stairs in the corner, which I climbed. At the top, I found myself within the room with arches on 2 sides, looking out over the two forums! I took many photos while the workers were setting up banquet tables, but only with my camera, not my ipad, so I can't attach them. I figured I didn't have too long in here. But afterward I took photos from the ground of where I'd been.

The first photo (yes, it's another bonus photo day) shows the building from the side facing Trajan's Market and Forum. I was inside that room with the arches, high above the forums, filled with medieval frescos and other detailing presumably pertaining to the Knights of Malta. See that balcony at the upper-right corner? Yup, I stood on it and took photos of Trajan's Forum and Market (behind me in the photo here).

The second photo shows the building from the Forum-of-Augustus side. That's the Temple of Mar Ultor in the right half of the picture, where the military would assemble before setting off on campaigns. See the large brown and white column just left of the center of the photo? Well, just to the right of its top is what I've always thought of as the "stairway to nowhere". And yup, I stood on the balcony at the top of those stairs, looking down over the Forum of Augustus and its central Temple of Mars Ultor. It might not look like much, was it all quite a thrill for a Rome geek. Finally a man in a suit walked up to me, as I'd been expecting the whole time, and politely booted me, saying the house was not open to the public. That's OK, I'd already grabbed my loot!

My next stop was the Mamertine Prison, where Vercingetorix, king of the Gauls, was imprisoned for 5 years after being defeated in 52 BC by Caesar, before he was executed. It's also where Saints Peter and Paul were imprisoned, being one of the multitude of sites around Rome claiming a tie to Peter. But this one's for real, I saw the actual dent in the wall where he bashed his head, and the wall, rather than his skull, gave way. It's framed; you can't miss it.

Now, after seeing the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, filled with skeletons and other symbols of death, and drinking coffee at another highly-rated coffee shop named Canova, I'm in a suburban train heading for the Villa of Livia (I guess Augustus sent her here for the weekends, for those of you following the story line from home). I'll continue this email later, but I'm quite confident that nothing I'll see later will beat these two for my pictures of the day.

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OK, I can be manic depressive with the best of them. After finding that suburban train and riding it for a half hour (as expected) then walking about a mile up a fairly steep hill in this blistering heat and full sun, the gate to Villa di Livia, which was marked "ingresso" (entrance) was locked, with a sign next to it saying it was open on Saturdays until 6:30 during September and 1:30 in October. Well, it was noon, and locked. The news article I read just days before leaving on my vacation said it was newly restored and open daily until 6:30, and I had fit it into my itinerary for today at the last minute. There was an intercom, but the woman only spoke Italian. I walked as far as I could around this property in the blistering heat but saw no other entrance. I tried speaking to a two other people in the picturesque field near the entrance, who only spoke Italian and waved their hands a lot. One of them looked like he was pruning a tree with hand clippers; the other had a large and filthy dog that tried to eat me for lunch when I approached his master. I gave up and walked back toward the train station (downhill, finally) where I found a restaurant. After lunch I'll ride the train back, and figure out where/how to catch the tram which goes to the MAXXI modern art museum, which I hope to hell is air conditioned. Freaking Villa di Livia.

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Finally, the MAXXI art museum was awful. It seems they've put all their artwork in the basement now as they prepare a temporary exhibit. They suggested I return after October 24th. It was at least slightly cooler in there while I looked at nothing for an hour trying to figure it all out.

So the final score was Morning 10; Afternoon 0.

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