Jeff's Blog - Monday, October 13, 2014 - Crypts

After my night in Piazza Navona and St. Peter's Square, with lots of spots between for photos, I got to bed late and slept in until an unheard-of 8:15 AM. I skipped the shower, figuring I was just going to be drenched within an hour anyhow, and set off for about 90 minutes of breakfast and sightseeing before I'd return to my room to shower, pack and check-out.

I didn't expect much at all from the two sights I'd be seeing. One was a basement that has an ancient altar in it, which was just a locked door on the street when I came here yesterday. The other was a church I'd seen briefly about a week or two ago, while a service was taking place so I couldn't take photos.

I found that door again locked, and while staring at it for a few minutes and checking the address in my Oxford Archaeological Guide to Rome, a young man came out the door with his bicycle. I walked toward the door and he held it open for me, saying "Prego", which means "thank you" or "my pleasure". Oh my gods, now they're welcoming my B&Eing. It was a tiny building, just about 15 feet to the doorways on either side on the street, so it wasn't too hard to find the one and only stairway to the basement at the back of the building. I flipped on the lights and went down, only to find two large wooden doors at the bottom of the stairs, both locked. Neither door budged to my willpower, and there were no holes to peek through. About to give up I turned around and found a metal gate with a metal mesh on the inside edge of it. The holes in the metal mesh were all covered with spider webs -- no one has been inside here for a very long time. My camera's flash illuminated the room enough to see there was no altar, but there was a 5-foot by 4-foot pile of old books that somebody stored down here long ago. OK, so my story's a letdown, but I thought that walking down illegally into that spooky basement inhabited by spiders who like to read was kind of fun.

The church was just a block or two away. I saw the sights in it quickly because there isn't much to it. The crypt was exposed under the altar (one of those confessio setups) and I could see the altar inside it with Tuscan columns on either side. The old wooden gateway into this confessio was closed so I found someone and pointed at myself, then pointed down, then raised my eyebrows as a question mark. The old guy went into a litany in Italian, and he was superb at the hand-waving, but as he spoke he got up and walked over to a circuit breaker box and flipped on a couple switches. I assume he was telling me that when I finished, come back and turn off the lights. Then he went into the sanctuary and opened the gate down into the confessio/crypt.

The crypt itself was not much. The hidden places I couldn't see from up at the top were just used as storage areas. But unbeknownst to me, if you turn left at the foot of the steps into the crypt, there's another doorway with steps going further down. And the light was on! I went downstairs, then down a ramp way, onto an ancient Roman street! There were many marble relics down there, and a few frescoes on the walls. It was quite a big space -- maybe 80 feet by 40 feet, divided into six sections. These might have been apartments, but I think it was more likely a commercial or industrial space because the rooms had vaulted ceilings. One of them had been converted into a church, with an altar and some artwork, but the fact that the room was so much like the others suggests to me that it was a later addition. It would be fun to think this was an early Christian hide-out. There were no signs anywhere except some Latin inscriptions.

Both of these places were too dark for an iPad photo, but on the way back to the hotel I took the photo below. My hotel is that building near the right edge of the photo. The doorway I walk into is that arched wooden door to the right of the Trattoria da Valentino. That takes you into a courtyard where a left turn and 1-1/2 flights of steps up takes you to my room, which faces the alley to the left of the building. A block down the street, at the bottom of the blue sky in the photo, is a little peek into the Roman Forum. Those columns lined up with the middle of the street are part of the Temple of Saturn, and the square brown building to its right is the senate house that Julius Caesar was having built when he was assassinated. Not in the photo, but if you stick your head out my window and look to the left, you can see a piece of the Colosseum about as far away as the Forum is from here.

So now I'm in the airport, prossima fermata (as they say on the subway and buses) is Chicago, then Detroit. And yes, before I left Rome (well, the church, actually), I turned off the lights.

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