The huge cylinder of the ancient ‘Casal Rotondo’ on the Via Appia Antica (milestone 6) is one of the better preserved monumental tombs along the storied route out of Rome. Lots of sculptural details still survive. But the most fascinating thing is that someone, in the middle ages, thought they’d have a great view if they build their house on top of it. Plus, it added security. See those trees on top? They’re the garden of the stone house that’s still up there. It’s not known who the tomb was originally for, which is surprising since its one of the largest along the Via Appia, with the cylinder’s diameter measuring 35 meters.
I spent some more time today on the Via Appia Antica, the ancient Roman road that linked Rome with the Adriatic Port of Brindisi (see below). This was a long section where the old basalt paving stones were still visible, along with the wagon wheel and chariot ruts running through them. I went by mountain bike, a great way to see it. There are lots of picturesque umbrella pines all along the route.
The Aqua Claudia is the ancient Roman aqueduct built by the Roman emperor Claudius in 52 CE (begun, however, by Caligula in the 30s). I borrowed a mountain bike from my AirBnB host and went there this morning to catch the early sun. The Parco degli Acquedotti is a vast green space which today, Saturday, was enjoyed by many joggers, cyclists, and hikers. Alas, a large section is reserved for just a few golfers, along the most scenic stretch of the arches.
The Via Appia, or Appian Way, is one of the world’s most famous roads. Begun in the 300s BCE it stretched from ancient Rome to the port of Brindisi on the Adriatic. From Rome’s Aurelian walls, one can still walk, or bike, for several miles southeast of the city. Monuments can be found along its route for about 9 miles; they peter out about a kilometer past the Villa dei Quintili. Flanked by umbrella pines along most of the route, there are many sections of the huge Roman basalt paving stones still visible, with chariot tracks worn into them. Strewn alongside the road are myriad fragments of long ago dismembered tombs and their inscriptions. Today a herd of about 300 goats and sheep were being driven along it by a black dog who seemed to know exactly how to get them to their fields for grazing. It was a scene that one might have been able to see 2200 years ago. Today, however, you’re more likely to see a family on mountain bikes going on an outing. A pleasant scene, but in 71 BCE it might have been otherwise: it was then that Rome crucified 6000 slaves from Spartacus’ army after their leader was killed. The Romans lined the Via Appia from Rome to Capua, where the rebellion had begun.
I went walking today, a cloudy cool day, along the Via Appia outside of Rome. I was so far out, around the nine mile marker southeast from the walls of ancient Rome, that I was virtually in the countryside. There I saw a scene I could well have seen 2300 years ago when the road was built, a herd of goats and sheep running along the ancient path, near the nymphaeum of the Villa dei Quintili.
One of the most striking features of the medieval church of San Clemente in Rome is the semi-dome of its apse. Covered in golden mosaics from around 1200, a cloud of circular, swirling tendrils frame a unique crucifix adorned with doves. If the designs look familiar to you, they have interesting cousins, including 7th century precursors in the Byzantine-inspired mosaics on the interior of the Muslim Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, as well as some later manifestations in the work of Gustav Klimt, especially in his painting The Tree of Life of 1905.
I think I’m entering a black and white phase. When taking photographs, one really thinks with a different mind, or mind’s eye, when approaching the world in colour, as it usually is, and when one considers it more as structure and form. It’s a great exercise to return to black and white every now and again. Outdoor cafe stools in Lucca, Italy.
As many of you know, I believe the bicycle to be humanity’s greatest mechanical invention, and it’s most beautiful. Therefore, I love stealing images of them. This one was in Lucca, Italy, a very good town indeed for finding photogenic two-wheeled transports as there are no hills and not much traffic.
This is a detail of the famous mosaic of the Portal Sant’Alipio on the church of San Marco in Venice. The group of ladies are witnessing the most important event in Venice’s history: the arrival of the body of the evangelist St Mark to the city, where he’s carried into the church. Of course, it’s not history, but it was certainly meant to have been. It’s the only surviving one of the 13th century mosaics that used to decorate all five of St Mark’s portals.
All right, it’s a bit of a cliche, but I still love it: the view across the Bacino towards Palladio’s San Giorgio Maggiore, with gondolas in foreground.
The 110-year-old Rittnerbahn railway line is one of the world’s nicest train routes, though it’s only about 5 kilometers long, connecting the mountain villages of Soprobolzano/Oberbozen and Klobenstein/Collalbo. It runs about five times a day, and the ride only lasts about half an hour. Still, it’s lovely, and any train enthusiast would be charmed by it. It’s as if someone took a toy train and expanded it to life size. I’ve ridden in it three times, and each time I’ve see 3-year-olds and 93-year-olds equally delighted by riding on it.
The Cafe Fink is one of my favorite cafes in Europe, though–full disclosure–I’ve only been to around a thousand of them. It is strategically situated at the top of the spectacular funicular that runs from Bolzano/Bozen to Sopra Bolzano/Ober Bozen (“Upper Bolzano:). One uses both Italian and German designations because, while part of Italy, everyone there speaks German and has a strong Tyrolean identity. The region known as Trento-Alto Adige to Italians is known by many of the inhabitants as Süd Tyrol. It is a region that once belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but was lost to Italy after the First World War. The locals are still not too happy about that. I came upon a separatist rally last week when I was there. But, back to the Fink. Sigmund Freud used to hike around here, apparently, and there’s a trail named after him. One talks about one’s childhood, I imagine, while walking on it. The Fink is merely 15 meters from the cable-car station, and as many from the precious little train station where the 100-year-old Rittnerbahn railway begins (see above).
As some of you know, I’ve just finished a draft of a book on the hippodrome of Constantinople, which should be out early next year. Among yesterday’s highlights, while walking a few miles along the storied Via Appia (see post below), were the ruins of the palace, mausoleum, and hippodrome of Maxentius, the emperor who was famously defeated by Constantine at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 CE. Here’s a shot of the western, short end of the hippodrome. Between the two towers are the low, curved outcroppings of the carceres or starting gates for the chariots. The last time I was there was 1981, 36 long years ago. Then I knew little about the things I was seeing, but full of wonder at them nonetheless. Atypical fall rains fooled the Italian landscape into thinking it was spring, and the hippodrome was filled with green grass and white daisies.
I’m staying for two weeks in Rome, at an AirBnB on the Via Appia Nuova about half a kilometer from the remarkable ruins of the Villa dei Quintili, a site few tourists visit. It was a vast suburban complex built by two wealthy brothers in the middle of the second century CE, on a low hill by the Via Appia. The emperor Commodus was so envious he had the owners executed and confiscated the villa for himself. The most monumental sector was the bath complex, part of which you see here, the caldarium and tepidarium or hot and warm baths with their mosaic floorings. Beyond, you get a sense of the panoramas the villa would have had in its heyday; the residential areas are on even higher ground. The villa had its own aqueduct to supply the estate and baths with water.
I don’t take many pictures of people, but this very talented young woman wasn’t camera-shy. She was belting out Sicilian folk songs in Ortygia, (Syracusa) Sicily, in the piazza beside the city’s remarkable cathedral that incorporates columns from the ca. 500 BCE Greek Temple of Athena in its fabric. She really made the whole place come alive and I admired her for singing songs of Sicily, in Sicilian dialect, and not international pop songs, which might have filled her guitar case with more coins. Her wonderful voice echoed off walls 2500 years old. Athena would be proud of her.