The Retirees Go Abroad – the Mother Church

We awoke to another bright and hot day. The weather had been unusually warm but each morning had started with a chill in the air with the day becoming warm by 10.00 am and hot by 2.00 pm. As we were planning a day out doors we packed our water bottle and our hats grabbed our Omnia tickets (yellow for the sight-seeing bus and red for the monuments and public transport). The back pack Kerry had bought in Bakewell (a village in Derbyshire) served us well holding all our needs including provisions from the breakfast table to provide snacks throughout the day. Biscuit and honey!
As usual we caught the bus to Anangina car-parking and bus/metro station. It is hard to describe this place and to take photos as everyone rushes past makes you feel like such an obvious tourist and dick. So I can only offer two snaps one showing the bus stops and buses of one section and part of the everyday market (clothing mainly) at Anangina.
After the ride on the Metro to San Giovanni we walked around to the Mother Church. This is St John’s Lateran. The first home to the Pope of Roma. Before the Vatican and before Avignon and the Holy See, the Pope lived and preached here. Emperor Constantine established the first Christian church on this site hence the Romans consider this the Mother Church the seat of the popes as bishops of Rome from which all other Christian churches have developed. As the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, it ranks above all other churches in the Catholic Church, including St. Peter’s Basilica. For that reason, unlike all other Roman Basilicas, it holds the title of Arch basilica.
“The arch basilica stands over the remains of the Castra Nova equitum singularium, the ‘new fort’ of the imperial cavalry bodyguard. The fort was established by Septimius Severus in AD 193. Following the victory of Constantine I over Maxentius (for whom the Equites singulares augusti had fought) at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. …………The Lateran Palace fell into the hands of the emperor when Constantine I married his second wife Fausta, sister of Maxentius. Known by that time as the “Domus Faustae”, the Lateran Palace was eventually given to the Bishop of Rome by Constantine. The actual date of the gift is unknown but scholars believe it had to have been during the pontificate of Pope Miltiades, in time to host a synod of bishops in 313AD.
The arch basilica is located outside of the boundaries of Vatican City proper, although within the city of Rome. However, it enjoys extraterritorial status as one of the properties of the Holy See. This is also the case with several other buildings, following the resolution of the Roman Question with the signing of the Lateran Treaty.” (Source Wikipedia)
The front doors are the original doors to the roman “Domus Faustae” and they are huge. In the portico or patio to the church is a statue of Constantine which comes from the original Domus Faustae. Inside the church is opulent without being garish like St Peter’s. The graceful baldacchino over the high altar, which looks out of place in its present surroundings, dates from 1369 and contains the statues of St. Peter and Saint Paul, now in the cloisters from the original palace. Throughout the church are many confessionals each marked with the language spoken by the priest taking the confession. In one I was able to capture the priest and an unknown person having an aside outside the confessional. I like to think the priest has stopped to give his bets to his bookie.
The throne in the Church can only be sat upon by the Pope.
On the square in front of the Lateran Palace is the largest standing obelisk in the world, known as the Lateran Obelisk (weight estimated at 455 tons). It was commissioned by pharaoh Thutmose III and erected by Thutmose IV before the great Karnak temple of Thebes, Egypt. Intended by Constantine I to be shipped to Constantinople, the very preoccupied Constantius II had it shipped instead to Rome, where it was re-erected in the Circus Maximus in 357. At some time it broke and was buried under the Circus. In the 16th century it was located and dug up, and Sixtus V had it re-erected on a new pedestal on August 3, 1588 on its present site.
Whilst viewing the church we spoke to an arch deacon of the church who encouraged us to visit two lesser known churches one dedicated to St Lazlo and the other St Alphonsus. As it turned out the latter was just up the road (about 30 minutes walk). The Church of Alphonsus on the Esquiline contains an icon (strange indeed – icons are a creature of the eastern orthodox church and prevalent in Russia). The icon was stolen from a church in Crete in the 15th century and brought to Rome where it has been known as “The Virgin of Perpetual Help”.
Just up the road, Via Merulana, is The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. It is the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome. There are 25 other churches in Rome dedicated to Mary, but the greater size of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major justifies the adjective by which it is distinguished from the other 25. According to the 1929 Lateran Treaty, the basilica located in Italian territory is owned by the Holy See and enjoys extraterritorial status similar to that of foreign embassies.
Our goal had been to visit the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. Our short visit to the Lateran Palace had taken up the whole morning. Such is the depth of history in this town.

The Retirees Go Abroad – the Colosseum and Palatine Hill


Our goal that day had been to visit the Colosseum and Palatine Hill so after some uncertainty about where to catch the “yellow bus” and brushing off numerous street vendors, we found our way to what I think is seen as the embodiment of Rome, the Colosseum. Colosseo to the Romans this enormous stone structure can be found between Via Claudia, Via S Gregorio, Via Labicana, and Via Fori Imperiall. This was an extremely hot day and in the low season so we were not prepared for a queue 200 metres long (once you get inside to buy your tickets the queue breaks from two into 8 and is another 100 metres long). This is where you appreciates the queue jumping ability given to Omnia pass holders. Even so by the time you get inside you want to pee and there is a queue into the portable dunnies which have a smell as long as the queues. Fellas it’s like the football you have to fight off the women to get to sit on the pot because they all want to use our pans.

Once you have finished the call of nature you go to get your audio guide. Don’t bother! The audio guide spots are poorly marked on your guide map and once you do find them on your stroll around you usually have gone the wrong way because there is no guidance as to the direction to follow. Anyway this does not detract from the breathtaking engineering used by the Romans at a time before hydraulic cranes and computer design. Unfortunately the Popes saw fit to raid this monument for stone to build their own monuments so the southern wall is a mixture of building materials and all the wooden seats have long since disappeared but even the ruin is remarkable.

“The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in 70 AD, and was completed in 80 AD under his successor and heir Titus. Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96). These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius).” (Wikipedia)

The construction was financed by booty from the invasion of Judea. The structure is 50 metres tall and capable of holding 75,000 people. I had seen an article on the plane from Brisbane and had quite a lot of knowledge about the way the arena operated (National Geographic) and some of the controversy about the sails that were operated by a garrison of sailors to provide shade over the patrons. So seeing the myriad of corridors underneath the floor of the arena only brought questions as to the truth of how the staging operated. Whatever is the truth, either story is miraculous for 2,000 year old technology. By the way, the arena was covered in sand and the latin for sand is arena. The Online Etymology Dictionary says “from Latin harena “place of combat,” originally “sand, sandy place,” perhaps from Etruscan”.

We found a place in the shade and pulled out the bits from the breakfast table to substitute for lunch.

We then moved across to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. Here are the ruins of Rome from the times of Vespasian and Flavius.

The Palatine Hill is one of the Seven Hills of Rome and is one of the most ancient parts of the city. According to Roman mythology, the Palatine Hill was the location of the cave, where Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf that kept them alive. Later they killed their great-uncle (who had seized the throne from their grandfather), and they both decided to build a new city of their own on the banks of the River Tiber. However, they had a violent argument with each other and in the end Romulus killed his twin brother Remus. This is how “Rome” got its name – from Romulus.

You get some great views from the Colosseum particularly of the triumphal arch which formed part of the Roman road to the forum. Your Omnia pass gets you in here ahead of the queues also. Once inside the first thing you encounter is the arch of Titus a 1st-century honorific arch. It was constructed in c. 82 AD by the Roman Emperor Domitian shortly after the death of his older brother Titus to commemorate Titus’ victories, including the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. You can imagine the cohorts of Legionnaires marching through these arches to the raucous applause of the citizens of Rome.

You then follow a bit of a rough trail down to the Forum passing the Basilica of Maxentius, the Temple of Romulus, the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina and the ancient cemetery, another basilica and another temple until you reach the forum. There is not a lot to see and you need to exercise your imagination to envisage a community meeting place that changed regularly with changes in Rome itself. At this point the sun, the rough path underfoot and the fact we were largely looking at piles of stones took its toll on Kerry. From here on I was travelling solo.

I continued along the path shown as the “visitor’s route” to the Curia and the Arch of Septimius Severus. The white marble Arch at the northwest end of the Roman Forum is a triumphal arch dedicated in AD 203 to commemorate victories of Emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons, in the two campaigns against the Parthians of 194/195 and 197-199. These arches have weathered time very well. Moving around the visitor’s route I then passed the ruins of the Temple of Saturn and the Capitoline Hill. Behind these ruins were further ruins of Temples from different eras. One of the largest footprints was the Basilica of Julia initially dedicated in 46 BC by Julius Caesar, with building costs paid from the spoils of the Gallic War, and was completed by Augustus, who named the building after his adoptive father.

Standing in the distance I could see three columns with everything around them in rubble. These are the remnants of the Temple of Vesta (vestal virgins) and behind that the gardens of the House of Vestals.

I caught up with Kerry and we moved back to the Arch of Titus and climbed Palatine Hill to Domus Flavia, also known as The Flavian Palace. This is a part of the vast residential complex of the Roman Emperors on the Palatine Hill in Rome. It was completed in 92 AD in the reign of Titus Flavius Domitianus, more commonly known as the Emperor Domitian. The Flavian Palace was more commonly used for purposes of state, while the Domus Augustana, an enormous, lavishly ornamented palace south of the Flavian Palace, was the Emperor’s primary residence. Vast is an understatement. This residence once covered the entire hill top. The site is so big that any photo would only give you a small view of ruins making up the whole.

The sun had beaten both of us so we called it quits to head home on the yellow bus. It was after 6.00pm so the yellow bus was not operating. We set off on foot to find our Metro home. In doing so we crossed paths with an unknown church but we were struck by the size of it. It must have once been a significant part of the community but its condition shows what being just one of many churches leads to. Then we passed Vittoriano, a monument to the Unknown Soldier. It is very Roman in its design. It also serves as a museum. We put this on our list to revisit.

That night Kerry was stricken with a violent headache – probably sunstroke – went to bed as soon as we got home. Here is my photo record of the Colosseum.