Please welcome our research mavin, Pamela Ewen, for part 4 in her series.
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Hello ACFW Friends!
We’re in Rome after a stop in Santa Margherita, a seaside town about 20 minutes from Genoa. Took local trains to an area nearby called Cinque Terre, five small villages on the sea that are spectacular. You can jump on and off the train at each one. Twice ‘gypsies’ almost made off with my purse. There are warnings in all the stations, but they’re clever and fast and use distraction, working in groups. Once two of the girls had babies with them, and I realized later those were dolls! Anyway, I digress.
Rome is beautiful, cool, and sunny. We started this part of our trip at the Roman Forum, the site of the Mamertine, the oldest prison in Rome. It was built 2,600 years ago, and today is tucked away at the foot of the Capitoline Hill. Our goal–to find the prison that held Peter and Paul before their deaths–the Mamertine.
We found the prison beneath a chapel built against the hill, or cliff. You enter the Mamertine at ground level. There you find an altar picturing an upside down cross, honoring the Apostle Peter. Soft music and chanting resonates around you. The atmosphere is heavy, reverent.
Walking down a curve of worn stone steps, you enter the cool, dank cave carved from the cliff. This is a small room with no way in or out in the first century except through a hole in the stone ceiling. Condemned prisoners, many Christian, were thrown by guards into the hole to die, or await death. Although today it’s lit, but this cave was completely dark when it held prisoners thousands of years ago. Graffitti is scratched on the walls, and you can still see the chains that bound prisoners.
Food was occasionally thrown down to prisoners through the ceiling hole. Water was provided from a rocky pool in the floor–when the Roman acqueduct system flowed at a high level in the afternoon the water would rise long enough for the prisoners to drink–if their chains permitted them to reach it.
Time out until we reached the blazing light, blinking. The contrast between the damp cave below and the sunny, busy street was shocking.
From the Forum we took a walk that I described in The Moon in the Mango Tree. Across the Piazza Venezia, which the Romans call the ‘wedding cake’ because of the decorative white facade–from the balcony here Mussolini made speeches in WWII. We strolled on to the crowded Trevi Fountain (if you’re old enough you may remember the movie Three Coins in a Fountain and recognize this site. The movie was filmed here.) On to the magnificent Pantheon where we sat at a sidewalk cafe and did some serious people watching.
At the oval shaped Piazza Navona three blocks further we had dinner. Al Pacino was our waiter. (Well, he looked like him). Musicians, artists, clowns, models, dogs, cats, children–it’s colorful and lively. Bernini’s sculpture of the Four Rivers is the focal point of everything. This piazza was used for horse racing centuries ago. The custom was to lop off the winning horse’s head at the finish line, after which the bloody head was carried off to the temple to appease the Roman gods. Ponder that when you have time — death at the height of glory!
Tomorrow we’re off to the SCAVI tour in the archeological digs beneath St. Peter’s Bascilica. We’ll go inside Vatican city and underground to find the crypt and bones of the Apostle Peter, and I’ll tell you exactly why the Vatican is so certain that these precious relics are authentic finds.
Until then – Ciao! Pamela