Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Walls Walk

Sunday was another very full day, beginning bright and early. Thus far the days have come and gone in whirlwinds here. Even the weekends leave my head spinning. While I am certainly grateful for such an actively rich cultural experience, I confess I am looking forward to the school year beginning so I can settle into more of a routine and well, breathe.

This particular activity was also hosted by the college: a 10-mile walk around the walls of ancient Rome. All Vitoli and I made the executive decision to join the tour a little later, in the name of sleep. We met in front of the cathedral San Giovanni in Latero, the top of which is pictured below. According to our British tour guide, this church is possibly the most significant in the Roman Catholic world, built in honor of St. John the Baptist (San Giovanni) by emperor Constantine in the early 300's AD.

Above is an aqueduct dating back to 52AD, called "Aqua Claudia and Anio Novus," which used to carry as much as 4,308,000 gallons of water each day from over 70 kilometers away to supply the ancient city. And I thought modern day Americans had issues with over-consumption! Even more incredible, in my opinion, is that the aqueduct is still very much in use today, bringing water to Roman civilians just as it did 2,000 years ago.

Across the street we stopped to see Il Castro Pretorio, the barracks for the imperial guard. These too are still used today by the Italian armed forces. Soon after, we broke for a picnic lunch at the British Embassy. This was where I separated from my adopted family and continued on as the lone representative of the Vitolo clan. Both parents and kiddos were anxious to get home and rest from the previous night's activities and could afford to skip out on the touristy trek for obvious reasons. 

Apparently it was and still is common for civilians to live within the city walls. Can't begin to imagine what this rent is like.

Walking toward San Pietro

Piazza del Popolo

Scaling to the top of Pincio Hill turned out to be well worth the effort. From Pincio terrace, we enjoyed  incredible arial views of the city such as this one, highlighting Piazza del Popolo. A brief walk along the Tevere (Tiber) river brought us to Augustus' Mausoleum, where he stored the urns of his family ashes during the 1st century AD. Although this was once the most elegant burial place in Rome, it is now little more than a pile of dirt, rocks, and weeds. 

This was our last stop...can you tell?

Our tour concluded with another impressive climb up to Janiculum, but the pay off was an equally breathtaking view! We rested at the top in Villa Sciarra (pictured above), a popular vacation spot for ancient noble families. This is also where Julius Caesar built a palace for Cleopatra, in which they spent several nights together. 

Around 5pm we had finally made it back to the Piramide metro stop. This marble tomb belongs to Gauis Cestius and was built around 12 BC. Almost nothing else is known about this dude--not bad for having your own pyramid.

Even with aching legs, body odor, and sunburn, the experience was well worth it. It offered a perfect overview of the city and peaked my interest for sites I'd like to return to and spend more time. Once again, I met a number of very interesting people. I walked predominately with two girls in their mid-twenties (one German and one American), both interning at the NATO Defense College. I'm looking forward to getting to know them better this fall. It was music to my ears listening to a variety of languages spoken throughout the tour and I was thrilled to briefly revive my Spanish with a Spaniard on the walk. I've been a little worried about my Spanish getting rusty during my time here since my mind has been tuned to all things Italian. 

Miserable metro-ing and bus-ing home, I could have cried for the crowded vehicles that would add and extra hour and a half to my standing time. After a much needed nap and shower, we were headed out the door again for Giulio's birthday dinner at a Neapolitan pizza place on the beach. I realized maybe for the first time just how attached I am already to these children. After reading his family's CARD to him, the now 10-year-old boy started crying right there in the restaurant, followed by hugs and kisses all around and endless "thank you's." Perhaps then you can imagine his reaction upon unwrapping an iPod Touch. It left us all in tears, hugging. A little embarrassing maybe, but then again, this is not your average family.

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