60 Years Ago Today

Friday, 27 June 1952:

The group had breakfast at the hotel. Then I spent 715 lire to mail two letters and five cards. Via del Corso, the main street running through the historical center of Rome, used to have horse races. We crossed the Tiber River. Then we identified the Caesar Augustus Old Mausoleum, Palazzio Justice Renaissance building or Hall of Justice, courthouse, Castle St. Angelo the former burial place of emperors, and Berssini’s colonnades which was the latest addition added about 130 years after the church was started.

Then we finally ended up at St. Peter’s Basilica and discovered fountains that had been working for over 700 years and an obelisk weighing 500 tons in the center of the square. Here we actually walked up to St. Peter’s door and looked at the statue of Charlemagne through iron doors. Then I saw bronze doors that were copied from some bronze doors in Florence. The northernmost door is the “Holy Door” which, by tradition, was walled-up with bricks, and opened only for holy years such as the Jubilee year by the Pope. The present door is bronze and was designed by Vico Consorti in 1950. The southern door, the Door of the Dead, was designed by 20th century sculptor Giacomo Manzù. Popes and others exited here for their funeral processions.

I caught sight of La Pieta, a statue by Michelangelo, which depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus. La Pieta was much smaller than most of his other statues, and it was the only statue he ever signed. Then there was a beautiful mosaic of Pope Clement VIII holding the key to the Jubilee door. In the right aisle is a monument to Christina of Sweden who renounced Protestantism and became Catholic.

Then I saw another monument to Leo 12th and later the Chapel of St. Sebastian, which was named after the subject of the mosaic above the altar. Other sites included: Tomb of Innocent XII, tomb of Countess Matilda, tomb of Gregory XII, tomb of Gregory XIV, painting of The Mass of St. Basil for the altar of St. Basil, monument to Benedict XIV, and painting of Martyrdom of St. Erasmus.
As we continued our tour in St. Peter’s Basilica, a man came up and called us down on our vulgar dress. After that experience we continued by viewing the eleven chandeliers that hung down on strings from every corner. The chandeliers came to an arch or a point above a central arch. Michelangelo redesigned the dome in 1547 when he was 72. The weight of St. Peter’s dome rests on four big pillars. The huge main altar was made of bronze from the Pantheon. There were 92 lamps burning and St. Peter was buried right under the mantle. Big maroon booth things decorated each huge pillar for special ceremonies. I saw a lady kiss the toe of St. Peter. His toes were worn down from people kissing them. St. Peter had the keys of authority in his hand that were supposedly found in his original shrine.

We proceeded through St. Peter’s Basilica with St. Andrew statue, St. Veronica statue, St. Longinus statue by Bernini, St. Linus statue, monument to Paul III, tomb of Urban VIII (Mafeo Barberini), monument to Benedict XIV and St. Helen statue who was the mother of Constantine. She converted to Christianity and became a devout Christian. She brought part of the true cross from Jerusalem.

Next was the entrance to St. Peter’s crypt where Peter was buried. The rounded domes were Renaissance architecture. There was a copy of the painting Sacred Heart. And later a list of all the 143 popes was on a marble plaque. The Chapel of Immaculate Conception was next with a beautiful mosaic.

Then we climbed the stairs to the top. It cost 50 lire on the way up and I saw autographs on most of the tombs. There were plaques commemorating the days when important figures came to visit the current popes. St. Peter’s Basilica was partially built over the same site of the earlier Nero’s Circus where St. Peter had been killed there in 67 a.d. during the Christians martyrdom.

The obelisk was the only existing structure from that time period. The first level of the dome had a mosaic all around it and was clear to the top. It was made of little stones and looked down on the main altar. There were narrow winding stairs to the top with autographs all over the place.
Later I snuck two pictures from the first level of the Chapel of Immaculate Conception.

Afterwards I snuck a couple more shots of the Vatican gardens from on top. Then we sang O Suzannah with two Roman boys on the way down. We talked to them at the bottom as well. We were tired of trying to get the Italian guards to let us take pictures of the Swiss guards. No soap! Their uniforms were beautiful and elaborate costumes.

Later we followed Herr Watkins to find some food. We found a lady and man fighting over our patronage. It was quite a circus! We split up and gave them both a break. The salt and pepper in this place are not in shakers, but in little round tin bowls. There were things with toothpicks sticking up between the salt and pepper.

A cute waiter brought us cherries, apricots and plums. Finally I snapped a picture of a Swiss Guard. He was not supposed to smile, but he couldn’t help it. There are 90 Swiss Guards that represent an honor guard from the nobility.

We viewed a tunnel where the Pope escaped to St. Angelo Castle in the 16th century. A Swiss Guard died protecting the Pope. There was an old mote around St. Angelo. It was originally built as a mausoleum and burial place for emperors and family members. St. Angelo was built of gleaming white marble that was later stripped off.

We found wide open “dealies” along the street with not even as much protection as in Paris. Afterwards it started to sprinkle. We waited under a tree for it to stop. There was a little garden down along the Tiber River. Little boys were swimming in the river and gambling on the streets.
Old Roman ruins were preserved in the midst of new buildings. Little kids were playing on the ruins. I was mobbed by little boys when I brought out my pack of gum. They ran after the other kids to see if they could get more gum.

Huge lemons were at a streetside stand. Caesar Augustus’ Mausoleum had withstood the ravages of time. Gardens were replanted around it. Then I saw Rendezvous of Poets and a silk shop that was mentioned in Fielding which sells ties and silk scarves.

American Express popped up on the next corner so I left a forwarding address. Then I stopped in a book shop and drooled over a book about Italy. I was too tired to talk to a fellow working in the store about literature. I stopped in the silk shop to see what it was like. The kids were wondering what happened to me.

Alene, Lucy and I went down to Economico for dinner. The manager brought chips over to us, but we didn’t understand. All of us ordered spaghetti and soup because we couldn’t read the menu. We discovered from watching others that we were supposed to buy chips before we got what we wanted.

At 9 p.m. we spent the night on the town in Rome. At the Trivi Fountain I threw five lire in the pond and also drank the water. A traditional legend states that if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome. Guess I’m coming back for sure. [Yes! And I returned in July of 1983.]

A policeman in a white spotless uniform had a spotlight on him in the middle of the square in front of the monument to Victor Emanuel II, Italy’s great king. Victor was born in Turin, Italy and claimed Nice during the last war. I saw his tomb in the Pantheon. At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier we discovered something new. By pushing a button something would come up from the underground. While there we caught the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

We proceeded to Palazzo Venezia, a residential papal palace, which was a building belonging to the Venetian Republic. Mussolini had had an office there and used the balcony for many of his notable speeches. Napoleon’s mother had lived centuries earlier on a corner across from Mussolini’s office. From there we progressed to the Tor di Valle that was an important and large horse racing venue of the city of Rome.

Next was the Trajan Forum which was a forum for Caesar and Circus Maximus that was an ancient Roman chariot racing stadium and mass entertainment venue. Palatine Hill, one of the most ancient parts of the city, was on the right. Then we caught sight of the Temple of Vesta and Temple of Fortune Virale.

And we discovered the Theatre of Marcellus, an ancient open-air theatre, that was the second largest seating capacity in ancient Rome. Then we passed over the oldest Roman bridge, Ponte Fabricio, still in its original state from 62 b.c. It spanned the Tiber River.The little Church of St. Bartholomew and hospital was next. There was a four headed statue on the other side of bridge. There was a baby that was born in ancient Rome with four heads so the Italians made a statue of the baby. Another bridge, Pons Cestius, was a Roman stone bridge spanning the Tiber River as well.

Then we caught sight of the House of Dante, a major Italian poet of the Middle Ages. He stayed here when in Rome. We rode over Gianicolo Hill that was the second tallest hill in Rome.
Next we observed the monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi in Piazza don Minzoni Square. It was sculpted by Angelo Viotti in 1884 and dedicated on 6 September 1885. Giuseppe Garibaldi was to Italy what Washington was to America. There was a cannon at the base of the monument that had been fired from the hill every night. About 15 years ago the Italians stopped shooting the cannon.
At St. Peter’s Basilica, Bernini, a prominent Italian artist, built colonnades around St. Peter’s Basilica and got both fountains going.

The light was on in the apartment of the Pope. Papa Pius XII, the current pope, was 74 or 75 years old. Tomorrow at 12:15 p.m. we get to meet him. Everyone was in bed—except me! I snuck around trying to wash my clothes at midnight.

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