We also had a private tour in Rome. We were a big enough group that we needed two vans. Our guide and drivers were really amazing. We packed a lot into one day in Rome and couldn’t have done it without our excellent drivers (our driver was Nicola, who did an amazing job).

Our drivers picked us up in Civatavecchia, the port, then drove us to The Vatican, where we met our guide. We did stop quickly for snacks and a bathroom break on the way, where I got to sample Italian espresso, which was quite good.

My Italian espresso.

Knowing a little bit about religion, I knew The Vatican was its own country and had a sense that it was big, but I didn’t realize just how big. I also didn’t realize just how ornate and ostentatious it is. We rushed through several buildings (since we had a busy agenda), but all of them contained priceless artwork: statues, paintings, friezes, etc.

A shot of the ceiling in the Vatican Gallery of Maps.

We got to visit the Sistine Chapel, but no photos can be taken inside (I followed the rules, but not everyone does). It really is impressive. I pestered our guide with questions throughout the tour and, even though we weren’t supposed to talk in the Sistine Chapel, she was whispering quietly about what we were seeing. Given its central role in electing new popes, I was interested in where they burned the ballots. That particular piece of equipment was not in there; it is installed only when the cardinals are meeting, and the piping is set up at that time as well.

From the Sistine Chapel, we went to St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest Catholic Church in the world. This, too, illustrated just how much money the Catholic Church has and started me down a path of questioning with our guide that she probably doesn’t get very often. One of the more prominent features in St. Peter’s Basilica is a set of four columns in the center of the basilica made out of pure bronze. The bronze was stolen from pre-Catholic sites around Rome, particularly the Pantheon, melted down, then used in the construction of the pillars in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Catholic Church worked hard to erase the glory of the pagan era that pre-dated it and to build up its own status at the expense of history, much like ISIS has done by destroying ancient art and monuments from pre-Islamic times.

Steve, Rosemary, Toren, and Debi in front of the four bronze pillars in the center of St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican. The bronze was all raided from Roman buildings, melted down, and recast here.

Another illustration of Catholic syncretism was the co-opting of the obelisks from Egypt. The Roman Empire stole dozens of obelisks, which had been monuments to the sun god, and brought them back to Rome. When the Catholic Church took over, they mounted crosses on top of all of them, co-opting them as symbols of Christianity. A very large obelisk stands in the center of the courtyard outside St. Peter’s Basilica:

An Egyptian obelisk syncretized by the Catholic Church into a symbol of Christianity, in the middle of the square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.

I’m sure I could spend several days at The Vatican, appreciating the art and architecture. I’m sure I would also thoroughly enjoy visiting the library and archives, the bank, and a number of other elements of Vatican City that most people would find of little interest. Given my background and training, I couldn’t help but find examples of syncretism throughout Vatican City.

Our time in The Vatican was relatively short as we had lots of other stuff to do. From The Vatican, we drove to The Pantheon, which is another brilliant example of Catholic syncretism. They took a beautiful building dedicated to the Roman gods and co-opted it as a Catholic Church. The dome is a truly remarkable piece of engineering that has stood for thousands of years.

From there, our drivers and guide took us to Trevi Fountain, which is absolutely stunning. Any decent-sized city that attracts tourists should learn from Trevi Fountain – build a beautiful fountain in a central location and people will flock to it. Trevi Fountain was teeming with people, but it’s not surprising that it was given how beautiful it is.

Family selfie at the Trevi Fountain.

We grabbed some food while at Trevi Fountain as we hadn’t had lunch and still had a few more hours on our tour.

The next stop was The Colosseum.

I knew that the Colosseum was large and what it was used for, but I was still impressed when I walked in and saw the arena (sand) for the first time. It’s enormous. It could seat over 60,000 people. It’s a truly astounding piece of architecture.

Toren and one of his cousins pretending to be gladiators outside the Colosseum.

Our last stop on our whirlwind tour of Rome was the LDS Temple. Given that most of the family is LDS and the temple was recently dedicated, they really wanted to see it. Given my research interests, I was perfectly happy to go as well.

Strangely, the temple is located quite far from the city center in what appear to be suburbs. In fact, there is an Ikea right next to it. The location is definitely odd and there certainly were not as many visitors as there were at The Vatican. Even so, they have done a nice job with both the architecture and the surrounding landscaping. There are nice, understated fountains and gardens. It was very beautiful. The visitor’s center was nice as well.

We spent a good hour at the LDS temple and visitor’s center, then got back in the vans and headed back to the cruise ship.

That evening, I went to a comedy show with Steve and Scott (the twins). The comedian, who was pretty good, assumed that the three of us were gay as we were sitting together without any women around us. We didn’t disabuse him of that notion and got a good laugh out of it.

Thought on Rome… I’m definitely going to need to return to Rome with more time to explore the city. As our guide said repeatedly, Rome is a living archaeological site.

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