Sunday, June 8, 2008

Rome, Day 13

Today we started out riding the Metro (which is very small in Rome, only two main lines currently), then hopping a bus to the Appia Antica. This road is about 1 ½ miles south of Rome, and is where most of the catacombs are located; along with a park which houses an original section of a Roman road. We were dropped off at the catacombs of San Sebastiano. There is a very interesting story behind this particular set of catacombs.

Sebastiano was appointed the head of the Praetorian (Caesar’s) Guard during the persecution of Christians, yet he was a Christian himself (in secret). Because of this, he helped many Christians escape death, and converted many—including quite a few soldiers. When the emperor found out that he was a Christian, he had him sentenced to death; and Sebastian was shot with arrows and stabbed, then left for dead. However, a widow went to collect his body and found him alive; so she nursed him back to health. Of course, after he was well he went back to see the emperor who this time had him killed in the courtyard of his palace. He was buried in these catacombs, and years later Constantine had a church built on top of where his body lay. As well, there is evidence to suggest that St Peter and St Paul were buried here for a years, until Constantine moved them to their current resting places (St Peter at St Peter’s Cathedral, and St Paul at St Paul’s Without the Walls—which lies some distance outside the city).

Visiting these catacombs is a very sobering event, as at one point I had to simply sit down because of the emotions which were raging within me. To think that so many Christians were murdered and buried here because of their faith makes you truly appreciate just how blessed we are.

After the catacombs we walked down the Appian Way past ruins all the way to the Roman road. (One important thing to note, you cannot buy a bus ticket on this road and you cannot get on the bus without a ticket…nice. So, if you don’t have a ticket you have to walk back to the nearest place to buy a ticket….not cool.) However, if you make this walk you get to see the very well persevered old walls of the city of Rome; and walk past the Baths of Caracalla. Once we reached the Metro, we headed back to visit the Vatican City.

The Vatican is divided into several important sections: The Vatican Museums, which house the Sistine Chapel (€8 per person); St Peter’s (free); and the Vatican Gardens (must be booked in advance, and I think are €20 per person). We visited the Vatican Museums first, since it closes earliest. Some areas of the museum allow you to take pictures, and others do not (specifically the Sistine Chapel, no pics). Lots to see, but the Sistine Chapel is no doubt the most important. The double-helix spiral staircase which is the exit from the museums is amazing in itself! We then went over to St Peter’s, which houses among other things the grave of St Peter—very beautiful.

After a short rest, we headed out to eat at the Hard Rock CafĂ©! Nothing special, but good food and a definite American atmosphere. One thing we didn’t realize is that the Metro closed at 9pm because they were apparently working on it while we were there; so we had to figure out what bus to take to get back to our hotel…fun!

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