Rome: History. Mussolini & Vatican Censors.

Rome is all history. Ok. So some may go for the food, others for shopping, but most go to take in the history. Ancient Rome, Old Rome and latter day Rome. Arguably, perhaps the two most visited areas are Ancient Rome including Ceaser’s Forum and The Coliseum as well as Vatican City in all its glory of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. Perhaps a part of Rome’s past that leaves a bit of a blemish on the city’s most visited sites is the legacy of Mussolini.

Mussolini made his mark on Rome through two roads or avenues he plowed right through the Ancient Ruins and up to the Vatican. Not that Rome couldn’t use a little relief in the traffic. Like most of Europe that when the roads were built (and certainly not in a day) nobody was thinking motor vehicles. I mean there’s absolutely no parking for the Coliseum. Ha!

Mussolini wanted grand avenues to parade his troops through the city. So right over ruins that are centuries years old he paved the four lane “highway” Via dei Fori Imperiali and leading up to the Vatican he built via Concilizone taking out small winding pathways that were designed to obscure St. Peters and The Vatican from visitors’ views until they’d pass through the gates revealing it in its vast size and amazing beauty of art and architecture. This was his statement or celebration marking the signing of the Lateran Accords of 1929 by he and Pope Pius XI. The Accords solved a number of problems that alienated the Papacy and the state of Italy and the Italian Government ever since the Italian Unification in 1870. Thus, Vatican City was born.

Inside the Vatican Museums we were shuffled along with crowds of people taking tours, breezing by works of art dating back to the Egyptians (2400 BC), The Etruscans (700 BC) and Ancient Greece (approx 100-200 BC). We are told that October is the slow season in Rome. I can’t imagine being in the Vatican with more people. We had scheduled a tour directly with the Vatican (recommended if you go) allowing us to scoot ahead of a line of what seemed to be more than 1,000 waiting outside. Also disturbing to me is that lining the artifact and art filled corridors are vendors offering up all the Church has to offer those interesting in shopping and consuming. Silly.

Inside the Sistine Chapel hundreds of tourists crane their necks to see Michelangelo’s grand work that he spent more than four years on his back painting — yet it took 19 years to complete the restoration which was unveiled in time for the Millennium. Perhaps most important in the restoration is the removal of many of the loin clothes that were painted onto Michelangelo’s fresco after his death by a former student, Volterra. The Vatican censors, namely Biagio da Cesena, who declared “such pictures were better suited to a bathroom, or a roadside wine-shop, than to a chapel of a pope”. Michelangelo’s fresco was declared obscene by the Council of Trent in January 1564. A few days later Michelangelo died.

What also amazes me about the Romans, the Catholic Church and the preservation of history is how so many things inside the Vatican, including St. Peter’s itself, is made up of materials “stolen” from other historical sites in Rome. We’d probably have more of the Coliseum to see and less of St. Peter’s since much of the marble in the largest church in the world was taken from Nero’s venue and the huge alter inside the Basilica was made of bronze ripped from the Pantheon, perhaps the oldest complete structure in Rome (120 AD). But this is all history. I won’t even get into Napoleon and his arch.We’re going to take in a bit more of the Roman lifestyle before heading to Tuscany. When in Rome…

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