January 19: Rome as a Religious and Political Center
After many days in Rome it was time for the grand finale, St. Peter's Basilica, and it only took one smelly, claustrophobic metro ride to get there.
Our journey began in the Plazza San Pietro, the space right outside the Basilica where people often gather to hear the Pope speak. Lynn gave us the lowdown on the history of the Basilica including the importance of St. Peter in the Christian religion as the rock upon which God built his Church; Peter is often represented as the "Keeper of Keys" to the Kingdom of Heaven and is therefore often shown holding two large golden keys in his hands.
Inside St. Peter's Basilica, we observed a mix of Renaissance and Baroque styles in the architecture and decor, and admired the works of many great artists. One of the most notable was Michelangelo's famous statue, the Pieta. We marveled at the design of the distinctive feature of the Basilica, the Dome of St. Peter - the 551 steps of the dome motivated some of us honors students to accept the challenge to climb to the top.
The rich history of the Basilica was evident as soon as we entered the Vatican Scavi, the necropolis buried underneath the Basilica. Inside we saw what are believed by many to be the remains of St. Peter. In 324 AD, Constantine built the Old Basilica over the tomb of St. Peter, while in the process burying all the other tombs surrounding it. Over the years the Basilica was reconstructed and altered, most drastically in 1506 when Pope Julius II destroyed and rebuilt it during the Reformation, when Catholicism was being threatened. During this process, the remains of an old man were found in the wall surrounding the shrine of Saint Peter's tomb. There is still debate today as to whether these were actually St. Peter's remains, but regardless, the Basilica and Vatican Scavi remain a sacred place to Christians all over the world.
Just up the street from the Basilica, we visited the Castel San Angelo, built in 139 AD as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian. This castle was later repurposed as a fortress for the protection of the Pope during times of struggle or invasion. After getting lost within the many rooms of the castle, we eventually found our way to the very top, which offered what we voted to be the best view of Rome.
After being motivated to continue with (free) Gelato from Mike and Lynn, we walked to our last destination of the day: the office of Nicole Winfield, a journalist for AP (Associated Press), which is a non-profit news corporation. Nicole spoke to us about her experience covering the news of the Vatican and answered our questions regarding journalism and the Pope.
Overall today we focused on Rome as a Religious and Political Center, and through these various sites have further witnessed the endless influences and crossroads of Italy through the architecture, art, and history filling the streets of Rome.
You've been good to us Rome. Now off to Ravenna. :)