Friday, June 11, 2010

The Colosseum and Vatican Museum by Carina Vargas

The beautiful city of Rome is widely recognized for its historical background and breathtaking sites, reason for its nickname “The Eternal City.” I am lucky to say that the home to some of the most well known landmarks and artwork is also the place that I temporarily call home. I have visited many important sites during my stay, with some of the most memorable being the Colosseum and the Vatican Museum.

I arrived at the Colosseum with a lack of sufficient background regarding the site, and I thought taking a guided tour would be the best approach to my visit. It was a smart decision considering that my tour guide was very informative, energetic, and enjoyable. The Colosseum was built when the Roman Empire was at its peak in A.D. 80, and as we were told, it represents Rome at its grandest. We call this building the Colosseum, but its real and original name is The Flavian Amphitheater. The second word of its original name serves as a hint to determine the purpose of the building, which was for entertainment. During this time, killing was a spectator sport, and the Colosseum was the perfect arena for gladiator contests and public spectacles.

The design of the building was not created for aesthetic purposes, but simply for functionality. While the structure is Roman, it is mainly decorated with Greek columns. There was Tuscan style on ground level, Ionic on the second level, Corinthian on the next level , and on the top there was mixtures of all three. The different levels of seating was reserved for different classifications of people. The very top level above the rest was reserved for women. This was to ensure that they were kept away from all of the gore and confrontations that would happen in the lower levels. Right below the women were the slaves, which according to my tour guide, had the best view in the house. The levels below were all reserved for men. The tour of the Colosseum also included the Palantine Hill and the Forum, which were both very impressive sights and well worth the 20 Euros that I paid for the day. Overall I had a very educational and wonderful experience.

Looking at the historical sites is extremely important, but building relationships is just as important when diving into a new culture. I was lucky enough to have met and become good friends with an individual who very conveniently is also a guide at the Vatican. He was kind enough to allow me and a friend to take his tour of the museum free of charge. Considering that the tour guide at the Colosseum had done such an incredible job, I had very high expectations for this one, which also turned out to be a great experience.

The entrance of the building covers the ancient world, which is Egypt, Greece and Rome. At the far end, including the Sistine Chapel, the Renaissance is covered. The Egyptian art really impressed me, including the mummy of the woman who died three millennia ago and whose corpse was disemboweled. It is difficult to describe or discuss everything I saw at the museum, because the amounts of things to see are overwhelming, and according to my tour guide, it would take years to really get to see everything. Walking along I saw that the majority of the statues had fig leaves. We were told that those came from the years 1550 to 1800 because the church decided that openly displaying those body parts at the museum was obscene. Then we moved on to the tapestries, and I have to day that I was most impressed with Raphael’s Resurrection of Christ tapestry. It is so precise that it creates an optical illusion as you walk past it, making the impression that Jesus’ eyes, body, and stone in which he is standing follow you wherever you go. A couple hours later we finally made it into the Sistine chapel, which I was most excited to see. As expected, it was absolutely breathtaking, and just having in mind the amount of hard work and time that was put into the creation of the paintings that cover the walls of the chapel is mind blowing. Looking up at the artwork for just fifteen minutes made my neck and my back hurt, so it is difficult to imagine the struggles that Michael Angelo faced when creating this masterpiece. There are still many special events that take place in the Chapel, including celebrating mass with the Pope every so often, but most importantly, it is the place where all of the Cardinals gather when facing the difficult decision of choosing the next pope.

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