Friday, December 26, 2014

Rome: A Neighborhood Walk - The Jewish Ghetto To Testaccio

One of the travel books we'd bought in preparation for this trip was National Geographic's Walking Rome: A Step-by-Step Guide. We haven't used it much, but it seems like a book I'd use more of in the future, especially if we come back to Rome. It includes maps for all neighborhoods and provides itineraries with in-depth information about the interesting things one might do one each neighborhood, walking routes, the time and length of each walk, and pertinent public transportation. In considering what might be available to do around Christmas - the day of and the day after, two days in which many sites are closed - one walk that started in the Jewish Ghetto seemed intriguing. This particular walk had us beginning in the Ghetto, at the Great Synagogue, then walking to Teatro di Marcello, two Republican temples, Santa Maria in Cosmedin and Bocca della Veritâ, Circo Massimo, Terme di Caracalla, the Aventino, and the Protestant Cemetery, with a visit Testaccio concluding the walk.

We started in the Jewish Ghetto, which was established as a result of Papal bull "Cum nimis absurdum," implemented by Pope Paul IV in 1555. (Paul IV argued that it was absurd that Jews live among Christians.) The ghetto walls were finally torn down in 1888, at which point the ghetto itself was effectively nearly entirely demolished.  It's in ghetto - sometimes called the Roman ghetto - where the Tempio Maggiore (the Great Synagogue), the largest synagogue in Rome, is found. We went on a tour of both the Great Synagogue and the Spanish Synagogue. The Great Synagogue was a beautiful building that reflected an eclectic mix of architectural styles. Because each of the synagogues in Rome is Orthodox, women pray in separate sections, which you can see a bit here; when more congregants were in attendance, women prayed on the second level, behind those gates. The ceiling is painted with stars as an acknowledgement to the Lord telling Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars.

From Rome & Vatican City (December 2014)

Our first stop, though - merely by dint that we happened to walk by it first - was the Teatro di Marcello (the Theater of Marcellus), an ancient open-air theater built in the closing years of the Roman Republic. It was named after Marcus Marcellus, Emperor Augustus's nephew, who died five years before its completion.

From Rome & Vatican City (December 2014)

After our visit to the Great Synagogue, we walked by Tiber Island and kept going in order to see the remnants of two Republican temples. The Tempio di Portunus, a temple dedicated to a harbor god and built in the fourth or third century B.C., was covered by a layer of plaster to look like marble, and which Christians converted into a church in the ninth century.

From Rome & Vatican City (December 2014)

Tempio di Ercole was dedicated to Hercules and survives because it became a church around the 12th century. The Tempio di Ercole is Rome's oldest marble temple, dating to the second or early first century B.C. (Converting these temples into Christians churches means they would have been maintained.)

From Rome & Vatican City (December 2014)

Santa Maria in Cosmedin and Bocca della Veritâ (the Mouth of Truth that was made famous by Roman Holiday), was effectively across the street from the Republican temples, but neither of us was up to standing in a rather longish line so we admired the church itself from across the street and made our way to Circo Massimo, the length of which we walked.

On our way to Testaccio, our last stop, we passed St. Paul's Gate, which is part of the complex of the Aurelian Walls, built by order of the Emperor Aurelian in 275 CE; it's considered one of the best-preserved city-gates in the whole circuit of walls. The current name came into use during the Middle Ages because of its proximity to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, which could be reached by means of the Ostian way, beginning its course, leading to Ostia precisely from this gate.

From Rome & Vatican City (December 2014)

Since so many archaeological remains seem to be visible from each other, we also saw the Pyramid of Caius Cestius, a Roman politician who had instructed in his will that the construction of his tomb, in the form of a pyramid, should be carried out in 330 days. The Pyramid was later incorporated into the circuit of walls built between 272 and 279 CE on the initiative of the Emperor Aurelian.

We finally made it to Testaccio, which is a source of archeological evidence as to the history of ancient everyday Roman life, but which is now largely residential, so we took a short look around before heading back to the metro station.

We didn't do the entirety of the suggested walk. The Termi di Caracalla (the Baths of Caracalla) were a bit out of the way; we probably could have walked it but our feet were getting tired. One of the places we had hoped to visit was the Protestant Cemetery, more officially known as the Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Testaccio, Rome, which has tomb inscriptions in more than fifteen languages, including Lithuanian, Bulgarian, Church-Slavonic, Japanese, Russian, Greek, and Avestic, often engraved in their own non-Roman scripts. It's the burial site of both Keats and Shelley, but unfortunately it was closed because of the holiday, as was the museum associated with St. Paul's Gate.

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