Friday night food and Saturday at the Catacombs

Yesterday and today, I wrote my blogs in the afternoon, just after siesta, when my energy level is a little higher. Greg has gone to Despar (the supermarket), and Genene is still snoozing. She stayed up too late last night partying. Well, okay, that was me.

When I posted yesterday, it was afternoon and we had no big plans. We strolled back over to the Pantheon for an ATM stop, and I put a telephoto lens on my camera for the walk. It gave me some new and different views of old subjects.

This is a view down Via del Tritone, the first major street we have to cross on the way to the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. Pedestrians have the right-of-way in the crosswalk, but there is no light. Romans have the deserved reputation as madcap drivers, and it takes some bravery to step out into the crosswalks. If you hesitate, they roar through, so you must be bold and step into the street. I like to get behind a Roman and follow.

A close-up of the Trevi Fountain while the sun is still out.

A detail of a column. Jose taught Genene the difference between an Ionic, Doric and Corinthian column. He thinks she will be able to skip third grade now. 🙂


The top of the Egyptian obelisk at the Pantheon is adorned with the cross. One of the popes had the obelisks, which were spoils of war with the Egyptians, placed at various plazas in the city. They can be used for wayfinding/navigation.


A close-up of the Pantheon, bathed in the golden light.

We got our money and headed for our evening meal. We found a small hole-in-the-wall place on the street between the Pantheon and Trevi. Greg has nicknamed the route “the Gringo trail” because so many of us tourists are on it. Many of the restaurants have very aggressive waiters out front, barking at you to come in for a meal. We had read about our restaurant in Trip Advisor and had to look hard for it. No one was begging people to come in, and there were very few tables in the place. It was worth looking for. We had a delicious meal of grilled vegetables, fried zucchini flowers (a Roman delicacy that Jose told us to try), rosemary pasta, pasta with mushrooms, beefsteak (for Greg) and a liter of house red wine that was cool and delicious. An old Roman lady that worked in the back came out to talk to us, in Italian. She spoke only a little English but did not let that slow her down at all. She insisted on teaching Genene some Italian words and wanted to know where we had been and where we were going. When she found out we were from Texas, she said, “Oh, cowboys! John Wayne!” and made the forefinger-thumb gun sign with both hands. We closed the place down, and they gave us two limoncello drinks on the house at the end. It was a wonderful, quaint place.

We passed back by Trevi on the way home.


This is our small street.


And this is our building door. Genene likes to help open the big door and call the elevator.


We went to bed full and happy.

Saturday morning was to be another Jose tour. This time, we were going beyond the city walls to visit the catacombs at Basilica of St. Agnes and the Mausoleum of Santa Costanza. Jose gave Genene a small keychain flashlight and told her she would need it in the catacombs. Jose had arranged for a driver, Lino, and he showed up promptly and driving a large (by Roman standards), comfortable Ford. Traffic was light, and Lino had us out of the city in no time, passing right by Porto Pia, a gate through the Aurelian Walls of the city designed by Michelangelo. He had his hands in everything!

Jose explained that in Rome, bodies were not buried within the city walls. Instead they were buried alongside the roads outside the city wall. We drove out Via Nomentana, the northeast route out of the city. We went to the Basilica of St. Agnes first. In Italian its full name is Sant'Agnese fuori le mura (St. Agnes outside the wall). The remains of Agnes (without the head) are said to be entombed just below the altar. We had seen her head some days earlier in another St. Agnes church in Piazza Navona, St. Agnes in Agone. I was so worn out that day that I forgot to mention it in my blog. Genene had been fascinated with the tiny skull set in its own little room inside the church.

Jose has chosen to focus a lot of time on Agnes, for Genene's benefit. Agnes was an early Christian martyr. She was killed at the tender age of 12 in the year 304. She had refused the advances of an important prefect's son and was sentenced to death. As a virgin could not be executed, she was dragged through the streets naked to a brothel first. She prayed to God, and her hair grew long to cover her nakedness. The Romans tried to set her on fire, but it wouldn't start. Finally she was beheaded. Jose has told the story to emphasize to Genene that one must be steadfast and brave in one's beliefs, no matter what the consequences, a good lesson for all. I am glad that Jose chose a young girl as the star heroine for Genene.

Connected to the church is the Mausoleum of Constantina (or Santa Costanza). Constantina was the eldest daughter of Constantine, the Roman emperor that legalized Christianity. She had prayed to Agnes for a cure for her leprosy, which was granted, and so Constantina had a special place in her heart for Agnes and wanted to be buried next to her.

The church is built on several levels, into the side of a hill. We descended stairs to go into the church. You can see bits of old markers on the walls.

Remains of old mosaics are on the sides of the wall.

The church is layer upon layer of history. As Christians believe in the resurrection of the body, cremation is not an option, thus the catacombs. The catacombs we saw had the bodies removed (except for two which were kept intact as samples for the curious; of course, we gawked). We descended into the crypt under the church with a guide. The only ones on the tour were the four of us and one old Belgian priest. He had been conversing with Jose in Italian but when he found out we were from America, he shifted into perfect English. He had been to Houston and had seen the Rothko Chapel, “a place for all religions to worship'” as he described it. Last night, we were cowboys. Today, we were associated with Rothko. Houston is a diverse place.

Anyway, I was just amazed that we were in this place, practically alone. One could feel the ghosts. The ceiling dripped water in places, and you could see tree roots from the garden above us penetrating the ceiling of the catacombs. Thousands of early Christians were buried here, most with simple inscriptions or symbols to mark their graves. We learned about the sign of the fish, the Ichthys. In Greek, the word “fish” is an acronym for “Ίησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ”, (Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr), which translates into English as “Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior,” a bit of secret code. (Thanks to Wikipedia for the neat Greek letters!)

Genene loved shining her tiny flashlight into the dark places. When we got to the grave of St. Agnes, Genene read the inscription aloud at my urging, and the priest was pleased with her. We came up out of the crypt into the church, and the kindly old man wished us well in our travels and went on his way. Part of the fun of the journey is the people you meet along the way.

The altar at St. Agnes is beautiful. Her headless bones are directly below.


Each column within the church is different, recycled from other temples. Jose makes a game of it by asking Genene to pick her favorite.


A floor mosaic. Recognize that dragon?


A close-up view of one of the mosaics on the altar.


Ceiling detail.

St. Agnes is in the middle, of course.


From the church, we strolled next door to the mausoleum. Constantina liked the wine, and some of the mosaics in the mausoleum are dedicated to Bacchus, the god of wine. Constantina saw nothing inconsistent in mixing her Christianity with a little fermented grape. This early mosaic shows the stomping of the grapes.


More views of the ceiling mosaics.

Check out the graffiti in this next photograph. In the seventeeth century, a society of mostly Dutch and Flemish artists active in Rome at the time used to drink all night and then go over to the mausoleum for their little fraternity party. They would make rowdy processions to the church and make libations to Bacchus in front of the sarcophagus of Constantina. Pope Clement XI finally put a stop to this nonsense in 1720.


We emerged into the sunlight and took a last walk around the exterior of this early Christian church and burial place.

The ambulatory basilica.

A grotto with offerings to the Virgin Mary.
St. Agnes.
Since we had Lino, we had options for a stop on the way back into the walled city. We chose to make a brief stop at an old Roman bridge, Ponte Nomentano. It was beautiful, though Lino lamented at how scruffy it was. It was not “kept up” at all, and no tourists were there. There are places like this all over Rome. Lino told us that Romans take all of their history for granted and say to themselves, “Next year, I will go see that.”
The bridge against the blue sky.

Daddy's girl.


A pretty girl in Rome.


Can you see the Roman boy fishing on the banks at the right? He is wearing a red shirt.

One last view of the bridge, with its ramparts. You can almost see the archers up there shooting down, can't you?


It's dinnertime now. Greg is back from the store, and Genene is awake. We are going to have an earlier (than usual) dinner and try to get in bed early. Our day starts very early tomorrow, as we head out for Pompeii. I expect us to be gone all day, so you probably will not see a blog from me tomorrow.

Have a good Sunday!

1 thought on “Friday night food and Saturday at the Catacombs

  1. I am so enjoying your blog! I hope to visit Europe soon, but for now I can live vicariously. Ha! I too have a passion for photography. You are getting really good with that camera!

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