Rome Day 2

Posted on April 22, 2008 by Holly Hayes
Part of: The Great European Road Trip

Ancient tombstone displayed in San Lorenzo

Our second full day in Rome was a bit shorter, slower paced, and (sadly) a whole lot cloudier. Not surprisingly, neither of us was thrilled about getting up for the earliest shuttle bus again, so we headed out on the 10:30 bus and didn't arrive in the city until well after 11. That left us rather rushed to make it on foot to our first church of the day before noon!

But we made it, even with getting a bit lost and stopping for a kebab and foccacia bread along the way. It was a long walk (about 20 minutes) through a pretty ugly part of the city to get there, but thankfully the church was well worth it. There were even a few other tourists drifting in from time to time, despite its remoteness from the rest of the city's attractions.

The Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (St. Lawrence Outside the Walls) is one of the oldest churches in Rome. Lawrence was an archivist of the Roman church who was executed by roasting publicly on a gridiron. The legend goes that his persecutors hoped he would renounce Christianity publicly under such torture, but instead he called out, "Turn me over, I am done on this side!" He is the patron saint of librarians - and of chefs.

st lawrence
Statue of St. Lawrence holding his gridiron.

Emperor Constantine built a small shrine over Lawrence's grave in the 300s and a pope added a church to it in the 580s. Another pope built a larger church in front of the old one in the 1200s. There was a banner hanging from the facade celebrating the shrine's 1750th anniversary - now that's pretty old.

Exterior view

porch frescoes
The porch is part of the 12th-century "new" church and is covered with frescoes depicting the life and martyrdom of St. Lawrence. There are also some ancient sarcophagi scattered about.

View into the 6th-century part of the church, which is on a higher level than the 12th-century nave. Under the altar is a crypt with the tomb of St. Lawrence.

This 6th-century mosaic includes a depiction of the city of Jerusalem.

The cloisters were magnificent - not terribly pretty, but felt truly ancient.

As is traditional in Rome's old churches, archaeological finds from beneath the church have been stuck in the plaster of the cloisters.

chi rho with alpha and omega
Most of the fragments are of tombstones from ancient Roman and early Christian times, with inscriptions in Greek and Latin. This one is an early Christian tomb, with the symbols of the Chi Rho and Alpha and Omega.

Fortunately the church caretaker was not strict about the 12:00 closing time, so we had plenty of time to look around. But eventually he locked up the front doors and let us out a side door, where we were greeted by the very friendly church cat:

church cat

Then we had a loooong walk back towards the train station and further south to the heart of the city. We had some extra time since most of the churches were closed, so we got to enjoy a leisurely lunch at a place called Ciuri Ciuri that we found right across the street from San Clemente. It is just a little takeaway place with only a couple tables, but the decor was stylish and the food was incredibly delicious!

Their specialty is Sicilian-style food. We tried pasta circles with meat sauce and peas, a flaky roll with ham and cheese baked inside...

...and this delicious thing, which is a rice and ham mixture inside a layer of mashed potato, covered in crumbs and baked. Yum! The photo doesn't do it justice.

We finished with the Sicilian classic treat, cannoli. We've tried these elsewhere and they've always been sickeningly rich and sweet, but this one was divine. It was made fresh to order for us, filling the ready-made shell with cream and dusting it with the powder of our choice (pistachio). The cream was still rich, but of a much higher quality and not nearly as sweet as usual. One bite was enough for me, but it was divine.

From there we traced a similar route to the day before, but turned off after the Circus Maximus to cross the Tiber river into the Trastevere neighborhood. There are two churches of interest there - Santa Maria in Trastevere and Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. It was a nice area of the city with a different feel to it - more like a smaller Italian town than Rome.

restaurant politics
One restaurant we passed had some strong opinions. Another sign proclaimed, "This is a non-tourist restaurant!" and we heard an American passerby comment, "Does that mean we're not allowed?"

Santa Maria in Trastevere, built in 350 and rebuilt in the 12th century.

The large porch has lots of interesting tombs and inscriptions to examine.

Inside the interior is mostly Baroque boring, except for the glorious apse mosaics from the 1100s and 1200s. Putting a Euro in a machine lit them up nicely.

xti_9317 xti_9335

Other highlights included a an 8th-century Byzantine icon and a contemporary painting of the Council of Trent in the 1500s.

Then we weaved our way through the old streets to the next church. Along the way we came across a L'Insalata Ricca restaurant, which was our very favorite place to eat when we had our hotel near the Vatican last time. It has a fantastic variety of salads and delicious bread. We knew it was a chain, but hadn't come across any this trip. How disappointing to only see it when we were full and short of time!

Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, which is also an active convent. During the latter part of our visit, a few nuns emerged and sang a service in the choir.

Cecilia was an upper-class woman from a senatorial family who was executed by several axe chops in 117.

st cecilia
The main highlight of the church is this very unusual and moving sculpture of Cecilia, which was made in 1599 after her body was exhumed and found to be incorrupt. The sculptor was present at the exhumation and left an inscription saying he had recreated in marble exactly what he saw.

There are also some nice apse mosaics.

Next we headed back across the river and up a steep hill to Santa Sabina, our last church of the trip. It was built in 422 and has hardly been changed since!


5th-century carved door
The church was very cool inside and out due to its great age, but the biggest highlight was probably this 5th-century carved wooden door. The panel with the Crucifixion at the top left is one of the earliest known depictions.

5th-century carved door
Another door detail.

Then we hiked back down the other side of the hill and took the Metro from the large Circus Maximus station back to Termini. The first train was crammed too full for us even to fit in, but the second one was better and we even had some elbow room for a couple stops.

We got an early, decent dinner at Termini from a healthy-Asian-style place called W.O.K. ("World Oriented Kitchen"), popped in the station's huge international bookstore for a quick look, then caught our 6:30 bus home.