Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2015
Mediterranean Cruise - Part 4
A renaissance fort guards the harbour of Civitavecchia, gateway to Rome - one of the world's greatest cities. From its inception in 753 B.C. to the days of its decline, Rome has been the focal point for many of the world's greatest artists, architects, rulers and philosophers and Civitiavecchia has always been its major port. Civitavecchia is not only the Port of Rome but also a pleasant resort with an emphasis on sailing. There are lots of boats, several nice marinas, and on our last visit there was some sort of flotilla dinghy sailing race. We had decided to catch the train and be independent, and economical like on our last visits. For comparison, the cheapest tour was a simple bus transfer without a guide which cost $71 and at the other extreme the comprehensive 11 hour visit to Rome and the Sistine Chapel was $269 each although since this included visits inside the Colosseum, express entrance to the Vatican Museum and lunch it was arguably a bargain for those who would only visit Rome once in their lifetime. We wanted to get to the station as early as possible and the ship berthed in an area separate from the other cruise ships. We needed to use the complimentary shuttle buses which were supposed to start at 0700. We were in breakfast just after 0600 to be ready before the official bus tours to Rome which were scheduled to depart between 0730 and 0845. The port bus drivers were in no hurry to leave and when a taxi driver asked if anyone wanted to pay 5 euros to go to the railway station there was a quick decision. We bought a BIRG dayticket (like our London Travelcard) which included metro and bus in Rome for 12 euros. The ticket must be stamped with the date and time at a little machine before getting on the train and we were easily on board the 0744 regional train. The journey to Roma Termini was 1 hour 4 minutes.
The train route goes along the coast, in parallel with the main road, until both turned inland towards Roma. After an hour, the first of the Roman stations was Roma St Pietro - we had a good view of St Peter's Basilica and then crossed the River Tiber. Trains from Civitavecchia arrive at the far platforms of Roma Termini.
We have always been lucky with weather and this visit was no exception. It was before 0900 when we emerged in the Piazza dei Cinquecento and the Museo Nazionale Romano in the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme was closed. The other part of the museum, in the Terme di Diocleziano, was just opening, advertising an exhibition of the work of Henry Moore which had been loaned from the Tate. Terme means baths and the museum, and the neighbouring Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli had been built on the site of the Baths of Diocletian. The original complex of baths, libraries, concert halls and gardens was the largest in Rome in the 4th century. It covered about 13 hectares and fell into disrepair after the water supply by aqueducts was destroyed during wars. The Basilica was designed by Michaelangelo. It was one of his final projects and included the original roman columns and the great central hall and the 'tepidarium' of the original baths. The double meridian by Bianchini across the floor is lit from a hole in the decorated coving of the ceiling and was constructed in 1702. The design of the basilica dates from 1563. The beautiful modern organ was given by the citizens of Rome to Pope John Paul II in 2000 to celebrate the Millenium.
Leaving the Basilica in the Piazza della Repubblica there are many prestigious buildings along the Via Nazionale, including the headquarters of the Bank of Italy. The Via delle Quattro Fontana, as its name indicates, leads to the junction with four fountains - one on each corner. They were installed between 1588 and 1593 and are said to represent Fidelity, Strength and the Rivers Arno and Tiber. The River Tiber fountain is reminiscent of the statue of Old Father Thames at Lechlade. This junction is at the start of the Via del Quirinale which leads to the Piazza del Quirinale and the residence of the President of the Italian Republic.
Our next destination was the Trevi fountain, which is a short walk down the steps and then into the narrow streets. Unfortunately the fountain was dry and being restored. The picture is from a previous visit. We chose a cafe/gelaterie in the pedestrian Via delle Muratte for our usual mid-morning icecream refuelling. At the end of this street in the Piazza di Pietra are the unlikely remains of the Temple of the Emperor Hadrian, just 11 huge columns which are embedded in a wall. A model on display in a window opposite indicates how it would have been when originally built. We continued along narrow pedestrian street to the famous Pantheon in the Piazza della Rotonda. This substantial ancient monument dates from around 120 AD and has been a Christian church since 609. The tombs of two Italian kings are inside: Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I. The building is famous for its dome which is the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built. It is 43.3 metres diameter and this is identical to its interior height. It is therefore a semisphere. For comparison, the cupola in the Duomo in Florence is 44 metres wide and is a different construction being octagonal and made of bricks. There is a small opening in the dome, the oculus, which is 9 metres diameter. Rain water can enter through the hole and then drains away in the floor below. The Pantheon was very busy. It is free to enter and it seemed that every tourist in the city was determined to go inside and take photos. There is a fountain in the square outside.
A wrong turn on the Corso dei Rinscimento brought us to the Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle. It was a fortunate mistake because the dome of the building is huge, at one time it was the third largest in Rome. The cenotaphs of Popes Pius II and Pius III face each other across the main nave. Looking upwards the decoration on the dome and on the ceilings is superb; there are two mirrors so that it is possible to admire the decoration without getting a crick in the neck. We retraced our steps to find the Piazza Navona which was to be the end of our walking exploration. It used to be the main market place but is now full of tourists and hosts buskers and sellers of paintings. The main attractions are the three fountains – the Moro fountain at the southern end, then the Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini in the centre, and finally the Neptune fountain at the northern end. The Palazzo Pamphilj which is behind the Fountain of the Four Rivers was built in the 1640s.
The route back to Roma Termini is east and south from the Piazza Navona. We walked through the market in the Campo dei Fiori before joining the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II heading east. There is a small area of sunken ruins of temples inhabited by cats at the Largo di Torre Argentina. Then the Piazza Venezia marks the junction with the Via del Corso and the Via dei Fori Imperiali. It is a central square where roman history and modern shopping collide, dominated by the large white marble monument "Il Vittoriano" which was begun in 1885 to honour Victor Emmanuel II who was the first king of the united Italy. There are excellent views of Trajan's column and the Roman Forum from the top.
In 2014 we spent the entire day in this area having purchased a combination ticket for the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. The Imperial Forums of Trajan, Nerva, Caesar, Augustus and Peace are more recent than the original Roman Forum. Trajan's Forum is the last and largest of the Forums having been built around 100AD. The modern Via dei Fori Imperiali cuts through the area, covering the remains beneath. Part of the temple dedicated to Minerva, some columns of a temple dedicated to Mars are on one side, and three columns of the Forum of Caesar are on the other side of the road. It is a place to rest on the steps but the ruins cannot be explored. At the other end of the Via dei Fori Imperiali we were disappointed that the Colosseum was covered in scaffolding and tarpaulins.
The following pictures are from our previous visit on the Queen Elizabeth in 2014 when we had spent a lot of time in the Colosseum. The Colosseum was commissioned by the Emperor Vespasian in AD 72. It is a tiered ellipse with seats around a central arena, and one part showing the original four stories remains but much of the stone was taken away for building in the 15th and 16th century. Enough remains to show the 80 arched entrances which allowed easy access to over 50,000 spectators who came to watch the gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights.
Excavations have exposed a network of underground rooms where animals were kept and the reproduction staging. The whole area could be flooded for 'naval battles' to take place. To our surprise the inner walls were made of brick despite the height; we had not realised so much of ancient Rome was built of bricks. The seating was on 5 main levels with nearly 80 entries and stairs so the various ranks of visitor could reach their seating independently. Quite a lot of the building still remains or has been reproduced but one still needs the drawings and other explanations. The were, for example, huge mobile shades stretching across the top of the Colosseum which were moved during the productions and there were 80 lifts to bring up different stage sets from below.
This is another monument which is free to look at from the outside and there were many tourists doing exactly that and progress along the pavements was slow. It was time to disappear down the hole at the Colosseo Metro station and travel just 2 stops to Roma Termini.
Having not repeated the visit to the Coloseum we were one hour ahead of our original schedule and in spite of the long walk down to platforms 25-28 we had 5 minutes spare to catch the next train to Civitavecchia. The double decker regional train to Civitavecchia was waiting on the platform and departed at 1312. We got to Civitavecchia at 1419 and walked along the promenade, eventually entering the port through the pedestrian gate by the castle and tried to walk back to the ship. We got on the shuttle bus but were told it did not go to the Queen Elizabeth and other people explained that our bus was different. It left from the other side of the castle. We then had a tedious journey from there to the cruise terminal where a different bus was waiting to take us back to the Queen Elizabeth. Next time we will pay for a taxi.
As expected we were at anchor off Monte Carlo with a tendering operation to go ashore. The lifeboat outside our window disappeared into the water and there were no queues for tender tickets when we reported to the Queen's Room to go ashore.The sea was a little choppy and people said that one of the other ships scheduled to anchor had decided to go to Villefrance instead. We walked from the dock up the steps to the Old Town of Monaco-Ville, directly above us. The view down onto the harbour from the ramparts is stunning. It was quiet and we began with a visit to the Prince’s Palace. Usually there is a daily ceremony of the Changing of the Guard but there were notices stating that it was not to take place. There was also a lot of construction work taking place in front of the palace sentry. There were no queues so we purchased the dual ticket to go around the Palace and the Oceanographic Museum. The inside of the Palace is beautifully decorated and it was a pity visitors were not allowed to take photos. As we left a large Cunard tour group was slowly climbing the stairs. We walked through the narrow streets with their pavement cafés to the cathedral. This Roman-Byzantine Cathedral is the burial place for former Princes, the most recent being Prince Rainier II who died in 2005 and his famous beautiful wife Princess Grace who died in 1982, the former actress Grace Kelly.
After a rest and an icecream our next visit was to the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium. This is one of Prince Albert I’s greatest achievements. The Prince was himself a respected and significant explorer and scientist, and the renowned Jacques-Yves Cousteau was the museum director until 1988 and some of his original equipment is there. There are the usual stuffed birds and model ships, of which the two "Hirondelle" which Prince Albert used for his research are most interesting. One room was dedicated to ocean mammals with a number of skeletons hanging from the roof. From the rooftop there was a good view of the principality, and a small cafe. We much preferred the Aquarium in the basement which is excellent, and was full of parents and children, all marvelling at the displays of colourful fish. We have seen Aquariums in other countries, but this display was really special, not only for the fish but also for the context in which they were living. It was all that we had hoped to see when we visited the Great Barrier Reef earlier in 2010, but had been disappointed.
From the roof top of the Oceanographic museum we noticed the waterbus which we had used in the past to cross the Port Hercule. It saved a long walk and the waterbus-stop is near to the lift up to the Casino gardens and the Casino. Opened in 1863, the entire collection of buildings exudes the essence of La Belle Epoque. We visited the Casino in 2010 on the Queen Victoria; this visit we had less spare time becuse of the tendering when the ship is at anchor.
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 27th October, 2015