Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lost (not in) the Catacombs

Up brightish and earlyish today as has become my disturbing wont, and out to see the catacombs of St. Callixtus, which lie outside of the city on the Via Antica Appia, also known as the Appian Way, a metro and (surprisingly easy) busride away. Perhaps exposure to Wellington life has cured my bus fears? Anyway, it was pretty cool to walk down the Appian Way. I think I was expecting some broad, imposing highway paved with huge Roman slabs or something like that - it's actually pretty small and narrow, cobbled like everywhere else, and refreshingly pastoral after the city.

I muscled my way into the first English tour going after I got there (you don't book a time, just wait for them to announce a tour in English, French, Italian etc.), which was led by an affable Australian priest. (The young Americans next to me were speculating whether he had a Scottish accent - wtf?) The catacombs date back to the 3rd century, and these particular ones hold some half a million tombs, but no remains - when they were rediscovered in the 19th century, 90% of the tombs had been despoiled, and the remaining bones were taken to an ossuary which is somewhere on-site, but not in the tomb complex that tourists go to. We headed to the levels 12 metres below ground, apparently they go down as far as 30-something metres below. The catacombs housed the tombs of the first 9 popes (although not sure if that included St Peter?) but they were moved I think in the 9th century, when the barbarian invasions of Rome started to pose too much threat to them. It's hard to milk much atmosphere out of a place like this as part of a horde of huddled tourists, but the tour was quite informative and it was nice to see them, even if it is just mostly dark passageways with hollowed-out tombs in the walls and the odd old fresco or carved mortuary stone.

After that, I took a different bus back to San Giovanni in Lateri Sq, because I wanted to head over to the other side of the Tiber to find a second-hand bookshop. This was a bit of a mistake. It wasn't actually on my map, but I had inferred from the presence of San Giovanni in Lateri Street on the map that it was near to the Colosseum. It was not. I asked a couple of people and got vague 'that way' instructions in Italian, but after about half an hour of walking in a featureless, unpeopled landscape, still not on my map and with nothing to get my bearings from, I was starting to panic a touch. Luckily I wound up on Terme di Caractella St and was wandering down there for quite a while before I saw a hop on-hop off bus stop there and twigged that Terme was baths - the Roman baths! There was an entry for this on my Lonely Planet pages! It was an enormous relief to find myself back on a map, even if it was only the hopeless small (large?) scale Lonely Planet map. Before long, the dome of St Peters hove into sight far on the horizon, and I came across the Circus Maximus and finally on to the proper map I had with me, and was able to steer my way across the Tiber to the Trastevere area where (bliss!) I found a bookshop. As mum would say, an adventure, but it is unsettling to have not even a single clue where you are and just be walking endlessly on in the hot sun...

Anyway, nothing else to report today. It was lovely not to have much of a plan though. I was reflecting how nice it was not to be at work, which I say somewhat bashfully in the knowledge that I haven't exactly a solid track record of doing the nine to five thing behind me... Still, gotta do what makes you happy, right? Tomorrow I was going to go to some antiquities museum, but I think I will roam about to the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and Pantheon instead. Maybe St Peters too. And then the day after that, it's arrivederci Roma! (sp?)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feed the Comment Monster! Rawrrrr