Monday, April 27, 2009

History 101

Good morning, class. Are you ready for your history lesson? Excellent. Let's begin.

The Pantheon in Rome was built around 126 BC as a temple to the Roman gods. It is the oldest standing domed structure in Rome and has, since the 7th century, been used as a Catholic church. Buried here are two Italian kings: Victor Emmanuel (Vittorio Emanuele) II and Umberto I. The concrete dome is open to the sky ~ the opening is known as the Great Eye.

The Piazza del Campidoglino is located at the citadel area of Ancient Rome. This plaza, designed by Michelangelo, houses the Capitoline Museum and the Temple of Jupitor. The view you see here is of the Terrazzo (or terrace) from the bottom of the hill. As the story goes, enemies, the elderly and disabled children were thrown off the terrazzo onto the dagger-sharp Tarpeian rocks below. I'm pretty sure they don't do that anymore.

This is the Arco di Constantino (Arch of Constantine) at the Roman Forum. It was built to commemorate Constantine I's victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312. The arch spans the Via Triumphalis ~ the road taken by the emperors when they made their triumphal return to Rome after battle. I wonder what route the losers took...?
You may think this is a picture of the Roman Coliseum. You may be wrong. In fact, this is the Teatro Marcello (Theatre of Marcellus). This structure was begun by Julius Caesar and finished by the emperor Augustus, who dedicated it to his favourite nephew, Marcellus. The theatre was later taken over by the Fabi family who saw its strategic value and built a fortress atop it. In the sixteenth century, it was transformed into a palazzo (palace). It now houses luxury apartments and in my next life, I will buy one and live there.

If you're a bit squeamish, I suggest you close your eyes and use your down-arrow button to skim past the next photo. This is the body of Pope John XXIII (23rd), known as "Good Pope John". After his death in 1963, Pope John was buried with the other popes below St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. However, after his beatification, his body was exhumed and moved to the Altar of St. Jerome (upstairs at St. Peter's). The body was found to be remarkably well-preserved, probably due to the airtight marble and zinc coffin in which he was buried. He now rests in this crystal case for the world to see; his face, from what I could gather, is covered with a layer of wax. I found this to be a little bit creepy. I think when I die I would like to be cremated and have my ashes made into a diamond that the OnlyChild will be forced to wear. This can be done ~ go ahead and Google it!

One of the sights on the Appian Way is the tomb of Cecilia Metella. She was the daughter-in-law of Crassus who was Julius Caesar's financier. Her husband also fought with Caesar. The tomb dates from about 50 BC ~ the fortress was built later on. It was amazing to see something that has survived for (counting on my fingers...) over 2000 years!

Tombs and memorials are very, very common sights in Europe, particularly in Italy. This is the Temple of Vesta and Tibernus in Tivoli. This structure dates from the 2nd to 1st century BC.

This, my friends, is Villa Adriana. I know you've already seen a picture of this place, but it's pretty cool. Hadrian’s Villa near Tivoli was built by Emperor Hadrian, starting from 117 AD, as an imperial palace far away from the city of Rome. It is the most extensive ancient roman villa, covering an area of at least 80 hectares.

In the town of Siena, the Palio, a traditional medieval horse race, is run around the Piazza del Campo each year. Ten horses and riders represent ten of the seventeen city wards. In the race, the jockeys ride bareback around the piazza (town square) three times. The square itself is covered with a thick layer of dirt. Before the races, a great parade is held. It's too bad we didn't get to see the races, but they are only run on July 2 and August 16.

One of the architectural wonders of the world, Brunelleschi's Dome sits atop the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Filippo Brunelleschi beat out Lorenzo Ghiberti in a contest to design and build the dome for the church in 1419. The ceiling of the dome, a depiction of the last judgement, was painted by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari.

What you see in the next picture is a portion of the Corridoio Vasariano (Vasari Corridor) in Florence. It was designed by Giorgio Vasari and built in 1565 for Cosimo de' Medici (of the famous ruling family) to connect the Palazzo Vecchio (the seat of the Florentine government) to the Palazzo Pitti (the residence of Cosimo's court). The corridor allowed the Grand Duke to move securely between his palace and the palace of government. One family, the Mannellis, refused to allow the corridor to pass through their tower or to have the tower destroyed; therefore, the corridor was built to swerve round it on brackets.

Ahhh... the Palazzo Ducale di Venezia (Doge's Palace in Venice). Built from 1309 to 1424, this was the residence of the Doge (duke) of Venice and it housed the political institutions of the Republic of Venice. It is located on the Piazza di San Marco and has a beautiful view of the Venetian Lagoon.

The Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) is one of many covered bridges in Venice. It passes over the Rio di Palazzo and connects the old prisons to the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace. The romantic story is that the view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment. Really though, by the time the bridge was built, the days of inquisitions and summary executions were over and the cells under the palace roof were occupied mostly by small-time criminals. Also, they could barely see any view from inside the Bridge due to the stone grills covering the windows. Another romantic story about the Bridge of Sighs is that any couple that kisses as they are passing under the bridge in a gondola at sunset will have eternal love. Sigh...

Okay, this is not really history; it's literature instead. Here is "Juliet's Balcony" in Verona. You and I both know that 1) Juliet was a fictional character and, therefore, her balcony was also fictional, and 2) Shakespeare never even visited Italy so he didn't choose this to be the balcony. But it makes for a good story, right? Oh Romeo, Romeo. Wherefore art thou Romeo? (I'll bet you have that whole speech memorized! I do.)

This is the original building of the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland. That's all I have on this picture ~ I couldn't find any more information on the building, but I'll keep looking because I'm curious.

Also in Geneva is the Palais des Nations (Palace of the Nations). This is the biggest UN duty office outside the main headquarters in New York and it is staffed by 1600 people (I would like to be one of them). This building housed the League of Nations beginning in 1936 (the League was disbanded a couple of years later) and in 1966, the European Office of the UN was established here. The giant chair with a broken leg is a 12 metre high, 5.5-ton wood sculpture by the Swiss artist Daniel Berset. It symbolises opposition to land mines and cluster bombs.

The fabulous Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) at the Palace of Versailles is one of the most famous rooms in the world. Built by Louis XIV, the Sun King, in the third phase of building (1678-1684) it is the central gallery of the palace. During the 17th century, Louis XIV used this hall to walk from his private apartment to the chapel; courtiers and staff lined up along the walls to watch and greet him. The gallery was also used for court and family events, such as balls. The Hall of Mirrors is where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June 1919 and it is still used for important state visits.

Les Invalides in Paris is a group of buildings containing museums and monuments all relating to French military history. Originally it was a hospital and retirement home for wounded war veterans, and it still fulfills this function. It was built, beginning in 1670, by order of Louis XIV; the private royal chapel, the Église du Dôme, was finished in 1708. Les Invalides is probably best known as the burial place of Napoleon Bonaparte. He died and was buried on St. Helena but his remains were brought to Paris in 1840.

The Arc de Triomphe is a monument in Paris that stands in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle, also known as the Place de l'Étoile (the stones around it form the pattern of a star). It was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806, when he was at the height of his success, and honors those who fought for France, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars.

A little more recent history ~ this sculpture, the Flame of Liberty, was built in 1987 and is an exact replica of the flame on the Statue of Liberty in New York. Although it is not a monument to Princess Diana, the flame has become a focal point and shrine to the Princess of Wales who died along with Dodi Al-Fayed when their Mercedes Benz crashed in the nearby Pont de l’Alma Road tunnel in August 1997.

The Moulin Rouge in the Montmartre area of Paris was built in 1889. It is the home of the original cabaret and is world famous thanks to its French Cancan. It was immortalized by the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (and by the movie starring Nicole Kidman). Apparently, this is one of the "must-do" activities when one is in Paris, but it's very expensive ~ tickets start at about €90 ($150-ish) and that's without dinner!

We didn't make it to England, but we flew over the White Cliffs of Dover on the way home from France. The Dover Cliffs are part of the English coastline facing the Dover Strait and France. Historically, they have been of strategic importance to England because of their ability to deter invaders. However, with the advent of new technology in the 20th century, they became susceptible to attack and were bombed during the Battle of Britain in World War II. The cliffs were immortalized by Vera Lynn in her 1942 song... sing it with me... "They'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover tomorrow, just you wait and see."

Enough history for today? I hope you've enjoyed your lesson. Your homework is to write a 5000-word essay on the development of European culture. Due date: tomorrow at 8:00 am sharp. Late assignments will not be accepted.
I'll be back a little later with some current events, namely Loser Monday.
Have a great day!


PunkiePie said...

I'm going to flunk the assignment but loved the lesson! There is such great architecture over there. Love it! Thanks for the lesson!

goldenbird said...

Ooh, you're a strict teacher. Thanks for the travelogue/history lesson. Very interesting!

If you're looking for me, I'll be in detention ...

Pat said...

I love the photo essay but don't hold your breath for me to complete my tomorrow or by ANY day thereafter!!! LOL

Thimbleanna said...

Beautiful pictures Rachel! I never thought much about visiting Italy (I'm a huge northern Europe fan) but your posts have changed my mind! Thanks so much for sharing!!!