A very early morning train journey into Rome's Termini Station on our way back to the airport last October gave me time to take a walk from Piazza dei Cinquecento across to Piazza della Repubblica and go into the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. I've passed the building many times, but only vaguely remember going inside once before.
This church was built on the ruins of the Baths of the Emperor Diocletian with a complex of buildings (built AD 298) that covered many hectares of land with luxurious baths, exercise rooms, halls and libraries surrounded by gardens. It fell into disrepair when invaders destroyed the aqueducts that fed the Baths in the sixth century. It is now one of the museums in the city that houses the national collection of Roman antiquities.
Pope Pius IV commissioned Michelangelo, then 86, to convert the grand hall of the Baths into a church. Early in the 20th century the frontage at the entrance was removed to reveal the unadorned wall of the caldarium (hot room) of the Baths. The atrium in the centre of the church was once the tepidarium (warm room).
|A huge vestibule leads into the atrium with transepts and chapels either side.|
Eight of the pink granite pillars came from the Roman Baths.
The Meridian of Santa Maria degli Angeli. The meridian is a type of sundial. The bronze line set in yellow white marble runs diagonally across the floor of the south transept for 45 m. and finishes in the left part of the choir and was used to regulate the time for Romans until 1846. In 1702 the astronomer and mathematician Francesco Bianchini built this meridian line at the request of Pope Clement XI who wanted to check the accuracy of the Gregorian calendar and exactly work out the moveable date of Easter. Santa Maria degli Angeli was chosen because of the south orientation of the building, the stability when using sensitive instruments to make calculations and the vast scale and height of the walls which allowed the precise measure of the sun's progress through the year. In addition, holes were constructed in the ceiling to mark the passage of the stars. The line was restored in 2002 and is still operational today.
On the subject of time, a cannon is fired each day at noon on the Janiculum Hill.
Also in the south transept is a model of another device to measure time which you can read about below.
It was good to take time out in a city that I love, even for half an hour or so, in a building which has fascinating elements of the religious, the artistic, the scientific and, of course, the historic under one roof. People were coming in for several reasons; to gaze at the architecture and artistic features, to light a candle and say a prayer. There was soft taped music playing Gregorian chant- which was pleasing to listen to and a reminder that there was a Carthusian monastery in Michelangelo's day next to the site. I could have gone into the cloisters that remain.
However, I needed to go back into the hustle and bustle of a city beginning a new day where workers were walking purposefully to their offices, students going to their lectures, early morning tourists and travellers were on the move in the nearby bus and railway station.
|Opposite Santa Maria degli Angeli are the 19th century buildings and colonnades in the Piazza della Repubblica|
with the Fontana delle Niadi in the middle. The buildings follow the line of the Baths of Dioclesian 's benched portico.
The area is a busy one and many visitors probably pass through to more popular tourist sites using buses or the Metro, but I've always walked though the area in the early morning to get to places in the historic centre.
It's a manageable walk along Via Nazionale to Palazzo Venezia and many of the well known tourist attractions. Then I would take short cuts to the Piazza Navona Quarter or the embankment by the River Tiber. Buses and the Metro are useful and sometimes necessary to get across the city, but you notice more when walking, of course.
Today it's cold and dry and the snow has gradually melted leaving some icy patches on the road and pavements so no walking out for me! Later on I shall join others in recording the birds in our garden as part of the RSPB Birdwatch. Our pet cat is sadly missed after his sudden and traumatic last hours. I was expecting more birds and different varieties to venture into our garden, but the population and species seem to stay the same; blackbirds and robins except for what I think is a little wren who lurks in the undercover of the hedge. Bigger birds are quite entertaining as they sit in the surrounding neighbourhood trees before flying off.
|A few days ago - thankfully all gone now!|