Destination: Roma Day: IX

December 31, 2011.  I can tell you that today, I did something that millions of people around the world wish they had the opportunity to do.  It is in the latter part of this post.

And, if you’re wondering, today’s activities completely made up for my camera misjudgement of yesterday. We did go back to St. Peter’s in the evening and took some pictures.

Early in the day:  We went to Ostia Antica, a place many historians consider to be one of the most underrated historical sites, if not the most, in all of Europe.  This was Rome’s port city (population 70,000) at the time of the Empire. Since then, river flooding, a change in sea level, and a build up of silt changed the path of the Tiber river and added to the shoreline.  Ostia Antica is now 3km from the Mediterranean and has been deserted since 800 or 900 AD, after malaria outbreaks and repeated invasion by Arab pirates.  Now the city has been meticulously excavated.  Because Pompeii is so far from Rome, this is considered a more feasible day trip, and in fact is a much larger, better preserved site:

Ostia Antica theater

Community theater, with the Square of the Guilds behind it.

Square of the Guilds Ostia Antica

Square of the Guilds: Surrounding an important temple (to a goddess of prosperity) was a square walking path, which served as a mall. Along the way were local merchants. The floor mosaics list the business names (in Latin) and in pictures (who the Latin-illiterate). This business was obviously the place to purchase a ship, hire a crew, or send something down the river, for example.

Ostia Antica mosaic

Mosaic. We saw this through a couple doorways a block or two away. Thankfully, visitors are allowed to wander through Ostia Antica with minimal “off-limits” areas. We eventually found our way into the inner courtyard of a high-density housing complex and found this.


A Roman grain mill. Grain would be poured from bags at ceiling level into these mills. They work the same as the peppermill or salt grinder you have in your kitchen. The two-piece grinder consisted of a bowl on top (in foreground) and a pointed stone underneath (in background). Grain would fall, by gravity, into the gap between where the two stones fit together. Workers would turn the stone, using handles (just like turning your peppermill). As the grain got increasingly finer, it would continue to slide down until it worked its way out of the grinder.

Roman bath house radiant heat

Romans were masters of radiant heating. In this bath house water underneath was heated and the hot air traveled up through hollow bricks to warm the room.

Then, as it approached an hour before sunset, we decided to go back to St. Peter’s to get some more respectable photographs with our better cameras.  We got there just before 5pm, when Pope Benedict XVI was doing a Vespers (evening) service.  Unlike yesterday, we had to go through security to even get into the plaza, and it was nicely quiet.  I thought it might be much more crowded, especially since there were large video screens set up, broadcasting the service inside.  At 4:45, the bells of St. Peter’s began ringing, calling the community to church.  Of course, we saw all the chairs set up inside yesterday, and noticed many people showing their pink admission tickets to security before being allowed to enter the Basilica.

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica. With a crowd of people flashing their admission tickets.

St. Peter's Rome

St. Peter’s, facing the Colonnade. Kellie (in black, alone toward the left) is studying the crowd…and forming a plan.

St. Peter's Vespers

St. Peter’s. At 5pm sharp, the service begins. It was surreal to hear sounds coming from inside the Basilica as well as through the speakers.

Papal Apartment

Papal Apartment. His Holiness appears to have left the lights on in his study.

St. Peters Rome Vatican

St. Peter watches as it turns to nighttime. New Year’s Eve.

St. Peter's Vatican Rome

St. Peter’s. The balcony where a new Pope is announced.

Swiss Guard

Swiss Guard keeping watch over the Vatican.

Michelangelo Pieta

Kellie suggested we join the “group” which seemed to be slowly being admitted into the Basilica, without invitations.  Would you believe we got into the service? Not in seats, but in the standing room in the left aisle. Just inside the entrance, to the right, is Michelangelo’s Pieta (1499).

St. Peter's

Perspective: You can see how large the statues are relative to the members of the choir.

St. Peter's Vatican height perspective

Perspective: Now see how the statue looks relative to the height of the building (and the dome isn’t even visible).

Tu es petrus St. Peter's

Matthew 16:18 “Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam . “You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church.”

St. Peter's Catholic Cardinals

Cardinals and other figures in attendance.

Pope Benedict XVI Vespers December 31, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI. (I am not Catholic and don’t know the decorum, so I hope it is not inappropriate to be posting photos of a service.)

Pope Benedict XVI: “Benedictus Dominus Iesus, pax nostra, qui venit facere utraque unum. Supplices quaeramus.”    Choir: “Pacem tuam omnibus praestra, Domine.”

Using Ipad at St. Peter's

I am usually modest. But I sort of feel like this deserves consideration for a Pulitzer or some other award.

Pope Benedict XVI St. Peter's Basilica Vatican Rome

Pope Benedict XVI leaving service.

Pope Benedict XVI St. Peter's Basilica Rome Vatican

Pope Benedict XVI leaving the ceremony.

Metro Rome

The subway line heading back from St. Peter’s.


5 thoughts on “Destination: Roma Day: IX

  1. Oh, this made me SMILE!! What a lovely collection of photos. I just finished reading a short book about business ethics called, The Pope and the CEO, written by a Swiss gentleman who had done his military service as a member of the Guards protecting John-Paul II.
    Thanks so much for posting this. (Limoncello recipe will follow soon).

    • I glad you enjoyed the post and photos. That sounds like a very interesting book. Kellie was standing next to some apparent guards-in-training during the service and she said it was clear they were still learning to stand still and without seeming bored. I imagine it’s like the guard in English, where they have to stand perfectly still for long stretches of time.

      I am really looking forward to making that limoncello! Thanks.

  2. Wow! I am a Catholic and was actually wandering around the web looking at pictures of Ostia Antica but I really enjoyed stumbling in on Vespers at St Peter’s with you and the Holy Father. 🙂 Beautiful.

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