The day dawned bright and sunny once again: we were told rain was likely in the afternoon, so I headed out in the morning to make the best of it while I could.
I headed south today, getting off at the "Circo Massimo" metro stop to visit Santa Sabina, which Rough Guide calls "a strong contender for Rome's most beautiful basilica." Just across the street from the metro exit I was facing the 400 metre long loop depression that used to be the Circo Massimo, and standing over it are the massive palace ruins on the Aventine Hill. The scale of both was damn impressive.
On the walk to the church I found myself within a block of the "Mouth of Truth," mostly famous for its appearance in the movie "Roman Holiday" (without which it probably wouldn't be on any tourist map). I hadn't planned to go see it, but being that close ... I dropped by. The line was large, but I didn't need a selfie. I just bypassed the line, waited until people were trading places, and caught a picture of the mouth without a hand in it. Rough Guide says it still gets a lot of tourist buses: not bad for a 68 year old movie - even if it is the "Casablanca" of rom-coms.
Santa Sabina was a disappointment - in fact I rather wondered if anyone from Rough Guide had been there. It was perhaps the most starkly plain church I've seen in my time here. The inside of the dome is lovely, but overall it's not a rewarding place.
Via di Santa Sabina is however home to several churches, the next of which was Sant'Alessio. They had gorgeous Cosmati tile work on the floor - some of the best I've seen, and there's a lot of it in Rome. Unfortunately the Cosmati tiles were under clear plastic tarps in preparation for some event. As corners of the church seemed to be packed with food, it may have been a food drive? The rest of the church was quite attractive as well.
A few steps further along was a Benedictine Monastery. I stopped in their lovely garden for about ten minutes to drink a soda I'd bought from their store. They may have been a part of Sant'Alessio? Really not sure ... The age of the tourists sitting in the garden slanted a lot older than the usual crowd: I would say I was about the average age, or possibly even on the young side. In downtown Rome the hordes skew to an average age of about 20 (truly).
The next popular stop along this quiet and rather enjoyable street was the "Knights of Malta Keyhole." The Knights of Malta don't let anyone in, but the keyhole is aligned so that St. Peter's occupies almost the entire view through it. From the line waiting to take pictures, this idea captivates a lot of people.
I strolled on down the hill to the Pyramid of Caius Cestius - in 12 BC when he died, Egyptian style was all the rage. So he got a burial pyramid. And Rome's history consumed it: it's now facing right onto a very busy intersection (it was a major road even at the time it was built), and is literally a part of the city wall constructed around 275 AD - at that it was lucky, most buildings in the path of the wall were simply destroyed. To get a better view than from the intersection I found my way into the "Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners" on the other side of the wall, another place I'd wanted to visit anyway. Shelley, Keats, and Joseph Severn are all interred there, with Keats' tombstone inscribed with the very famous words "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." Sad words, and ironic for they are of course inscribed in stone, a stone that's visited by many thousands of people every year ... But some of the weight of those words is removed by the prefix added by those who created the stone: "This Grave contains all that was Mortal of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET Who, on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart, at the Malicious Power of his Enemies, Desired these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone. Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water." (I've kept the capitalization of the stone, although not the line breaks.) Although, as per his wishes, his name doesn't appear on the tombstone.
photo: "Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners" in Rome
I rode the metro to San Paolo station to go to the San Paolo fuori le Mura Basilica. I think I read somewhere (not sure where as it wasn't my guidebook) that it's the second largest basilica in Rome, second only to St. Peter's. It is, indeed, immense. It's interesting to read after the fact that it pretty much burned to the ground in 1823, so what we see now is a relatively recent structure. It wasn't a favourite of mine, although it does have sheer size going for it: it's impressive as hell (can I say that about a church?).
photo: one of the doors at San Paolo fuori le Mura
The trip wrap-up involved a large purchase of chocolate bars at Castroni, and the previously selected Carbonara at "Spaghetti." And then, because I felt like I hadn't said goodbye, or seen some final sight, I headed over to St. Peter's Square in a very light rain (finally arrived). I caught the dusk over St. Peters, the lights starting to show on the building, and the two or three minutes of gorgeous pink in the sky behind the church.
As always, departure is incredibly bittersweet: I'm really looking forward to being home, and I'm really going to miss this place.
photo: St. Peter's at dusk