01. A postcard from Rome: St Peter’s Basilica, the colonnade by Bernini, and a 3,300 year old obelisk from Aswan in Egypt. The Vatican city has it all.
I recently read two tips on how to become a successful travel blogger. The first one said “Be unique, have a different approach.” That sounds like good advice but being unique is not always an easy thing to do and the other nugget of advice said “Always have a human element in your pictures.” Yet again it’s good advice, people like something or someone to relate to. So I decided to apply the first bit of advice to the second and remove the human element altogether. That way I’m pretty sure I’ll have a unique edge. After all, I’ve spent my life photographing people and in doing so I’ve developed a habit of putting the background out of focus so I decided to just concentrate on the bits that I usually leave out.
02. This is the Pantheon, a monumental structure with it’s Greek style portico that predates the main basilica. This is the most wonderful building I’ve set eyes on to date. It’s just ahead of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul in my top 10 list of buildings and here’s why…
03. The rather rugged and ravaged exterior shelters a magnificent interior that is breathtaking. This building is 1000 years older than the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia, 1000 years older than the oldest cathedrals in England, and the best preserved of all the ancient Roman buildings thanks to its early adoption as a place of Christian worship. It was commissioned by the emperor Hadrian (of Hadrian’s wall fame). Some say he designed it.
04. The proportions of the Pantheon are tremendous with the dome being a perfect hemisphere and the walls having a height of exactly the radius of the dome. The oculus in the centre of the dome is 7m wide and provides the only source of light in the building. It lets in the sunlight that tracks around the room throughout the day lighting up the various tombs of the great and noble rulers and artists buried here including Raphael. It also lets in the rain that settles on the marble floor below.
05. The dome is very clever in its construction using progressively lighter materials towards the top and for this reason it remained the largest span of any dome in the world for 1800 years, right up to 1882. The geometry, forced perspective and overall design of the ceiling is a delight to behold and so utterly perfect in my eyes.
Rome without people. Rome is a capital city largely void of people, or so it seems. Rome in July 2015 is a surprisingly calm and tranquil place. I last visited Rome in the late 1970s and back then it was a bustling place with chariots (cars) and scooters everywhere. The soundtrack was a cacophony of the incessant buzz of scooters, car horns, and police whistles. It seemed there was a brigade of traffic policemen immaculately dressed in white, wafting wands around in gloved hands to direct the traffic at the centre point of every road junction. Times have certainly changed.
06. Santa Maria Maggiore dominates the piazza that bears it’s name. Built over 1500 years ago this is one of the earliest Christian basilicas in Rome and certainly the finest. The embellishment of the nave ceiling is full on and not easily outdone. There are many artistic masterpieces in each of the principal churches in Rome including the early 5th century mosaics here in Santa Maria Maggiore.
07. It’s not until you dig a little deeper, visit the side chapels and study the frescoes that the enormity of the body of artwork in Rome starts to sink in. The detail (middle left) of the picture above it shows an eye in an illuminated pyramid surrounded by all male angels with hair styles re created by the 1950s beatnik movement. It’s symbolic work like this that fuels the legends of secret societies like the Illuminati that became popularised in a book by Dan Brown called Angels And Demons . The detail (bottom right) is from a corner painting bottom right of the lantern in the shot above it. The light, shade, tone and form are exquisite. Perhaps the old man’s right hand needs a bit of reworking but the craft skills of these early painters is a wonder to behold.
08. As above, so below. Look up or look down in Rome and you will see architecture and materials that give the city visitor a feeling of timeless endurance. Even the trees that have lived through the unification of Italy and two world wars stand tall giving passers by some welcome shade in the local park. All you can hear in the park are cicadas. On the benches beneath the trees a few men lie asleep, students sit out on the grass reading or relaxing and all within sight of the vast Colosseum. The granite cobbles of Rome beneath our feet have been polished by years of wear and reflect that seemingly ever present blue sky with an iridescence hue.
09. The villas that border the Parko di Traiano and surrounding streets are both elegant and thoroughly modern (by Rome standards) with a nod to the past. The paint colours are a wonderful source of inspiration too being way more exciting than a Sandtex colour chart found in UK paint shops.
10. No travel article on Rome would be complete without mention of the Colosseum. It is considered to be one of the surviving wonders of the modern world. The only surviving wonder of the ancient world is the great pyramid at Giza and that pre dates the Colosseum by some 3000 years. Although the pyramid is vast it lacks the documented history of brutality and wickedness preserved within the walls of this theatre of horror. Gruesome tales of torture and death by mauling in AD80 sell tickets and fuel the tourist economy here in Rome.
11. I took these panoramas in late afternoon sunlight using a Fuji X-T10 in Sweep Panorama mode. Click on the picture to see the bottom shot at full resolution. It’s just like being there in person.
12. I love the calm muted colours of some of the side chapel altars. They contrast with the extreme decoration of the naves. I’ve learned to love a good niche too. There’s more on niches later.
13. Just a 10 minute walk from the Colosseum (or a 2 hour walk if you stop for lunch at one of the many bars enroute) is the church of San Clemente. It is brimming with art of note, frescoes, mosaics, monuments and sculpture in abundance. I fell in love with the space within, the quad and the calmness of the site. I’ve since decided an Ionic colonnade and a bell tower is must have in a perfect place.
14. This is the sum total of my Fiat 500 & 600 experience in Rome. 37 years ago they were everywhere. I’ve always wanted an original Fiat 500 but to keep the piece at home I’ve had to settle for a modern day version.
15. Rome is worth a visit for the love of fonts alone. I love the Fiat 600 logo. Notice how the letters and numbers get smaller to emphasise the speed of the car. The vented louvres are so Ferrari too. The signage above the souvenir shop is a delight to behold. The custom R on Ricordi with its kicked up leg is divine and so too is the italicisation of souvenir. It’s not difficult to see where the love of fonts stems from when you look at the relic on the right and the detail above. Oh how I’d love to scribe that P with a chisel. Times Roman has its origins right here some 2000 years ago.
16. The view of the Roman Forum from Palatine hill. Palatine hill is a vantage point previously occupied by the villas of the wealthy and is now home to a continuum of tourists eager to see the immense view showing the layers of history laid out before them.
17. These random ornaments would make a nice feature in any sizeable garden. I photographed them as reference for a retirement project perhaps.
18. A villa on Palatine Hill, the arch of Constantine and the military union building in downtown Rome all share a design ethic albeit millennia apart.
19. Top, temporary boarding up of a building next to the infamous Spanish Steps is a cue for a massive advertising campaign for Furla bags. Forget the bags, look at the building, the colours, the stonework, the beauty, the texture. Rome has it all.
20. Yet another of Aswan’s finest obelisks has made its way to Rome and takes up pride of place in Trinità dei Monti – Sallustiano. There are 13 ancient Egyptian obelisks in Rome all brought to Rome after the conquest of Egypt. There is a walking tour of them here.
21. The lion and the serpent seem quite happy together and there is a nice pair of adornments in the shot above. I love the detail ever present in the material makeup of Rome.
22. If this building was in Bristol UK the council would be up in arms declaring that it needs painting and that it is bringing shame upon the city. In Rome it is art itself created by the ravages of time.
23. I love how the lamp is so boldly placed way out from the building above the street. These are streets in Trastevere, a quiet district full of charm and artisan shops selling bread or coffee. The ‘Ape’ on the right would look great in Waitrose car park but it looks far better here.
24. Is it just me or does anyone else get excited when they see hues, textures, lines, tones and fonts like these?
25. The Pantheon is in the background of the shot on the left and in the foreground is a bizarre sculpture by Bernini of an elephant carrying an Egyptian obelisk. This square is home to the gothic masterpiece basilica Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. I just love the dusty weather beaten sign.
26. Santa Maria Sopra Minerva holds numerous treasures but I was drawn to this grim reaper and the pair of fellows in their lookouts. Top right is a bronze cross set into a wall by the entrance to the church. I was drawn not to the cross but to the painted wall it sits on.
27. The simple vaulted naive of the basilica is like many other gothic churches but with the exception of the wonderful blue decoration. The bronze detail is from the entrance doors.
28. A delightful church that fails to make it into the top 25 list in most guidebooks is San Pietro In Vincoli. Translated as St Peter in Chains. Apart from the famous relics found in a glass case under the altar there is a splendid tomb of Julius 11 with a statue of moses by Michaelangelo.
29. A highlight of a trip to Rome has to be the amazing collection of art in the Vatican museums. The tour starts in the Egyptian museum and takes you through a labyrinth of corridors and rooms.
30. The collection of sculpture is particularly wonderful up close and personal.
31. There is so much to enjoy in the Vatican.
32. I never really realised how wonderful niches are at sculpting light on the background creating wonderful gradients to bring emphasis to the artwork within. I’m sure the red colour bottom left is a match for Farrow and Ball Rectory Red.
33. The red is a colour that works very well in the Vatican niches. The sculpture on the right is lit with a shaft of sunlight from the oculus shown in the set 34 below, the statue on the left is lit with reflected sunlight from the marble floor.
34. This Vatican ceiling is a hat tip to the Emperor Hadrian who commissioned the Pantheon.
35. And this is Hadrian. He looks quite contemporary and hipster. The room on the right is typical of the Vatican museums with lavish adornment. This room is a favourite of mine because there is no gold leaf shouting for attention.
36. The mosaics on the floors are simply wonderful. Look at the cheek highlights and fabulous hair on the man.
37. Throughout my journey in Rome there was a continual reference to our mortality like the skull in the armour detail from the painting below it. Notice this early use of spot colour too. The musket shooters and asian warriors in the background of this painting are in monochrome while the angel delivers a rosary to the knight in the foreground in full colour.
38. From here on the Vatican tour enters a fresco feast culminating in the Sistine Chapel.
39. I love studying the people of the time. The chap on his knees in the middle could so easily be checking his Facebook messages on his phone. The light, tone, contrast and depth in this painting is really rather good. For instance the bishops at the back on the right with the red caps are painted with one stop less contrast than the nobel men in the foreground. This gives the illusion of depth and is a technique that I use in my photography when lighting portraits.
40. A scene from an action movie. The thief who stole the gold coins is brought down by the heroes with capes. This reminded me of the wonderful Ladybird book illustrations I grew up with in the 1960s.
41. The sistine chapel is a full on experience. It would take many hours to fully appreciate this body of work.
42. The cool dry air in the Sistine Chapel is a welcome relief from the stifling heat in some other parts of the museum.
43. The exit from the museum takes you down the wonderful double helix staircase.
I’ve seen less than half of the sights, the palaces, works of art, markets and nightlife that I want to see in Rome. I’d also like to shoot at dusk and take in the views from the dome of St Peters and Castel Saint’ Angelo. This leaves the door open for me to make another trip soon. I’ll choose a cooler time of year for my return visit.
Notes about the photography: I used a Fujifilm X-T10 with the 18-55mm lens attached and I had the compact 55-200mm lens in a small man bag. The camera is small enough to go unnoticed and the image stabilisation makes shooting down to 1/15th second in low light a breeze. I kept the flash switched off when photographing artworks to avoid the UV from the flash damaging the pigments in the paintings. The 200mm lens came in especially handy when capturing the details in the ceilings that are often a long way up. The flip up screen meant I could shoot without having to raise the camera to my eye and straining my neck.