Skulls and Femurs and Tibulas, oh my? (Rome Day 6)

Our last day in Rome. (There’s more to the trip though, can you believe it? This is a truly epic recap series, I do believe.)

We decided to split up the group for the morning. Louie, his brother Julian, and I wanted to go to the Capuchin Crypt, which was very near our hotel. This place is NOT for the faint of heart. It is described by Frommer’s as “one of the most horrifying images in all of Christendom.” I’d read about it ahead of time, and thought it sounded fascinating, amazing, and awful.


Basically you pay a few euros, go through a little museum telling you all about the Capuchin monks and all about their lives and backgrounds, lots of the funny monk haircuts (called tonsure), tons of gory Christ images and lots of hard times. Then comes the real treat: the crypt. There are six crypts, each with a different theme. All but one contains the bones of more than 4000 friars who died between 1528 and 1870…artfully arranged on the walls and ceilings. No photography was allowed but you can find plenty of pictures online.

It was pretty unique, to say the least. I’d never seen art made with bones. The Capuchins claim that they don’t even know who made the displays or why. I say claim because it just seems like it had to have taken a very long time to catalog all the bones (they are arranged mostly by sort of bone, for instance, skulls, or vertebrae, or tibia), organize them, plan the art, and then actually do it..and how could they have done all of that without people noticing or keeping a record? But who knows.

After spending more time in the crypts than any of our fellow museum-goers seemed to (we started to really get interesting in the anatomy, and some of the mummification we saw)…we headed out into the sunlight to continue sightseeing. We headed to the Piazza Barberini with plans to walk down the Via XX Settembre to the Piazza Quirinale, and then to see the inside of the Pantheon.


Piazza Barberini. I have so many pictures of random people, don’t I? It’s easier to just take the picture with whoever is already posing for it rather than trying to organize members of one’s own party to do so.

We saw approximately one church per block. In fact, this was the day that Louie became obsessed with going into as many churches as possible. There was an earlier day in the trip where he had said he was “churched out” but on our last day in Rome he got a “second church wind” and probably nearly converted to Catholicism.



I didn’t even really know what these churches were when I took the pictures, so I’m not too concerned about trying to look them up. Is that horrible?


(unfortunately I got a little smudge on my camera lens…ugh)

We passed by a very busy intersection with the four fountains, the Via delle Quattro Fontane. Rick Steves tells us that it was a very big deal for the poor 16th-century pilgrims coming into town. They didn’t have guidebooks like us, but instead would navigate the city by using various obelisks and domes. I suppose we do similar things today as well, but we didn’t drink from the fountains. The intersection didn’t give much room for pedestrian traffic though, so pictures were challenging. In fact, without any cars, it would definitely be easier to take these outdoor pictures…

I snuck into an old guard tower right near a new guard tower. The guard tried to pretend that we didn’t look like crazy tourists while taking this picture, but he didn’t succeed.


The Obelisk outside of the Palazzo del Quirinale, where the president of Italy stays. There is a flag outside that indicates if he is there, which he wasn’t when we walked by. Too bad.


I always liked seeing parts of buildings that were obviously older than other parts of the same building. I love the idea that they just build around or repair things rather than tearing down and beginning new.

We were heading downhill the whole time to the Pantheon, which was nice. Going back to the hotel would be more difficult, but we’d let our future selves worry about that!

We made it inside the Pantheon. The Pantheon is overwhelming to think about. It was built in 27 BC originally but there were a few fires and the structure was completely rebuilt (wait, what did I just say earlier) by the emperor Hadrian around AD 120. Some say he helped design it. I suppose others say he didn’t. It is the most influential building in art history: its dome was the model for the Florence cathedral dome, which basically started the Renaissance. Basically it was the dome that inspired all later domes! And all done without machines or computers or any of the helpful stuff we have today! (flush toilets, coca-cola, you name it!)

Another fascinating thing about Rome that you definitely noticed with the Pantheon is that it is lower than street level. Over the 2000 years, the streets have gotten higher and higher, and the older buildings just seem to get lower and lower.

We were hungry by then so we decided to eat lunch at a restaurant on the square. We had mediocre pizza but a great view!


Then naturally it was espresso time. We went to Tazzo d’Oro which was recommended by my sister Leslie and by Rick Steves. The espresso did not disappoint and indeed we had more than one before moving on.


We next decided to walk towards the Jewish Ghetto.

We passed some windows for stores where I guess priests shop?


Random ruins…


We walked around the Jewish Ghetto, which definitely makes you start doubting mankind, and then wandered even further, with Louie getting excited about every ruin and church and honestly, his infectious enthusiasm was a bit contagious, even though I was getting exhausted and I think Julian was too. We knew we needed to start heading back to meet up with their parents for dinner soon, though, so after a few more random ruins, we headed back towards the hotel.

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The lens smudge definitely takes something away from my photos…sorry about that!


This particular bird was thoroughly enjoying a bath in the fountain.

That reminds me, I don’t think I mentioned the bird outside my hotel room window. Every morning, and by morning I mean the wee hours of the morning, there was this cry that sounded like a crazy baby—crying and screaming. It woke me up on many occasions. I finally decided it was a deranged seagull, or perhaps an evil deranged seagull, or a seagull that was stealing babies, or perhaps had the soul of a bunch of babies, because it really sounded like one! I should have recorded the sound to share with you because I’m sure you don’t believe me.

We finally got back to the hotel to rest and freshen up for our last dinner in Rome. Just so you know, people eat dinner in Rome on the late side—8 pm is early for them. This is a nice contrast to St Louis where often when I finish teaching between 8 and 9 there are only a handful of options left for dinner. I imagine though, that the violin teachers in Rome actually have to teach until 10 or 11 pm and have the same issue.

We headed for a vegetarian restaurant called Il Margutta Restaurante. Since Julian had been somewhat deprived of all the delicious food we’d been enjoying all week, we felt it was fair. Well, nobody was deprived tonight either! I had a delicious salad and a wonderful cheese filled ravioli…topped with cheese, with more cheese on the side. (It had a lot of vegan options, but I wasn’t going to avoid cheese unless absolutely necessary!)

After dinner it was time to hit the hay. The next morning we had a train to Orvieto to catch. We asked the guy working at the front desk of the hotel about getting a subway or taxi to the Termini train station, and he informed us that probably neither would be easy…because there was a metro strike planned. Which meant that the metro (subway) wouldn’t be running and that taxis would be few and far between! Luckily the train station was “only” a 20-30 minute walk away so we could do that. I say “only” because while that isn’t a terribly long walk, it is an annoying walk with luggage. We all had smaller bags with wheels, and since we would likely have no other option (unless they canceled the strike, which SPOILER ALERT, they didn’t…).

Anyway, that was our last day in Rome. I was sad to be leaving, but looking forward to the train ride and seeing a small hill-town in Italy the next day. The week was flying by, but we saw and did (and ate) so much that it definitely felt like we were there for awhile, if that makes sense.

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