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Through Eternity Tours
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The beautiful modernist bronze sculptures of the Polish artist Igor Mitoraj lurk around unexpected corners in Pompeii’s ancient city. These intensely classical and deliberately fragmentary sculptures are perfectly appropriate amongst the ruins, ghostly reminders of the buried city’s many pasts. It was the artist’s last wish that his work be displayed in Pompeii - and although the exhibition officially ended in May 2017, some still remain. Keep your eyes peeled!
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What’s a massive bronze pinecone doing at the heart of the Vatican’s most important courtyard? Incredibly this unusual sculpture is nearly 2,000 years old! It was probably originally cast as the centrepiece of a public fountain in the centre of ancient Rome. Rediscovered buried deep beneath the city in the Middle Ages, it was given pride of place in the atrium of Old St. Peter’s basilica. When the church was torn down to make way for the basilica we know today the pinecone was moved here, to Donato Bramante’s iconic Belvedere Courtyard. The two beautiful peacocks that flank it originally adorned Hadrian’s mausoleum. Peacocks were symbols of immortality in the ancient world, and they are definitely appropriate here- the Pinecone seems destined to live forever!
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Did you know there's a magnificent marble elephant hidden away just steps from the Pantheon in Rome? The Baroque master Bernini’s charming pachyderm swishes his improbably long trunk as he struggles with the weight of an Egyptian obelisk outside the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. The obelisk was discovered in excavations under the church in the 1660s, and the Pope turned to Bernini to create the elephant to support the antiquity. Elephants were a common sight in the ancient world, deployed by the legions in war and familiar from the games in the Colosseum, but in Bernini’s day they were a rare sight indeed!
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The beautiful and seemingly endless Hall of Maps in the Vatican Museums boasts magnificent Renaissance maps of Italy along both its walls, offering a unique insight into Italy of nearly 500 years ago. The maps were commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII to document the vast holdings of the Papacy, and their incredible topographic precision is almost miraculous when you consider that their makers didn’t have access to modern surveying tools!
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A spectacular and profound meditation on ageing and psychological insight is written into every line on the craggy face of an ancient portrait bust in the Vatican's Chiaramonti Museum.
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Ancient Rome meets the modern city in front of the museum of the Ara Pacis, a massive altar of peace built in ancient Rome to celebrate the return of the emperor Augustus to Rome in 13BC. Today the altar is housed in a modernist museum of glass and marble built by Richard Meier on the banks of the Tiber river in 2016, and is one of the city's most spectacular landmarks, a place where locals and tourists, young and old come to hang out in the centre of the city - definitely worth checking out!
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Neptune battles a sea monster in Piazza Navona as the marvellous architecture of Francesco Borromini's church of Saint Agnes rears in the background. This is the fountain of Neptune on the north side of piazza Navona and is the least famous of the piazza's 3 major fountains. The basin was designed in 1574 by Giacomo della Porta, as a drinking fountain. Only 300 years later in the 1870s did the fountain become adorned with this dramatic scene of liquid battle. The centrepiece is Antonio della Bitta’s Neptune, the god of the sea, who does battle with a giant octopus. Next to the god Gregorio Zappalà added a horse who beats desperately at the water with his hooves and a Nereid, or a sea nymph, who throws her head back desperately as she gazes upon the action.
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'While the Colosseum stands, Rome shall stand; when the Colosseum falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome falls, the world shall fall.' 13 centuries ago the English priest Bede darkly prophesied that the world's future lay in the Colosseum's mighty marble fate. Like the seagull swooping indifferently over the majestic remains of the Roman forum we can breathe a sigh of relief: the Colosseum still stands, and perhaps has never looked more beautiful than in the warm Spring sunshine.
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What do we feel when we look at bodies of the dead? It’s a question we have to confront when we visit the spectacular dead city of Pompeii, which gives a vivid insight into the very moment of death as in few other historical sites in the world. The blanket of ash that interred Pompeii when Vesuvius erupted 79AD miraculously preserved the bodies of those it killed in the very poses in which they died, and in the 19th century those poses were immortalised forever by pouring plaster into the cavities that their bodies had left in the ash. Here a supine body rests amidst amphorae and architectural fragments in the Forum granary. Its a beautiful image, and the cast seems like a delicate sculpture behind its protective glass. And yet this is a work of art conjured from the void of death. For me gazing upon the beautiful cast provokes unsettling and contradictory feelings - what about you?
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To understand Rome, we must delve deep beneath the modern city that we know. Far below the bustle of 21st century urban life there is a silent land of the dead, which has lain largely undisturbed for millennia. Join us with our latest blog as we journey far into the past in a bid to recover the lost origins of Christianity in the the vast and mysterious catacombs of Domitilla. These catacombs are by far the best preserved in Rome, and it is one of the oldest dedicated Christian burial sites in all the world. Hundreds of thousands of people were buried here over the course of 7 centuries. Touching tombstones, magnificent frescoes and bewildering labyrinths offer an incredible insight into the distant world of early-Christianity, and it is one of the city’s absolute must see-sites. Read more to discover what you need to see and learn about the eerie ceremonies that have taken place in its dark chambers in centuries past!
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