The last couple of weeks have been more demanding than usual. Not because I’ve had class every day (Learning Italian) but more because I came down with a touch of bronchitis which made going to school an effort. Imagine getting bronchitis in this over 20C weather! Nevertheless, despite my condition, I love the journey to school. No matter which way I go, there is something interesting to see. One of my routes involves passing the church of Sant’Eustachio which has its crucifix amidst deer antlers. Legend has it that a Roman soldier called Placidus went hunting whereupon a fine-looking deer with a cross its antlers suddenly appeared before him which made him convert to Christianity and he took the name of Eustachio.
Its hard to walk a few feet in the historic centre without coming to a church. A short distance away is the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. In the Piazza in front of the church is a sculpture of an elephant by Bernini. It always brings a smile to my face as there is a story attached to it. It was commissioned by Pope Alexander VII in 1665 to serve as a base for an Egyptian obelisk which had been found in the garden of the Domenican monastery attached to the church. The church had been built over a Greek Temple dedicated to the Goddess Minerva. Bernini originally designed a hollow space between the elephants legs such that the obelisk would only be supported by the elephant’s back but a Domenican priest Father Paglia, whose own design had been rejected, persuaded the Pope that Bernini’s design was flawed and that a hollow space would not support the obelisk. The aged Pope took this advice to heart and ordered the space to be filled in. Bernini was not pleased but had to comply with the Pope’s orders as you can see. However, he made sure to have the last laugh as he oriented the elephant such that its backside pointed towards the monastery! I often imagine how much more beautiful the monument would have looked with a hollow space beneath.
A few steps further on is the magnificient Pantheon. Each and every time I see it I’m struck by its construction and feel lucky to have the pleasure of seeing it simply in passing. A 10 minute walk and so much to see. I haven’t even mentioned the other sights. Even the street in front of the school has its magic moments. Last week there was a bridal couple having their photo taken in the middle of the street just outside the entrance to the school courtyard. I’m still wondering what made them choose this location as its just another Rome street.