On one Saturday evening in January a group of Art History students left the cold Bratislava airport for a little bit warmer embrace of Rome. For some of us it was the first excursion and moments of excitement switched to enthusiastic study of essays. After stumbling through the night city into the cosy rooms of Nepomucenum, we looked forward to the next day and exciting experiences.
In early morning hours we set off to explore ancient Rome. Our sightseeing tour of the city began at the Arch of Constantine symbolizing the power of an emperor who represented a watershed between the old and the new religion – Christianity.
Not far away in the Basilica of Santi Cosma e Damiano we could admire all the details of the mosaics decorating the apse and the triumphal arch at close quarters. From water waves, via angels soaring in coloured clouds, to golden Christ coming down from heaven towards us. We realized two important things there; that on the one hand, a photograph shows a distorted reality, and on the other how much a picture, a space and a ritual – words of a prayer were interrelated, and how strongly they appealed to the then humans . The day was crowned by a common dinner to which even the hobbits would not say no.
On the following day we were literally fascinated by the mosaics in the Chapel of San Zenone. They allowed us to plunge into the past and imagine how people were experiencing deep spiritual moments in this room during the ritual. We paid attention to the role of light, the reflection of the golden tesserae, how the appearance of a mosaic changes by using artificial lighting, and how white parts emerge in the dark. We continued meditating on the way of depicting Christ in the Basilica of Santa Pudenziana too.
After lunch we made our way to Santa Constanza mausoleum where we were unfortunately caught in the darkness. Our last steps headed towards Saint Agnes Outside the Walls. This painting of a saint testifies to an essential change of taste. Agnes, looking as if she were not a woman’s body, is floating over us in her delicate beauty, you can see a portrayal of her immaculate soul. We say good-bye to a touching life story of the little girl.
The morning sun of the following day accompanied us when ascending the Aventine Hill. Some of us were enjoying the view of Rome lying below us, others were enchanted by the orange garden with fruits fallen under the trees, just as though someone had taken a great trouble over arranging them there this way. We gave up the idea of tasting them on entering the Basilica of Saint Sabina through a wooden door which made us start discussing and explaining the meaning and function of the scenes depicted on its wooden panels.
On that day we came across the work of Cavallini in the Basilica of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. The faces on his fresco depicting the Last judgement aroused the feeling “as if they were painted with cotton wool“ due to the subtlety of colours and shades.
Making a sightseeing tour of the medieval monuments of Rome involves a touch of romanticism and mystery, entering the interior of a cathedral from the street is the same as coming across a small island in a swamp where there is a flower bursting into bloom. Such a rare “bloom“ was the interior of the Basilica of San Stefano Rotondo. Another impressive visual experience were also the mural paintings in the Chapel of San Silvestro from mid-13th century.
The Basilica of San Clemente is a vivid example of the fact how buildings in Rome were piled on top of another throughout the centuries. There is namely an early Christian basilica hidden under the upper tempel. Another level lower there is the tempel of the beaten god Mithra which is in an extraordinarily good state of preservation thanks to its being buried underground.
After exploring the mysterious interior of Ipogeo di via Livenza we sat down to have a rest while drinking the last cup of coffee, and then rushed to the airport. If it had not been for an intercession of the willing fellow students of theology, we would have had to make our trip longer (it is no secret that some of us did so). Saying good-bye to Rome is pretty difficult. Becoming close to it is pleasantly easy, and I am very glad we had an opportunity to know each other as schoolmates. I guess everyone would have agreed on the fact that we had spent a couple of nice days and gained a lot of knowledge. The glitter of the golden tesserae keep flickering behind closed eyelids of some of us until today.