St. Paul Outside the Walls: One of Rome’s Less Seen Basilicas

As one may expect, Rome does not lack in the church category.  All types and sizes up to the best know, St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican.  However, there are three other major basilicas in Rome:  St. John Lateran (first among the four for being the oldest), Saint Mary Major (Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore), and St. Paul Outside the Walls (Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le Mura)As the term “major basilica” implies, they are of high importance to the Catholic Church and any other basilica is just “a” basilica or a minor basilica.

As with St. Peter’s and St. Peter, St. Paul Outside the Walls was built is on top of the site where St. Paul was buried.  The original church was built in the fourth century and it got built on and modified up until the nineteenth century when a fire destroyed a good bit of it and it got reconstructed.  The modifications it went through in those 1400 years were done for different reasons:  fortifying it against potential invaders, repairing damage, beautifying it, or simply making it larger.

Of the original church only a couple of things remain (the triumphal arch with its fifth century mosaics, and part of the apse).  But it was other details that grabbed my attention.

First, was the images of all the Popes right above the top of the columns.  It really gives a great sense of the longevity of the Church.

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Popes’ likenesses on the friezes

Second, how uninviting the exterior is (at least on the sides), hiding the interior beauty of this church.

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Exterior of the basilica

Third, to me it seem a different style of architecture for a church.  I suppose this derives from the fact that its design goes back to a very old design even if it was modified through the centuries.  So it may not be a design that is odd but one that I am not familiar with.

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The facade and statue of St. Paul

St. Paul Outside the Walls, facade, Rome, Italy, Catholic Church, major basilica, statue, mosaics, photo, travel, colonnade, columns

Colonnade to the side of the basilica’s facade; note the garden that sits in front of the facade.

Fourth, the colonnade inside the church (around 80 columns is pretty spectacular.

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The beautiful colonnade and what I assume are marble floors

Fifth, the stucco ceilings which are so beautifully decorated.

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Some of the beautiful ceilings at SPOTW

Rome, St. Paul, Outside The Walls, fuori le mura, major basilica, Catholic Church, travel, photo, Italy,, ceiling, stucco

Some of the beautiful ceilings at SPOTW

Finally, the altar and the tabernacle on it are beautiful crowns over the tomb of St. Paul.  One can take a few stops down to see the chains that held St. Paul prisoner in Rome.

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Tabernacle at the altar, and, in the background, mosaics dating from the 13th century

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Top of the tabernacle and the ceiling in the background

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St. Paul’s chains

St. Paul Outside the Walls is away from the beaten path of central Rome that most tourists stick to but it is an easy subway ride from that part of Rome.  Whether due to your faith, your interest in architecture, simple curiosity or only trying to get away from the crowds, it is well worth checking out.

What lesser known bits of Rome have you visited?  Any recommendations?

City Life – Street Scenes of Stockholm

I wrote about Stockholm being a great city to visit in summer time (as probably any part of Sweden!).  As I said then, it is likely a charming city well-worth visiting any time of the year.  But summertime not only offers warmth and longer daylight hours.  It offers better opportunities to observe life happen as I hope the photos in this post show.

Enjoy and let me know which is your favorite scene!

More pix of Stockholm here and of other parts of Sweden here!!

Buenos Aires: A Monument-al City

While on a three-month assignment in Chile many years ago, I visited Buenos Aires, Argentina for the first time to spend the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday there.  Besides locals, my co-workers included a fellow American colleague and folks from Buenos Aires (abbreviated in Spanish “B.B.A.A.”; leave me a comment if anyone is curious why not “B.A.”).  We all had great fun in Santiago and exploring Chile together.  So when the time came to book our tickets home for Thanksgiving, the other American and I thought to ourselves:  why not go to BB.AA. and get to know it with our friends from work?  We thought for a moment about our families and about missing the turkey, and decided (smartly) that this was our chance to see monumental BB.AA., all travel expenses paid.

Seeing some of the key sights

BB.AA. is monumental.  Period.  Not only because of its size but also because of its architecture too, reminiscent of Paris and Madrid, just rolled into one.  Of course, it is not Paris but it gets as close as I have seen any other city outside of France to look like it.

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The very-classical Cathedral of Buenos Aires.

No visit to BB.AA. at that time could skip seeing the Plaza de Mayo, where the mothers of the people who disappeared during military dictatorship had been protesting for years (and, at the time of my visit, maybe for other reasons, according to my local friends).  The plaza is in front of the Casa Rosada, the Argentine president’s residence and offices.

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The “Casa Rosada” (Pink House; any similarity or apparent relationship between it, its current resident and the Pink Panther are purely coincidental).  Evita made its rear balcony famous in her Broadway musical.

BB.AA. has evolved since those days, as all places do.  For example, Puerto Madero has become a great area to visit, dine, etc.  But in this first of my three visits to Argentina, that area was nothing like it is today; it was a blighted area.

We walked tons, visiting the cemetery where the aforementioned Evita is buried, walking down the sprawling Ave. Libertador with its many lanes that behave as one, shopping in Calle Florida, and all that good stuff.  It is, like many great cities, a city one can enjoy best by roaming aimlessly.

Food.  Oh, the food.

Food, oh, food.  The Argentine capital is a veritable source of good food.  Nothing complicated.  We had Thanksgiving dinner at an Italian restaurant near Ave. Callao.  Being that Argentina has tons of Italian blood for many immigrants, the meal was top notch.  It wasn’t turkey but it was outstanding.

One of our co-workers invited us to an “asado” – BBQ Argentina-style.  It was at his parents’ place and they grilled EVERY part of the beast.  We were teased into trying a “weird” part so I opted for the kidney which seemed the “safer” thing.  Not a fan of the texture though the flavor wasn’t bad…

My favorite meal was at the Costanera.  I don’t know if it exists in the same format as it did so many years ago but, boy, the piece of steak was OUTSTANDING and it was buried under a PILE of REAL French fries.  I ordered half a steak and it covered the entire plate – a normal size plate!  A meal to remember – if you don’t drink too much wine with it.

Finally, my absolute favorite thing was Fredo‘s ice cream – really, gelato.  There were many locations and every time we ran into one, we had to go in… My favorite flavor:  wine cream.  Out of this world or, what Argentines would say with great fervor:  ¡¡¡ES-PEC-TA-CU-LAR!!!!

Monuments ‘R Us

There are many ways to describe BB.AA. but one that sticks with me is that it is just a massive collection of monuments. Wow. Every place you turn, a statue (with or without a fountain)! Incredible. Here is a series of photos showing what I am talking about…

Buenos Aires, Argentina, city, monuments, architecture, Canon EOS Rebel, Cabildo

In front of the Cabildo (or town hall).  A great place to catch some shade.

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In the Palermo area (as I pulled this photo out of the album to scan it, I realized this square and those buildings had been in an episode of House Hunters International not long ago!)

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The fountain to Urquiza, an Argentine general and politician with the Ave. Libertador in the background (that speck at the top edge of the fountain is me)

Buenos Aires, Argentina, city, monuments, architecture, Canon EOS Rebel, Christopher Columbus

Buenos Aires, Argentina, city, monuments, architecture, Canon EOS Rebel

Monument to the Argentine nation

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National Congress and its own monument

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Statue and yours truly

Buenos Aires, Argentina, city, monuments, architecture, Canon EOS Rebel,

To close it up:  a double.  The Thinker (left) and Plaza de Mayo (right) with me as the common factor (with my stylishly rolled up jeans)

Do you agree that Buenos Aires is a monument-al city?? 🙂

Photo Essay of the Center of Moldova’s Capital: Chisinau

Having added Moldova to my Romania trip itinerary , Chisinau (pronounced KISH-now), its capital, had to be central to the visit as it is the main town in this country of approximately 3.6 million people (Chisinau itself has around 750,000 inhabitants).

Chisinau road sign, Moldova

Welcome to Chisinau

Street scene near central Chisinau, Moldova

Street scene near central Chisinau (and darkening skies!)

Street scene in Chisinau, Moldova

Bus stop scene in Chisinau

The city, which was founded in the 1430s, has a complex history since it was at the crossroads of various empires.  It is said that it had the largest proportion of Jewish population in Europe in 1900 at 43% of the city’s population.  The city was nearly destroyed in 1940 when the Soviets took over and the city was hit by an earthquake, and, later by Nazi attacks and occupation.  I saw old structures but not many that pre-date this period (to my untrained eye).  The Jewish population, as in other places, was wiped out to a good extent during the Nazi occupation.

Booth in Chisinau, Moldova

Perhaps one of the older structures around??!!

Some of the older architecture in Chisinau, Moldova

Example of older architecture in Chisinau, Moldova

City Hall, finished in 1901 but re-built after WW II due to the damage it sustained, is one of the best architectural pieces in town, built in Italian Gothic style.

City Hall of Moldova's capital city, Chisinau

Chisinau City Hall

Of course, a lot of buildings I saw are post-WW II.  Many of the big style government buildings, apartment bloc buildings, and hotels were built in that post-war period, with the implications to architecture that that entails…

Apartment blocs in Chisinau. Moldova

Apartment blocs, many in different states of repair

Parliament Building was damaged during demonstrations in 2009 and is under repair.  It used to house the Central Committee of the Communist Party during Soviet times.

Parliament Building in Chisinau, Moldova

Parliament Building

The now-abandoned National Hotel in Chisinau, Moldova

The now-abandoned National Hotel

Hotel Chisinau (open) in Moldova

Hotel Chisinau (open)

Telecom company building in Chisinau, Moldova

Office building

Presidential Palace in Chisinau, Moldova

Presidential Palace

Underground tunnel in Chisinau, Moldova

Underground tunnel for pedestrians – great artwork

Ministry of Agriculture in Chisinau, Moldova

Ministry of Agriculture

I enjoy looking at the architecture in a city to get a mental image of the place and how it evolved.  Clearly, history has been wiped out a good bit by war, earthquakes, and the Soviet regime.  But I also like to see what people do.  Unfortunately,  a countryside-heavy itinerary kept me mostly out of Chisinau.  Also, I didn’t find any cafés in the central part of the city as I walked around so it was harder to sit back and watch life go by (well, I could have sat on a sidewalk but not the same!). Still, I saw life go by in its own way.

Old lady crossing Stefan cel Mare Boulevard in Chisinau, Moldova

Old lady crossing Stefan cel Mare Boulevard

Man crossing street in Chisinau, Moldova

Man crossing street

I did visit the main park in the city center, named after the national hero Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great), which definitely seems to be popular with locals with its trees, lawn areas, fountains and the Alley of the Classics (with sculptures of literature and political greats for Moldovans).

Stefan cel Mare Central Park in Chisinau, Moldova

Stefan cel Mare Central Park

Ever-present Stefan cel Mare near the same-named park in Chisinau, Moldova

Ever-present Stefan cel Mare near the same-named park

My guide asked me asked me when we met “why Moldova?”.  I answered because “it’s there and I wanted to see what it was like.”   Yet, I fully realize that to really get to know a country and its people, it takes a lot more than a short visit and the sightseeing.  I was fortunate to have a great guide, Dumitru, (whom I’d recommend for anyone traveling there!) for 3 days who shared a lot with me about Moldova and Moldovans, about the times before and after the fall of the USSR, about the country’s current challenges, about the business environment, and about the hidden treasures this small country has to offer for those willing to take the extra steps to get to see it.


Traipsing around Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum

Not being keen on lines and much less crowds, I instantly mentally said “yes” when I saw there was a tour of the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum before the crowds got in.  I was quite willing to pay for the privilege of going before the SC and VM opened – which is rather an inaccurate concept as the moment you go in, the museum IS open – but this “before it opens” thing is about beating the crowds who did not want to wake up earlier, who did not want to (or could) pay the extra cost, or who did not know/think about it ahead of time.  Plus with a tour guide to be sure nothing noteworthy was missed in the eagerness to see the SC.

Vatican Museum statue

Sample art at the Vatican Museum

Dark Rome ( provided one of those tours.  (I found them via my ultimate authority for local tours, Viator.)  Their tour guide, an archaelogist from Ireland named Rachel (cute!) was engaging and well prepared.  But beyond not missing any key artifacts, the value was getting background knowledge about the great pieces I was going to see.

I have to say that while there were other tour groups (I didn’t pay THAT much money!), there was space to move around and stop without getting crashed into or pushed.  Lots of interesting art (Rafael’s masterpiece right before the SC being one of them) and architecture.  The crown jewel, though, really blew me away.  Having heard SO MUCH about it, I was expecting to be impressed but not blown away.  One of those things were the expectations are made so big that by the time you get there, it is not the same as what it had been built to be.

NOT this time!  I have to say that having learned how frescoes are made in the tour, having been explained Michelangelo’s design and process, etc. really made a big difference in the appreciation for those drawings up in a ceiling.  Just thinking about how high he had to climb every day to do the job was quite impressive.  (I did wonder if he took bathroom breaks and, if so, did he do it in a bucket and lowered it when done… or was he SO engrossed in his masterpiece that he could hold it however many hours??  The things that churn in my head…)

Soapbox break.  The one shameful thing I observed was fellow tourists who did not seem to get the concept of no pictures allowed.  First of all, these fools don’t realize those drawings are so far up that their pictures will do them no justice.  Just buy a freaking post card or, even better, the book. But most importantly for me is the lack of respect they show for a place of worship.  If you cannot respect the sites you visit, then why are you really going there anyway?  I treat other faiths’ places of worship with the same respect I pay my own.  Soapbox break over.

It is neat to understand where Michelangelo started the ceiling and how his technique evolved during the project.  I didn’t realize he was rather inexperienced in frescoes when he got the commission (that he didn’t want to do but Julius II forced to accept).  I will not get into it here as I am not an art connossieur nor is that the purpose of this blog.  But it is really interesting to see how he learned about how to do the frescoes once he came down and admired one of the earliest panels finished – the ceiling was too far up and the figures were too small:  he had to paint them bigger!  I am surprised though that he didn’t re-do that first panel.  Or maybe he did and I didn’t catch that…

The Sistine Chapel frescoes on the ceiling are matched by an imposing altarpiece fresco where Michelangelo gets back at a “foe” using his face as the face of someone being walked into hell.  I think Michelangelo won that little feud of theirs…  And remember Rome is eternal…  Lots of good ceilings in the Vatican (and Rome)!

Finally, as a Catholic, picturing a conclave (where Popes are elected) taking place in the SC while standing there was priceless.  I couldn’t quite picture all these cardinals in there but, I take it by faith.

I think in some future visit, perhaps I will explore more of the VM themselves.  Lots of important artifacts and art that I may not really be prepared to explore.  But something will be learned, something will probably impress me and… I can get to see the awesome work in the Sistine Chapel one more time!

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