Coming to the Beatification in Rome? Here’s What to Expect

Beatification ceremony of Pope John Paul II, Rome
Whether you're one of the brave souls coming to Rome for the beatification ceremony of Pope John Paul II on May 1, or someone who will just happen to be here anyway, be warned: You're not the only one. It's been estimated that 2 to 3 million pilgrims will alight on the city — doubling Rome's population.

Obviously, we won't know if that happens till it happens. But it's probably smart to plan ahead. So anything you can book far in advance, whether hotel or Vatican or walking tour or restaurant, do. And bring your walking shoes: If this many people will really be here, that means cabs will be full and the bus and metro systems, already full during rush hour, will be packed all day along. But even if you're all booked,  remember that even the best-laid plans can go awry. That's true on the best of days in Rome. It'll be even more true now.

One thing that you should be able to count on, though, is the schedule of events for the beatification ceremony itself. The detailed schedule was just announced a couple of days ago. Here it is:

Saturday, April 30

8pm. Prayer vigil, Circus Maximus. Speakers will include Pope John Paull II's closest aide, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, and his  spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls; Pope Benedict XVI will recite the final oration and bless the people.

Sunday, May 1

9am. St. Peter's Square. Hour of preparation, when the faithful pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy together.

10am. The liturgy of the beatification, followed by a mass. At the end, a tapestry of Pope John Paul II will be unveiled. After, the Pope and cardinals will pray before John Paul's body in St. Peter's Basilica.

Evening. John Paul II's remains will continue to be in front of the basilica's main altar (known as the "Altar of Confession"), and pilgrims are welcome to venerate there.

Monday, May 2

10:30am. St. Peter's Square. A thanksgiving mass will celebrate John Paul II, with music by the Choir of the Diocese of Rome, Choir of Warsaw and the Wadowice Symphony Orchestra of Poland.

Here's a more-detailed schedule of events from the Vatican.

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Every Weekend in Rome’s Center, a Super-Local Food Market

Sunday Campagna Amica food market, Circus Maximus, Rome

Rome has no end of farmers' markets. But for one of its best, you have to head to the covered food market at Circus Maximus, held every Saturday and Sunday. Bonus: It's great for gifts for friends and family back home, too.

Run by Campagna Amica, the market offers only local produce. Even at my neighborhood's fruit and vegetable stand, I can buy apples from New Zealand. Not here. Instead, all the farmers who sell their products at Campagna Amica have to adhere to the "0 km" rule — as in, they're all from Lazio. Not quite 0 km, sure, but way better than the 1,600 km that your average piece of produce takes to get from its harvest to your kitchen. And, of course, that means that the produce you buy is all fresh and seasonal — something that, in turn, helps the environment, economy, and local culture.

Plus, of course, the market's just plain fun. With everything from super-fresh ricotta to jars of delicacies (like a porcini mushroom and black truffle sauce that set me back €7, but was worth every penny), it's a great taste — literally — of all of the foods that Rome and Lazio have to offer. And there are plenty of good gift options to bring back home, from olive oil to biscotti to traditional sauces and dips.

The Circo Massimo market is located at Via San Teodoro 74. It runs every Saturday and Sunday from 10:30am-7pm.

Want to find out about Rome's other hidden gems? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!


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A Medieval Church with More than Meets the Eye: Rome’s St. George in Velabro

Church of St. George in Velabro, Forum Boarium, Rome St. George in Velabro is one of the most-overlooked churches in Rome…in one of the city's most-overlooked central areas, the Forum Boarium. That's a shame, because it's one of Rome's loveliest small-church gems. And, located between the Aventine and Palatine hills, it's hardly far from Rome's major sights.

The church isn't elaborate. If you're used to seeing Rome's Baroque masterpieces or Mannerist frescoes, it can seem somewhat plain. But that's all part of its charm.

And, more importantly, its age. St. George in Velabro dates back to the 5th century, and most of the brick facade is 7th century. The apse and much of the rest of the interior were built in the 9th century; the campanile, the 12th century (though rebuilt in 1837); the present portico along with the interior frescoes, the 13th century. As a result, St. George in Velabro is a thoroughly Romanesque church — and beautiful in its seeming simplicity. 

But don't let the style, or small size, fool you: The basilica is rich in history and treasures. For worshipers coming here for 1,300 years, the most important are the relics that give the church its name… the bones of St. George. (Yes, the same saint who slaid a dragon and is the patron of not just England, but Genoa, Venice, Barcelona, Portugal, Lithuania, Georgia, the Crusaders, and the Boy Scouts. Really. That means this is one saint who has a lot of bones in a lot of churches worldwide, something of an issue for skeptics). St. George's (supposed) cranium is kept in a red-lined case under the 12th-century altar, one of the most beautiful altars of its day. Interior of St. George in Velabro, Forum Boarium, Rome

That's not it for this church. Don't miss the frescoes in the ceiling of the apse, done in 1300 by Pietro Cavallini, Rome's best-known artist of the time. (If his style looks familiar, then a) you have a good eye and b) you've probably been to the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, where his fresco of the Last Judgment is considered to be his masterpiece).

Note, too, all of the ancient Roman remnants tucked into this church. The 16 columns inside, for example, date from the first to seventh centuries and were taken from ancient structures on the Palatine. (Medieval recycling!) Don't miss, either, the ancient arch seemingly built into the left side of the church's exterior. The arch dates to 264 A.D., and the church was actually built into it. Called the arco degli argentari, the arch was a gate on the road between the main forum and the forum boarium, where moneychangers (argentari) worked.

Finally, there's one last thing to this church that doesn't meet the eye: its toughness. I don't mean in terms of its mere age. On July 27, 1993, a Mafia-set car bomb exploded just outside the church's portico. (Two other simultaneous bombings took place at Rome's San Giovanni in Laterano and Milan's duomo; six people were killed). The 13th-century porch of St. George in Velabro was shattered. A hole blew through the wall. More than 1,000 fragments left from the bombing were pieced carefully together in the ensuing repairs. But take a closer look. The damaged capitals of the columns on the porch, along with other details, haven't been fixed, a testament to the crime.

San Giorgio in Velabro is located is located on Via del Velabro 19, a short walk from the Mouth of Truth and Circus Maximus. Click here for a map. For more information, click here.

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Travel Virtually to Rome’s Top Sites

School of Athens by Raphael in the Vatican museums Memories fade, and photographs don't always do justice to Rome's top attractions. Now, though, a spate of virtual tours allow travelers to explore some of Rome's most popular buildings and art, from the Sistine Chapel to the Capitoline Museums — all from the comfort of home.

Below, some of the best of the virtual lineup. Prepare to want to start planning your next trip to Rome!

St. Peter's Basilica, now visitable virtuallySt. Peter's Basilica. Gorgeous virtual tour by the Vatican itself. Highly professional and stunning.

The Sistine Chapel. Also by the Vatican.

The Vatican Museums, including the Pinacoteca (below), Raphael Rooms, Etruscan Museum and Egyptian Museum.

San Giovanni in Laterano, or St. John Lateran, the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome (i.e. the Pope) and the mother church of Catholics.

St. Paul Outside the Walls, founded in the 4th century on the burial place of St. Paul and one of Rome's four papal basilicas.Raphael's paintings at the Pinacoteca, Vatican museums, Rome

The Capitoline Museums. They're the oldest public museums in Rome and boast some of Italy's best ancient, Renaissance, and Baroque art. Now, you can visit all 45 of their rooms… digitally.

The Pantheon. Rome's single best-preserved ancient building; the tour isn't as professional as the previous virtual tours, but still pretty great.

Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, a beautiful example of the blending of the Baroque and Renaissance styles of architecture. It's famous for its Caravaggio paintings — which, bummer, you can't see in the tour — but also for its Chigi Chapel designed by Raphael, which you can.

The Ara Pacis, the altar made from 13-9 B.C. to commemorate Emperor Augustus' victories and the Pax Romana. (Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on "Ara Pacis").

Circus Maximus, where ancient charioteers once raced (make this full-screen for a better image)

Largo Argentina, with the remains of four ancient Republican temples

And, yes… the Colosseum! Colosseum, Rome
Finally: Yes, virtual tours of what actually exists are all well and good — but virtual tours of what ancient Rome would have looked like? Maybe even better.

UCLA's Digital Roman Forum includes both modern and ancient views of the forum, including the basilicas Julia and Aemilia. Pick a time between 700 B.C. and 500 A.D., click on the map, and see what that spot looks like in 360 degrees today — and an image of what it would have looked like then rotates with you.

It's a work in progress and only shows you what the sites look like today, but this other virtual tour of the Roman forum features 360-degree views of a dozen different spots in the ancient landscape.

Now, if only you could also virtually enjoy the taste of pasta alla gricia or the feel of the warm Roman sun on your neck…

 

 

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The Monolithic Ruins of the Terme di Caracalla

Frigidarium at the Terme di Caracalla

In a word, the Baths of Caracalla are enormous. Towering 125 feet above you, they're higher than most apartment complexes in modern-day Rome; they accommodated up to 1,600 people at a time. Today, however, there's hardly anyone there.

The baths (or terme, in Italian) date back to the early 200s A.D., when they were planned by Emperor Septimus Severus and completed by his son Caracalla. They boasted a 183-by-79-foot frigidarium, tepidarium, 115-foot-wide caldarium, natatio (swimming pool) complete with bronze mirrors to reflect in the sunlight, and two palaestras, or gyms. And that's not to mention the complex's dozens of shops and two public libraries — one with texts in Latin, one in Greek. Mosaic flooring in the Baths of Caracalla, Rome

Today, the baths' sheer size is enough to take your breath away. Experiencing that enormity and, with it, getting a sense of the monumental scale of ancient Rome's structures, is alone an excellent reason to visit. Unless you have a fascination with ancient baths, it's also pretty much the only reason: After centuries of looting and plundering, the baths are just a shell of what they would have been.

As with so many of Rome's other ancient sites, imagining the baths as they would have been requiressome imagination. (The History Channel has a short online video on the baths including a reconstruction, which helps; here is a scale drawing of the complex). If you go, remember that the entire bath complex would have been lavished with glass-paste mosaics (like that above), frescoes, and Farnese Bull from the Baths of Caracallahundreds of sculptures. 

Two of the sculptures, unearthed in the 16th century during excavations by Pope Paul III Farnese, give an idea of how monumental and lavish these decorations would have been: the Farnese Hercules and the Farnese Bull, an enormous sculpture group carved from one marble block that was probably originally a fountain (right), both now in Naples.

Visiting the baths costs € 6.00 for non-E.U. citizens; the ticket is also good for 7 days for Villa dei Quintili and the Mausoleo di Cecilia Metella. The complex is open daily from 9am to the evening (check the official Baths of Caracalla website for exact times, which vary by season), and to 2pm on Mondays. They're located just southeast of Circus Maximus, which is the closest metro stop. For a map, click here. To plot your route with public transport (official address is Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 52), click here.

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