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Monday, October 29, 2018

Context Rome Tours Provide a Wealth of Knowledge

We took two tours with Context in Rome and both of our guides were not only exceptionally knowledgeable, they have been doing this exact tour for over 20 years. On a bright and early Saturday morning, we braved the crowds at the Vatican and met our docent, Cecilia, an art historian and a native Roman with a Master's degree in Medieval and Renaissance Art from the Sapienza University of Rome. Some 30,000 to 35,000 people visit the Vatican every day and today was no different. Cecilia was a marvel to watch as she weaved in an out of the people to wax lyrically on the long map hall, maps of Italy created in the 1500s, only open to the public in the 1700s. Outside, overlooking St. Peter's Basilica, she sat us down and went over all the panels we were going to see in the Sistine Chapel, a place where no one can talk. But first we would visit the dreamy Raphael rooms, most striking the first room depicting his portrayal of philosophy, religion, justice, and truth. Look closely and you can see both Raphael and Michelangelo, a great inspiration to Raphael, when remarkably they both were working at the Vatican at the same time, 1508. It's hard not to be blown away by Michelangelo's brilliance when peering up in the Sistine Chapel, only to end at Bernini's masterpiece, the largest church in the world, St. Peter's Basilica. Wowza. No wonder Cecilia's been doing this exact tour for over 2 decades. Everything else pales in comparison. 

Our docent for the tour titled Caravaggio's Mean Streets, Sara, was just as brilliant. Having earned her PhD in archaeology, she recently published a book about Caravaggio's paintings in the Contarelli Chapel, helping to add insight to the late 16th century, early 17th century painter that many consider one of the greatest of all time. Unlike the crowds we faced at the Vatican, there were relatively few people peering at Caravaggio's passionate works on St. Paul and St. Peter found on the side walls inside a chapel at the 15th century church, Santa Maria del Popolo. Caravaggio was a master of chiaroscuro, best seen by the illuminated figure of St. Paul on the ground. Sara didn't delve into the juicy tidbits of Caravaggio's life, like the murder he committed resulting in his expulsion from Rome, focusing primarily on his art. We spent a good amount of time at her favorite topic, the Contarelli Chapel, located at the church of the French congregation in Rome, San Luigi dei Francesi. It's here that you insert your 2 Euro coin to lighten up another one of his masterpieces, The Calling of Saint Matthew, depicting the moment at which Jesus Christ inspires Matthew to follow him. The painting was so magnificent that we asked if it was recently refurbished. "No, not in decades," said Sara. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/29/18 at 06:00 AM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk. is an Austin-Lehman Adventure's Top 125 Best Travel Blog Semi-Finalist

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