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S+L in Rome: Anzio and the Cupola

February 18, 2009
A cat prowls the Imperial Villa in AnzioI surprised even myself by succeeding to catch the 7 AM train on Sunday.  I had woken up at 5:30 AM to do so, knowing that this was my only opportunity to reach the little-known island of Ponza. The ferry website listed just one boat departing from the seaside town of Anzio each morning.
My enthusiasm was building as, from the train, I witnessed the sun was rising over stretches of ancient aqueduct ruins, still perched upon green pasture. Upon reaching Anzio, however, I received some disappointing news.
“No Sunday ferry in winter,” I was told. The local seemed puzzled as to why I would want to go island hopping in this season. Yet all around the docks, sunny patios were filling up with morning cappuccino drinkers. Children played on the nearby beaches. I concluded that Italians have strange perceptions of winter.
Fresh catch in the Anzio harbourThe day was still young. After further exploring Anzio, I returned to Rome's Termini Station and then headed directly to St. Peter's Square. Mindful of the clear skies, I decided to climb to the Basilica's “cupola”, or dome. Visitors are offered two methods of reaching to the top: 7 euros by elevator, or 5 euros by stairs. I'm quite certain that no one who chooses the latter comprehends just how arduous this will be.
As I began scaling the staircase, I decided to pray for a friend or family member along each step IDome of St. Peter’s Basilica took. Soon I ran out of acquaintances. Near the half-way point, I was rewarded with a bird's eye view of the main altar inside the Cathedral. I was subsequently punished with a narrow staircase of slanted walls that require climbers to lean. Another dizzying spiraled section offers a rope so that one's upper-body—the rested half—can share the workload.
No one regrets the effort. I met several other pilgrims at the very top who were similarly short of breath and wide-eyed with amazement. The panoramic view of Rome--overlooking the square and the Vatican Gardens, with snow-capped mountains in the distance--reinforces the sense that this is a truly blessed place. It may not be why emperors, popes and countless saints have called it home, but it would be reason enough.
The Vatican Gardens, seen from atop St. Peter’s Basilica
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