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Rome Notes: St. Peter's Face-lift; Genzano Abloom

6/24/2005 - 7:00 AM PST

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St. Peter's Face-lift; Genzano Abloom

Polishing a Crown Jewel of the Basilica

By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, JUNE 24, 2005 (Zenit) - During the hot Roman summer, while the inhabitants escape to the beach, the city restorers get to work.

Road repair, facade repainting and church restoration intensify as schools get out and the city empties. Unfortunately for tourists to Rome, this can become an annoyance as souvenir photos feature scaffolding or orange marking tape.

The Vatican is no exception. Those who visited Rome in the summer of 1999 probably have indelible memories of torn-up streets, endless scaffolds and, most disappointingly, the celebrated facade of St. Peter's Basilica shrouded in steel and canvas.

All the works were unveiled for Jubilee Year 2000 revealing a city more beautiful than ever before, but that was only the beginning for St. Peter's. Over the last five years the sides of the church have been cleaned, new marble statues added to the niches and the excavated area under the basilica has been restructured.

This month, the crowning glory of St. Peter's is preparing to get a face-lift. The lantern, bronze orb and cross surmounting the great dome will be cleaned and restored. Visitors this summer will see the gleaming bronze ball trapped in a sort of giant bird cage.

The Fabbrica di San Pietro -- the workshop of St. Peter's -- is directing this project which will send workers to a platform 436 feet in the air. There they will clean the columns of the graffiti left by tourists and polish the gilded ball and cross.

As St. Peter's dome is the tallest structure in Rome, storms have taken quite a toll since the last restoration in1975. Some extensive repairs will be undertaken to fix damage caused by lightening as well as installing a new lightening rod.

The elegant lantern was built by Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana, the architects who brought Michelangelo's dome project to its conclusion in 1590. The immense globe was added in 1593. While the sphere looks tiny from the square, it can actually fit 14 people inside.

An old basilica legend holds that on the eve of the orb being hauled into place there was a dinner party held within the globe.

The restoration is expected to be completed by September, just in time for the vacationing Romans' return to the city and for Rome's busiest tourist season.

Summer pilgrims needn't despair. The terrace around the lantern will remain open all during the restoration so those stalwart enough to climb the 320 steps to the top (in August heat) will still be able to admire the breathtaking view of the urbs, if not the orb.

* * *

Floral Carpet Treatment

It is not surprising that in a city dominated by stone, the Romans get hungry to see flowers from time to time.

As a respite from travertine, tufa, basalt and marble, in the spring, residents flock to the city's rose garden, or the Spanish Steps decorated with azaleas, or simply turn their balconies into oases of jasmine and gardenias.

By far and away the greatest expression of the Roman love of flora takes place right before the summer equinox in the little town of Genzano, which swells with visitors to the festival of flowers known as the "Infiorata di Genzano." This year festivities took place from June 18-20.

This little village in the Castelli Romani, 15 miles from Rome and very near the site of the Pope's summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, blankets the streets with blooms covering about 2,000 square meters.

This festival has been a tradition in Genzano for 200 years and originally took place the Sunday after Corpus Domini. The tapestry of flowers extends along the Via dell'Infiorata with the old Duomo of Santa Maria della Cima as its backdrop.

The whole road is cordoned off with garlands while petals arranged in patterns or to resemble paintings fill the street. The artisans who create these magnificent arrangements go out into the hills around the village searching for the greatest variety of colors and textures of flowers, collecting them in enormous baskets sorted by hue.

The morning of the festival, drawings are made in the pavement to be filled in with roses, poppies, azaleas, begonias and many more. Two hundred men, women and children work for five hours to lay in the 350,000 flowers. Water is sprayed over the petals in minute droplets to keep them fresh and glistening throughout the day. In earlier years, at the end of the day, the labor of the artisans became a splendid carpet for the Corpus Domini procession.

In the 1870s, Massimo D'Azeglio, statesman of the anti-papal Risorgimento movement, lamented that this "magnificent carpet" had to be "ruined by the feet of a procession." ...

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