Continuing on from our lunch break, I can't remember if we ended up following one of Pu's designated walks (I think we didn't, actually). We ended up heading northeast, towards the huge white prominence of the memorial to Vittorio Emanuele II. Along the way were a few notable spots, most impressive being the baroque courtyard of the Palazzo Mattei.
The area around the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II is definitely one of the city's focal points. In fact, this is often the spot marked as the center of Rome on maps. However, we didn't immediately focus on it (the monument). Instead, we wandered around its outskirts, marvelling at some of the ancient Roman construction in the area, especially the striking Trajan's Column, which is not far from the monument. The column is in amazingly good shape and contains and amazing density of storytelling on a spiral bas-relief sculpture that winds around it from bottom to top. We spent a good bit of time observing this tower from many angles, as you can see from my pictures of it.
It is quite interesting to closely examine what is depicted on Trajan's column. Excellent decoding of the reliefs on the column can be found here
We now turned our attention back to the monument. It really can't be ignored; it is big, and so very blindingly white, that your eye is always drawn to it. Built as a memorial to the first king of a unified Italy, the monument is a relatively recent construction, finished only in the 1930s. Many citizens of Rome think it is quite the eyesore; that it doesn't really fit in to the architecture of the downtown core; that it is a heavy-handed and pompous. They have several derogatory names for it.
Still, it seemed like an interesting place to visit, so we decided to see what we could see. We climbed the white marble steps, past patriotic displays of Italian nationhood -- complete with eternal flames and real live Italian army personnel standing stock still on either side. It was also, apparently, not permitted to sit anywhere on the monument; not on steps, railings, on the ground, etc. If you did, a security guard would soon come around and shoo you away.
A museum of Italian reunification is contained within the monument. It is reasonably interesting, but mostly focuses on military actions and glorious, heroic deeds. On the whole, the place seemed a little bit military-ish, actually. And perhaps slightly snobby.
We discovered that there is a recently-installed glass-enclosed elevator that allows access (for 7 Euro each) to the top of the monument. We decided to go for it, since it was a nice, clear day and the height of the monument promised a great vantage point over the city of Rome. This in fact turned out to be true: the top of the monument is indeed a very excellent spot to get great views over the length and breadth of Rome.