Walking Into The Heart of Rome
All Roads Lead Here
When one thinks of Rome, many things come to mind. But the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, both of which are are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that bears the unwieldy and lengthy name of Historic Centre of Rome, the Properties of the Holy See in that City Enjoying Extraterritorial Rights and San Paolo Fuori le Mura) are two of the most famous sites in this city filled with famous sites.
That meant we certainly couldn't leave Rome without visiting the Colosseum or the Roman Forum. So with only one day left in Rome, we took a post-breakfast walk to the Colosseum that would take us right past what remained of the Roman Forum. Along the way, we stopped briefly at the Column of Marcus Aurelius, the last of the five good emperors of Rome (according to Niccolò Machiavelli).
The column, which depicts scenes from the emperor's military successes, is hollow and has a staircase inside, but you can no longer climb it today. When we were there armed guards posted at the piazza where the column is located wouldn't let get close. Other people were walking around it though, so I'm not sure what the deal was (it's quite possible they just didn't like the cut of my jib). So we admired it from afar for a little while before continuing on and stumbling across the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland).
Altare della Patria
This huge monument, designed in 1885 but not completed until 1925, sits pretty much at the center of Rome. It honors Victor Emmanuel II, the Father of the Fatherland and great unifier of Italy (and self-proclaimed first king of the new, unified country in 1861). He's also the one who drove the Pope to seek refuge inside the safety of Vatican City's walls (and was summarily excommunicated for his trouble) until it was all sorted out by Benito Mussolini and the Lateran Treaty in 1929.
Like any good national monument, this one features the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (from World War I), memorialized by an eternal flame and kept vigil day and night by two unmoving guards. Appropriately enough, the small Museum of Italian Unification can be found here, but we didn't check it out—we had a date at the Colosseum. So after climbing up the steps and taking a quick look around, we resumed walking, and before too long we arrived at one end of the forum, marked by the Arch of Septimus Severus.
We stood here for a short while, looking out over the remnants of the Roman Forum (which we'd return to a little later in the day) before we continued on toward the Colosseum.
I'm sure that you, like me, have seen pictures of the place before. But, really, this is one of those monuments that you really have to see for yourself to fully grasp its immensity. The place is huge and cuts quite a striking figure as you walk toward it down Via del Fori Imperiali.
It's even more impressive when you stand in its shadow. Just standing there, looking up and thinking about the architectural and engineering knowledge that went into building the place is mind-boggling.
Like we had with the Vatican, we'd bought our tickets in advance, but we weren't sure where to go, exactly. The place was crowded and chaotic. Turns out there are two lines at the Colosseum, one for ticket buyers and one for ticket holders. The latter moves much quicker than the former, but these lines aren't labeled very well. Naturally, we were in the wrong line until a very kind English-speaking woman re-directed us to the proper line. And not until we were in this correct and fast-moving line did we see the only sign explaining which line was which.
What can I tell you about the Colosseum that you don't already know? It's also known as the Flavian Ampitheatre (which was news to me) because of the emperors under which it was built. This all started in 72 AD under Vespasian (the general who kept Jerusalem under siege during the first Roman-Jewish War, the spoils of which funded the Colosseum's construction) and was completed under his son Titus (hence the nearby Arch of Titus, which we'll see in a moment).
The first games took place in the year 80, shortly after Vespasian's death, and were held by decree from Titus. The events lasted more than 100 days, and by all accounts they were a massively bloody bit of entertainment. This not only served celebrate the Colosseum's completion, but also served to help the people forget about some of the disasters that had happened in the early part of Titus' reign—fires raging though Rome, deadly outbreaks of plague, and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroying Pompeii.
In its heyday, the stands could hold upwards of 80,000 people, all cheering and jeering the gladiatorial games, executions, and elaborate re-creations of notable historic battles that often took place on the floor of the Colosseum.
We didn't pay to walk up to the third floor or the basement (hypogeum). If we understood correctly, the only way you can see these is to take a guided tour. All the English tours were sold out the day we visited, and we politely declined the offer to a Spanish tour to save the extra money. And we after seeing a few groups on these tours, we were glad that we did. It looked like there was only one platform on the third floor the groups visited and they only stood at the edge of the hypogeum, so it didn't look like it was worth it. But I could be wrong.
Again, the building is awe-inspiring. We walked around the first and second floors, including a little tour of the informational museum that's set up in the outer ring of the second floor, then it was time to leave—and time to pay a visit to the remains of the famous Roman Forum.
The Forum Magnum
Quite possibly the most famous meeting place in history, the Forum Romanum is bookended by two great arches: the Arch of Septimus Severus and the Arch of Titus. Earlier in the day we'd seen the Arch of Septimus Severus at one end of the Forum, and now we got to see the Arch of Titus at the opposite end.
The Forum was built on what was once a huge marsh between Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill. The marsh was drained when Rome's first sewer system was built. We didn't take a guided tour of the place and I can't remember all that much about the rally long history of the Forum, so there's not much more to say about all that—although we did pick up a few snippets from the many tours that were being conducted as we looked around, mostly about the the Triumphs given to returning victorious generals. We did walk up to the top of Palatine hill, though, where we had a great panoramic view of the whole forum.
From the Forum (we missed stopping by the Milliarium Aureum—the reason why all roads lead to Rome—which I regret), we walked back through town, where the gals and I engaged in a bit of (somewhat) clandestine shopping to round out their mother's birthday gift. These shenanigans were followed by a relaxing stop off at Scholars Lounge (an Irish Pub staffed by Irish bartenders in the heart of Rome) for a little refreshment before we continued on past The Pantheon, an old building that once served as a temple to all the gods of the Romans but is now doing duty as a Catholic church.
After we were finished taking in a long day of Roman history, we were tired. But more than that, we were hungry and in need of some pleasant conversation. So we had a delightful dinner with Samantha's friend Gillan (of Gillian's Lists) and her husband at La Taverna dei Fori Imperioli. The food was delicious, and the company was delightful—a great way to end our Roman campaign.