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Published: January 21st 2018
Arch of Constantine and Coliseum
Powerful corner, once upon a time
Today - the great wonders of ancient Rome! A two-stop metro ride brought us to the Coliseum
. Amazing – you walk down a short street from the metro station – and there it is! Just like the pictures!
We met our local guide, Francesca. (Cecilia is our tour guide and was also there). Francesca has a Master's degree in history and is licensed to guide in the Coliseum. She brought us through the ticket and security check. Our tour had an early booking to avoid the crowds. Cecilia distributed “whisper technology”, a little cell-phone–like device for listening to our guide, who could speak in a normal voice or even lower. This is mandatory to prevent “noise pollution” from the guides shouting to be heard.
The Coliseum is tall, massive, and spacious. Its ruin was effected during the collapse of the Empire
, by people stripping its marble for homes and churches, also melting down metal supports for other uses. Today, all preservation work is done in brick to distinguish it from what is original; mainly the end and broken edges have been stabilized to curtail further erosion.
We walked up a long flight of stairs to the second level.
Our current hockey arenas and baseball stadiums are constructed on the same design principles – numbered porticos and assigned seating. Later, Francesca explained that tickets were free historically, and free bread and wine were provided. The tickets were used to impose order and keep the classes separated into the three tiers of seating. The food and drink and gore were to distract the populous and keep them from initiating insurrections. View the video.
From the top, looking down, we could see the “under the floor” view, which the Romans did not see. Work was underway to construct a partial floor to give an impression of how it would have looked originally. The floor was wood, covered deeply in sand to soak up the blood. In the morning ‘games’, exotic animals were slaughtered, and in the afternoon gladiators fought. Apparently Romans were very visually oriented and liked to see the mostly African animals as evidence of their empire’s reach. Thusly several species became extinct! The captive gladiators were evidence of what could happen if you didn’t “toe the line”.
From the Coliseum we also had great views of the Arch of Constantine
and the Palatine Hill
. The Constantine Arch and two others that
In the Roman Forum
Haunting view of ages past
remain are from later periods, which meant they were made from pieces of other monuments’ marble. For example, some of the friezes representing Constantine were originally Marcus Aurelius
, with his beard chiseled off.
Outside the Coliseum, our toilet break was strange. The queue was so long at the Coliseum that Francesca took us to a bar across the road and for an undisclosed price we used theirs. Basic but clean. One nice feature of public toilets is that the basin water tap is operated by foot pressure – no hands!
We walked a few hundred yards to the Forum
, which has been and is being excavated over the last number of decades. Now it is again a valley; after the Roman era it was literally filled-in by the debris of years of floods from the Tiber. During Rome’s less prosperous years, people stabilized and built on the mud and debris rather than paying to remove it. Francesca showed us a door about a hundred feet over our heads that used to be at ground level. The Forum we see is a scene of ruins that hint at what used to be. For example, two very tall thin columns remain
Every sound is multiplied
from the Temple of Castor and Pollux
, and three much smaller columns remain from the Temple of the Vestal Virgins
Moving along, we walked through the rain to the Pantheon
, which is fronted by massive columns – apparently brought whole from Egypt. Francesca explained that Roman architecture uses gigantic forms and space to exude power. The interior is a beautiful display of frescoes and marble – all newly restored, open only three weeks. Because part is now also a church, tourists are kept to the circumference. The top of the dome is open to the sky, and the very centre of the slightly sloping marble floor has a drain for the water (needed today) or occasionally the snow. Apparently the builders did not know how to close the concrete dome without causing a collapse, but they did know how to lighten the load of the roof by casting it a functional yet decorative pattern.
This contrasted with the Michelangelo piazza
, between the Forum and the Pantheon. There the city hall is built on top of a Forum building, facing away from the Forum. It has the Renaissance grace and coloured plaster we are familiar with. Michelangelo appreciated human-scale symmetry, so to match an existing building at
an 80 degree angle from the city hall he built another similar building at 80 degrees on the other side.
So ended the formal tour. Time for lunch. Linda and Carol, two other single travelers, and I walked a relatively short distance along the narrow side streets, and found “Miscellanea”, self styled as an international student’s pub. It was just like an English pub with a huge drinks list and an emphasis on beer. I had an Italian red beer and an omelet with came with beautiful red tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, arugula and tuscan bread for 6.50 Euros.
After lunch Carol and I walked to two churches. The closer one was Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
– the only Gothic church in Rome - with beautifully lavish decoration. The other was Santa Maria Maggiore
, a Vatican church. It at first seemed more austere, although after a while our eyes became more alive to the décor on the ceiling, at the sacristy, and in the chapels. Many pilgrims were there for a service that started at 4:00. We stayed while the choir and congregation sang an unfamiliar hymn.
Back at the hotel, after a rest, five of us met up for supper. We went
to “Target”, a recommended local restaurant. It was more formal than we expected. I had a broad flat noodle with shrimps in a tomato and arugula sauce – fairly similar to yesterday’s pasta, but very tasty. Lots of Tuscan bread to soak up the sauce.
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