We had a big day planned in Ancient Rome, the city where all roads led.
Our first stop was a quick side tour of St. Peter’s in Chains Church which was kind-of-on-the-way to the Colosseum from our hotel.
Two sets of chains, now linked together, that St. Peter reputedly wore are on prominent display here. One set of chains is believed to be from the nearby Mamertine Prison where St. Peter had been held, and the other from St. Peter’s time in jail in Jerusalem under Herod’s rule.
Also of great interest here is Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses. It is flanked by statues on the wall in a large work that was intended to be the tomb of Pope Julius II, but that Michelangelo died before finishing. Following his death, Michelangelo’s assistants brought some of the remnants of the tomb project to St. Peter in Chains. Some of the best statues ended up elsewhere. Originally intended for the tomb, Michelangelo’s Slaves is now at the Louvre and his Prisoners is in Florence. This church is worth the little detour because when you gaze at Moses beside these lesser statues, it becomes crystal clear what a genius Michelangelo truly was. His work almost looks alive.
It’s all downhill to the Colosseum, possibly the single thing I’ve connected with Rome in my imaginings and what I had most looked forward to seeing. I was not disappointed.
We all had our iPods loaded with audio files by Rick Steves’ which helped us understand not only what we were looking at, but also the history behind it. I highly recommend them.
Called the Flavian Amphitheater at the time, the Colosseum was begun by Vespasian around 70 AD and opened ten years later by Titus. The opening celebration lasted 100 days during which time about 5000 wild animals were put to death.
The interior of the Colosseum consisted of the arena with a wooden floor covered with sand and the stands separated into four main sectors as you ascended, each “rigorously reserved for a particular class of citizens,” and the top level providing standing room only for the least important. Everyone got in free. Rome
Gladiator battles and wild beast hunts were the main events. “Christians were definitely thrown to the lions, made to fight gladiators, crucified and burned alive. . .but probably not here in this particular stadium. Maybe, but probably not,” Steves. “The last show of which we have any certain knowledge was held in 523 AD under Theodoric, Kin of the Ostrogoths,” and “consisted of only animal hunts, for gladiator fighting had been abolished in 438 AD,” Rome.
The rooms and corridors, below what would have been the floor level are visible in this photo and were used by the gladiators and animal handlers to move animal and human combatants up elevators to the arena floor.
The Arch of Constantine was the last monument to added to the Great Square which contained the Colosseum, the Temple of Venus and Rome, the Colossus of Nero and the Meta Sudans. Besides the Colosseum, and excepting a few columns from the Temple of Venus and Rome, the Arch of Constantine is the only monument left standing in the Great Square; the rest require your imagination. The entrance to the Roman Forum is across from the Arch of Constantine and up the hill. That’s where we headed next.
A long view of the Forum. At first glance, the Roman Forum might be a disappointed for some. It is largely an area of ground with a few isolated columns left standing and an occasional partial building. But if you come well-prepared having studied history or guide books, and armed with audio tapes and a vivid imagination it is truly an amazing place to visit. In your mind you can transport yourself back to the days when Christ walked this earth and Romans in their togas and sandals hurried along the same paths we now walked. It is quite awesome, really.
From this vantage point, to the left is Palatine Hill. Located in a position to dominate the Tiber, the remains of early bronze-age huts have been discovered here. “This was certainly one and probably also the most important of the villages from which the city of Rome was to evolve,” Rome. Later private homes were built on the hill by the rich and famous. Sadly, although we were in such close proximity to Palatine Hill by the time we got through the Forum, we were not able to tour it—our legs were screaming, “No more.”
The Basilica of Maxentius was the first, and might be the largest structure we saw in the Roman Forum. The remains seen here are only one of two smaller aisles that flanked a large central nave. The emperor Maxentius died before it was finished “on the banks of the Tiber at the Milvian Bridge after the famous battle against Constantine in 312 AD.” Constantine inaugurated the basilica and had a large marble and bronze statue of himself erected in the west apse.
The Temple of Vesta stood near the base of Palatine Hill. “Within it the Vestal Virgins guarded the sacred and eternal flame, symbol of the eternal life of the city,” Rome.
The house of the Vestal Virgins was built beside the temple and was the home of the six Vestal Virgins, or priestesses charged with guarding the flame. Young women between the ages of six and ten entered as novices and remained for 30 years. They were highly honored. But “any priestess who allowed the fire to go out or became untrue to her vow of chastity would be buried alive (with a loaf of bread and a lamp) in a small underground chamber,” Rome. The house was built around a courtyard with a couple of pools, the bases of which are visible in this photo along with partial walls, statues and pedestals.
The Temple of Antonius and Faustina is one of the most intact structures still standing. It was built by Antonius Pius in memory of his wife Faustina who died in 141 BC.
You can make as much or as little from the Roman Forum as you please. The ruins are interesting, even if you know little to nothing about them. They are enthralling if you can reconstruct the living breathing city in your mind. A book I purchased at the Colosseum gift shop was extremely helpful towards this purpose. If you’re planning a trip to Rome, I highly recommend finding, purchasing and studying this book before you go. You’ll be oh so glad you did. It is called Rome—Past and Present by R.A. Staccioli. I got the English edition. The website for the publisher is www.visionpubl.com. The thing I like the most about this particular book is that it contains photographs of the Ancient ruins with overlays of what the original buildings looked like.
We were down to our last day in Rome and in Italy. What a full, rich trip it had been.
Photos by Christine M. Grote and Mark Joseph Grote
Copyright © 2011 by Christine M. Grote
See more links to posts about Italy on my “Places I’ve Been” page.
Rick Steves’ Rome 2009
ROME: Past and Present by R.A.Staccioli, Vision Roma, 2008