Timeline: October 16th – 18th
After we made a quick switch of our units the next morning we departed for town to get to St. Peter’s early. As we walked from the bus stop (didn’t have to use the metro for this leg) we noticed slightly less foot traffic, a good sign, which rewarded us with a relatively short twenty-minute wait when we arrived.
Consecrated in 1626, this is the richest and grandest church on earth. Plaques on the floor show you where other, smaller churches would end if they were placed inside. To the right as you enter is Michelangelo’s Pietà, sculpted when he was 24 years old. His mastery of the body is obvious in this powerfully beautiful masterpiece. The only one of his works that Michelangelo ever signed, a mentally disturbed geologist named Laszlo Toth substantially damaged it in 1972. It now stands protected behind bulletproof acrylic glass panel.
As you enter the atrium, itself bigger than most churches, huge white columns on the portico date from the first church (fourth century). From here you can get a sense of the immensity of the church, which can accommodate 60,000 worshippers standing on its six acres. The main altar sits directly over St. Peter’s tomb and under Bernini’s seven-story bronze canopy, which projects 70 feet in the air and yet seems petite as it sits inside the dome.
We left St. Peter’s and a short hop on the metro later found ourselves at the Colosseum. Built in A.D. 80 when the Roman Empire was at its peak, the Flavian Amphitheater (the Colosseum’s real name) was an arena for gladiator contests and public spectacles. Able to hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators, during its construction the Romans pioneered the use of concrete and the rounded arch, which enabled them to build on this tremendous scale.
Only a third of the original Colosseum remains. Earthquakes destroyed some of it, but most was carted off as easy pre-cut stones for other buildings during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Furnished with an interesting and informative combination of exhibits, it took us a bit of time to walk the entire site and breath in the history of the place.
Post tour, we took a brief break outside gathering up our energies to tackle our next stop, the Roman Forum. It was another warm day and a large bottle of cold Peroni Beer has an amazingly restorative effect, one whose properties I can highly recommend.
We made our way past the Arch of Constantine; erected in 315 by the Roman Senate as a tribute to Emperor Constantine after the defeat of his rival Maxentius in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge and continued up a short hill to the entrance to the Roman Forum.
Ancient Rome’s birthplace and civic center, just about anything important that happened in ancient Rome happened here at the Forum. When I last visited in 1979, it was without the aid of a guidebook, a welcome addition this time around and one that made it far more enjoyable.
Starting at the Arch of Titus, we walked down into the Forum proper. Instead of going into a detailed listing of all of the elements of the Forum, I’d like to quote a section of the Steve’s guide, which puts into perspective the sights here, and many that we had witnessed during our journey. What we view today, although similar in nature to what existed in its time, is but a pale replica of what truly existed, and what life may have been like at that time. For me, the appeal of visiting sites like this is to gain some insight into how folks lived their lives during their time on earth. How different from our daily routine was theirs, leading to the question of how far have we really advanced:
As you begin this Forum tour, here’s a hint for seeing things with “period eyes.” We imagine the structures in ancient Rome as mostly white, but ornate buildings and monuments like the Arch of Titus were originally more colorful. Through the ages, builders scavenged stone from the Forum, and the finest stone— the colored marble— was cannibalized first.
If any was left, it was generally the white stone. Statues that filled the niches were vividly painted, but the organic paint rotted away as statues lay buried for centuries. Lettering was inset bronze and eyes were inset ivory. Even seemingly intact structures, like the Arch of Titus, have been re-assembled . Notice the columns are half smooth and half fluted. The fluted halves are original; the smooth parts are reconstructions— intentionally not trying to fake the original.
The other major sites at the Forum are the Basilica of Constantine, Temple of Julius Caesar (Tempio del Divo Giulio, or Ara di Cesare), Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina, Basilica Aemilia, Temple of Castor and Pollux (These three columns— all that remain of a once-prestigious temple— have become the most photographed sight in the Forum), Caligula’s Palace (Palace of Tiberius), Temple of Vesta and the House of the Vestal Virgins, The Curia (Senate House), Rostrum, Arch of Septimius Severus, Temple of Saturn, and the Column of Phocas.
When we finished with the Forum proper, we walked up to the top of Palatine Hill. It was here where the emperor’s chose to live and we get our word “palace” from this hill. Not much is left to see and so we walked to the edge of the site trying to catch a glimpse of the Circus Maximus, Rome’s ancient Roman chariot racing stadium and mass entertainment venue and now a public park. Unfortunately the view required an additional admission fee and we decided to forgo the experience, leaving it for another day.
We began to wind our way back to the metro stop for the journey to camp. As we were about to leave the Forum, we happened upon a hilltop view of the Colosseum, spectacular in the light of late afternoon. Our return to camp was uneventful and after a long day of sightseeing with yet another ahead of us (drive to Sorrento with a stop in Pompeii) we settled in early. Joanna and I had one last meal at the camp restaurant; a pizza to share while Nicole took care of personal errands and exercise.
We had taken a good run at Rome, but barely scratched the surface. With a reasonably priced accommodation, good transportation to the center of town, and much to see and do, it is a place we will need to return to, made even richer by taking along a good guidebook. Arrivederci Roma, goodbye, goodbye, to Rome.
St. Peter’s Basilica: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Peter’s_Basilica
Pietà (Michelangelo): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piet%C3%A0_(Michelangelo)
Arch of Constantine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arch_of_Constantine
Roman Forum: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Forum
Palatine Hill: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palatine_Hill
Circus Maximus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circus_Maximus