August 19 - Touring Ancient Rome

When I was in high school and college, I was never a fan of ancient history classes. Perhaps it's because it was a requirement to graduate or the teachers, as I recall, had a dry textbook approach. Today in ancient Rome I became a student again, but this time an enthusiastic one.

We started our day on Palatine Hill. This former palace high above the Roman Forum was built in 80-81 CE. It was the home of an aristocratic family. Although in ruins today, excavations have uncovered remarkable artifacts including frescoes now pieced together like puzzles. We toured the ruins of Emperor Octavius' house where there were remains of intricate frescoes with vines, leaves, and flowers, yet after all these years, many had retained their brilliant color.

Passing the Arch of Titus on the way to the Colosseum we were amazed at the restoration work that has been done. Tour groups clustered in the shaded areas. It was very hot here today so we sat on the steps of the Colosseum and watched the action. Push carts sold traditional souvenirs such as snowglobes, postcards, and models of the Colosseum. Alongside them though, were many hawkers selling knock off designer handbags, sunglasses, and hats. They keep a watchful eye out for the police and if one is spotted, they roll up their wares in a sheet and scamper away, only to reappear moments later. Happy gladiators posed for photos with unsuspecting tourists for a higher fee than they may have bargained for.

We had gotten a tip from Rick Steves to buy a combo ticket for the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum at Palatine Hill. This meant we could skip right past hundreds in line for the Colosseum and walk right in. Right at the entrance we were stopped by a friendly Australian who wanted to give us a tour. Spotting our Rick Steves' audio tour on our ipod Touch, he admitted our tour is good. "Rick Steves is the bane of my existence!" he said.

The Colosseum was staggering in its height. Built in 80 CE, only 1/3 remains. At one time it held 50,000 spectators. We sat on a marble stone under one of the arches. As David read aloud about what happened here, I commented I didn't like what the colosseum represented. Those were heartless times. Thousands of people and animals were killed. I do remember hearing this story in ancient history classes, but tuned out the professors because the stories were so brutal. Here, however, you are confronted with the harsh reality of the gladiators. Below the reconstructed stage are all the rooms where animals and prisoners were kept. Reconstructed uniforms and weapons along with some authentic artifacts were on display.

In the afternoon we took the metro one stop to Santa Maria Maggiore, a pilgrimage site. It was built in 432CE before St. Peter's Basilica. There was a mass in session, but right after we were able to view the delicate mosaics on the ceiling above the altar. The church also features the humble tomb on Bernini and fragments of the manger crib kept safely behind gold doors. Just down the street is Basilica di Santa Prassede where the finest mosaics in Rome are found.

Dinner tonight was at La Gallina Bianca. We were interrupted twice by the same guy selling roses. He was very persistent. Before heading back to our hotel we visited Trevi Fountain. It's tucked into a small space but the statues surrounding it and the cascading fountain are enormous. Hundreds of tourists were there posing for pictures and tossing coins in the fountain. Beside us on a bench above the fountain were a couple who had just arrived from Seattle and had been pickpocketed on the metro. They said it was the classic bump and grab technique.

Thinking back to the ancient history classes from highschool and college, I wish I had taken more of an interest in Roman history at that time, but it's never too late. Tomorrow I will be a student again as we explore more of this ancient city.

Comments

Jessica said…
This all sounds so awesome!

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