Ruthless, Chaotic Rome ~ Part 1

Beware, a history lesson awaits. You have been forewarned.

Continuing our Italian journey, we hopped on the Circumversuviana train (a bit of a rattle trap) to Naples, then connected with the high-speed ItaliaRail to our final destination, Rome.  I had ordered our Roma Passes and scheduled pick-up at the train station upon our arrival.  If you intend to spend a few days in Rome and want free admission and/or discounts at some of the more popular sites, this pass is a must.  And perhaps the best feature of the Roma Pass is that it allows you to move to the front of the line instead of waiting with the throngs of tourists.

The massive, spectacular Victor Emmanuel Monument
The massive, spectacular Victor Emmanuel Monument

We road-weary travelers were wondering how much energy we would have for our last full week in Italy, after almost two months of perpetual motion through France and Italy.  But as the taxi driver carried us across Rome to our apartment, all my worry dissipated like a wispy fog as the city and her history unfolded before me.  I became a wide-eyed child as we passed ancient ruins entwined with modern buildings and monuments.  I couldn’t wait to get started.

I had chosen an apartment outside the center of the city in Trastevere (trahs-TAY-veh-ray), Rome’s bohemian neighborhood, and some would say her most charming.  We were thrilled to find a beautiful apartment awaiting us and have the tram just outside our door.  It was the perfect location to explore this magnificent city.

Caesar Forum
Caesar Forum

Rome is ruthless and grandiose, an imposing chaotic urban maze.  I loved her many layers.  But let’s be real, isn’t Rome really Caesar, gladiators, chariots, wild animals, and trumpets blaring?  With that lingering thought in mind we stepped back in time to A.D. 79, to the core of ancient Rome, the Colosseum.

The Colosseum was where Rome’s thirst for violence was quenched, where men and wild animals alike fought to the death in unimaginable ways.  Killing was a spectator sport back then and on any given day 50,000 roaring fans could be seen giving a thumbs-up or down to the blood lust in the amphitheater below.

Looking at her bones, the Colosseum is an amazing engineering feat, with 3.5 million cubic feet of travertine stacked into the shape of an arch, sans mortar.  It took four straight years of daily work and 200 ox-drawn wagons traveling back and forth from Tivoli to bring the stone to Rome.  Once the travertine was stacked, a keystone was wedged into the top to keep the stones from falling.

This grand amphitheater saw four centuries of grisly use.  When the gladiator games were banned in A.D. 435 the Colosseum sat eerily silent, with just the haunting echoes of the wretched cries of man and animal carried on the wind.  Today only one-third of this historic building remains.  Earthquakes consumed some of her, but most of the stone was carted off for use in other buildings across the city.  When you look down into the Colosseum today you see where the gladiators and wild animals were kept. Atop these underground passages a wooden floor was placed, sprinkled with sand, which became the killing field.

We remained in ancient Rome as we stepped away from the Colosseum to see two impressive arches, the Arch of Constantine and the Arch of Titus.

The Arch of Constantine marks an important turning point in history, the coup led by Emperor Constantine in A.D. 312, which resulted in the legalization of Christianity.

The Arch of Titus honors the military accomplishments of Titus and stands at the head of the Forum.  It has been the inspiration for many arches to follow, including the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.  The Via Sacra (Sacred Way), once Rome’s main street, leads up to the arch.

Walking through the Arch of Titus, we found ourselves in Rome’s political, religious, and commercial center, the acclaimed Forum.  Anything important that took place in ancient Rome happened here.  It is said to be the most revered meeting place in all the world, throughout history.  Today the crumbling ruins of many of the oldest and most important buildings of ancient Rome can still be seen on this sacred spot.

The Temple of Castor and Pollux is the most photographed site in the Forum.  Built in the 5th century B.C., it is one of Rome’s oldest temples.  This is where the senators met and its front steps served as a platform for free speech.   This shrine was raised to celebrate victory over the Etruscan king, Tarquin, who had once oppressed all who lived here.

The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina was dedicated to Emperor Antoninus Pius and wife Faustina the Elder by Marcus Aurelius.

This is the plaque that commemorates the man who exemplified the greatness of Rome more than anyone else – Julius Caesar.  On this spot he  was cremated after being stabbed 23 times by political conspirators and his adopted son – ‘Et tu, Brute?”.

Entrance to the Temple of Saturn, the Forum’s oldest temple, erected in 497 B.C.

The Arch of Septimius Severus, with reliefs that celebrate the African-born emperor’s battles in Mesopotamia.

This unusual structure, even older than the Temple of Saturn, was named Umbilicus Urbis (Navel of the City).  It was considered the center of the universe and all distances in the empire were measured from here.

The Column of Phocas celebrates the pagan Pantheon’s transformation to a Christian church.  It was the symbolic nail in ancient Rome’s coffin.

Next Up:  Artwork and Engineering Masterpieces of Rome

33 thoughts on “Ruthless, Chaotic Rome ~ Part 1

  • The Roma Passes are well worth it. We loved the perks.
    Oh thank you, thank you, thank you for bring back so many awesome memories. Rome is one place everyone should visit. Just thinking of the historical perspective of Rome is amazing, but bring in all the beauty and wonders…WOW…on amazing place. Just thinking of Christ’s and the apostle Paul’s time and the role the Roman Empire played is incredible.

    • What I posted today doesn’t cover even our first day of sightseeing. I think there are several more Rome posts in my near future. We had the most magnificent tour guide for St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, and the Sistine Chapel.

      • Wonderful. We had a super guide in the Colosseum. We actually just joined a group taking a tour. They didn’t mind at all.

      • That would have been wonderful. Our tour guide at the Vatican was an archeologist and she was fantastic. It was supposed to be 3.5 hours long and she kept us spellbound for 5 hours.

    • I just told Marsha that this first post doesn’t even cover our first day of sightseeing. Seems there will be several more Rome posts to come. Hopefully you won’t mind the continued history lessons. 😉

  • Apart from the Coliseum I just saw more of Rome’s ancient ruins here than I did when I was in Rome. I was totally blown away by the Coliseum. We did wander around the Forum but neither of us were enchanted by it. We should have had you with us to help bring it alive!
    We too rode the (very crowded) Circumversuviana. We must have caught it at rush hour, and from Naples to Sorrento it stopped at 29 of 33 stops. Then from the rattle trap train we rode in Mercedes luxury to Positano.

    • I find it interesting that it took until we began to travel, both in the states and outside, for me to embrace history. I am loving re-reading the history of this grand city. We spent so much time at the Colosseum. It is chilling to think about what took place there.

    • I think we enjoyed Paris and Rome the most. Of course the Dolomites and Chamonix would be on the top of the list where hiking is concerned. The Circumversuviana was a bit disconcerting when it picked up speed. Lotta shakin’ goin’ on!

  • LuAnn this post is a classic. Perhaps a must read for those taking the trip to Rome. We had a few days there and really felt like we were on the run constantly. Wonderful that you had a week to explore.

  • Gorgeous photos, LuAnn and this was a great intro to such a magnificent city. We’ll definitely get the Roma passes and I’ve pinned this post so I can use it when we start planning a visit. I’m thinking a week may only scratch the surface! Loved the story of the Umbilicus Urbis but the Colosseum photos were the show stoppers. Hard to imagine a “civilization” that glories in the blood sports of man against man or man against beast. And yet, two millinnea later, we’re still using war as our backup way to settle disputes… Anita

    • We felt like we had only scratched the surface being there a week. The massive amount of history that unfolds before you is difficult to capture in photos. And yes, it is very sad that we don’t seem to have learned much about how to settle disputes peacefully. 😦

  • Haha, I loved your “warning” at the beginning of the post! Great job sharing some of the history of Rome (I can only imagine how many hours of reading you’ve done!) and your photos, as always, are spectacular. I had never heard of the Umbilicus Urbis, but found that little tidbit fascinating. Rome really did believe itself to be the center of the universe!

    • I am always conscious of delving a little too deeply into a subject and boring readers to tears. However, I cannot deny that Rome is all about her history. Since we have been traveling, both here and abroad, it seems his thirst for history has been building. This was not the case when I was in school.

  • Your post took me back to my junior year of high school when I visited Rome (and had my 17th birthday there). I enjoyed your photos and reading about the history. I still remember how in awe I was when I first saw the Coliseum. Can’t wait to see your next post.

  • Incredible LuAnn! your photos are amazing. So how do you gather all this history together? Did you do a lot of research for the post or did you take excellent, highly detailed notes from a tour? Just curious as I always find it hard to gather so much information. It is excellent! I could use your tips! 🙂

    • I read several books before we left as we planned this trip on our own. I am a bit meticulous so I put together spreadsheets and notes that I took with me. I re-read my notes when I returned and continue to do that before writing these posts. Sometimes I think I will never finish these Rome posts. We crammed so much into the week we were there. You do an excellent job on your blog posts Nicole. I am always learning from you.

  • Your photos are superb, they bring back wonderful memories of our trip when we first became empty nesters. We fell in love with Rome, our first stop of a 3-week world wind tour of Europe. When we returned home, I requested a year sabbatical…our current RTW trip:) -Ginette

  • I wish I had read this before we spent a weekend in Rome about six months ago en route from Asia to the States….I never paid attention to history lessons in school and so I have big gaps between knowledge of Historical stuff. While in Rome I must admit we spent most of our time tasting gelato and earing pasta.

    We will just have to go back again.

    Terrific photos! Thanks for tge lesson and tour!

  • Even with our jam-packed itinerary in Rome we always managed to find time to eat gelato! I was not a history buff at all before we began our travels. Now I am a convert. 🙂

  • Since you mentioned interest in history, I can’t recommend enough Colleen McCullough’s well-researched historical novel Masters of Rome series, beginning with The First Man in Rome, spanning from around 100 BC to at least Julius Ceasar’s time. I’m still making my way through. And I ended up reading Plutarch’s Fall of the Roman Republic, much easier to grasp with the context provided by McCullough’s work. Viewing your photos brought to mind so much she wrote about.

    I share the enthusiasm for your photojournal others have expressed, capturing so much succinctly, yet with such life.

  • You gave so much depth to these important historical structures. It’s interesting that you’ve shared so much when I know that the distance you’ve covered is basically like just one long street. 🙂 So much to Rome, so much to love about Rome.
    Merry Merry Merry Christmas, Luann!!!

    • Can you tell I fell in love with Rome? And I am not quite finished with it yet…just got a little sidetracked as of late. I wish you a joyous Christmas Rommel and countless blessings in the new year. 🙂

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