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.
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.
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