Monday, March 2, 2009

Rome: Part One, The Colosseum & The Forums

9:45AM March 1
(The beginning of a 31 day March)

For most of the past two weeks I've been trying to convince people to come to Rome with me. I know that all most of my weekends in March are already filled, and in April I have performances every weekend, so I wanted to make sure I got to Rome while I still had a chance. I will be back, as one of our gigs is in Rome, but I have a feeling we'll go down, eat dinner, play music, and return to Florence without getting a chance to really see the city. For a variety of reasons, one of them being the presence of midterms next week, nobody was willing to come with me, so I took this trip alone.

While I was a little disappointed that I couldn't find a travel partner, it was also liberating, in that I could take in the sights at my own pace. I tend to walk very fast, and without other people to slow me down, I could really get around this immense city.

I got up by 6:45 on Friday morning, leaving plenty of time to catch the 7:45 Eurostar. These super-fast trains make very few stops, so they can travel at high-speeds. My train went from Bologna to Florence, Rome, and Naples. My leg of the journey took no more than ninety minutes, whereas the local would last well over three hours. I wanted to get there as soon as possible so I had the full day to walk around.

While Rome is the big city of Italy, and that is noticeable immediately, it is not a tall city like New York and does not have the fabulous old buildings everywhere like Perugia or Siena. Rome is a nice enough city, but it is more a series of famous old sights woven together with standard Italian nineteenth and twentieth century buildings. What makes it special though, is those precious sights are some of the oldest and most treasured places in the world.

Notice the clean area of the facade

My first objective was to go see the Colosseum. It was a little before 10:00 when I got there, and I hoped to see it on Friday morning before the crowds got out of hand. I didn't have too much trouble getting in, and I joined an English-speaking tour group. I can't say I found it that informative. There are so many things you could share about the Colosseum, so any facts chosen seem a bit arbitrary. I have a pretty good knowledge of Roman history though, and that, combined with the sheer magnificence of the structure was enough for my enjoyment. One interesting thing I did learn though, was that they recently tried to scrub the exterior, which had gone black from years of air pollution, but when they realized they were making it more susceptible to acid rain, they had to stop immediately. Now there is one odd portion of the Colosseum which is a much lighter color than the rest. Apparently they are going to start the process again soon with new methods that won't lead to more degradation.

It was really an awesome sight, inside an out. I couldn't help but smiling most of the time. I was really in Rome, sharing the same ground as the people I'd read about in textbooks back in sixth grade. The Romans were always my favorite part of ancient history studies, and now I had the opportunity to stand at the heart of that society. It was definitely a special moment. I snapped so many photos there, many of them of the same items over and over again because I was so overwhelmed by the sight.

In the center of the arena--so named because the floor was covered in sand--you can see the remnants of what used to be three stories of tunnels: the backstage of the Colosseum. There were at least twenty-eight trap doors entering into the stadium floor, but most bigger items entered from the east and west ends of the arena. Some fifty-thousand people could fit inside, and the emperor sat on the north side so that he could view the sun the entire day. Today, they've erected a cross on that side, to commemorate the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives on the stadium floor, probably the greatest concentration of death and blood in the world. That is not to mention the animals that died there as well.

Wood, such as on the far side of the arena used to cover the entire floor, which was then covered in sand (or water for naval battles).

The Emperor's box was on the far side, to the left, where the modern looking windows are.

The tour guide described one particular event where they brought in twenty elephants and one hundred lions to fight each other. According to a poet, whom he quoted, the arena went silent as the animals entered from opposite sides of the arena, as both people and animals were in awe of each other. Archers were then instructed to shoot the elephants, getting them to bleed and become restless. This provoked the fight, which became so gruesome that the emperor himself left after five minutes, disgusted. The poet left not long after, retreating to his home some four kilometers outside the city, from where he could still here the fight raging inside the Colosseum.

When I felt comfortable leaving the Colosseum, I headed next door to the Roman Forums, the center of the old city, where everything from governance to prostitution took place in ancient Rome. I had a little trouble finding how to enter. They are quite expansive, as you might imagine, and there is not any great signage pointing towards an entrance. I walked well around the backside and discovered the Belgian embassy beyond a parking lot of sorts. At that point I turned back around and eventually discovered the entrance on the opposite side just down the street from the Colosseum.

Piazza del Campidoglio, bordered by many museums on the edge of the Forums.

Overlooking Foro Romano

As great as the Colosseum was, I found the Forums even more spectacular. While there are remnants of the old city everywhere, very few structures actually remain. It has become more of a garden, even consciously landscaped in some places, filled with historical artifacts wherever you look. At one end of the sight there is a whole village of brick buildings that have been all but destroyed. Only the bottom few feet of some walls remain. It is an odd sight to be walking amidst the grass, and out of nowhere, fragments of the old marble floor show up. I spent probably two hours walking around the forums, and I easily could have taken longer, but there was also so much else I wanted to see.

In the Forums

I next walked down to the river past “The Wedding Cake” (or the Altar of the Fatherland, a monument so named because of the many layers to the building and its steps) and Teatro di Marcello. I was a little surprised to find the riverside so empty. There was development right up to the riverside on both sides, but it seems that the river is more the edge of the city than the focus of it, at least today. Along the river's edge, the trees were covered in trash, and bottles bobbed up and down at each fall. It made me feel that they didn't respect their river, and treated it more as a dump. I walked down the river a good bit to the south, in search of a pyramid I found on the map. When I turned back away from the river towards the monument, I was in a much more residential neighborhood. By this point, around 2:00, I was pretty hungry, as I had not eaten since that morning before I left, so I sought out a pastry shop. My feeling is, if a pasticerria can stay open in a non-tourist area, chances are it's pretty good. Sure enough, I found one and grabbed two treats to eat at a more appetizing location.

The Wedding Cake

The Tiber River

Eventually I reached the Pyramid of Cestius, which sat at the southern gates of the city. Not completely surprisingly, the pyramid sat right next to a highway of sorts. I've never seen any real pyramid, so I made a point of going to check this one out, and it was pretty cool looking. It just seems that the Romans decided that it wasn't important enough to deserve any pedestrian viewing area, so I snapped a few pictures in between traffic, and headed back towards the center.

The Pyramid of Cestius

The ruins of Terme di Caracalla: public Roman baths built by Emperor Caracalla

On the way, there was another great old sight of ruins--Terme did Caracalla--I walked by, not too far from the southern edge of the Forums. They charged admission to see these ruins as well though, so I decided to just take my looks from the outside and keep moving.

I had nothing in particular I wanted to go see first, so I just started walking around the city in a northerly direction. When I realized I was a block from the Trevi Fountain, I made a point to go sit down, give my feet a rest, and enjoy my pastry. I had a croissant-like item with some sort of citrus-cream filling and a simple raisin roll. As predicted, both were very good, and I sat there enjoying the sights and sounds of the water for a good thirty minutes.

My pastries at the fountain

The Trevi Fountain

Superstition has it that if you throw a coin over you're shoulder into the fountain, you're guaranteed to return. I didn't at the time though, as I didn't have any change on me, so I decided to come back at night to make my ceremonial toss.

It looked to me like this palm tree at the Forums had also been covered by millenia of soil.

Orange orchard at the Forums

Give me liberty, or give me...

The Forums

Next to the river, I saw this old 60's Dodge pickup carrying a motorcycle with a passenger on board. This seemed out of place anywhere, but especially in Italy.

The Altar of The Fatherland (The Wedding Cake)

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