Our tour today will be at the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum and promises to be lots of walking. Someone told us that Rome is like lasagne – lots of layers built on top of each other. I’d like to add that each layer has lots of steps and stones.
We grabbed a taxi over to the colosseum, but since it’s Sunday many of the roads are closed to traffic. We ended up getting out at Trajan’s Column and Forum and then walked the rest of the way.
Trajan’s column is a tall column with the story of his exploits carved in a spiral to the top. While the column is intact, not much of the forum or market is left.
Continuing down the street the colosseum comes into view. It’s a huge structure and what we see is only about 40% of the original complex. This is partially due to an earthquake which collapsed a large part of the structure and due to “repurposing” of the marble and travertine after the fall of the empire.
Just a couple fun facts, the colosseum was built over what was a huge man-made lake in Nero’s Golden Palace. There was also a huge statue or colossus with the head of Nero that once stood next to it. After Nero was deposed, they replaced the head and then eventually tore it completely down.
Despite the condition, the Colosseum is still interesting to see. Our guide, Francesca, is an archeologist and was so knowledgeable about the ruins and the things that have been unearthed. She actually worked at the colosseum for a while as a student of archaeology.
So you have to use your imagination a lot on this tour. Most of the lavish ornamentation is gone, having been taken by the barbarians, people and the Vatican. Unlike many of the other ancient Roman buildings that were turned into churches and thus saved by the Vatican, the pagan sites were not saved. That said, there are still many items among the ruins that you can picture in a much better state then what you see.
So in the colosseum, we got to see the main level, then went underground to see the underbelly where the slaves, animals and gladiators would have prepared. There were trap doors and crude lifts to bring items up from below. All very impressive when you consider how long ago this was going on.
After going down, we went up to the third level terrace, where we had some gorgeous views of the city and surrounding area.
Next stop on the tour was the arch of Titus. It was very interesting to see, as on one of the friezes was a depiction of the Romans parading home victoriously with their war booty including the Golden Menorah and what looks like the Arc of the Covenant.
Francesca says they would have been on display after the troops returned, but went missing after the fall of the empire. Nobody knows what ever happened to them.
We continued up Palatine Hill to see the remains of the emperor’s palace. The ruins cover the entire top of the hill and had a wonderful view all around and over the forum. It’s incredible to think that the Romans had the knowledge to pipe up water and keep things sanitary back then. Everything fell apart after the Empire fell to the point that the plague came about due to unsanitary conditions.
The tour continued on and the day was getting warmer. You could see that many of us were starting to droop. Next stop was the Roman Forum.
Two things jump out at me. One, I wouldn’t have wanted to be a vestal virgin. The responsibility was high and the consequences were unpleasant should you stray. You got to retire after 36 years and received a pension. The bad news was the average lifespan was 40 years back then. And two, my feet were hurting walking over the stones with nicely padded sandals. The leather sandals they would have had could not have been comfortable. Just saying!
Completing the tour, we headed home tired and sore. Stopped to grab a taxi and the guy gave us attitude. “It’s not so far to walk”, he said. “We want a ride”, we said; and off we went.
We took naps and slept until dinner time.
We had a nice dinner close by and then went back to the hotel. We stood in the windows listening to a guy sing beautiful opera in he square. Seems only right that “Nessum Dorma”, one of our favorites, would be the last song before we headed to bed.
We have another early tour tomorrow.