I wasn’t that excited about touring Rome, especially since we came all this way to see Spain and the Italian and French Riviera, a part of Europe we never visited. Rome was just the jumping off point, or so we thought.
We stayed last night at the Metropole Star Hotel near Termini, Rome’s train station. We are on a tour with Georgia Tech, but Go Next is our tour company. Today, we toured with the local Stephano Rome Tours.
The Metropole Star is about two blocks away from Termini, in a good neighborhood. It is on a great street for walking, lined by restaurants with lots of outdoor seating. The weather is perfect.
A Half-Day Tour
Our tour is a quick half day bus tour of the city with stops at the Coliseum. Later we took a walking tour including Trevi Fountain and the Parthenon. I’ve seen all of these before, but this is the fall and the crowds less.
We passed by Capitoline Hill, and I took a photo of what we Americans call the Wedding Cake building. It is actually a monument honoring Italy’s first king and is also the place of their unknown soldiers.
All of this is at Capitoline Hill, which is one of Rome’s seven ancient hills and is the religious and political heart of Rome. It is next to the Forum and is the geographical center of the city.
Everywhere you look, there are amazing sights to photograph.
First, we stopped at the Coliseum, dated 80 AD and the largest amphitheater ever built. This is when I wish we had the grandsons with us. They would love this. What an amazing stadium. I looked at it with new eyes.
First called the Amphitheater Flavian, the Coliseum is the name adopted in the Middle Ages when people saw it and said, ‘look at the colossal.’
The Coliseum has 80 arches on each of three floors. The vaulted stairs were called vomitoriums. The crowds at the end of the day’s activities rushed toward the stairs to exit the stadium, thus it looked as if the stairwells vomited out the masses. The Coliseum is a giant stadium where they had gladiator fights and also the martyrdom of the Christians.
A day’s schedule began with hunting demonstrations in the morning. The squares around the arena were where archers stood and hunted the animals in the arena below.
Just before noon, the public criminal executions began. Finally, in the afternoon they had gladiator fights, which were mostly slaves from France–the Gauls.
There were two types of games. One was mortal and the other was fought for freedom. There was even a referee. Slaves were given their freedom if they survived in the gladiator ring for five years.
Can you imagine the ghosts in this place?
Different levels of the Coliseum were set aside for different classes of people. Women were relegated to the uppermost level because a woman married to a senator ran off with one of the gladiators.
The last games were in 48 AD when a movement to stop killing people took place. Afterwards, it was only used for hunting. An earthquake caused much of its collapse later, and the restorations began in the 1800s.
Next to the Coliseum is the Arch of Constantine, built in 315 AD. The center was for carriages, and the side entrances were for the pedestrians.
We also passed by the Circo Massimo, the site of another ancient stadium. This is between Palatine Hill and Aventine Hill and was where they had the chariot races, like in the “Ben Hur” movie.
We saw where Julius Caesar was murdered on the Ides of March. All this time I thought it was in the Senate in the Forum, which we visited at an earlier time. Turns out the Senate building in the Forum was under renovation at the time, and the Senate body met elsewhere. The ruins of this theatre are where the event actually took place, not in the Forum.
A former Roman temple but now a church the Pantheon is an amazing building because of its age and its concrete dome. Built in 126 AD think of it as a circular building with a rectangular vestibule and a triangular portico. After almost 2000 years its dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Its height is the same as its diameter – 142 feet.
Inside of the Pantheon was equally awesome. The eye above is open to the elements. It rains in the Pantheon, but there are drains in the marble floors below.
One thing I love about this part of Italy is the stone pines. For a little bit, I thought just maybe someone pruned them to be umbrella shaped at their crown. Turns out they do this naturally. The older the tree the more distinct the parasol. These pines are called umbrella or parasol pines.
A Dramatic Change in the City
The traffic situation changed dramatically since we last visited Rome. This is due to something called traffic access control. On many of the streets are cameras. If they catch your tag there where you aren’t supposed to be you get fined, stiffly. To travel to those areas residents must use public transportation or walk. Gone are the crazy parking situations and the nutty juxtaposition for space at every traffic light. The traffic is so much calmer now. Sadly, though, it also means the end of those days when Rome traffic was a conversation starter. It was crazy; and we loved to talk about the war stories because driving in Rome then was a horrific experience.
So our return to Rome was great. We learned that you really need to see Rome with a good tour guide. We always did Rome on our own in the past. Saw it with different eyes this time.
After lunch, we headed to Tuscany. I’ll blog from there tomorrow. This is the first of a series of blog posts from our trip to the Italian Riviera, the French Riviera, and the Spanish Costa Brava, including Barcelona.
Below are a few more more photos from Rome.