Today was a fun day. We had our one tour group scheduled today, with the Untour folks we went with. Marilina was to meet us in front of the Arch of Constantine, so we trooped off. This one’s easy since there’s a stop at the Colosseum. When you come out of the metro station, the Colosseum simply looms right over you…it’s really magnificent. I didn’t expect it, so it hit like a ton of bricks.
Anyway when we all met up, she took us to a church somewhat to the north of the Colosseum, Xan Pietro in Vincoli. I recommend this, because it’s got Michaelangelo’s Moses in it. The church’s story is interesting too, as it’s supposed to have the relics of the chains used to hold St. Peter in the dungeons. They were initially separated and stored apart, but when brought together, miraculously fused back together and they’ve been kept in the church since. Or something like that.
After that detour, we went back to the Colosseum, and here’s where having a tour group really paid off: there’s two lines for “single” people, and for tour groups. And we whizzed right in. She gave us a good tour as far as I can tell; I rarely pay attention, because I have to glue myself to the person’s side to catch what they are saying and a) I then tend to miss actually seeing what it is that’s being talked about and b) there was already an elderly gent in the group taking up that position who really wasn’t paying attention to see if he was blocking anyone else. In any case, I can always check later on what I’ve seen.
The colosseum is just amazing. I can’t describe how it feels to stand there and think about how old it is, and how immense it is. How they were able to build things like that back then, how much it has decayed and still overwhelms you with sheer size. At the same time its half crumbled away. It’s immensly solid and wide at the bottom but almost lattice like at the top.
When she was done with the tour, we opted to wander around a bit more and take it in at a more leisurely pace. That’s the part that’s nice to do without a tour, so we really got the best of both worlds here. Once we were done, we wandered around the Forum, using tourbooks like a map guide and scavenger hunt. Sometimes you have to use your imagination to spot the buildings or outlines they talk about. I’ve decided I love ruins 🙂 between this and Ostia…it’s just so much fun to scramble around and over and through them and contemplate how it used to look and all the changes that have happened since.
FIrst you see the Arch of COnstantine which was long thorugh to be cobbled together from old pieces of carving because of the “decline and fall” of the Roman Empire. But that’s a myth, and while its true that the arch is “recycled” it’s done so on purpose. There’s always ongoing research and reassesment of history. Anyway from there, you can also see the temple of venus and Rome, mostly the outine with the spaces for the shops below it. All of this is on “sunken” ground — it was originally a marsh, and then after it was abandoned it was covered with dirt for centuries. Not so long ago it was a cow pasture before excavations began in the 18th century! Just behind that temple is the Santa Francesca Romana which is supposed to have the imprints of St. Peter and St. Paul kneeling in its flagstones.
Coming up here you see the Arch of Titus, celebrating victory over the Jewish uprising in Jerusalem around 68 CE.
To the right is a huge crumbly structure that was the Basilica of Constantine & Maxentius. You had justice and business done here (basilica refers to the structure, that was later used in churches and shifted in meaning). This basilica is the largest building here, it just looms. It must have still been visible, brooding over the cow pasture…
In the center there is a bunch of ruins, not really readily identifiable, but great fun to wander around. There’s the Temple of Romulus which survived along with its doors because it was incorporated into the adjoining church.
Opposite this is the temple of vesta, circular, which housed the eternal flame. On either side of it were houses and gardens for the vestal virgins.
Back on the right again, past the Romulus Temple, is the Temple of Antonius and Faustina. Only several columns remain, and these abut a church built right behind them. Even so, they still bear scars from the chains when christians tried to pull them down & failed.
Then there’s teensy bits (mostly column bases of the Basilica Amelia. Across from this is the Temple of Julius Caesar, where he was cremated, and the Temple of Castor and Pollux next to it. Seems there’s always been a place of worship on every corner in Rome.
On the left is the Basilca Julia, also just bits of column bases, then back to the center the Column of Phocas, the last structure erected there in CE 608 — the area was largely abandoned after this, with inhabitants dispersing and the remainnter holing up more or less by the Piazza Navona. So after that it atarted silting up.
Beyond the column is the Rostra — the famous speaking platform — and on the right the restored (in 3rd century!) Curia where the Senate met. It was actually open today, so we peeked in and saw the carved reliefs and seats. Then we went up the Arch of Septimus Severus built in CE 203 for victories in Persia and Arabia. Theres the Temple of Saturn and of Jupiter off to the left (where all the loot got stashed after the victory marches), then you climb p a short hill and you’re at the modern Palazzo Senatorio and the capitolio with the statue of Marcus Aurelius that survived only because people thought it was of Constantine.
There wasss a group of nuns in the forum who would not have been of special note there being gaggles of nuns all over but this group had a large number o very young ones, some that seemed teenaged! Mom thought they sounded like they were speaking one of the slavic languages.
At the other end of the Forum, you come out on the Campidoglio which features a piazza design by Michaelangelo that’s really rather hard to appreciate unless you’ve got an aerial (and tourist-less) view. There’s the copy of the famous wolf with babies statue to the side of the Mayoral apartments. From here you can make your way down the steps to the Piazza Venezia (which is where we were last night). We actually found one of the #81 stops, but this is because we didn’t want the 81 (ha), we took a different one to the San Giovanni in Laterano. We came in through the north facade rather than the main entrance. This used to be the primary residence of the pope until 1870 when the new nation of Italy forced him out to the vatican (where it became a separate country in 1929 by treaty — I smell a story here).
This church has gorgeous mosaics all along the main nave, a golden cieling and a gorgeous baptistry. There were cloisters but we didn’t see them. As we were leaving, an ambulance came screaming up to the piazza. There was some man collapsed there. He didn’t look too good, but it was some kind of under-the-influence-look. Not sure if they carted him off or what. He wasn’t very coherent.
Then we hiked over to the Santa Maria Maggiore church, stopping for a pizza and a gelato (chocolate and fiore di latte). There are esquisite mosaics here as well, plus yet another obelisk (I think there’s only supposed to be 13 but it sure seems like more, or else we saw each and every one of them). This church was built after Pope Liberius had a dream where he was told to build a church where he found snow (in Rome, in August). Of course he found the miraculous pile of snow and started building. It didn’t hurt that there’s been temples to various female goddesses through history on this spot.
Then we popped by the Santa Maria del Popolo for a quick look around agaain (it has several Caravaggio) but they were celebrating mass, so we slunk off for another time.
Went back to the flat, had dinner, and went out again to call my sister, this time successfully. Then we went over to St. Peters to see it lit up at night. Very pretty.