This year’s birthday treat was a five day trip to Rome. It’s a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time, not so much for the fashion and Italian style, but because of the impact the Roman Empire had on the world and the huge amount of historic attractions they have.
The Colosseum or “Flavian Amphitheatre” as it was originally known was the first permanent amphitheatre to be built and a gift to the citizens of Rome from the wealthy elite. As with all visitors to Rome the Colosseum was at the top of my list of things to see. I was keen to learn more about despot emperors and gladiatorial death matches and stand in the place where it all happened.
Whilst large in appearance from the outside, on the inside it feels packed in, almost cosy. Walking around it’s easy to imagine what it would have been like when the games were taking place, the noise, heat, smell, the blood and the atmosphere. The games were a time of celebration lasting many days, where gladiators fought, criminals were executed in cruel and unusual ways and many thousands of wild animals slaughtered.
Contrary to popular belief not all gladiatorial matches ended in death. The gladiators were expensive to train and support and it was bad business to keep killing them. More often than not the matches only required a decisive outcome, allowing the gladiators to fight another day.
To get the most out of my visit I opted to go with a tour from Walks of Italy. The tour covered two areas, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. The benefits of a tour are that you get a knowledgeable guide who packs in the history and keeps it interesting, a nice little headset so you can hear what’s being said whilst wandering away from the group to take pictures and the added benefit of not having to queue to get in.
The Pantheon, built by the emperor Hadrian between 118 and 125 AD is one of the best preserved Roman monuments around. It stands solidly and impressively with a huge frontage of columns, each of which weigh 60 tonnes and were transported all the way from Egypt. Going inside the first thing that grabs your attention is the ceiling dome, still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world (interesting to engineers like me) and the only source of natural light is the large Oculus in the middle. The Pantheon is the final resting place of the two Italian kings and the painter Raphael and has an impressive amount of decoration around the sides if you can stop staring upwards.
The Roman Forum
I visited the roman forum as the second part of my guided tour. Had I had more time I would have gone back to explore the site further as there was plenty left to see.
The Roman forum was the political, administrative and religious centres of Rome between 800 BC to 600 AD. When the Roman Empire collapsed the forum gradually became abandoned with many of the buildings being plundered for use elsewhere. Although it was known about it wasn’t excavated until 1803 and it took over 100 years to open the site up.
Walking around it isn’t immediately apparent what it is you’re looking at. This is where the use of a guide is invaluable, I learnt about each part of the vast layout of ruins and building footprints. Walking down Palatine hill you get an impressive view of where each of the buildings and temples would have been and their significance to Roman society.
St. Peter’s Basilica
You can’t go to Rome and not go to the Vatican. But rather than pay to go into the Vatican museum I opted to stick to St Peters basilica, its free and less crowded.
This is the church to end all churches, its huge and every inch crammed full of historic detail. The first thing you see when you walk through the door is Michelangelo’s Pietà. From there you walk into the main body of the church and you can look down its cavernous length to Bernini’s baldacchino. At the far you can look up to Michelangelo’s dome. Every direction you look is awe inspiring and humbling even to the non religious.
Pope fact – St Peters basilica is the final resting place to no less than 91 popes.
The Streets of Rome
In short, tight and twisty with a lot of cobbled streets.
One of the things I like to do when I go to a new city is walk around the streets and take it all in. I find that if you only go from attraction to attraction you don’t get to see the heart of the city. I like to look at the buildings, the architecture and the shops, trying to get a feel for the day to hustle and bustle.
As you would expect there were plenty of places to eat and drink with many street bars and cafes open till late in the evening. One thing that I found interesting was the amount of water fountains around the city, it makes perfect sense considering how hot this place can get during the summer months. Stepping off the main streets down back alley ways continually turns up interesting things to check out, religious drawings set in the walls of buildings and statues randomly poking out of building corners.
There are no shortages of churches in Rome. All of them are free to enter and all of them are impressively decorated.