Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the senate, it's the sand of the coliseum-Gracchus (Gladiator)

We woke on Christmas day to a breakfast of Panetone, hot chocolate and coffee and the news that although, again, the acqua alta levels had hit record highs over night they had already receeded back to the lip of the canal outside. Thankfully we weren't going to have to schlep our packs through a lobby and streets knee deep in salty canal water then sit in wet pants for the four hour train journey to Rome.

Our Christmas Day 2009 day was spent getting to the train, waiting for the train, riding the train. Waiting for the tram outside Termini, the central station in Rome, then giving up (it was wet and cold and the packs were getting heavy) and getting a taxi instead. The search for food was looking fruitless too as most things were closed for Christmas but we were eventually rescued by an amused publican who didn't speak a word of English but managed to stear us in the direction of a little hole in the wall and some hot pizza for a couple of euro each.

We finally collapsed on our modern double bunks- with television and cable box top and bottom- and it wasn't long before three out of four of us were asleep (one of us -who shall remain nameless- had problems extricating himself from the free internet on offer and probably didn't sleep much as the rest of us for the next four nights!).

Boxing Day dawned cloudy but thankfully a couple of degrees warmer than Venice. We had already decided that, as we were planning on using the train, tram and buses for the next four days, the Roma Pass was probably going to be a good deal plus at least for the first three places we chose to go it would allow us to avoid any long admission queues. Back at 'Termini', with our newly dated 'passes' in hand, we made for metro line B that would take us, in two stops, to the Colosseum.

Using the Roma Pass for the metro was as simple as using an 'ezlink card' in Singapore. You just post it into the slot in the front of the entry barrier wait till it pops out another in the top and you are in. No need to worry about validation or buying tickets for the three days the pass is valid for. It took a couple of false starts to work out which side of the platform we were supposed to be on then we were off.

Colosseo, the stop for the Colosseum is directly opposite the building in question. Arguably the world's most famous sports arena, even though it has been well over 1500 years since it has seen any of the bloody action it is so famous for, the huge arches and it's unmistakable silhouette. Built on what was once a huge lake in Nero's Park and originally called the Flavian Amphitheatre it got it's nickname, 'colosseum', from an enormous bronze statue (or colossus) of Nero that was opposite at his residence on Palatine Hill. Begun by Vespasian, the 9th Roman Emperor, in 72CE but not finished till after his death the Colosseum is actually elliptical something thats quite hard to tell from the ground. Just like many of todays large stadiums it could hold 55 000 spectators.

After reading the information and history boards we made our way up the stairs where wooden shelving holds some of the more interesting bits that have been unearthed or returned. Most are fragments of larger statues, lintels, columns or sculptures. Life size marble torsos, distinctly Roman busts, slabs of carved or even graffitied stone, huge intricate leafy capitals and the curved cheeks of a horses arse complete with dangling testicles, which we somehow managed to get two photos of.

The first level has a massive 80 arched entrances large enough for even the biggest animal to lumber easily through lead into a tiered arena, or what's left of it after earthquakes and considerable plundering for marble and precut building materials ensued. A poster child for the heirarchy of Roman architecture the columns get more ornate with each level. The heavier plain Doric level at the bottom, the scrolled tops characterising the Ionic level in the middle and the highly decorative Corinthian level at the top amusingly, at least to me, in direct contrast to the seating hierarchy which held that the dignitories occupied the ring side seats on the first tier and the women and riff raff sat in the gods butted against the roof, an enormous retractable awning called a velarium, dragged back and forth by 1000 men using pulleys and poles.

Sections of the floor were retractable too, useful when a huge elephant or rhino had finally succumed. Rather than dragging the huge beast off they could simply lower it down into the underground chambers and dispose of it there. Evidence of a complex system of pulleys (there were pulleys in the display shelves in the foyer)and even hydraulics which allowed both lowering, lifting and even flooding the arena.

The very word 'arena', meaning sand, comes from the sand that was strewn on the stage of the ampitheatre to soak up the blood. The inaugural contest at the colosseum itself was said to have lasted 100 days during which time the gratuitous slaughter of between 5000 and 9000 beasts (depending on where your information comes from) and countless gladiators was meant to have occurred.

There is no theatre floor left anymore save a bit that's been rebuilt. You can clearly see the 'hypogem',which literally means 'the underground', the subterranean network of chambers and hallways. Underground tunnels that led out of the complex allowed animals and performers to be bought directly from their cages and barracks. It is a huge structure made even more magnanimous by it's tall arches. It has presence even as Rome's largest roundabout!

On the way out you pass the impressive Triumphant Arco di Constantino which stands largely unscathed save it's bronze letters which were probably palmed. You can still clearly read the inscription though.


To the Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantinus, the greatest, pious, and blessed Augustus: because he, inspired by the divine, and by the greatness of his mind, has delivered the state from the tyrant and all of his followers at the same time, with his army and just force of arms, the Senate and People of Rome have dedicated this arch, decorated with triumphs.

Across the road is Palatine Hill where, according to Roman mythology, the twins Romulus and Remus were found hiding in a cave being suckled by a she wolf. Once grown up they fought over who would be the one to run the city. Romulus hit his brother over the head with a shovel, killed him and became the first King of Rome, named in his honour. So you could say it was here that the Roman Empire began.

After the grandeur of the Colosseum the entrance to Palatine is simple and unassuming.

Essentially just a tree scattered hilltop littered with the ruins of the palaces and luxurious gardens of ancient patrician families and early emperors it covers quite an area and at the top of the hill affords awesome views of the city and the Foro Romano below through the ever falling drops of rain.

The Roman Forum used to be free but entry is now a part of the ticket for Palatine Hill.

Built on drained lowland the public 'forum' with its arches, basillicas and temples, was once the heart of the Roman city. Beginning from the Arco di Constantine, now outside the ticketed boundaries, is Via Sacra, the 'sacred way' which once saw great processions of conquest. Further up the Arch of Septimius Severus and the Arch of Titus.

All that is left of the Temple of Saturn, the agricultural god of sowing. It's tall columns, that once formed the entrance to the temple, are the oldest surviving structure in the Forum.

The Temple of Antonius and Faustina, was originally dedicated to the wife of the Emperor Antonius Faustina the Elder but after his death was changed to include Antonius Pius as well.

Behind it stands the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda. The original temple, built in 141 CE, was converted in about the 7th century but partially demolished to make way for restoration in 1536.

The area to the left of the photo once held the Temple of Concord. The last three standing columns stand out against a backdrop of what looks from a distance to be mostly rubble. The goddess Concordia was the goddess of agreement, understanding, and marital harmony.

The largest most formidable building in the Forum is the Basillica of Maxentius and Constantine completed in 312 CE.

Apart from the temples, basillicas and memorials the Forum also held the Regia, originally the residence of the kings of Rome or at least their main headquarters, and later the office of the Pontifex Maximus, the high priest of Roman religion. The Rostra, from where politicians made their speeches to the Roman citizens. The Curia Hostilia, the site of the Roman Senate. The Tabularium, the records office of Rome. The aptly named Umbilicus Urbi, the designated centre of the city from which and to which all distances in Rome and the Roman Empire were measured. The Atrium Vestae, the house of the Vestal Virgins and the Tullianum, the prison used to hold various foreign leaders and generals.

Even with the guide book it was sometime difficult to descipher what was what. Many of the significant buildings have been altered and restored many times over as Rome adopted new leaders and the area has presumably been effected by the same earthquakes that devastated the Colosseum across the road. It would be easy to spend much longer than we did in the Roman Forum and the gardens of Palatine Hill but eventually the rain and the cold drove us out a turnstile at the top of Capitoline Hill where we discovered the ginormous Musei Capitolini.


Anonymous said...

Gorgeous ... fascinating ... I'm green with envy. It's on my list. Sounds amazing!!!

Natalie said...

I am running out of superlatives to describe how much I'm vicariously enjoying your trip! Add me to the green with envy...edging up on puce! :)