Rome is like a lasagna, they say; layers of history, stacked atop one another to form one great, big messy, delicious culture.
From the Etruscans, to the the myth of Romulus and his founding of the Kingdom of Rome to the Roman Empire and on and on. One civilization always built on the next—both literally and figuratively.
With that in mind, we started our journey around Rome with a visit to the Flavian Amphitheater — more commonly known as the Colosseum. It’s €16 just to get in and walk around. But what a walk!
The structure itself is amazing, having stood — mostly intact — despite an earthquake, neglect, and general thievery — since 80 AD. Not much remains standing for nearly two millennia while the rest of the world rises and falls around it.
By the way, we learned that it was nicknamed the colosseum not because it is a colossal structure (which it is— it seated some 80,000 spectators), but because of the colossal 98-foot tall statue of the emperor Nero that stood nearby.
In the centuries that followed, a Christian congregation worshiped within the walls, domesticated animals lived among the arches, thieves stole pieces of tavertine, limestone and brick from the walls, and squatters lived in whatever spaces they could find shelter. This place has lived many lives.
The amphitheater was home to gladiator games, exotic animal fights and even mock naval battles. These events were battles to the death. The loser did not go home to come back and fight another day.
Go, pay your fee, and take a look around.
“Half an hour,” you think, as you wander through the gates. Nope. Plan for two hours of looking at an exhibit of artifacts and detailed descriptions, of looking out over the ruins to imagine the blood-thirsty fans and the carnage on the field, and of simply marveling at the layers of architecture.
A funny thing happened on the way to the forum…we found no street food
We took a water break and ate some snacks from home. If you haven’t brought your meal, this is not the place to search for street food.
Street vendors are scarce in Rome because of the high permitting fees. That’s not to say there’s lack of food in Rome. You just need to walk a meter or so to find a restaurant, bar, or snack shop.
And you can always find a free flowing fountain to refill your water bottle in the city.
We always hear reference to the Roman Forum. In reality, there were many fora (yes, technically, that’s the plural of forum).
While you can view many of the ruins from the adjoining sidewalks on your way to and from the colosseum, you can pay €16 to walk amongst the ruins, still-standing structures, and archeological sites of the Julian Forum.
Several emperors built a marketplace/temple zone that was intended to be the center of life for Romans and, of course, a shining reminder of his personal greatness.
The original Roman Forum was built in the republican age, but was later enlarged and expanded by Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Vespian (his forum was destroyed by a fire, but he oversaw the completion of the coliseum) and Domitian (his forum remains are few, but he did build an athletic complex that held some 20,000 fans).
The archaeological area of the Forum is one of the richest in the world. It’s rich with history and art. The flat pictures snd words from your humanities textbooks are alive here.
Et tu, Brute?
You can visit Lago de Torre Argentina for a few hours a day for free. This ancient temple area was rediscovered in the 1920s under apartment buildings that were being demolished. The site had previously been fenced off from the public, but you can now stand in the spot where Julius Caesar fell.
Navona Square, dominated by the Sant’Agnese in Agone church and Bernini’s Fiumi Fountain is one of the busiest squares in Rome. A few blocks from the Pantheon, it was once the site of Domitian’s ancient Roman chariot races and other athletic events. If you could look down on the square (rectangle, actually) from above — try Google Earth—you’d see that the curved turns of the ancient arena are still there.
All around Rome, ancient columns have been incorporated into modern office buildings, bistros are carved into imperial walls, churches occupy ancient temples, and archeological sites are circumnavigated by bus and metro lines.
Layer upon layer upon layer…