A history and gelato-filled second day
For our second and last day, we wanted to see the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Hazel had seen them before and wished to do so again, while I didn’t have the time or the patience to check these in my previous short visit.
When we got there, it was already crowded, the queues looked discouraging and I almost wanted to give up on it. In the end, through Hazel’s determination, we found a solution. You can read more about how we managed to skip the queue at the Colosseum here.
12 euros and less than half an hour after our ill-fated start of the day, we were inside the Forum. The only drawback: we had to be ready for the Colosseum at 12:45, as that was the only available time slot. That meant we had to rush a bit and we skipped getting to the top of the Palatine Hill completely. Sad. A good reason to come back, as if any reason is needed.
If you find yourself with more time on your hands than we had, the Forum is a great place to explore at leisure. Plenty of signage tells you the story of what you are seeing and through your mind’s eye, you can almost feel the grandiose beating heart of ancient Rome. I had a fascination with the Roman empire even before going to school, thanks to a great historical Romanian movie, so this sort of historic daydreaming might come more natural to me.
The Forum was the centre of the Eternal City, the place where the day-to-day life of Rome was unfolding: the elections, the triumphal marches, the trials, the business. Over the years it has been called the most celebrated meeting place in all of history and looking upon it, you can understand why.
Over the years the area became cluttered with public buildings, many of them rebuilt countless times after various fires, earthquakes and often man-made disasters. The Senate, the government buildings, temples and tribunals, arches, columns and statues dotted the area.
Via Sacra was what we’d call the Main Street of ancient Rome. Connecting the Capitoline Hill to the Colosseum, its crooked shape was straightened by emperor Nero after the fire he’s accused of causing and lined with columns. Some of them have been re-erected and you can see them in the centre of the picture above.
I would have really loved to spend more time walking around the main Roman thoroughfare, especially since we didn’t even got a chance to see the Palatine Hill. I bet the view from there was quite impressive. If you have the time, even if you are not a huge history fan, I’d suggest setting aside a full day for this attraction.
Even if we rushed a bit, I don’t regret seeing both the Colosseum and the Forum on the same day. That way we were left with enough time to stuff our face more pizza, pasta and gelato.
Joining the queue for persons that already own an entry ticket proved to be a relaxed affair.
You see, the longest queue at the Colosseum was the one for getting the admittance ticket in the first place. We made great progress in this queue and not even ten minutes later, we were underneath the imposing arches of the ground floor and going through the mandatory security check.
Having seen a couple of stadiums in my life, I can safely speculate these stairs and the others like them could have easily handled the estimated 50.000 visitors. The higher you climbed, towards the lower rank seats, the narrower and steeper the stairs became. That’s because of the seating arrangement being a reflection of the social stratification of Rome.
On a corridor unexpectedly devoid of humanity, this cat was taking a leisurely stroll. Given how crowded this monument was, I was equally surprised to see this adorable black cat as I was to find ourselves almost alone for a moment.
Mind you, it’s not teeming with people, as there is a maximum capacity of 3000 tourists; nevertheless, you can’t really expect to be alone. I hear there are night tours that you can take, which are a tad more expensive but allow you a more intimate visit.
Senators and nobles had the arena level seats while the plebs had to go all the way up, where the visibility was poor and the climb arduous. Senators even had their name chiselled in the rock of their chair. When a senator would die, the name would have been chipped out and a new one would have been inscribed.
They have a number of these seat back-rests on display in the Museum you’ll find on the first floor. God knows how they made it to the present day, given the propensity of people from all ages to loot the Colosseum for building materials.
Did you know that the word “arena” actually comes straight from Latin? It meant sand, as in the sand strewn over the combat area.
All citizens had an allocated seat and with the help of extensive signage, they managed to get to their place with relative ease. Some of the numbers that were used to indicate the right entrance have survived to this day. You will find them at top of the arches on the north side of the monument. They are quite visible from the street, which means you don’t even have to pay an admission ticket to marvel at the ingenuity of the Roman engineers. You will need to know Roman numerals though, to make sense out of them.
The first floor of the Colosseum offers commanding views over the surrounding area. And if you think about it, it was more crowded back then than it is now, with all the ancient buildings lying in ruins or completely gone. A huge model of the city can be found at Museo della Civiltà Romana, showing the city in the age of Constantine. I’ve only seen pictures online but it was totally worth the effort. Check this out.
To the right of the Via Sacra, which can be seen in the picture below, there was a huge temple dedicated to Venus and Rome. The only things left to remind us of it are the columns you can see guarding over the Sacred Way and some of the back walls that during the ages have been commandeered to supporting newer buildings.
Before preparing to leave this amazing site, we took a customary selfie to celebrate our visit. One very easily forgets the tragedies that have unfolded over these sands, almost two millennia ago.
Famished and tired, we emerged from the Colosseum just as light rain was beginning. Trying to get as far away as possible from the hyper-touristy areas to avoid overpricing and bad food, we discovered a great place with the help of Google Maps.
Our animalistic needs satisfied, we resumed the pursuit of higher goals. Destination, the Trevi Fountain. Along the way, we stumbled (what did I tell you about stumbling?) upon the Pantheon. And this time, as there was no Sunday sermon and thus no entrance ban, we could visit it.
The building that to this day has the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome also happens to be one of the best preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings. Yes, you’ve read that right. Concrete. While they didn’t invent it, Romans used concrete extensively for almost 700 years. Then it was lost for about 800 years before being rediscovered in the 14th century.
What you need to know is that this temple, now a church, has been finished sometime around 126 AD, which only serves to make it more impressive. The fact that this building is almost 19 centuries old boggles the mind. You can probably understand what I mean if you have visited the Pantheon. Nothing short of amazing is that besides the Christian altar and the frescoes of saints, the interior has remained pretty much unchanged for all these years.
Did you know that the height of the dome is exactly equal to its diameter? There are no windows but the massive hole in the ceiling (the oculus) manages to provide more than enough light.
Properly awed and humbled, we carried on towards our objective.
The streets of central Rome are anything but boring. So much history, so much diversity.
Ah, the Fontana di Trevi. One of the most famous fountains in the world.
If you noticed the people throwing coins in it and wondered how much money is gathered in a day, know that it was about 1600 $ in 2005. By today, the sum has more than doubled. That means over a million dollars are collected each year. The money is donated to charity, so well wishing is not wasted.
Time for another stop at one gelato place that made it to my short list, Neve di Latte. You can find it one or two hundred meters away from the Supreme Court. Totally recommended.
Energised with sweet sweet ice cream, we started to slowly make our way back to the hotel. Detours have been made, pictures have been taken.
There is a road, connecting the Spanish Steps to the Piazza del Popolo that is called Via del Babuino. I knew enough Italian to be quite certain that it meant Baboon Road. Having a good chuckle at reading the street plaque, we headed towards the famous Steps.
Little did I know when I was taking the picture below that this fountain actually gave the street its name. When it was offered to the people of medieval Rome, this statue was considered so ugly that it got the name The Baboon. From there it was a matter of time before the street took its name.
Looking at it, I can say I understand where that’s coming from.
We have finally made it back to the hotel. Another long but extremely satisfying day came to an end.
I hope you have enjoyed this little foray through Rome. Stay tuned for part two of this vacation travelogue: Florence and Pisa. Until then, don’t stop wandering!
Photo credit: the pantheon