Touring Ancient Rome: Following an indulgent introduction into Rome’s coffee culture and cache for Renaissance art, we took a whirlwind tour through the best of Ancient Rome including the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum and the Pantheon.
No where else have I seen such an expansive and evocative setting of such historical importance. Well, except for the Taj Mahal…and Angkor Wat…or possibly the Great Wall of China. Anyway, these stirring sights of Rome rank right up there with the best of them, that’s for sure. Though trekking through Ancient Rome wasn’t exactly “peaceful” when considering the swarms of flag-following tour groups and selfie-snapping Instagram worshipers, taking a step back into Rome’s history was an absolute must-do. So, following a sinful breakfast of chocolate croissants from the corner bakery (I’ll say that a lot on this trip), we began our tour inside the ruins of the Roman Forum.
Roman Forum: Our walk through history started in the Roman Forum and led us around some of Rome’s most important temples and halls of justice. I was at the helm of this tour, along with my handy Rick Steves’ Italy guidebook and a few downloaded podcasts. With Rome’s Museum pass, we bypassed the long lines and hopped right into the heart of the Forum.
Within this epicenter of imperial Rome, we strolled around the temples, public baths, imperial arches, basilicas, and Roman senate. We were both ashamed of how little we actually knew about ancient Rome. What role did Julius Caesar play in the republic? Who was Emperor Augustus? When exactly was the “fall of Rome?” Most of our questions remained unanswered that afternoon (and some still remain unanswered today); however, with what little knowledge we had at the time, we imagined the great empire that Ancient Rome once was.
Temples dedicated to Saturn, Romulus, Vesta and Caesar are scattered around the grounds. Ruts from chariot wheels still exist in some of the stone and towering Corinthian columns dominate the arcades.
Colosseum: We moved on to the nearby 2,000 yr old Colosseum. Obviously, the Colosseum, the ultimate symbol of Rome, was the day’s main attraction, and we photographed it from every angle imaginable. Though an icon of Ancient Rome’s ultimate cruelty, it was indeed mighty and beautiful.
As Ancient Rome’s civic open-air theater, this hunk of crumbling architecture was once a great gladiatorial arena called the Flavian Amphitheatre. Criminals, gladiators, animals and warriors fought for their lives in the ultimate of bloody battles here. To mark the Colosseum’s inauguration, Emperor Titus held marathon fights that lasted 100 days and nights. During these killing sprees, up to 5000 animals were slaughtered. Later, Trajan held a 117-day killing spree involving 9000 gladiators and 10,000 animals.
Mom and I were surprised to learn that what we see today is actually only 20% of the Colosseum. Inaugurated in AD 80, the massive structure once held between 50,000 – 72,000 spectators.
Once inside, the underground of the Colosseum unfolded in front of us. Within this vast network of underground tunnels and rooms, called the hypogeum, animals were caged and different stage sets prepared for the fights.
One could almost hear the echoes of cheers bouncing off of the arena walls and imagine the excitement, however barbaric, that once existed here.
Pantheon: One rainy afternoon, we walked up and down Via del Corso and Via del Scrofa, sticking our heads into churches, historic sights and narrow lanes. Many of Rome’s attractions, such as its bubbling fountains, ornate churches and colorful neighborhoods are as delightful as the city’s paid attractions. We soon found that simply people watching in Rome’s many piazzas was one of our favorite things to do. On this particular day, we stumbled upon the Piazza Rotunda located right next to the Pantheon, Rome’s most intact ancient monument. This massive building was designed as a pagan temple by Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 125 and it remained the world’s largest concrete dome until the 1990s.
Standing inside of the Pantheon, now a church, is an exhilarating experience. Huge, bronze doors welcome visitors inside one of the greatest concrete dome ever built. The hole at the dome’s top, called the oculus, sits nearly 142 feet atop the floor.
The Pantheon is free for visitors. Lucky us!