Monday -- The Coliseum, the Forum, the Palatine Hill, and the Pantheon -- Wow!!
So, Monday, November 19th began slow... We were SO exhausted and homesick but there was all of ROME to see! It was warming up into the 40s Fahrenheit and we had a 2PM appointment to meet our tour guide Georgio. We slept in, had trouble finding food by being out of sync with the Italian meal schedule (but ate across the street at a lovely place called Cafe du Paris which was nice but EXPENSIVE -- it would have been expensive if those numbers were dollars but they were Euros!!), and then met Georgio in the lobby of the hotel. We immediately hopped a taxi to the Coliseum.
We've all seen photos and documentaries of this amazing structure and it is amazing. Georgio helped us discern which parts of the structure are original and which were part of a 19th century reconstruction. Having a private tour guide is AWESOME! The value we got out of skipping past a number of lines, getting a good explanation of what we were seeing, and also getting to push the boundaries of our understanding by asking OUR questions was huge.
As we know, the Coliseum was built to hold the gladiator games. This was largely a form of entertainment and an expression of the power and might of the Emperor. So much of what we see in Rome existed to demonstrate to the people that Rome (and the Emperor) were a power to be reckoned with. It was VERY impressive. We rode an elevator to the top to get a cool view and walked our way down. Georgio was beginning to get used to me when I asked him if the elevator was part of the original structure... :-)
Much of the Coliseum had been used for recycling through the centuries as people viewed the ruins as a source of building material... Sigh.
Next, we walked across the street to the Forum, the heart of ancient Rome! The scope of the ruins is overwhelming. Apparently, most of these had been buried and the excavation only began in the early 19th century. For this reason, a lot of the original Forum is available to be seen.
We walked down a long tunnel which was built for Nero that connected the Forum with the Palatine Hill (where Rome was founded around 700BC) and where the emperors had a large palace.
Soon, we were looking over into an active archeological dig at the original location of the founding of Rome. We saw some ancient stuff (this stuff was old when Caesar was in power!!).
Lisa loves cats and so she was very excited to see a few running around the Palatine Hill (including one that just climbed up onto the lap of a young boy who was also a tourist).
The area is astonishing as so many people have felt through the years that this is a special place. Here is a tower that is approximately 500 years old on top of this area which has been a vibrant focus of civilization for 2500 years!
Soon, we were back to the Forum.
These are the original doors to an ancient temple turned into a church and then buried.
Turns out most of the Forum was underground for centuries. Hundreds of years ago, an attempt was made to tear down the columns of this temple. You can see the cut marks about 80% up the columns from the attempt to topple them. Unfortunately (well, fortunately), the temple was largely buried and the columns were over 50% buried. You can see the mud marks. Being buried, it was not easy to topple the columns and so they remain!
It is wonderful the access the public has to these ancient places!
The sign says: "SPQR" which roughly means the senate and people of Rome which still is used to describe the Roman government (i.e. you see it on the modern manhole covers throughout the city).
Built right on top of these archeological jewels is the public buildings for Rome. I recall Giorgio saying these are the mayor's offices hanging right on top of the Forum. Later in the week, we came back and took photos from on top as we visited the Capitoline Museum (named after the Capitoline hill where the capitol sits).
Out in front, there's even more exposed ruins just on the side of the street.
Crossing the street outside, we saw the following painted on the road. While looking at it, Lisa almost got run over by a car and so we surmised it was a "Watch out... Someone got killed here!" symbol. If so, that sucks because we saw more of them through the week (even up on the sidewalk).
And then, a street performer got a Euro out of me for posing for the following photo:
We then past the monument to Victor Emmanual II:
So now, we get to the most AMAZING part of the day (and, for me, the entire visit to Rome). I am QUITE a history buff but have never studied Rome from an architectural or building perspective... merely the Republic's and the Empire's role in European and World history. So, I was surprised by what Giorgio had to show us.
I asked him if we were done for the day and he said he wanted to show us the Pantheon. Now, I knew the word "Pantheon" meant the collection of all gods but knew nothing about this building. He walked us a few short blocks and we entered into a large building which (except for the front) looks pretty simple.
Apparently, around 2000 years ago, a temple was built to all the gods (hence, the "Pantheon"). It is a simple cylinder with a magnificent dome on top. Apparently, the dome was built by stacking up dirt to make a mold and then pouring concrete. It is nearly perfect!
A couple of fascinating facts:
- The early Christians decided to convert this into a Christian church rather than destroy it. This building is roughly 90% the original Pagan temple
- It has been in continuous use for about 2000 years
- Michelangelo was charged with building the dome for the great cathedral St. Peter's Basilica. He was so moved by the Pantheon that he insisted on making St. Peter's dome slightly (about 1 meter) smaller out of respect for the Pantheon.
The top of the dome is open to the sunlight and the rain and so there are drain holes in the floor!
The Pantheon was truly spectacular!!
For dinner, we received a recommendation from Giorgio and went back to the hotel and arranged for 7:30 reservations. After hanging out for a couple of hours, we taxied to the restaurant and arrived at 7:20. We stood outside in the cold for a a while and looked over the menu and all of it looked disgusting... At 7:35, a weird lady opened the door and exhaled some smoke. She said "10 more minutes"... We left and had a nice dinner at a place facing onto the PIazza Navano where they had been kind enough to let us use the toilet two nights earlier.
While walking down the street, we saw the weirdest motorcycle with a roof. It was a BMW!!!
The next day, five hours with Giorgio at the Vatican! We meet him in the lobby of the hotel at 9AM!