ROME, ITALY: COLOSSEUM, ROMAN FORUM, TRASTEVERE (PART 1)
The first half of Day 1 of 6 days we spent in Rome this past March 2018. We started the morning by exploring our neighborhood, Trastevere, and played tourists at the Colosseum and Roman Forum.
Part 2 of this day to come soon. Enjoy!
Good morning from Roma! We arrived the night before and basically took a train from the airport to Trastevere and then walked to our Airbnb. We dropped our stuff off and went to get some pizza at Ai Marmi as we’d been traveling all day and hadn’t had a real meal because we were being cheap about buying airline food on Norwegian hah.
Zach woke up around 7:30 am, and I peeled myself out of bed an hour later. Today we’re doing the most touristy parts of Rome—the Colosseum, the Forum, and Capitoline hill.
First time seeing the apartment we’re staying in during the day. This is a flat in Trastevere, one bedroom, a living room, kitchen, and bathroom. It’s not in the center part of Trastevere, but was easy enough to use the tram line that ran right outside the place.
We took a slow wander toward a Tourist Info Center kiosk to get our Roma pass. This is Trastevere, the 13th rione of Rome. The name comes from Latin for “beyond the Tiber” as the neighborhood is on “the other side” of the river from the rest of Rome. Through its history the area was inhabited by the ancient Etruscans, immigrants from modern day Syria, a Jewish community, and now has a few foreign universities. Much of the neighborhood still has the medieval streets, with cobble stones and winding narrow walk ways.
Basilica di Santa Maria, the oldest church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Rome. There was a church in this spot as early as the 3rd century, and it was renovated in the 12th century with a huge bell tower and glittery facade.
At this point we stopped to acquire our Roma pass. If you are planning to visit a lot of landmarks, arcaelogical sites, museums, etc. especially in a few days in a row, then Roma pass is worth considering. You get discounts and free transporation.
We decided to stop at a bakery to grab some breakfast on the go. Zach got a chocolate croissant, and I got one of these mini pizzas. What are they called! I can’t remember…but it tastes like tangy tomato sauce on a puff pastry.
Up on Capitoline Hill, another place in the city with a rich history. Well, I guess every inch of Rome has a rich history haha. This is one of the Seven Hills of Rome. At first this hill was dedicated to the god Saturn and a temple was built to honor Jupiter. All these ancient ruins were covered by medieval and Renaissance palaces and architecture. These buildings are now the Capitoline Museums. The piazza itself was designed by Michelangelo who had an interesting challenge of designing the space to feel balanced when it was infact sloped and trapezoidal in shape.
Making our way down Via dei Fori Imperiali. On one side the Roman Forum, on the other the Foro di Augusto, Hall of Colossus, Arco dei Pantani and more. There were also a lot of street performers and huge groups of tourists making their way to and from the ancient sites in the area.
And we made it to the Colosseum! We skipped one of the lines because we had the Roma pass and entered another line…a slightly shorter one. You are funneled through security and bag checks and then through ticket checks. Then we found ourselves inside!
Before we arrived in Italy, we had downloaded the free Rick Steves’ Audio guide app and downloaded free audio guides of a few sites so we could save a little money on tours and audio guides.
The Colosseum took 10 years to build. The Roman empire had just gone through a series of rulers after the death of Emperor Nero in AD 68. On the site of Nero’s Golden Palace, the new emperor Vespasian decreed a new ampitheater would be built where the public could enjoy combat and other forms of entertainment.
You can see some original seats put back in place to get a sense of what it must have looked like with the brick covered in travertine. The entire area could fit 50,000 spectators, arranged by social ranking. There would have been awnings that could provide shade for the crowds as they watched gladiators, hunting, wild animal fights, and more. Gladiators were usually enslaved people, condemned criminals or prisoners of war.
The Colosseum was used for four centuries. The arena was damaged by earthquakes and lightning before being abandoned completely. It was used as a quarry for many other building projects, including the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, and the Palazzo Venezia and more. Over time, it was picked of all its fine decorations. The floor wore away and it fell to ruin. You can see the secret walkways and rooms below now where people and animals would have been kept before battle. They would have been raised up into the arena through pulley systems.
The Colosseum has been used as a symbol for many things over time. In the medieval period, a small chapel was built into the structure of the Colosseum and the many underground vaulted areas were used as housing and workshops and were rented out through the 12th century. By the 16th and 17th century, the Catholic church considered using it as a wool factory. And in the 18th century, Pone Benedict XIV spread the idea that the Colosseum was a sacred site where early Christians had been martyred. (This hasn’t been proved by historians or archaeologists!) A cross was installed (and is there today) and it became illegal to continue using the Colosseum as a quarry. Today millions of visitors come through the site and it has been slowly repaired starting in the 1800s and has continued into the 2000s. Hope this isn’t all long and boring, I just find it so interesting to think about which buildings from ancient Rome survived and the story of how many centuries of people and leaders allowed it to remain. What was lost and why and what decisions kept buildings into the future.
Zach and I were talking about applying this logic to Los Angeles—what would we say are cultural wonders that seem so *normal* now but might be fascinating in the future. Movie theaters? Airports? Underground trains? High schools? Costcos? Fun to think about.
We relaxed in this little park across from the Colosseum for a bit. We ate a snack I brought with me, and we called to make dinner reservations in our neighborhood. We had already done a bit of walking and had much more to see.
The Arch of Constantine—erected by the Roman senate in 312. It is the largest Roman triumphal arch, meant to be passed when the emperor’s came back into the city in triumph.
We used the Rick Steves free audio thinggy again, which was SO helpful in the Forum because most archaeological sites aren’t labeled and the guide helped you walk through the Forum in an interesting way with all the info included along the way.
The first thing you see is the Arch of Titus, another triumphal arch constructed in AD 82 by Emperor Domitian to commerorate his older brother Titus’s victories—including the Siege of Jerusalem (AD 70). You can see scenes from the Temple of Jerusalem on one side, a big menorah is carried in procession.
This is the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine or the “Basilica Nova.” This building would have been 7,000 square yards and had a central nave that is 265 feet long and 83 feet wide. It’s…big. Inside was a huge sculpture of Constantine (pieces now on display at the Capitoline Museums). At the time of its construction, it was the largest structure ever built, and has architectural features of both Roman baths and basilicas. This building would have been used as a civic center for the people of ancient Rome. You can really feel how epic and amazing it must have been when first constructed. The ruins are truly enormous.
We took a detour and headed over to Palatine Hill and the Palatino (yes, Palatino is also a font!) Palatine hill is where Romulus supposedly founded the city of Rome in 753 BC and many of Rome’s emperors lived up here in luxury. There are ruins of the Domus Flavia, the imperial palace, and views of both the Roman Forum and the chariot track.
The ruins of Emperor Domitian’s Palatino palace, the main imperial palace for over 300 years. The grassy area where Zach is standing was probably used for private games and events for the emperor. There are also baths up here and the private quarters for the emperor. You can look down at the multi-story structure.
You can see the Circus Maximus from the palace edge. You can imagine the emperor and his crew looking down over the race track. The Circus Maximum (that grassy track area) was used in ancient Roman times as a chariot-racing stadium. It’s now a public park! You can see runners down there doing laps.
Original bronze doors on the Temple of Romulus.
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, built by Emperor Antoninus Pius dedicated to his deceased wife, Faustina the Elder. She was worshipped as a demigod.
The ruins of the Temple of Vesta. Vesta is the virgin goddess of hearth, home, and family in ancient Roman religion. She was represented as fire. This circular temple was round to symbolize the connection between Vesta’s fire and the sun as sources of life. This is where a sacred fire always burned, and the fire was tended to by the Vestal Virgins. These were priestesses of Vesta, women who were freed of social obligations to marry and bear children and instead took a vow of chastity to devote themselves to the study and observance of ritual in the Temple of Vesta.
This site is where the House of the Vestals stood. This was home for the Vestal Virgins and adjacent to the Temple of Vesta and Palatine Hill on a sacred grove. This was a three story, 50-room palace built around an atrium with a double pool.
This post is really long already and I have half the day to go. So I’ll pause here!
I have another half of the day that includes the Capitoline Museums, eating dinner, and wandering around the city at night.
Thank you for reading! Or for at least scrolling down the page. 🙂
Much love friends.