We decided to focus on ancient Rome for our Saturday tour. We were lazy that morning and didn’t get out of the hotel until 11AM, and were surprised by all the people on the streets. As we headed towards the Forum, we passed Largo Argentina, an area discovered in the 1920’s containing four temples that are some of the oldest in Rome dating back to the 3rd or 4th century BC.
We stopped in a little cafe for a cappuccino, and were treated to the stand up price even though we sat at an indoor table — what a deal! There was a little old lady enjoying her coffee at a nearby table and talking up a storm with the owner. Otherwise we had the cafe to ourselves.
By the time we had made it to Victor Emanuels’s monument, we knew something was up. Streets were blocked and people were everywhere. It turned out that it was June 2, a national holiday for the Festa della Repubblica, essentially their fourth of July. We had missed the parade that had been held earlier, and now people we out enjoying the warm, sunny afternoon.
We walked down the Via del Fori Imperiali, enjoying the views of Trajan’s Column which celebrates his victories against the Dacians (Romanians) in 113 AD, Trajan’s Forum, and Trajan’s Markets — a multistory complex of 150 shops and offices. We eventually got to the entrance to the Forum area only to find that it wouldn’t open for another hour due to the holiday.
As soon as the gates opened, we got our audioguides and started touring the Forum. The Forum is the center of ancient Rome, where all the government buildings, emperors’ palaces, and major temples were built. Rome lasted 1000 years, growing 500 years from 500 BC to 0, peaking for 200 years, then declining for 300 years until it’s final end in 476 AD when Odoacer, a barbarian soldier, captured Ravenna, the capital at that time, and conquered Italy. Over the 1000 years, buildings were built, burned down or were torn down, new buildings built, etc., over and over. Most of what you see in the Forum today are bits and pieces of buildings and a few columns, so you have to use your imagination to picture what it might have been like at the time. Rome at it’s peak had over 1 million residents, probably the largest city of it’s time, but declined to perhaps as low as 10,000 in the middle ages.
After a few hours in the the Forum, we visited the Colosseum which is next door. Construction began in 72 AD by emperor Vespasian, and was finished in 80 AD. After the disastrous rule of Nero which ended in 68 Ad, the Romans decided to tear down much of the gigantic palace he built, fill in his lake in the lowlands, and build the Colosseum on the site of the old lake. The Colosseum was called the Flavian Amphitheatre, named for the family of emperors beginning with Vespasian. It could hold at least 50,000 spectators, and was used for gladiator contests, animal hunts, and re-enactments of battles. (Christians probably weren’t killed here). What you see in the center of the colosseum today is in fact the basement where the gladiators and animals stayed waiting for the contest. There was a wooden floor above this and sand was poured over the floor to form the surface. Elevators existed to raise people and animals to the arena’s surface.
Constantine’s arch is just outside the Colosseum celebrating Constantine’s victory over his co-emperor, Maxentius, giving him sole control of the empire.
On our walk back to the hotel we enjoyed a gelato. That evening we had planned to eat pizza, but as we walked around the outdoor cafes none of the pizza’s looked that great. Typical Roman pizza is a thin, cracker-like crust with a little tomato sauce and cheese. Seeing some good-looking pasta, we asked the Americans just finishing up how the food was. Getting a highly favorable reaction, we gave it a try and were not disappointed.