Sunday, January 26, 2014

(Europe trip, post 13 of 14) Ancient Rome!

June 13, 2013

We started our day off with breakfast at our hotel and a pretty darn good view of the Trevi Fountain.

Not every tourist (especially smack-dab during summertime) is able to get great snapshots of the Trevi Fountain without a zillion other tourists in the shot...or at least the tops of their heads. 

And speaking of pictures in front of the Trevi Fountain without the crowds, right after breakfast we ran down to get our obligatory photo of us tossing a coin into the fountain.  It's said that whoever tosses a coin into the fountain over their shoulder will someday return to Rome...

I sure hope that trick works.  Did you notice anything "off" with the previous 4 photos?  Well, we didn't even think about it until later, but the water to the fountain was off!  They turn it off for a period in the morning where they clean out all the coins with a big ol' underwater vacuum thing.  It was still off when we took those photos, so we did a quick re-do later right before leaving Rome.  You know, just in case the fountain being off affects the thing about returning us to Rome? :)

We hired Rich Brunn to be our personal tour guide for four hours, walking us back through time and helping us to visualize some of the things he's dedicated his lifetime to studying and teaching.  There is an adage which says, "You can't see Rome in a day."  That certainly is true.  You also can't really see and internalize it all in a few days, but it is amazing to experience nonetheless.  There is so much there to see, learn about, and experience.  We knew this going into our experience there, but tried our best to maximize the time we had there by having someone spoon-feed us as much information as we could while we saw the sights of ancient Rome.  We spent our time with Rich at the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum.  We also booked an additional tour directly with the Colosseum to follow directly after we finished with Rich so we would be able to see the underground level and third tier of the Colosseum (only accessible booked through a specific tour).

It was a lot of information to digest in a short period of time, but it was fascinating and Rich did a good job of keeping a good flow to the information and supplementing it with with use of his tablet (especially to show us depictions of how certain ruins would have looked during their glory days).  We met up with Rich and he immediately started giving us some background during our walk to the sites.  I snapped this picture really quickly as we began approaching things because it was just so striking to see the old ruins start to sprout up amidst all of the more modern buildings there in Rome.

On the left of this photo you can see a Curia, which is a Senate House (Curia Julia perhaps?)

It was good to have a guide to help inform us and make sense of the massive amount of ruins and rubble here at the Forum and Palatine Hill.  Unfortunately I don't recall a great deal of what we learned that day (why did I not take notes on that day??)...I guess we'll just have to go back and do it again so it can all sink in! :)

Sometimes I can't believe that I stood there and saw all of this with my own eyes.

Mark standing on part of the Via Sacra (Sacred Road) that was the main street of ancient Rome.

I'm pretty sure that is the Column of Phocas.  It is the Forum's last monument (A.D. 608) and was gifted by the powerful Byzantine Empire to the fallen Rome commemorating the pagan Pantheon becoming a church.

Rich pointed out a couple places where we could see ruts in the road from chariots that frequented the Via Sacra.  In addition to everyday use, this road was part of the traditional route of the Roman Triumph that began on the outskirts of the city and proceeded through the Roman Forum.

I'll be honest - I can't remember what this was, but I know it was something that I thought was really cool.  So!  I'm going to include this picture until I can figure out what it is and then I'll include replace this rambling with that description here! 

Arch of Septimius Severus (AD 203)

Read here for a brief but interesting history of the arch that includes the messed up family life of Septimius Severus (and how it affected what inscriptions remained on the arch).  Here is one inscription on the base of one side of the arch.

Just remains from where an ancient game (dice?) was played a couple thousand years ago.  No biggie, right?

Remains of the Umbilicus Urbis Romae which was the "naval of the city of Rome".  All distances in ancient Rome were measured from this spot.

Remains of the Temple of Saturn (originally erected in 497 BC).  It served as the treasury for the Roman state as well as a temple.

Rich advised us to run our arms under these running fountains to stay cool.

Temple of Vesta.  Sacred place for Rome, inside was a flame that was always held lit and guarded by the Vestal Virgins.

Temple built to honor Emperor Antoninus Pius (A.D. 138-161) and his deified wife Faustina.

Mark cooling off.

Close up of the Arch of Titus.  After Rome conquered Israel they brought back 50,000 Jewish slaves because after being defeated they wouldn't agree to worship the Roman Emperor as a god.  Those slaves built the Colosseum and this Arch of Titus.  You can see the triumphal procession here on the inside of the arch as soldiers are carrying off booty from sacking Jerusalem.

This side of the arch shows Roman propaganda as the emperor Titus parades in chariot while being crowned by the goddess of victory.

The church of San Bonaventura (1625) al Palatino located on the highest peak of the Palatine Hill.

This is The Stadium at Palatine Hill, which housed massive gardens for the Domus Augustana (the imperial palace) and some think it could have served as a place for the Emperors to exercise their horses.

These umbrella trees were so neat, and they helped keep us cool atop Palatine Hill while we gleaned information from Rich and looked at the ruins.

Mark had no problem filling up his water-bottle at an old water fountain.

I think it's funny that these are the only two pictures I took of the outside of the iconic Roman Colosseum (officially called the Flavian Amphitheater) during the daytime.  I suppose I felt that I'd checked that off my list since I spent quite a bit of time getting some night shots the night before. 

This picture was taken to show all the areas where the iron clamps that held the Colosseum together were looted.  Stone was also taken from the amphitheater until in 1749 when the pope forbade the practice to continue, consecrating the arena to the Christian martyrs who were killed there.

I loved seeing this section of original flooring of the amphitheater (there's that herringbone pattern again!) helped me to visualize how ornate and impressive the structure would have been back when it was in use. 

This is the weathered, pillaged, and earthquake ravaged arena as it stands today.
It is the largest amphitheater in the world, and impressive to see how it is a freestanding structure (unlike many amphitheaters that are built into a hillside).  One can only imagine how magnificent this structure would have been back then.  The floor where the fights took place (that is exposed now) was wood and covered in yellow sand for the shows.  Some areas of the floor were removable so that animals or people could be raised up to enter the arena in this dramatic fashion.  The inside of the arena was constructed with travertine, pillars and walls were covered with plaster and painted red or white, sometimes with frescoes.  All four entrances were decorated with stucco reliefs, and the tiers of the arena were graced with decorative columns and statues.  There was even a giant retractable awning to protect spectators from the sun, which was maneuvered by a unit of sailors of the imperial fleet, stationed nearby.  Seating was based on a class structure - the best seats for the emperor and vestal virgins, flanking their seats were senators (some of which had their names carved into the stone, probably designating reserved seating), the next section up was for non-senatorial noble class or knights, after that were the wealthy Romans, and the top level was for the common poor, women, and slaves.  That last section was usually standing room only (general admission ticket I guess).  Tickets were in the form of shards of pottery designating seating assignments.

Rich wrapped up our tour here at the Colosseum, and took us to where we needed to go to join up with our next (shorter) tour of the Colosseum which would include the subterranean and third tier.  I must add here that if you are interested in hiring Rich for a tour in Rome (he has different types of tours he does), I would suggest reading his reviews on Trip Advisor as well as taking a look at his resume.  There are an excess of people willing to take your money and give you a quick and dirty tour of Rome, but I think it is worth hiring someone who has their facts straight and is passionate about the topic.  Also, while the language barrier wasn't a frustration for us most of the trip...I wanted to make sure that for this tour we hired an American so there wouldn't be difficulty deciphering heavy, in depth information through an accent.  If I was an expert in this area of history, then with that background knowledge perhaps that wouldn't have been one of my criteria when choosing who to hire, but alas it was.  It's something to at least consider when choosing a tour guide in Rome. 

Now!  Back to the Colosseum!  I have to mention at this point that while Rich Brunn was extremely informational, that I still enjoyed our shorter (1 hour 15 min) tour that we took that took us to the restricted third tier and subterranean level of the Colosseum.  To save someone the leg work - if you want to book this tour you go through Pierreci, but you actually have to call to book your reservation (+39 06 399 67 700) and remember the time difference.

So, this next tour took us right out onto the partially reconstructed floor platform giving us this vantage point of the arena - the one that gladiators would have had (minus the fear of death and 50,000 cheering Romans).  Remember, everything seen here at or below floor level would have been essentially underground tunnels facilitating costumes, gladiators, animals, etc.

At this point of our tour we have gone into the subterranean level of the Colosseum.

I don't know what this would be called, but it is one of the things that the workers (slaves?) would have put posts into in order to crank platforms to raise up animals and contestants through removable sections of the floor (creating what were special effects of that day).

Now from the third tier of the Colosseum a view of the Arch of Constantine.  It is decorated with recycled carvings originally made for other buildings.

Arch of Constantine with Palatine Hill in the distance.

That third tier offered an amazing view of the arena itself.

Photo ops!...

Lunchtime!  After 7 hours on our feet in the hot sun of Rome we didn't spend much time deliberating where to grab a late lunch.  While walking to our next destination we just poked our heads into a place that we saw served pizza by the slice, pointed to what we wanted with a polite "per favore", and then we gobbled it up and were on our way!

Mark's lunch:

My lunch:

Part of the Circus Maximus.

The Mouth of Truth (La Bocca della Verità) at the Church of Santa Maria was one "if we have time" site that we wanted to see.  The legend (which was popularized by the movie 'Roman Holiday' with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn) states that if you are a liar and put your hand inside then your hand will be gobbled up!  I did find it kind of funny that this was the longest line that we waited in on our entire trip.  Really!  Considering all the amazing places we visited I guess that says that we came on our trip well prepared (tickets pre-purchased, passes to skip lines, tours to skip lines, knowing alternative sites with shorter lines to buy entrance tickets, knowing when to visit certain sites).  This line was long, and we were hot and sweaty...but I was happy to tick one more item of my list of places I wanted to see (and photos I wanted to take).

Next we walked to the Capitoline Museum and had to snap just a few more photos of the Roman Forum from this vantage point.

You can even see the Colosseum way in the background here.

Courtyard in the museum.  Megan and me giving a shot at statue impersonations. 

"Spinario" (Boy with Thorn) - bronze from 1st century BC.  Of course Mark liked this statue due to the theme involving a foot.  I particularly liked the statue too.  Maybe it was the presentation in the beautiful ornate yellow room (with coffered wooden ceiling) where it was displayed, but I enjoyed spending quite a bit of time photographing this statue.  I also really loved the huge windows on two walls of this room, not something you always get in every room of a museum.

After the Capitoline Museum we headed back to our hotel for our dinner reservation at their on-site restaurant.

I have to be honest.  This was the worst meal of our trip.  The appetizer was just 'meh'...and not because of what it was.  We'd had this food earlier on the trip and it was scrumptious...

The pasta was extremely salty...

The meat was tough (boiled?) and the asparagus was mushy...

The presentation of the meal was fine, the ambiance was nice, and the view was fantastic...but the food was very sub-par.  And the irony is that it was the most expensive meal of our entire trip!  And we splurged on some nice meals during our trip.  Lucky for us we had voucher for one free meal there during our stay do to a special when I booked our hotel.  By the time Tommy and Megan booked their room they weren't offering that anymore though, so they paid for this meal.  Poor souls.  I feel terrible about that.  About the cost and that it was a meal in Italy that should have been amazing that we don't get back.  *sigh*  You win some you lose some I guess.  Other friends of ours stayed here once and loved the meal they ate there though, so I'm wondering if perhaps we had re-heated leftovers or something as we were the only people dining there that evening.
The view from our table.  The only redemptive aspect of our meal.

Well, exactly 99 pictures later and that was our ancient Rome day.  Although it was the hottest day of our trip and we were on our feet a lot it was still amazing and we had a great time.  Interestingly enough, I'm pretty sure that this specific day hosts my only real regrets from our vacation:  I can't believe I didn't take any video clips this day, I wish I had taken notes or recorded Rich Brunn's lectures to digest later, and oh how I wish we hadn't eaten that dinner at the hotel.  Even if it was free, that is a meal in Italy that I don't get to re-do.  However!  If those are my biggest regrets from our trip, I'd say we did pretty well!  We rested well that night and were ready to get up early the next morning for the last day of our trip!

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