I have been dreaming of Rome since I was a young’un, and here I am at last in the Eternal City walking in the footsteps of patricians and plebs, Caesars and gladiators, Popes and poisoners, history jumping out at me everywhere. Could it get any better? Today has been incredible despite showery rain, I spent my first day here amongst the ruins and relics of Imperial Rome and what a day it has been!
Decided last night to attempt a chronological visit, ancient Rome first, then moving on through the centuries. So mission number one was the (alleged) hut of Romulus, up on the Palatine Hill… can’t get much further back than that. Walking towards the Palatine though, I found myself at the Colosseum, having passed the Forum ruins, and started there instead – I make the rules so I can break them too. You know you are in Rome when you see this massive edifice towering above you, and the crowds, not huge but present, actually added to the ambience – a shuffling mass of people queuing to get in, and certainly not 50,000 of them which would have been a full house back in the day. Probably smelt better too, the lady in front of me definitely had Chanel wafting from every pore.
To be honest, it was not as impressive as I had imagined until I half closed my eyes and imagined a crowd of Romans baying for blood, there’s only one small section left of the marble seating, but I squinted through the rain, and populated it with ordinary folk in tunics and sandals scoffing Roman snack foods (ancient chicken bones, clam shells, and peach kernels were on display in an exhibit so that helped), playing dice and gambling (also from the exhibition!), and watching the performances in the arena – points of interest ; it wasn’t a venue for chucking Christians to the lions, and gladiators didn’t die all that often, they were more like todays star footballers, highly valued by their managers and fans. Lot’s of animals got butchered though, and criminals and barbarian captives were frequently flung in there to be torn to bits by feisty carnivores (or gladiators).
It also served as a fortress for the Frangipane family in medieval Rome, seeing signs everywhere forbidding you to climb on the ruins I couldn’t help envying the little Frangipane children who must have had a ball growing up there! Wonder if they are the name behind frangipani tree’s? or frangipane tart’s?
One lovely encounter – an Italian birthday party, with not cake but bread baked into the letters J U L I A (how Roman was that!) and lit with candles – and a crowd of children singing Happy Birthday. Very sweet.
Your ticket into the Colosseum also entitles you to entry into the Palatine complex and the Fora, so off I strode, once again on the hunt for the alleged hut of Romulus. Noticed some striking graffiti exiting the Colosseum, names and dates, reminded me of telling the kids never to put their name if they simply HAD to write on something they shouldn’t!
Past the Arch of Constantine, and uphill onto prime Ancient Roman real estate – the Palatine Hill. Here’s the birthplace of Rome, the settlement founded by Romulus (and Remus until Romulus bumped him off), and the home of lots of Emperor’s from Augustus on. Have to say, they could provide better signage, but with the help of my trusty Lonely Planet guide to Rome – thanks sister Helen for an excellent Christmas present – I found my way around, past ruins and gardens, to the house of Augustus and next door, his wife Livia’s place. Augustus built his house right next to the Hut of Romulus, but I have to say I’m not entirely sure which bit was which except this….
Which is Augustus’ place – Livia’s is in much better nick and therefore sealed off behind murky glass windows! The ceiling was pretty too in Augustus’ place….
Some spectacular views from the top of the hill, especially from Tiberius’ house (closed for renovations sadly as it was huge and definitely in the best spot on the hill, unsurprisingly if you have read about Tiberius), and excitingly, a tunnel in which Caligula was reputedly stabbed to death.
Made my way down to the Forum from here. A mess basically, pretty much everything has been hacked at in some way, either carted off for building something else, or general decay. There was a really interesting bit of poetry on display which I wish I had photographed, a poem about how even mighty Rome could not stand against time, it was lovely and now I can’t even remember the author… might have to go back to that one. Really felt the presence of history in here though, particularly as I was listening to more of Mike Duncan’s excellent podcast on the History of Rome as I wandered through. Can’t recommend that highly enough if it’s your cup of tea, available on iTunes. Thank you to Stankus Aurelius Griplicanus for putting me on to that one.
The Forum was in a valley – it’s all uphill again from here to the Capitoline Hill. Number Two of the seven hills of Rome… and I aim to climb them all. Impressive perspective of the area from the STEPS! Those of you who read my posts on America will remember how impressed I was with their ability to build a road anywhere they wanted – here in Rome it’s steps that are getting my attention thus far, they are not afraid of a decent sized flight, and very decorative some of them are too. Compensation for pasta, pizza, and vino rosso perhaps? I’ll continue to gird my loins and tackle them on those grounds alone
Major compensation comes in the form of the view, here, back down over the remains of the Temple of Saturn, once an Imperial treasury and a thriving market as well as a temple to a deity. Nothing if not practical, the Romans.
Reaching the top, I punish myself further by climbing another set of steps before going into the Piazza del Campidoglio, and at the top I find the Chiesa di Santa Maria in Aracoeli… oh my! This is my second taster of the Baroque magnificence to come (yes, I already broke my rule about seeing Rome in chronological order because remember, I’m allowed to, and dived into Santa Maria Nova en route to the Colosseum, it was glorious) but this one is even more wonderful, there is a very sensible warning at the entrance to not trip over the tombs in the floor, and adornment everywhere possible, I guess I am building up to St Peters and the Vatican later in my visit, and I am ready to be overwhelmed. This is magical though, and completely unexpected. I’m loving the tombs in the floor and completely understanding the warning. The danger is that you are looking up and around all the time, NOT where your feet are.
I light a taper for Mum and Dad – not Catholic, but I do this in every church or cathedral I visit and say a little prayer for them, wander around ooh-ing and aah-ing, then wow-ing when I find a happy fat Pope! Leo, he looks a cheery soul, and not at all ascetic, bless him!
Exiting the church, down an extremely decorative flight of steps, rain getting heavier… excellent, I’m at the Capitoline Museum in the Piazza Del Campoglioni, custom designed by Michelangelo, and stunningly lovely even on a grey and miserable day. Now this is what I call a museum, it is so well worth a visit if in Rome, and I spend a happy couple of hours out of the rain meandering through galleries of medieval art, statuary, more statuary, spectacular rooms, tunnels, more statues ; suffice it to say, brilliant. Outside the City Hall part I find this Roman checking his smartphone… unfortunately I cannot take credit for that call, my dear friend Sarah posted a photo of him last UK summer, but I now see exactly what she meant!
Now in case you were wondering, I did stop for refreshment between the Colosseum and the Palatine – a delicious panini from a stall – but now, coffee is all that I can think of. I failed miserably at finding the alleged coffee shop in the museum, so head down (breathe sigh of relief) a flight of steps, and there is heaven in the form of Bar Brasil on the Piazza San Marco. Two cappuccino’s later and all I can do is wonder why there are heavily armed police swarming all over the place… the waiter has enough English to tell me it is because there is a demonstration, but not why or when, so I just kind of hang around as there really are a lot of them, and a helicopter circling overhead… and here it comes! Not sure what they were demonstrating for, but with flares, a band, and flags, a seething mass of people come into the Piazza – the one phrase I get is “Romano Libere”! (Free Roman’s!) Bet this kind of shit happened in Ancient Rome too!
Dinner now. Hot bath later. Legs need immediate resuscitation preparatory to Baroque Rome tomorrow. I love this place!
Boring but potentially helpful details….
I chose to pay a little more to stay in a very central location, metres from the Trevi Fountain. (Boutique Hotel Trevi). Room small but exquisitely clean, with tiny spa bath, and a balcony, yes it overlooks a courtyard and there is a distinctly fishy smell tonight from a restaurant, but the location outweighs minor things like that). Conveniently, there is a bottle shop (Aussies) /off license (Brits) directly across the street with an extremely helpful guy in it! Once again I have used orbitz.com for flights and accommodation, once again they have done the job perfectly. I love walking through cities, and from here can reach almost everywhere I plan to visit in Rome on foot, which allows me to get lost occasionally.
Extra photo’s coming later because God knows I took a few……..