Italy, Ancient Rome

After touring the St. Peter in Chains basilica, and a comfort stop at the nearby gelato shop, our tour group walked to “Ancient Rome”. Our local guide, Nicoletta, did a good job helping us negotiate the local crowds which included a 5k/10k run as part of a health festival. It seems on many weekends, the main street running through this area, “Via dei Fori Imperiali” is closed to traffic for a family friendly party. This weekend, in addition to the race, there were many areas set up to demonstrate various kinds of exercise. Our primary guide Elisabeth had previously instructed us in the two principle rules for drivers and pedestrians in Italy, namely:

  • Red lights and stop signs are optional, and,
  • The white stripes for intersections and cross walks are merely suggestions

Here in Rome we began to understand the third rule:

  • There are no rules for parking, park where you can

This rule makes life more interesting for tour bus drivers, and helps tourists get more exercise walking where the bus drivers can’t get to. Our walking tour went past the Colosseum, famous for its gladiator fights,

the triumphal Arch of Constantine, which was the latest in a series of such arches built to celebrate various military conquests, and also used as the finish line for the 1960 Olympic games,

and the Roman Forum, which was the center of Roman politics for centuries,

In this photo looking over some of the excavated ruins of the Forum, Debbie frames “Santi Luca e Martina“. In a city with over 1000 Roman Catholic churches, it is hard to look anywhere without seeing one which piques interest. Perhaps on a return visit we’ll tour more of them…

As we walked, Nicoletta explained some of the history of each area. Note the pink attention-getting “flag” for us to look for if we get separated. I wonder what tour guides are going to do when there are no more telescoping radio antennas in the world?

After the introductory walking tour of Ancient Rome, most of our group (remember, some were at the Canonization) walked back to the bus and headed to St. Peter’s square for the weekly Papal blessing. Since we had a Papal audience scheduled for later in the week, Teresa and I decided to sign up for a guided tour of the Colosseum. This photo shows the line for self-guided admissions:

There are dozens of people trying to sell guided tours with the promise of “no waiting in line for tickets”. Well, they are telling the truth. You don’t have to wait in line for tickets, they take care of that for you. Not the whole truth though, as you still wait for the tour to fill. The good news is you can sit or walk around as long as you stay near enough to join when the tour is ready, then you skip to the head of the ticket line and enter the Colosseum. There were 80 arched entrances to the original structure, and tickets (made of stone) were free for Roman citizens. Each entrance was numbered, as were the staircases inside. 76 of the entrances were used by common citizens, the northern entrance was reserved for the emperor and the east, south and west entrances were reserved for elite citizens. This photo is of entrance 52 (“LII”).

The pillars above all have interesting “spots”. There’s a story behind them. I learned that the construction methods used in the Colosseum included putting bronze pegs into holes in the stone so the stacked blocks didn’t shift. During the “dark ages”, many of the blocks were chisled at the joints to remove the valuable pegs to be melted down and used to make other metal tools and weapons. You can see the damage better in this picture:

There’s a definite benefit to taking the guided tour, the guides are well versed in the history of the Colosseum and paint a very colorful picture of life in the day, describing gladiator training and competitions, the tenor of the games, etc. There are a few vantage points such as the one below which show just how huge the space is.

There’s a section of “floor” on this end which has been rebuilt so you can walk out into the gaming area for the perspective of the gladiator. The original floor was wooden, and covered with sand. The brick and stone work provided many interesting patterns to attract my lens:

A small section of marble “bleachers” has been rebuilt to show how the five decks of seating would have looked. In its prime, the Colosseum seated 50,000 Romans. The marble from the Colosseum has mostly been “repurposed” in various churches, castles and mansions.

The 240 stone supports on the outside of the Colosseum, near the top, supported long wooden poles which extended through the 240 holes in the stone, one directly above each support. Ropes were used to support a large canvas “web” from the poles above the entire Colosseum to provide shade for the spectators.

From the upper deck on the south side of the Colosseum, there’s a nice view of the Arch of Constantine from above:

And, looking north, you can see where the emperor’s box has been replaced by an altar and cross for Catholic services. In fact, Pope Benedict celebrates the stations of the cross here on Good Friday.

After the Colosseum, our tour continued at the Forum…but we had a long walk back to the hotel so we skipped that. Maybe next time. As we walked past the Forum, we saw quite a few people dressed up as gladiators and soldiers hoping to get paid for a picture. Sorry to disappoint all of you…you weren’t very convincing in your costumes.

There were a few other buskers working the street who had much better costumes. This one didn’t appear to ever move.

And this one changed poses every time someone put a coin in his can.

We stopped for a snack of apples and almonds in a small park near the current main Roman government building

And across the street from the apartment and office used by Mussolini

And across the square were the nearly twin domes of Santa Maria di Loreto and Santissimo Nome di Maria al ForoTraiano.

My brain still hurts when I try to think about why the Romans might have thought there was a need for this many churches so close together. The current population of Rome is about 2.7 million…with over 1000 Roman Catholic churches, that leaves about 2700 citizens, on average, per church. Of course it appears that many more tourists than citizens use the churches.

On our 4 mile walk back to the hotel – did I mention the temperature was in the low 80s with high humidity? – we enjoyed many wonderful sights including a wedding party coming down the lengthy stairs from Santa Maria in Arecoelli which is kind of hidden behind the government building

Our walk took us past the “Commune di Roma/Ufficio Risanamento Borgate”, which in the Roman spirit of reuse has become a lovely historical facade for a row of apartments

When we passed San Nicola in Carcere, a fine example of a church that looks somewhat plain on the outside hiding a glorious inside,

we finally arrived at the Tiber river. A short walk along the river brought us to “Ponte Fabricio”, a walking bridge across the Tiber. This is the only original bridge left intact in Rome, connecting the city to the “Isola Tiberina” since antiquity.

On this bridge we first experienced the famous “locks of love” which couples lock to the bridges to signify the bonds of their relationship. Those who were confident were said to throw the keys into the river and those who hedged their bets kept a spare key 🙂

The word “Isola” gives us two words, “Island” and “Isolation”. This island houses a prison and a hospital, both of which needed to be isolated from the general population of Rome by the bridge. The island was feared as an evil place until a basilica dedicated to San Bartolomeo all’Isola was built.

A second bridge, “Ponte Cestio”, allowed us to cross to the other side of the Tiber river and continue the walk toward our hotel. In the picture below, you can see the Romans are trying hard to control the periodic flooding of the Tiber with high walls.

Along the way, we saw tourist boats and more locks, which you can see are left in some creative places!

With the heat and humidity, we were glad for the shade of the trees lining the river

Soon we came to the “Ponte Sisto”, one of the oldest bridges capable of supporting motorized traffic. Originally built in the 4th century AD, it was partially destroyed in 772 and rebuilt in its current form by Pope Sixtus IV between 1473 and 1479.

These engineering marvels are poignant contrasts to our throwaway society where it seems we have to rebuild our roads every 2-3 years and our bridges every 30 years or so. Across the street from the west end of this bridge is the ancient Acqua Paola fountain, no longer active since the destruction of the Aqua Traiana aqueduct – originally built in the 1st century AD – which provided its water.

Some of the lamp posts were quite decorative

but few of them can compare with the natural beauty all around

As we got near to the hotel, we got a nasty surprise!

The road we were following dead-ended here at this entrance to the children’s hospital and the adjacent medical college. The “roads” we saw on the map were service roads within the compound and we were not allowed through the gate to use them as the shortest path to our hotel. Oh well, back down the hill we go, and through the tunnel to the other side of this ridge. Then we’ll have enough time for a 20 minute nap and a quick shower before heading out to the St. Peter’s Basilica to sing for mass.

Since this entry is getting rather long, I’ll finish Sunday in the next segment. I hope you’re enjoying reading them as much as I am enjoying writing them. As always, feel free to ask questions and/or leave comments, and to share the links with others who may be interested.

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