Veni, vidi, vici

Trip Start Oct 20, 2012
Trip End Nov 02, 2012

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Flag of Italy  , Lazio,
Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ask someone what image comes to mind when Rome is mentioned, and nine times out of ten they'll say the Colosseum. I fall into this group. To me, the Rome I came to see is Ancient Rome (or what's left of it), and our third day in Rome was the day I had been looking forward to for months:  Roma Antica.

I would like to shake the hand of the person who planned the exit of the Colosseo metro stop because walking up those steps and stepping out onto the sidewalk is a moment I will never forget. Before we could even get our bearings straight, we looked up and were (figuratively, of course) punched in the face by the sight of the towering Colosseo. It was staggering. And real!

    For anyone considering a visit to Rome, I would recommend following some advice we picked up from Lonely Planet:  do not buy tickets at the Colosseo. Stroll down the Via Triumphalis, past the Colosseo and the Arco di Constantino (taking plenty of photos, of course) to the entrance of the Palatine Hill Archaeological Area. No lines, no waiting, and the ticket you purchase here is the same you would have stood ages in line to get up the street--an entrance ticket not just for the Colosseum, but also Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. The people queuing at theColosseo? Suckers.  

Palatine Hillil Palatino, is one of the seven hills of Rome, and in addition to once being called home by some of the most powerful people of antiquity, it is also the rumored location of the cave in which the mythological founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were found by the she-wolf. The modern word 'palace' derives from Palatine, and a stroll through the ruins here offers a glimpse of what once must have been a jaw-dropping spectacle:  the imperial palace complex. Various emperors added on their own touches--always expanding, always building. From gardens to baths to amazing vistas and immense courtyards, this place must have been something to behold. Visitors can set their own pace going through the ruins, but there are two 'can't miss' sights here:  the view of Roma and the Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus) from the southern end of the palace complex, and the Stadio (Hippodrome of Domitian).  

Il Palatino and its ruins sit above the Circo Massimo on one side and the Foro Romano (Roman Forum) on the other. It was a little difficult for us to tell where the Palatine area ended and the Forum began, but the downward slope and the arrival at the Arco di Tito (Arch of Titus) was a good indicator. On a side note, the Arco di Tito has an interesting history. It was erected to celebrate Titus' victorious siege of Jerusalem in AD 70, among other things, and when a 16th century pope made it the site of an annual oath of submission, Roman Jews steadfastly refused to walk under it.  
The Foro Romano sprawls westward from the Arco di Tito towards Capitoline Hill. Truth be told, we had some difficulties figuring out just what we were looking at most of the time, having only a hastily snapped photo of a map on our phone as a guide. But even in our ignorance, the ruins of the legendary Roman Forum were still incredible, and we couldn't help but be awed just to stand in what was once the heart of the Roman Empire and, essentially, the world. This is the place where Marc Antony gave his funeral oration for the assassinated Julius Caesar. This was the seat of Roman life, religion, and government, the place where victorious emperors and armies marched. The history is humbling. In the same vein, what's one of coolest things to do at theForo Romano? Watch an archaeological excavation in progress. In a city notorious for building on top of older buildings, an archaeologist's work is never done. There is always something else waiting to be unearthed!

Perhaps my favorite section of the Forum was entering the Vestal Virgin complex, the Atrium Vestae. In antiquity, it was a three-story, fifty-room palace at the base of the Palatine Hill housing the sacred Vestal Virgins who were charged with tending the sacred fire of Rome. Stepping into the courtyard was like stepping into a different world. The courtyard is lined on both sides with statues in varying stages of wholeness of famous Vestals. As you walk, you catch the scent of the roses scattered throughout; you watch the brightly colored butterflies flitting from one flower to another, heedless of the visitors strolling in their courtyard; you find that the noise of the surrounding area is almost unnoticeable, thanks to the shrubbery and greenery. In a place like this, it is all too easy to conjure up images of how grand this place once was, and I highly encourage any visitors to the Forum to do just that.

With more than half the day spent wandering il Palatino and the Foro Romano, we headed west (and up) to the area known as Il Campidoglio atop Capitoline Hill in search of more antiquity and, more importantly, food. Again, I tip my hat to Lonely Planet for leading us to seek out the cafe atop the Musei Capitolini, or the Capitoline Museums, which are actually a small group of museums surrounding Michelangelo's trapezoidal piazza. The museums are housed in former palazzi, or palaces, so the layout isn't exactly user friendly. We walked in circles, passing the same statues and guards repeatedly, until we finally found our way to the cafe near the top. The food was a god-send for our weary bodies, but the view did just as much if not more to revive us. What an incredible place!  

Back inside, we took some time to explore the collection of Roman antiquities on display. There's a fascinating coin and medal collection on the third floor, a cool bust of Sappho on the second floor, partial ruins of the ancient Temple of Capitoline Jupiter in the new wing, and more statues in this place than one can possibly count. The real draws for us, though, were Bernini's Head of Medusa and the infamous bronze Capitoline She-Wolf. To grow up seeing something in a text book and then walking into a modest-sized room at a museum and seeing it standing there before's just unreal. We literally stood in front of these saying, "I can't believe we're actually looking at this." On the ground floor, the new wing of the museum houses the 1800 year-old bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius (the one in the center of the piazza outside is a copy) along with the remains of the bronze Colossus of Constantine. These two pieces actually face each other, and when you're me, they kind of look like they're waving at each other from across the room.  

On a side note, we tracked down a bathroom before leaving the museum, and it was a weird experience, to say the least. I am never a fan of bathroom attendants, but there was a woman in this one...well...I think she might have been a little off her rocker. We were never really even sure she actually worked for the museum. Not the most pleasant thought when you're in a vulnerable position!

By this time, we were exhausted, and the blisters on our feet had grown blisters of their own, so we found our way out to the piazza, waved farewell to Marcus Aurelius, Castor, and Pollux atop their concrete perches, and made our way up the Via dei Fori Imperiali towards the Colosseo.  

The exterior of the Colosseo was beautiful in the late afternoon light. The interior...well...let's just say it hasn't held up quite as well to time. Some of the architectural elements are still very neat, and there are columns just laying about in most of the alcoves. The enormity of the Colosseum is something one had to see in order to believe. Emerging from a shadowy alcove into the late afternoon sunlight and having to lean my head back and turn a lazy circle to take in the scope of this place is something I won't soon forget. But even late in the day it was still fairly crowded, which, when combined with our worsening exhaustion and screaming feet, led us to head back up to the metro stop and bid Ancient Rome farewell.  

Veni, vidi, vici. We came, we saw, we conquered. And then we went back to the hotel to sleep it off.     

Lessons learned today:
  • Bathroom attendants are still creepy. 
  • I have a compulsion to pose with museum statuary.
  • If Rome can get this hot in October, August must be pure hell.
  • Capitoline Hill has been inhabited since the 17th century BCE. That's mind blowing.
  • Thanks a lot, Assassin's Creed. I'm walking all over Rome looking at historical landmarks, and inevitably my first thought it, "I climbed that."
  • The downside of learning how to ask for directions in Italian:  the answer is given in rapid Italian and is therefore rendered useless. 
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