Exploring Ancient Rome

Today we toured a number of the major sites of ancient Rome. We began at 930 with a 3 hour guided tour of the Colosseum including entering the floor of the arena by special ticket, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill where the Emperors built their palaces. Tours are so much better these days. We’d picked a small group (16) tour and it came equipped with these whisper headsets which makes you feel as though the tourguide is speaking at normal pitch directly into your ear. Excellent.

The weather today was just amazing – 22C and totally sunny and hot. Much hotter than expected. I worry we have not brought hot weather clothes by and large….. It wasn’t forecast to be as hot as this. We were definitely a bit too hot at times today.

Our tour started in the Roman Forum and it was still very quiet at 0930.. Nice. We moved quite quickly around the major buildings in there – tomorrow we are coming back on our own for a more leisurely stroll and to enter the “super sites”, the special buildings that you need a special ticket to go in. The tour guide was really good, very knowledgeable. It always amazes me that so much survives despite or because some of the temples had churches built inside them….. We had a good close up study of the Arch of Titus which depicts the Sack of Jerusalem and the looting of the Temple, including the removal of the Menorah. He and his father Vespasian held a huge triumph where the legions marched through the Forum bearing the looted treasure.

From there we walked up the Via Sacra to the Palatine Hill to explore the Palace of Domitian sited up there. Of course it is in ruins like all of the buildings but you do get a good impression of the utterly huge size of the buildings, stretching right across the top of the hill, with incredible views down into the Forum on one side and the Circus Maximus on the other. The views were fabulous today. We could see the re-enactors setting up in the Circus for all the birthday celebrations over the next few days. Today is Rome’s 2776 birthday!!!!!

Finally we walked back down the Via Sacra and exited the Forum area to visit the Colosseum, or the Flavian Amphitheatre as it was known when it was built in 80AD. You cannot fail but be impressed by the Colosseum. It is so huge, so impressive in every way. Consider that it seated as many people as the hugest of modern football stadiums and the ticketing, doors, stairways, gates were organised so that it could be emptied in around 15 minutes. Try that at Wembley!!! It only took 8 years to build as well….

In the early years of the stadium there was a lake near it and at that point the arena could be flooded to provide naval battles but later this was changed and the underfloor area created which is visible today. This is a warren of corridors and rooms with a large number of lifts and lifting ramps. These were used to raise gladiators, animals, scenery. Roman audiences expected realistic recreations of scenery. The floor of the arena was wood covered in sand. Now, they have put a floor down over one part of the arena area and now you can have the very special experience of standing on the floor of the Colosseum and looking up at the seating terraces, just like the gladiators would have done. You even enter the floor via the same arch as they would often do. We also went up onto the second level and walked a circuit looking down at the arena…. Just a great tour and we enjoyed it very much. We’ve both been a lot of times before but this was special and anyway it’s always good to get an update from a docent and re-ground yourself in the information

By the time we left the Colosseum, it was really hot and getting busy. Our next appointment was at 1430 in the Piazza Navona, about 1.2 miles away. We decided to walk there and find a place to eat in the little streets nearby, rather than eat near the Colosseum and risk locking up with tiredness!!!!! It’s a nice walk between the Roman Forums and the Imperial Forums, around the Piazza Venezia and the great “Wedding Cake Building” on top. We branched off into the side streets from here heading in the vague direction of the Piazza Navona looking for a lunch spot.

Struck lucky at the Enoteca Corsi…. https://www.enotecacorsi.com/ and had the most delicious lunch. I had beef carpaccio with rocket salad. Lucy had roast veal with roasted potatoes and we shared a side of artichoke Roman style. All gorgeous and not expensive. It was rammed and full of the happy chatter of Italians eating… Lucy finished with a fab tiramisu and we both had coffee and a glass of wine. It was a great rest too….. backs were aching from all that standing.

It’s great to just take a while and wander the small backstreets of the central historical district. Look up, look at the walls around you closely and it’s amazing what you will see: old Roman marble columns set into walls of medieval buildings just built around them; beautiful frescoes high on buildings in a tribute to God or Gods; curved end walls of buildings….. is that the end of an old theatre? (yes, in the case of the Piazza dei Fiori, it’s the Theatre of Pompey); is that long narrow piazza really something else?

We wandered on through the little streets to the Piazza Navona, the heart of baroque Rome. A long long square, straight at one end and rounded at the other and dominated by 3 fantastic fountains. The secret of the Piazza Navona is that it was built over the Circus of Domitian and it more or less mirrors the shape. Once you know, you can’t miss it. The curved end has been somewhat excavated and you can go down 5m under the square into the museum area and explore. It is mindblowing to realise that these ruins actually still stretch underground beneath the piazza but have not been disturbed. He built the Circus to be more of an athletics and arts arena than the Circus Maximus or the Colosseum. All manner of races and track events were staged here, the runners running naked as per the the Greeks. No women allowed of course.

We took audio guides and spent a happy 90 minutes wandering around the incredible excavation and the very interesting displays from the museum. It was really good. Well worth a visit.

After that we walked on to the Pantheon. WOW. So this was where all the crowds were! The whole square was a total madhouse with the line for entry to the Pantheon snaking back around the square. Couldn’t face it to be honest much as we love it. We have had the luxury of going in there when you can walk right in and almost be alone. Such is the delight of visiting Rome in late November, first three weeks of December….. Maybe we’ll try and catch it at a quieter time while we’re here. Today was especially busy because the 21st June is a special day there. The building was oriented exactly so that at 12 midday on the 21st (Rome’s birthday) the sunlight from the oculus in the domed roof would exactly illuminate the doorway into the temple. The Emperor would enter at this time and pause in the doorway to be illuminated in a brilliant halo effect by the sun….. it was apparently a spectacular sight and draws people to the temple and the square to this day.

Limped back to the flat for a couple of hours rest before venturing out for dinner. And I found I had made a bit of a mistake. I have a new laptop and it doesnt have a Usb port, just Thunderbolt ports. I forgot to bring a new connector that connects my Sony camera to the laptop……. So I wrestled for a while with trying to do it wirelessly or with NFD but it seemed a bit complicated to me….. so….. I shall just upload my camera phone pictures (not the majority of those I took today) until I get home and can upload my camera photos…. come back next week and see them if you are interested…..

Tonight we walked a short distance up our street to Hostaria Del Broschetto. To be honest not the best meal we’ve had so far despite great online reviews. First it was lovely to sit outside – that’s how warm it is. We both ordered a pasta dish for our meal. I had fettucini in a morel mushroom and truffle sauce. Lu ordered carbonara. We had a bottle of water and a litre jug of house red. The pasta came out and it was stone cold. We had to send it back. wow. It came back and it was good. Very flavourful. The jug was amazing by the way!!!!! Then we shared a plate of grilled beef and a side of artichoke Roman style. The beef was good. The artichoke was nowhere near as good as the lunchtime one….. we finished with espresso… Total bill was 77 euro . Not too bad for 2 but wouldn’t go back there in comparison with other restaurants.