The Legions March for Roma Aeterna

Well,.. what an exciting day for our last day in Rome…. this time…. it’s always, this time, at least I hope so….

We got a bit of light breakfast near to our apartment and then had a slow walk around the streets surrounding the Colosseum and then up the Caelian Hill just beyond it. Very hot again today. My feet were hurting so we called in at a pharmacy and picked up some gel compeed plasters. They made an enormous difference to my heels.

At the top of the hill we ventured into a lovely park and enjoyed wandering around that. Someone was playing the bagpipes (bizarrely) and there was a little children’s party going on in the open air. We admired a tai chi class and a tiny white marble gothic chapel. At midday we headed slightly downhill to the beautiful church of Sts. Paul and John. Not the disciples but a pair of Christian soldier brothers who were martyred under Julian the Apostate in 362 AD. The church was built over their burial site in 398 AD and had a tower and a monastery added to it in the 11th Century. We ventured in – it was beautiful with fantastic marbled floors and walls. Guess where the marble came from!!!! A luxurious villa built under the church.

Our main reason for visiting here was to tour the Houses of the Caelio, a pair of Roman houses – insulae – dating back to the period between the 1st and 4th centuries Ad. Originally 2 insulae – apartment blocks, with shops underneath, these two buildings had been merged into a large single domus somewhat later which included a private bathhouse. Later still the church was built over the domus and the rooms – some 20 or so were preserved below……. So far…. so Roman.

Then in the late 1800s, the Rector of the Church was searching for the graves of the two saints and he investigated the area under the altar, burrowing down through holes in the earth, through a Christian grave site and discovering the many rooms of the Roman House. And apparently the graves of the saints. The rooms were richly decorated and painted although hilariously the investigating clerics were so embarrassed by the naked body parts on display in some of the decorations, that they covered them up.

We toured the rooms under the church armed with the rather ponderous audio guide. Some of the rooms were beautiful decorated with floral and wildlife themes, the colours vivid and bright. We saw the baths, the nymphaeum which was decorated with a fresco of Prosperpine. Nearby was a confessio, an unglazed window believed to be placed to allow visitors to view the remains of the two saints. There was a nice museum showcasing statuary and amphorae found in the house and lots of other domestic items and jewellery. What is amazing to me is that at one point we were actually walking along a genuine Roman paved road, down beneath the surface of the Earth, surrounded by walls and buildings way over our heads…… just still there….. I find it extraordinary.

We emerged back into the sun and 21st Century at about 1230 and wended down the hill to the road leading from the Colosseum to the Circus Maximus. There was quite a comotion and we realised we had perfectly timed our arrival for the return of the great birthday procession which had circled out and around the ancient centre of Rome. The procession consisted of perhaps 3000 re-enactors immaculately costumed and depicting many occupations and classes of ancient Rome. Of course there were the Legions, armour clad, in formation. There were senators, lictors, high born ladies, less high born ladies, barbarian hordes in their furs and trousers…. It went on for ages and was huge fun and very impressive. Drums were drummed, horns were sounded, including that big round horn, the legions played.

We followed the tail of the procession back to the Circus Maximus and walked along the length of the great arena as they regrouped in there. Then we walked along the banks of the Tiber into the Jewish Ghetto area to find a place for lunch. It was absolutely rammed down there. Not a table to be had. We walked on and found a very old fashioned restaurant which could offer us a peaceful lunch table. We shared a plattter of Roman fried hors d’oevres: 2 battered courgette flowers stuffed with cheese and anchovies, 1 rice ball stuffed with cheese, 1 potato croquette, 2 mozzarella fried balls, 1 globe artichoke head fried Roman style. Very nice. And we shared another plate of starters: these a mix of battered and fried artichoke, sweetbreads and lambs brain…. yes…. yes…. I know!!!! We washed it all down with a lovely cold bottle of Lilium white wine and some water. Delicious.

After our late lunch we walked back to gether to the Piazza Venetia. My feet were hurting a bit but also I think I have an infection on the left side of my jaw. My gum has been infected for a few days and I hoped I was beating it but no….. I decided to get a cab back to the apartment and start some antibiotics that I’d brought with me “just in case”. Lucy was walking back doing some shopping on the way.

Had a nice restful couple of hours and I hope my gum clears up without further problems. This has been caused by my 3 monthly visit to the hygenist….. it always leaves me with some problem….

Tonight we had an excellent last dinner at a restaurant quite nearby – Iari The Vino. Everywhere was packed out tonight again – so many people here, not foreigners in the majority, at least where we are eating. And it’s a bit weird because you can’t make reservations at a lot of places. Anyway…. we had a short list all in the vicinity and we managed to squeeze into a table for 2 in this one. Had a lovely meal – outside – in a little square…… Started with a board of charcuterie and cheese to share, then both had carbonara with proper pork cheek and it was all divine. Washed it down with water, a coke (not for me) and a litre of house wine in a jug (I LOVE these jugs). It was under £60 for the two of us which I thought was very good for the centre of Rome.

Walked back arm in arm, reflecting on what a wonderful time we’ve had and how we don’t want it to be the last time…. I just need to wear thicker socks next time…..

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