I have always wanted to see ancient Rome, and though time traveling is not currently an option, today I wander through the ruins of it, starting with the double amphitheater known as The Colosseum. I shall avoid describing it as… colossal… but it is big, and a lot of the original is still standing despite the years of earthquakes and of locals using it as a “quarry” for gathering stone to build other (also now famous) buildings. Though there is no longer a floor and we can see directly into the basement, they used to hold all sorts of interesting shows here, from naval battles when they flood it, to hunts when they fill it with trees and pop dangerous predators up onto the field through trap doors, to, of course, the many popular forms of government-sanctioned murder entertainment. When someone asks if I would rather be a gladiator or someone watching the thousands of killings that would happen in a day here, I respond I’d rather be one of the engineers building the ingenious devices they used to spawn lions, tigers, and, yes, bears, onto the field.
From the Colosseum, I get a view of the Arch of Constantine and the remaining half-niche of Temple of Venus and Rome. Apparently two giant statues of Venus and Rome stood in the space that can still be seen here, and the circling inscription read, palindromically, “AMORA ROMA”.
From the Colosseum, I make my way through the Arch of Titus to enter the Roman Forum. The Arch of Titus was built by Jewish slaves as a monument celebrating the conquering and looting of Jerusalem by the Romans. You can see Romans carrying away a menorah in the carving. Romans generally assimilated other cultures pretty well when they conquered them, as long as the culture was willing to add the Roman Emperor to the pantheon of gods they worshiped, but the monotheistic religions didn’t take well to that and were particular thorns in the Romans sides until Constantine converted to Christianity in the 3rd or 4th century. In the following decades, it went from where you could be killed for being a Christian in Rome to you could be killed for not being a Christian.
Inside the Roman Forum are lots of ruins of buildings spanning a millennium or two. Of particular interest are the three smaller side niches of what was once the enormous Basilica. This is The Basilica, from which the name comes and from which the architectural design of basilicas in general come from. Confusingly “basilica” can both mean “building/church built in this style” and also “church with the special designation of ‘basilica’ from the Vatican”, though usually it’s both.
I take a short stroll through the ruins of the home of the Vestal Virgins, the daughters of aristocrats who were dedicated for 30 years to the care of the temple of Vesta, in exchange for some pretty nice digs, special box seats at the Colosseum, and a hefty dowry if they manage to complete their time of service. Their home has a nice garden and pools, which were secluded from the busy streets of the Forum by walls, long since destroyed by time and people.
It’s interesting thinking on the scope of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire survived for 1000 years (something like 200 years rising, 500 years at it’s strength, and 300 years declining). In that time, the millions of citizens had access to food, water, and relative peace. They were an enlightened people – they were educated, and advancements were constantly made in science, agriculture, art, philosophy, and theology. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the western world plunged into the “dark ages” for another 1000 years – people were plagued by, well, plagues, famine, poverty, wars, and ruled by superstition. Virtually no advancements were being made in any field, and people were not particularly well off for a very long time. Then came the Renaissance, as I will see where it started in Florence in a few days, and the western world starts making progress again. But that’s recent history, only about 500 years ago. The entire existence of the modern western world has only been half of the time the Roman Empire lasted. Let’s hope we last as long!
I stroll up onto Palantine Hill, the hill where the rich used to have their homes overlooking the Forum, and is where our word “palace” comes from. Fewer ruins here, but some nice gardens, some places to sit in the shade, and great views.
On my way to find some lunch, I spot a road sign for the Serpent Road, which I’m pretty convinced would get me to Mysidia if I took it from here. For lunch, I search Google for “best lasagna in Rome” which brings me to some TripAdvisor reviews. I go to the first one, and get there to find they’re not open for lunch until 12:30. Sigh. I head to number 2, and successfully acquire lasagna there, however it’s rather mediocre – noodles a little too firm, and severely lacking in sufficient cheese. I no longer trust the opinions of people on the internet in regards to lasagna. The meal is rescued by the “tiramisu with fruit” dessert though.