This is a story back when I was doing study abroad in Paris, 2015. We took a weeklong trip to Italy, with our third stop being Rome and Vatican City. We stayed a few nights, touring, walking around for probably a marathon’s distance over that time, and checking out some watering holes. Two of the folks on the trip, Matthew and Nick, are Italian-Americans so we had the joys of experiencing it through their lens, as well. This bit’s somewhat lengthy so I divvied it up into five parts; three in Rome itself and two in Vatican City. Again, it’s always fun to note what you thought was important to note, back when. Old writings can be commented upon on their own merit, even separately from the topic at hand. In any case, enjoy!
We had checked the weather the day before and knew that it was going to be gorgeous this day (Monday) and colder and cloudy the next (Tuesday) so we did the Coliseum and Roman forum, and outdoor stuff in 65 degree weather which was heaven sent. We headed out from the hostel and our first stop was Santa Maria Maggiore, a church owned by the Holy See (i.e. the Vatican) but located within Rome.
As seems to be a theme, the exterior was certainly beautiful but nothing in comparison to the inside. Something I’ve seen a bunch in Roman churches are a series of confessionals lining the sides of the nave with multilingual priests, so you can confess in English, Italian, Spanish, German, French, etc. The church had all these domed, high ceiling rooms shooting off the side, with the polychrome marble from a bunch of the other Italian churches I’ve seen and in Versailles. The number of drop-dead gorgeous churches in Rome is incredible.
We continued on to the Coliseum and the Roman Forum, which was essentially the center of public life, as well as housing several government buildings. It also had the Palatine Hill, which is one of the legendary Seven Hills of Rome where Romulus founded Rome, and the whole area just emits this aura of history and myth.
The first thing I noticed was a large arch, called the Arch of Constantine erected after his military success. It looks an awful lot like the Arc du Triomphe, and surely Napoleon looked the way of Italy for inspiration on its design. There’s an hours-long line and tickets for the Coliseum, there’s a short ten minute-line and tickets for the Roman Forum, and there’s a dual ticket (Park-Hopper!?) that you can get anywhere. So while people wait the whole afternoon for the Coliseum, we just hopped in one line, got the dual ticket, skipped the entire Coliseum line, and saw both parts before some probably even purchased their first ticket. Pays to do research, and we duly headed into the namesake of the premier arena at the Eastern States Exposition of Springfield, Mass.
Big. Old. Awesome. (That’s about as good as this Yank can do.) It’s bigger than many modern stadiums. It’s absolutely ruined, even though you can obviously tell where people sat, performed, etc. People think that Rome was ruined from outsiders, but much of the destruction was from the Romans themselves who would take raw materials from monuments such as the Coliseum for their own use. It was ransacked by locals looking to make a quick buck.
It’s also interesting that there is absolutely no ground floor, and you can see straight to the basement, where they’d prepare trap doors with soldiers and beasts, and such. After they built this structure however and there wasn’t proper waterproofing for the basement levels, naval battles became a thing of the past. (That past’s past, if you will.) There were also little museum sections showing remnants of pieces used as crude betting devices or even tickets. Sporting culture hasn’t really changed much I guess.
We left there, and moved on to the Roman Forum, which truthfully I think Chris would’ve enjoyed more than I since I didn’t know many of the ruins. I tried to research everything beforehand to know what was going on, but really there’s just so many buildings and ruins in the area it’s impossible to get a grasp of the totality and gravity of the area.
One of the first things I noticed was that there appears still to be so much restoration and repair going on. Many of the structures were closed off, or tarped over, or had scaffolding. To keep it somewhat brief, there was a slew of temples and churches down below, and walking up the Palatine Hill, you could see out over much of Rome (hence its fame) and there was even more up there, including the supposed homes of Romulus and Augustus. The final sight were the remains of the main aqueduct for the hill. It was really overwhelming and we spent upwards of two hours in that park. (Okay Kevin may have added another 15 minutes climbing a large tree while travel agents walked by, intrigued.)
As the sun began to set and the park began to close, we headed out, and Nick really wanted to check out this fountain his family told him about, Trevi Fountain. It was a stunning piece of art, but unfortunately it was overrun by touristy shops, people selling nonsense, and the fountain itself was temporary not working, so that meant no water. A little dejected we decided to find the highest point we could find and watch the sunset, again Assassin’s Creed style. We got a couple of Peronis, headed to the massive staircase on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and watched the sun set on another great day, warm inside and out.
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