After warm Egypt, coming out of the airport in Rome was a cold shock. But we dug to the bottom of our backpacks for all of our warmer clothes and set off to see the sights. We thought that six full days would be plenty but little did we know how jam packed our days would be.
Rome’s history spans more than two and a half thousand years and is one of the oldest continuously occupied sites in Europe. The city has been the capital of many empires and after the fall of the Western Empire it came under the control of the Pope. As a result there are layers on layers of history in Rome. Ancient ruins are located next to modern buildings and as areas are dug out, more ruins are discovered. Its historic centre is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site with monuments and museums such as the Vatican Museums and the Colosseum.
Our room was across the intersection from the Lateran Basilica. What a beautiful view to wake up to each morning. Built in 314 A.D., The cathedral was originally dedicated to the Savior, but in 909 A.D., the Pope decided to dedicate it to St. John the Baptist. We saw it on our first day of sightseeing and were amazed by its grandeur. We soon discovered that it was small by comparison to what was to come.
Day two was all about the Vatican with the Vatican museum, Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter’s Basilica. We walked our feet off in the museum where they apologetically explained that some of the artifacts were copies of the Greek originals. Ironically, the Greek originals were from B.C. and the “newer” copies were from the first century A.D. Popes through the ages have been avid collectors of paintings, tapestry, murals and statues.
We spent the next few days viewing architecture and visiting various museums and there are a lot. Beginning with the Renaissance, almost all the popes spent four hundred years aimed at making the city the world’s artistic and cultural centre. Famous artists, painters, sculptors and architects made Rome the centre of their activity, creating masterpieces throughout the city. We wandered down a narrow one lane alley-street and were awed when it opened up and there was the Trevi Fountain. This foot belonged to a statue of Caesar that was found in an archaeological dig. The museum also has his head and a hand.
The grand finale on our last day was a tour through ancient Rome at the Colosseum and Forum. The Colosseum opened in 80 A.D. with 100 days of games. The Colosseum had seating for more than 50,000 cheering spectators, who were arranged according to social ranking with the senators seated on a platform near the action and seating for poorer people up the steep stairs. Romans watched gladiatorial combats, hunts, wild animal fights and larger combats such as mock naval engagements (for which the arena was flooded with water) put on at great expense. Gladiators were generally slaves, condemned criminals or prisoners of war and they fought to the death. There were four hundred years of active use and then the magnificent arena fell into neglect, and up until the 18th century it was scavenged for building materials. Beginning in the 18th century, however, various popes sought to conserve the arena as a sacred Christian site. Today much of the arena has been excavated and restored.
The Roman Forum is a rectangular area surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. It was for centuries the center of Roman public life: the site of processions and elections; the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and the center of commercial affairs. Located in the small valley between the Colosseum and Capitoline museum, the Forum is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and archaeological excavations. Many of the oldest and most important structures of the ancient city were located on or near the Forum.
Rome is a beautiful city with outdoor cafes (people sit bundled in hats, hoods and gloves to enjoy a cup of coffee or glass of wine), shops, museums, art galleries and of course ruins. Lest you think our week was wall to wall touring, we also enjoyed afternoon wine and antipasto (which usually led to a nap) and other Italian taste treats. People often ask us which is our favorite city and we agree that Rome is at the top of the list.