By 11:00 we were on our feet again. Making our way down to the Metro station with a Brazilian friend we had met the night before…and a quick stop for a lunch-time kebab…we caught the metro to the Coliseum stop. We piled off and were immediatly greated with a stunning view of the Coliseum. As it stood towering over us, we wandered around it’s base for a while just taking it in. Eventually, we noticed the line which was insane. Hoping to do as we had done with the Vatican, we decided to return later that afternoon and try our luck. As we left the line behind we walked past a beautiful white marble arch that looks and sits somewhat like the Arc d’Triumph in Paris. It was smaller and noticibly older. From there we walked through a set of ruins up a cobblestone path toward the old Roman Forum and the Palatino.
The old Forums sit nestled in the bottom of a small depression, surrounded by hills dotted with cathedrals, pillars, and old red brick ruins. Above it all the Piazza Venezia, with the modern senate building, stood dominating the skyline. The forums and Palatino are mostly blasted ruins with the occasional white pillar or red brick wall still standing. One can visualize their former might but they are not nearly as impressive as some of the other ruins I’ve seen. Their true power is in both their scope and the knowledge that for hundreds of years that location was the center from which humanity’s course was dictated. It gives one pause to think that the decisions made by mortal men in that place hundreds-thousands of years ago are still felt today.
After taking in the forum and bypassing the Palatino (it cost $$ – see my note at the end if you are planning a trip to Rome) we ascended a set of steep winding steps that traced up toward the Venezzian square. The view stretched out below us…the Forum and side of the Palatino, a number of church towers in various styles, and in the distant background, the majestic Coliseum.
The view from the top was phenominal. The building – built in classical roman style-has winged chariot riders on both sides and huge, white marble pillars. It dominates the Roman skyline and brings back visions of how ancient Rome must have felt. After taking in the square, decorated with beautiful statuary, we made our way down a set of stairs to the old marketplace. A large, red brick ruin that was a tangle of small and large rooms, about 5 – perhaps 7 stories tall, it must have been a truly wonderful bustling space in it’s hayday…easily dwarfing the modern supermarket.
The market square also had a beautiful pillar wrapped with a carved story. I imagine it was probably Rome’s history, but am not sure. From there we cut north to Trevi Fountain. As luck would have it a few weeks ago someone had dumped a bunch of red dye in the fountain as a political statement. The fountain had just re-opened after a thorough cleaning and looked spectacular. The water was crystal clear, the marble bright and free of pollution, the general ambience of the place is spectacular. The powerful figures, the symbolism, the beautifully crafted sea-like horses and the backdrop combined to create a fountain unlike anything I’ve seen before. In power and essence, I would say the fountain is on par with the David.
After a quick stop for some food we continued to wind our way through the streets to the Pantheon. A truly marvelous building it is modest on the outside – a large dome with a Corinthian pillared front. It stands in a small plaza, looks weathered and shows the abuse it’s received over the years. The Pantheon itself is a mind boggling creation, with it’s fantastic symmetry and sheer size. The interior is breathtaking. It’s hard to imagine how a dome of that size can stand with a large hole open to the sky where it’s pinnacle should be. Even beyond that, it’s an amazing thought to consider how it was built nearly two thousand years ago. As the light traces its way through the hole and across the interior it creates an odd, eerie feeling…full of light and emphasizing the power of light and dark. It’s a shame that over the years the church has claimed it as their own, taking the bronze dome decorations, and replacing the old Roman statuary of their gods with modern saints and figures. Despite the change, it’s aura remains…perhaps it’s because of the simplicity itself that it now seems so powerful almost as though standing inside a volcano, looking up.
From the Pantheon we continued west to Piazza Navona…a large open space with a beautiful white building, several beautiful fountains, and an old Egyptian obelisk. As we meandered through the square we paused briefly to take a break by the fountain. The Italian police are a different thing and take some getting use to. Many carry fully automatic weapons and tend to be perpetually bored.
From the square we headed south, eventually finding ourselves infront of a massive cathedral that was not marked on our map. I still do not know the name, but it was magnificent. As we entered we were greeted by heavily decorated gleaming mosaics. The golden mosaics, combined with the setting sun, and the colored glass in the cathedral cast everything in rich warm hues creating a magical surreal feeling. The mosaics and frescos themselves were beautifully executed pieces of art depicting a wide variety of things. The quality of the artistry was undeniable.
After exploring the cathedral we cut down toward the river and began our way back toward the Coliseum. The river was gorgeous draped as it was in golden leaves and late afternoon light. As we wandered along it we were greated by several other more natural sites before finding ourselves in front of a small cathedral with a tall Romanesque leaning tower. It had to be one of the older churches in Rome, not only because of it’s size, but also the architecture. The line for it was rather long and we decided to continue on around it after taking in it’s architectural beauty.
From there we found ourselves at Circus Maximo – the old ruins of the horse track. Now little more than a large clear dustbowl where people can walk their dogs, the size of it brings to mind visions of Ben Hur and other movies which have recreated it and brought it back to life. From there we wound around other ruins back to the Coliseum, where to our surprise, we learned they were no longer selling tickets. It was 4:00 and they had stopped at 3:30…bah!
Annoyed we returned to the hostel for another night of drinking and mischief then woke up at 11 or so the next morning eager to see the final spots we had missed before ending our stay in Rome. We returned straight away to the Coliseum, where to our suprise the metal detector line was nearly non-existant. After waiting 5 minutes in line and another 40 or so to get our tickets we were in. The Coliseum is a huge, beautiful creation that seems to defy logic. The ruins themselves are, however, just that. The ruins of something that was once magnificent. The essence of the place is overpowering, but at the same time, I found that my expectations had been higher than they should have been. As with Stonehenge and other places, it was not nearly as well preserved as I had expected. They say a camera adds 15 pounds, well I think for historical monuments it also removes 300 years. Despite my subtle dissapointment with the state of the Coliseum, it was still a fantastic experience.
From the Coliseum we headed to the Palantino, noticing our tickets were good for both and curious about what it was. After a steep set of stairs we found ourselves in a large garden wandering through a large spatial plateau area chock full of crumbling red brick walls and old pillars. After pausing for a while and exploring the plateau thoroughly we made our way down and returned to the train station, where we made the hike to the Catacombs…only to discover that they were closed for some special event. Dissapointed we returned to our hostel around 3 and relaxed, doing laundry and taking care of general errands.
I’m sure I left a bit out, and as time passes I may add a footnote or two but for now – that sums up Rome. An incredible, mystical city cloaked in history and flavored by time.
*Travel Tips – While not confirmed, our ticket for the Coloseum included both the Coliseum and the Palantino. In the Coliseum proper there are two lines. One for people who already have tickets (mostly tour groups) and another for those purchasing tickets. Despite our short wait to get through the metal detectors we still spent a good 45 minutes in line to buy our tickets once inside. On the flip side, assuming it’s the same ticket, if we had purchased our tickets at the Palatino our wait, in total would have been less than 10 minutes.
My second tip as previously mentioned is to leave major attractions until later in the day. Important to consider however, is the time of year, wait time and the attraction’s closing time as they often vary and can be quite bizzare. The thought process behind this is as such: Guide books and most travelers suggest/feel compelled to arrive as early as possible for a full day of exploring, but typically are exhausted after 2-4 hours on their feet. As a result, most people are either at home taking a nap, or at a coffee shop by 3. Also consider when the sun sets when deciding when to stand in line.