Thursday, June 14, 2007

Day 1 in Rome: Circus Maximus,Colosseum and Palatine Hill

After a delightful 90 minute train ride from Naples we arrived in Rome. Train travel is DEFINITELY the way to go in Europe. The trains are punctual, comfortable and offer a wonderful view of the countryside. Flying may be quicker but I always like to get the perspective on my journey that only ground travel offers. We purchased Railpasses which cut the cost of our tickets considerably. Most of the routes we took were on trains where reservations were required so there was some additional cost but it meant a guaranteed seat, no small consideration on the heavily utilized Trenitalia system.

We arrived in Rome's Termini train station and made our way to our hotel a very short distance away. It was VERY hot! Italy was definitely going through a heat wave and was much warmer than usual for late May. Our hotel was actually in the Ricasoli Guesthouse, a collection of rooms in a suite with the owner living in an adjacent apartment. Our room was extremely pleasant, a little larger than our Naples room with a private bath. The landlady was a delightful woman, Madame Lin, who spoke English but preferred Italian so Meredith handled our end of the conversation. She gave us a very thorough orientation to the room as well as the local area, provided a great map of Rome and gave us very helpful tips on getting to the sights we wanted to see. She highlighted the best areas to visit, pointing to areas on the map and saying "Walkie, walkie" -- and also indicated some areas that we might want to stay away from.

After she left we headed out, descending from the room in a tiny mesh enclosed elevator that ran down the middle of the building. As in so many old European buildings, the elevator was definitely a recent add-on. We were just grateful to have an elevator since we were on the fourth floor.

We headed immediately to the Colosseum area, very nearby. Our tickets were for 1:30PM so we found a little sidewalk cafe near the Colosseum and had a great lunch. We were still a little early so we took a walk over to the Circus Maximus first. This site and the Colosseum had been the two things that Meredith was most excited about seeing. We found the ruins of the underground stables adjacent to the Circus Maximus.

The site itself is now just a well-trodden oval in a field but the remains of a portion of the stands are still there. In its heyday, the Circus Maximus held an amazing 300,000 people, about one quarter of Rome's population, hard to believe as you look at the site today. The Circus Maximus was a track used primarily for horse-racing, although it was used on occasion for hunts or mock battles.

Built in the 6th century B.C. during the time of the Tarquins, the history of the Circus Maximus is troubled. It was twice destroyed by fire and on at least two occasions the stands collapsed, killing many people. If you have seen the movie "Ben Hur" you know what the layout was. There was a long barrier (spina) that ran down the middle of the track, in the area of the picture where you now see only grass. In addition to obelisks, fountains, statues, and columns, there were also two temples on the spina, one with seven large eggs and one with seven dolphins. At the end of each lap of the seven lap race, one egg and one dolphin would be removed from each temple, to keep the spectators and the racers updated on how many laps had been completed. In the Circus Maximus, unlike the amphitheaters of the day, men and women could sit together. The Circus Maximus also had the ancient equivalant of the skyboxes you see now in stadiums for professional sports. The Emperor had a reserved seat, as did senators, knights, those who financially backed the race, those who presided over the competition, and the jury that awarded the prize to the winners. The last race held at the Circus Maximus was in 549 A.D., nearly a full millenium after the track's construction.

It is hard to imagine the magnitude of the Circus Maximus looking at it today but it was obviously a most imposing structure in its day.

We headed over towards the Colosseum to visit that structure and Meredith was just about jumping out of her skin with excitement. "Ben Hur" and "The Gladiator" are on her top ten favorite lists of movies so she was ready to see the place where Russell Crowe got his revenge on Joaquin Phoenix!

It is a magnificent structure, despite the centuries of wear and tear. The Colosseum is the most famous monument of Ancient Rome. Its original name is Flavian Amphitheatre. It was started by the Emperor Vespasian between 70 and 76 AD, and completed by his son Titus in 80 AD. The Colosseum was dedicated the year after Vespasian's death by Titus. They celebrated the opening by holding 100 days worth of games there. It was built on the site where Nero had had a huge villa for himself (Domus Aurea). Vespasian wanted to build something for the people rather than for himself. It got its popular name, the Colosseum, because it was built near where Nero had erected a huge statue, or colossus of himself. It showed him as the god of the sun. It was 100 feet high, and it was the largest gilded bronze statue in antiquity. It was later moved away. It took 24 elephants to move it!

It isn't hard to see why its profile has become the symbol of Rome.

Our tickets allowed us to bypass the long lines of people waiting to get in. I was so glad that I had pre-purchased them on line, a feeling that I had frequently throughout our trip. Once inside we got a glimpse of what it must have been like on a warm summer day watching some bloody gladitorial combat or a contest between man and beast. The smell of blood was so thick at times that slaves would be required to fan their owners and wave incense to dissipate it. Fun times!

Here are some shots from the inside of the Colosseum:

The seating area -- the higher up you were the lower your class -- and part of the labyrinth of passages below the main floor.

Steps leading up to a seating area...they were every bit as steep as they look in this picture...probably why they were fenced off!

Bring on the Gladiators!

The Cheap Seats. On really hot days they put up heavy canvas awnings to shade the crowd. They were so heavy that it took 1000 men to install them.

A view of the subterranean tunnels, holding areas for the animals, waiting areas for the gladiators and part of the main floor adjacent to the VIP seating area. The floor was made of wood and covered with sand to absorb the blood. It could even be flooded to stage mock sea battles. There was an elevator system using pulleys to bring up the wild animals and lower the bodies out of sight after the event.

View to the outside of the Colosseum. The use of arches was not only a decorative touch but also provided incredible strength to support the building, allowing it to reach the height of a modern day 15 story building. The reason for its current state of disrepair was the tendency of later builders to "borrow" materials from it to build other monuments and buildings, including St. Peter's Basilica. There was also a devastating earthquake in 847AD which felled the entire southern side of the building, probably weakened by the removal of so much of the facade. The last recorded games were in the sixth century.

If you have a few extra euros you could have your picture taken with a gladiator. These guys had to be DYING (no pun intended) in that heat.

Once we left the Colosseum we headed towards the Palatine Hills where all the big wigs had lived during the height of Rome's power. We passed the Arch of Constantine.

It was erected in 315AD to commemorate Constantine's victory in the Battle of Milvian Bridge, during a civil uprising. This battle is important because the night before he saw a vision in the sky which converted him to Christianity. He convinced his soldiers to carry Christian symbols into the battle and, although they were greatly outnumbered, they were victorious. There is no indication of this on the arch because it was a number of years later that Constantine went public with his beliefs but it changed the direction of Roman history dramatically, ending the persecution and public executions of Christians in Rome and paving the way for Rome to become the center of the Christian world.

A short distance beyond we entered the gateway to the Palatine Hills.

They lived a very lavish lifestyle for their times, up there above the rabble of society.

No door-to-door salesmen, politicians or religious missionaries would have been knocking at this door. It was your original gated community.

This was a private Chariot racetrack in one of the villas. Talk about your home entertainment center!

The house does need quite a bit of work though.

We then headed down the other side of the hill towards that Roman Forum and the area called Center Storico. That will be in the next post.

I will be out of town working on the Trek Across Maine for the American Lung Association (as a Rest Area Manager, NOT riding the 180 mile course!) until Sunday night. I'll continue with our BUSY day one in Rome when I return... Hang in there, you hordes of people reading this travelogue (ok, the three or four faithful readers and the occasional five or six more who accidently stumble upon it). Have a great weekend and a wonderful Father's Day!

To be continued...



Lucky Lucky you - to see these wonderful places! I would much rather travel be train through Italy - the views must be breathtaking! Waiting for the next post - Sue

sappmama said...

Rome = OLD. Dang.

Lovely pic of you and Meredith.

Rent-a-gladiator. The costumes look a little fakey.