September 18, 2010

Rome, a living museum – Part 2

One of the most recognizable landmark of Rome is the Colosseo (Colosseum).  Now a mere shell, the Colosseum still remains ancient Rome's greatest architectural legacy.  Covered with marble, its enormous weight rested in a swamp on artificial supports.  It could hold 80,000 spectators whose entertainment was watching bloody combats between gladiators, wild beasts and human vs beasts.  The guide regaled us with details of gory battles, including when the arena could be flooded and hungry crocodiles released into the water.  Mock naval battles were staged with those who fell into the water being rapidly mutilated by the crocodiles, and the redder the water became, the louder the cheers.  Thank goodness we have blogs and FB to keep us entertained now!

Long after the Colosseum ceased to be an arena to amuse sadistic Romans, it was struck by an earthquake, leaving behind the crumbling structures.  Centuries later, its rich marble facing was stripped away to build palaces and churches.

An inside view of the Colosseo with several tiers of seats and an intricate maze beneath where the gladiators/beasts were kept prior to being hoisted up onto the platform for their battles. A small section of the platform has been reconstructed at the far end.

Few steps away is the Arco Constantino (Arch of Constantine), with its intricately carved reliefs.

Nearby Forum Romano (Roman Forum) was the heart of ancient Roman empire – a center for trade, religion, and politics that attests to the military and architectural grandeur of ancient Rome.  Walking around the Forum is like walking in an archaeological park with amazing ruins – an ancient fountain, a long-forgotten statue, a ruined temple – and streets once trod by the likes of Julius Caesar.

Next to the Forum is Palatino (Palatine Hill), which was once covered with the palaces of patrician families and early emperors.  Today it's a tree-shaded hilltop of gardens and fragments of ancient villas.

See the indentations on the ruin? The lower curve marks the ceiling, and it ain't all that tall. Apparently ancient Romans were pretty small in size.

Piazza del Campidoglio stands on the summit of Capitoline Hill, the spiritual heart of ancient Rome, where triumphant generals made sacrifices to the gods for giving them victories.  This splendid piazza was conceived by Michelangelo, who also designed the two palaces on the opposite sides of the square.  At the top of the graceful steps leading to the piazza is the fabled equestrian statue of the emperor Marcus Aurelius.  Behind the statue is the Palazzo Senatorio (Senatorial Palace), which now houses the Roman city hall.  A panoramic view of the Roman Forum can be seen from behind the palace.

Teatro di Marcello (Theatre of Marcellus) was an ancient open air theater, with rows of arches and unusually high windows.

Second only to the Colosseo, Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus) was one of the most impressive structure in ancient Rome but has now been reduced to a formless ruin that looks like a vast, empty field.  It was once a large arena enclosed by tiers of seats on three or four sides - something like a modern day stadium - where 250,000 Romans could assemble on the marble seats, while the emperor observed from his box high on the Palatine Hill, chariot races and public games and entertainment.

We ended our day with dinner at Trastevere, a district separated from the heart of ancient Rome by the River Tiber.  It still has much of the look of medieval Rome and remains the city's most "authentic" neighborhood.

In Rome, what else would you eat but pasta, pizza and gelato?

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