All roads lead to Rome... So I went.
When in Rome... Do as the Romans do? or Do everything? Pretty much one in the same, but when only in Rome for two days, do everything the Romans did as fast as you possibly can.
Rome welcomed us with sun and open arms. The bus drove through the cobblestoned streets lined with orange and lemon trees, into the historic city center, past the birthday cake (I'll explain in a little while), along the river, and dropped us off on the side of the street... It was a short walk through a few quaint little alley ways to our strategically placed hotel that was, in the words of our Art History teacher, "Just a hop, skip and a jump from everything." We had a half an hour to get our rooms and bearings and then we were off!
We went straight to a tour in the Roman Forum. Rome was not white and shining marble 2000 years ago. Rome was painted, colorful, gilded. Perhaps the city was tacky, like Vegas. Perhaps the city was a stunning display of wealth and resources available there. Perhaps a combination of the two occurred. Regardless, the romantic white marble image that so commonly comes to mind today is inaccurate.
Some of the buildings in the forum still stand. Those that exists have layers of construction from different centuries through out the past. The Romans maintained a mentality of reusing the perfectly good pre-existing foundations of the buildings. These visual historic strata layer upward to the modern day, but up only three hundred years ago (extremely recent in regards to Rome) the majority of the Forum was under approximately 30 feet of dirt. In fact, a road cut right across the top of the area. Now, 2000 years of earth has been cleared away leaving the roads, arches, columns, and other remnants of a once prospering political and religious ground.
The Forum lays between two of the seven hills of Rome, the Capitoline Hill (Government) and the Palatine Hill (Palaces, dwellings of emperors). Approximately 2700 years ago it is said that Romulus, one of the demigod twins nursed by the she-wolf as an infant, became the founder of Rome, setting the first colony on Palatine Hill. Although there is evidence that the founding of Rome was earlier than this time, it is known that dwellings were situated at the top of the Palatine Hill. The Forum, situated in between the hills, became a meeting place for all of the residents of the hills of Rome.
We sat in the Forum listening to these and other stories related to us by a short, elderly, British woman. The sun shown down on us while she discussed the house of the Vestil Virgins whose responsibility it was to keep the eternal flame of Rome lit. It was said that if the flame went out, Rome would fall. The women were trained beginning around the age of 12 and at 18, 7 of the trainees were chosen to guard the flame. This was their task to the age of thirty, and at thirty, the became the trainers of the young girls who aspired to Vestil Virginity. If they were fortunate enough to reach the ripe old age of forty, they could retire from the charge and attempt to find husband. This proved difficult because most women married in their teen-aged years, so as the guide put it, "A forty year old, toothless, vestil virgin wasn't very desirable. There were rare cases where a virgin didn't maintain her vows of celibacy. Because their blood was considered sacred and sacred blood could not be spilled, their punishment was death by what ever means came first in an underground chamber outside of the community walls. Needless to say, that would kinda suck!
We moved through the forum and on to... THE COLOSSEUM!!! AWESOME!! So... we all know it was bigger and better than what stands there today, but there were two bits of info that stood out in my mind... A retractable awning, think Miller Park 2000 years ago, and the smell of animal poo and rotting corpse, think most disgusting smell ever. We didn't go in right away because our professors had other adventures planed for us, but we did go inside the next day and it really was incredible. When we went the next day, we basked in the sunlight on one of the steps for 40 minutes or so, just taking a breather from the day and imagining ourselves as Roman empresses watching a lion kill a gladiator. Not really, but kinda. :)
However, we still have to finish day one. Our Art History Professor, Jodi Mariotti, walked us through the city past the Forum of Trajan with Trajan's Column, past the building that looks like a birthday cake, through to the church of Santa Maria Sopra Monerva, and the hit up the Pantheon. The building that looks like a birthday cake is a controversial piece of architecture that was commissioned at the time of the Italian unification. Basically it is a conglomeration of and tribute to Roman architecture, referencing a time when Italy wasn't unified and Rome was a conquering city, not a collaborating city. In Santa Maria Sopra Monerva we looked at frescos by Filippino Lippi from the late 1480's. Next door the Pantheon awaited me. Several Italian children played soccer outside using an Egyptian obalesque (sp) and a church door way as goal markers. The Pantheon is an ancient building dedicated to all of the mythological gods and goddesses. It is Perfection. A sphere could fit perfectly inside of it, and the dome is a surprise. it cannot be seen from outside the front of the structure. Unfortunately, the day was ending and the sun was going down. The building is lit naturally by the oculus in the center of the dome, and with the sun going down, the glory diminished in a darkened scene. That made for poor pictures as well.
That evening we wandered for a while. I bought a pair of shoes that Becky will quickly inherit due to the fact that they are one size too small for me. Then, Sam, Gina, Liz and I met up with Raj and ate great pasta and pizza outside in the Campo di Fiori. On our walk home we witnessed some drunk Danish boys dancing and dropping their pants in the middle of the Piazza. We found out later they were arrested shortly there after.
I watched my first Italian television that night. Well, I guess it wasn't actually Italian television. It was an American made for TV movie from 1995 dubbed over in Italian. It stared John Ritter and Andy Griffith and was about a long lost, but psychopathic grandfather. It proved mesmerizing.
The next day was the day of the Catholic church.... I have mixed feelings about the Vatican and St. Peter's, other than the mixed feelings I have about organized religion in general. I went for the art, which is the most elaborate, extensive collection and display of art anyone could ever imagine. However, even in seeing the Laocoon, the Kurios, the Raphael's, the Michelangelo's, the Dali's and every other presidential art work I couldn't help being a bit disgusted by the hypocrisy of of it all. Simply, the Vatican is Catholic Disney World and the Sistine Chapel is the "It's A Small World" ride. Perhaps I am being to cynical, and I think I should leave it at that for now.
I'm going to segue past the jaunt at the Colosseum, which comes next chronologically but I already talked about, and on to the Trevi fountain. The picture attached to this blog is the Trevi. It's romantic and relaxing and a tourist paradise. If you throw one coin in you will return to Rome. If you throw two coins in you will fall in love. If you throw three coins in you will be married within five years. I just decided to make wishes, and I can't tell you what they are. With gelato in hand and the sound of the rushing water in our ears, contentment was found.
On our final day we visited the Villa Farnese, the Villa Borghese, the Palatine Hill, and the Spanish Steps.
The Villa Farnese is a Renaissance villa that contains some incredible frescoes. The room of Perspective is painted in a motif that makes it appear as if you could walk out of the room right to a porch out side. The painted depiction of the marble was difficult to discern from the real marble. A Raphael fresco depicting Galetea, one of his earliest, secular works, adorns another room in the villa. The villa was badly damaged and looted during the sac of Rome, but the lavish stories of the owner still exist. He enjoyed throwing parties for the Pope and other aristocrats of Rome. Splendid displays of his wealth were often the theme of his parties. He held dinner in his stables to prove that his estate was grander than another that was being erected at the time. He threw a party at which all of the dinner wear was mad of silver and gold and after each course threw it into the river… of course he was clever enough to place nets in the river bed before hand in order to bring up the freshly washed forks, knives, and plates later on. His stories prove notorious.
A top Palatine Hill, I discovered my love for ancient ruins. It's always been there, but I had to go to Rome to find it apparently. Orange trees stand watch over the scattered marble and the brick constructions from whence they came. That was one thing that really astonished me. The marble is a façade. Underneath there is intricate brickwork that appears modern. This technique surprised me.
At the Spanish steps I attempted to eat un panino that I had purchased for lunch. The sandwich was disgusting so I threw it away and tried again. Don't by food from the little bistros if they only have three kinds of pre-made food. You won't be happy. The steps, however, were another a relaxing experience in the sun. Prime people watching!
Sitting at the steps proved to be a well-needed rest. The cobblestones in Rome are killers, and we definitely didn't choose the correct tourism route. If ever in Rome, see the Trevi and the Spanish Steps at the same time and the Palatine Hill and the Coliseum at the same time. Don't split them like I did. It makes for a lot of walking.
Our last stop was the Villa Borghese. This "country home"(not really in the country anymore) is home to the greatest private collection of art work in the world. The most amazing part about it was the Bernini marble sculpture. If you have ever seen a Bernini, you will know what I mean when I say he has the ability to make marble look soft. His statues appear as if, when you touched your finger to it, the marble would cave under the pressure, just like a pillow might. His works, Apollo and Daphne and The Rape of Persephone exude realistic qualities.
So finally, an apology for the amount of time it took me to get this up. I wasn't sure what to write, but once I started, I couldn't stop. I hope this isn't too extensive.
All right ... all right ... but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order ... what have the Romans ever done for us?