July 27, Rome
Today I decided to let us sleep in after yesterdays exhausting day. I set the alarm for 10 am. We took our time and left for the day sometime around 11 am. Our first stop today was The Pantheon. It was originally a temple built for Roman Gods in 27 BC and rebuilt around 126 AD after it had burnt down twice. You enter through a porch supported by huge columns. The circular interior is 142 ft in diameter and the dome is 142 ft high with an oculus (opening to the sky) which lets in a beam of light (or rain). The floors are made of marble and are convex in the middle to allow water to drain to the edges. The Pantheon is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. The building has been used as a church since about the year 600 AD and now has several tombs including the first two Kings of Italy in niches along the outer edges. After visiting the Pantheon we walked down the street and came across The Central Museum of the Risorgimento at the Vittoriano. Big name. It is a quite spectacular looking white marble Roman building with many steps leading up to it. We didn't know what it was but figured we would have a look. The temperature outside was 36c and the museum is air conditioned. The building is a monument dedicated to the first King of unified Italy. The displays we saw were mostly about military history going back just a few hundred years. You can go up on a balcony for a pretty good view of the surrounding area in old Rome and in one spot we looked over the Roman Forum to The Colosseum which is where we will head to next. We walked through an area of old ruins, picked up some ice cream and arrived at the Colosseum to find a lineup of about 45 minutes. If you paid an extra 5 Euro for an English tour you could skip the line. We paid. The tour was about 40 minutes of mostly wasted time. Our guide was a bit boring and had a kind of monotone voice. After his tour, we took out my iPhone because I had downloaded a tour from travel guru Rick Steve's. It was much better. The Colosseum as most people call it is actually named the Flavian Amphitheatre and was built from 72 AD to 80 AD and is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture. It was used for gladiator contests, mock battles, executions, humans hunting animals and animals hunting humans. It was capable of seating 50,000 people. There was a wooden floor covered in sand where the battles would occur. Below the floor is a labyrinth of tunnels where animals could be sent up through trap doors. The north side is the best preserved, the south was felled in 1349 by an earthquake and stone robbers over time have removed a lot of stone for other construction projects. Next we passed by the Arch of Constantine which is a victory arch over the road where Emperors would return to the city in triumph. We weaved our way along Palatine Hill to the Roman Forum. The Forum is a large rectangular plaza surrounded by the ruins of many ancient government buildings. It was the centre of Roman public life - a marketplace, a civic centre, the site of elections, public speeches criminal trials and gladiator battles. There are the ruins of the House of the Vestal Virgins and the tomb of Julius Caesar. After the fall of the Roman Empire it was largely forgotten and buried. So much history, I've only scratched the surface. It was now time to head towards Trevi Fountain and search for some supper. There are several little restaurants on the cobblestone alleys throughout the old part of Rome. Brenna had pasta and I had lasagna and we shared a wine. Just around the corner was the fountain. It is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. It is the terminal point of an ancient 22 km long aqueduct that supplied fresh water to Rome. We got more ice cream and found our way to the Spanish Steps, the widest staircase in Europe, where we sat for a while, rested and people watched. It was now time to call it a day so we headed back to the apartment to figure out the next days plan. We decided to delay going to The Vatican by a day so we could go to the beach. Woohoo, our first mostly relaxation day of the trip!