Rome Day 13 / Stepping back in time

This morning I woke up and the first thing I realized was that it’s my brother’s birthday. I felt bad that I wouldn’t be able to call or even email him a birthday wish, but also knew that he would understand. He was in Rome about a year and a half ago just after his deployment in the middle east ended and just before he visited us, so I often think about him here and wonder what his experience was like compared to ours.

We rushed through breakfast and hopped on the A line, transferred to the B line at Termini and got off at Coliseo. We exited the subway up to the street and there before us, lo and behold, one of the most magnificent structures ever known to man. We were to meet our tour guide here at 9am and we were about 15 minutes early. It was very cold and very windy so we opted to wait inside the building. When 9:15 rolled around and she was still not there we decided to just go by ourselves. The line was short, most likely because it was so early and the weather was unpleasant, but we were approached by a tour company that offered us a ticket and tour for only €21. Skeptical at first, we decided to join and were glad we did – we learned a lot and the experience was wonderful.

The guide showed us with a book how the structures once looked compared to how they look today. The Coliseum’s exterior is pitted with large holes because the marble façade was removed and used to decorate the Vatican – these holes are part of the system that held the marble onto the structure. In one of my pictures you can see an original base for a marble column – the place is literally littered with them and the columns they supported. It seemed odd to me that people could rest their backpacks on one while changing their camera batteries – these are 2000-year old artifacts! At one point while we were there, it began to rain, then hail! As with most hailstorms the sun remained out and it was overall a very strange weather day.

In another photo you can see the inside of a cell where slaves and animals were kept. There were several cells of course, but one day a cell would house animals and the next day it would house slaves – this was to give the slaves the scent of an animal to make for a more interesting slaughter onstage. We were also told about how the animals (lions, tigers, elephants – several species from Africa) were driven to the stage by guards using torches. The guards often burned the animals’ leg or side to make them even more angry and vicious. Those ancient Romans sure loved their bloodsports.

In one photo you will see how the arena/stage floor has been removed to expose several rows and 2-3 floors of cells where animals, slaves and Gladiators were kept before a fight.

After our tour, the guide left us to spend free time in the Coliseum which we opted to go one level up to view from above, as a Roman citizen would have. A stop in the bookstore was pointless as it was overpriced and the selection was not great – though I decided I wanted to learn more about this aspect of ancient Roman life and will soon be patronizing Amazon.com for some books and/or DVDs.

We decided to walk through the Roman Forum next, which is right across the street. The Forum is a huge area of land with surprisingly well-preserved structures, though few complete buildings still exist. Several of the palaces’/temples’ marble columns still stand and it was fun to think about where we would have fit in had we been a part of this ancient culture. It was amazing that we walked in the same steps as Julius Caesar, Nero and other revered and feared Roman emperors.

Exhausted from walking and near frozen from the cold and wind, we stopped in a small café to enjoy some pizza and pasta for lunch. We ran into a couple from Finland with their baby girl and discussed how difficult it is to travel with little ones – near impossible in Rome which is not a really child-friendly city (nor is it very accessible for the physically impaired). Basically, if you aren’t able-bodied Rome is not likely your best holiday option.

Because we were in the vicinity, we decided to take in the Pantheon before heading back to the B&B. It was still early in the day, maybe 2:00 or so, and it was only about four blocks away. From the outside (the back of the building where we approached), the Pantheon didn’t seem very impressive – another building with worn bricks and pits. As you walk through the impressive front columns into the building you are overcome by its magnificence. Now a chapel dedicated to the Holy Mother, it has beautiful marble accents and incredible architectural details throughout. It was also refreshing to see a building (especially a church) whose inside was not overrun by frescoes. Of course the most prominent part of this building is its oculus – the huge dome roof with a big open hole in the center.

After our Pantheon visit we decided to go back to the Bulldog Inn since we were in the neighborhood – had a glass of wine and beer, then returned to the B&B on the 492 bus for a short nap before dinner. We got back just before it started to pour and were not at all excited about going anywhere, but Max gave us a recommendation for Jolly a nice seafood and pasta place a few blocks away. We again ran into the language barrier but it wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle – I suppose ordering food in Italy isn’t really that difficult even if you don’t know the language.

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