If you’re hoping that Part 2 will have more compelling stories and or mishaps or vomit – like our normal travels – I’m sorry to disappoint. Tons more learning and walking/getting lost over the rest of our trip and no vomit because our kids weren’t with us.
We met our tour guide, Siri, in a park across the street from the Colosseum bright and early. All the weather apps in my possession said that it wasn’t going to rain until the afternoon so we pushed off the insistent vendors with ponchos and umbrellas.
Until, that is, it did start to rain.
Now residing in Scotland, I am usually in possession of some kind of rain gear but the rain in Rome is more like the rain in Texas than Scotland. You can’t get by with just a rain jacket. So for five euros each we purchased the absolute crappiest umbrellas I’ve ever seen in my life. Mine didn’t open totally with the top of it making a distinctive M shape. The “metal” parts that didn’t quite go up had the job of constantly poking me in the head. It also had trouble closing and sloshed anyone near with water that had gathered in the folds when I tried to close it. The handle of Brett’s broke off about 10 minutes into our tour. Obviously things are going really well at this point.
The colosseum was completed – start to finish – in 8 years. Like whoa. Think about how long it takes for a highway to get built in Houston. Or anywhere for that matter. Mind you, there were slaves building it. I doubt they were allowed much of a break. But still, to be able to build that kind of structure between 72 – 80 AD is impressive.
The land the Colosseum is on was made into a lake by Nero, after he seized the land for his own use, and utilized the city’s aqueduct system to keep it full of water. He died or was killed or something – I don’t remember – so yada, yada, yada – the land was “returned to the people” and an amphitheater built. The Flavian Amphitheater was the original name. This tidbit about the lake and water supply is important to remember when you read about great naval battles being recreated before other fights/shows. Due to the existing presence of the lake and aqueducts, the colosseum could be flooded for the water portion and have all the water drained out and the floor relaid within an hour.
The large arch leading out of the reconstructed floor was the “losers door” or “death’s door”. It’s generally referred to as death’s door but most of the times, the gladiators were not killed. The people who trained the gladiators, paid for them. They were typically purchased from prisons. The trainers had to pay to clothe, feed, house and train them so it wasn’t in their best interest to have them killed. Not saying it never happened but most of the people who died in the Colosseum were people who had committed crimes (of what nature who knows) and were sentenced to death as their punishment. The exit from that arch led them to the gladiators’ bunkers and the surgery center. Today there’s a street going between the place where the gladiators lived and the colosseum.
Back to the inside – the seating arrangements. The white seats belonged to senators, emperor’s family members and other magistrates. They were very wide seats made of marble and people brought pillows to sit on. While entry to the colosseum was free, the seating system was rigidly based on social class. No moving closer just because someone didn’t show. There were fifty rows of stone seats for knights and the middle class. The highest level was for the plebs and it was built of wood. In total, it held about 60,000 people.
We climbed stairs from the ground level to 1st story and they were STEEP. Our whole group, and tour guide – who does this multiple times a week – was out of breath. In April. In about 55F. With no sun. I cannot imagine doing that in the heat of August with kids in tow without even the promise of later aircon to cool your sweat. They did have a cover – that they could pull over when it was too hot though. Still, no AC and 60,000 of your closest friends….ick.
If you look closely at this picture, you can see large holes or indentations in the travertine.
Those holes were created by big brass clamps that were used to hold up slabs of white marble. Where is the marble today you ask? Well, it’s on the floor of the Vatican. Here are a couple of pieces that managed to escape being moved.
Full disclosure: no idea what was on Palatine Hill or why it was important prior to this part of the day. Learned that Romulus, founder of Rome, first traced the square outline of the city and then it served as the seat of Roman Kings. It was also the chosen residence of Caesar and many other emperors. And all of them really enjoyed their white marble. Who can blame them?
The picture above is of the winter dining room. If you look closely, you can see holes under the floors. Servants were required to keep fires going in those as a form of under floor heating. The summer dining room was done in white marble, naturally.
Fun fact – the words palace and palatial are derived from Palatine which referred to the emperor’s residence.
The Roman Forum was the center of economic life and from his residence, the emperor could look down on it. Two coolest things about the forum:
#1 Do you see how the forum – the ruins part – is in a hole kind of? That’s the level that ancient buildings were constructed on. If you look at the orange-ish building in the back of the photo, you can see that there are two layers. One of a gray brick and then the lighter, oranger one. The brick portion is from ancient times. The higher part is from medieval times. In the medieval times, roads were layered on top of one another to raise the height. “Layer” in Latin was stratum which eventually resulted in the word “street”.
You can see a better example in this one:
You can see a green door in the photo above. There’s another door underneath it. The lower door is from ancient times and the green door from medieval times. Can you imagine being the archeologist that discovered that??!
If I remember correctly, this was a basilica – a courthouse type thing. (Churches later took over the name basilica.) It had all kinds of statues of Roman gods and goddesses. During the middle ages people tried to destroy the pagan building by pulling down the columns. They were too huge to budge though you can see some marks at the tops of the columns from where they tried.
And #2 the Vestal Virgins. (Vestal = Vesta, goddess of the hearth) These chicks were like the first nuns. Vestal Virgins were selected from aristocratic families between the ages of 6-10 where they took a vow of celibacy for 30 years. Their first 10 years they were a student, the second 10 teachers, and the last 10 mentors. They were responsible for keeping the sacred fire going at all times.
If a Vestal Virgin lost her virginity or let the fire go out she would be killed. However, it was against the law to draw any blood or harm them in any way so they would be led to some countryside basement and locked up with some water, milk, bread, and olive oil and left there to either suffocate or starve to death. Lovely, right?
They had some perks though. When they were done with their 30 years, they could marry. They could also own property and attend religious ceremonies that women were not allowed to attend. If a Vestal Virgin looked you in the eye on your way to be killed, then she saved you and you’d be free to go.
Later that day, after a nice long nap, we set off to The Pantheon, stopping for some gelato on the way.
We didn’t stay at the Pantheon long. There are several tombs there, including one for Raphael who did the walls in the Sistine Chapel and other frescos in The Vatican. But there were so. many. damn. people. After our morning at the Colosseum, where it was crowded even in the rain, we were just done with the general population. We were in, we were out, we were on to Piazza Novona.
A lovely little piazza! Beautiful fountains, a live violinist, seats on the piazza and surprisingly expensive glasses of wine.
We’d planned to go back to our hotel to grab my tripod for a hopeful sunset picture. There were no taxi queues around so we got an uber. The app said we were ten minutes from the hotel. Fine. Great. FORTY-FIVE minutes later we just had the dude pull over and we walked the rest of the way. Just couldn’t take it anymore! Brett popped into a pharmacy to get an ear candle as he hadn’t been able to hear anything out of his right ear since Glasgow. Let me tell you how annoying that was. I pray he doesn’t ever really loose his hearing because I might go crazy.
So he lights that bad boy up when we’re in our non-smoking hotel room. Everything is going fine until it gets pretty low and my attempts to blow it out are causing more black smoke. We raced it to the sink and used the room menus to push the black smoke out the window. It was a tense couple of seconds while we waited for what was surely going to be the smoke detectors going off. Oh, and he still couldn’t hear.
Terrazza del Pincio & The Spanish Steps
We made it to Terrazza del Pincio in time for sunset but a ton of other people had the same idea. You had to be aggressive to get to a good spot and I just didn’t have it in me to guard my territory for too long.
We hustled to a different location in hopes of less people but to no avail.
Turns out that we were extremely close to the Spanish Steps! Like almost on them!
Brett made me walk home after all of this and I wanted to kill him. He was unusually chipper about it too. He’d definitely caught his second wind.
Where to even begin? First of all, it’s really early. Our tour starts at 7 and we’re in a new area we don’t know – lost naturally, can’t find an open coffee shop or our meeting point and did not dress appropriately. It was freezing! Brett isn’t a morning person to begin with and he didn’t listen to my navigating – I was right – but who could blame him after all the wrong ways we’d gone the past 3 days? Eventually we found everything we needed but we spent a good deal of time stomping around in the cold cursing all of our map apps.
All of that subsided though when we entered the Vatican. Our guide was a Catholic, flamboyant, Italian man who has a doctorate in archeology and he LOVES the Vatican. He crafted the tour so that we would visit the Sistine Chapel first, while the fewest people were there, and then circle back around to the other things.
The Sistine Chapel is incredible. Even more incredible is that Michelangelo had never picked up a paintbrush in his life prior to its painting. And he did all of the work himself over four years. It was a joke at the time that he only took 3 baths in 4 years.
Imagine being in the 1500s. You MIGHT have seen one or two paintings in your entire life and then you walk into the Sistine Chapel, covered in art from floor to ceiling – it had to have been a psychedelic experience.
You’re not allowed to speak in the chapel either although many people were which I just thought was tacky. Not because I’m overly religious but because many people are and it’s just rude!
Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to do the paintings. He was the nephew of Pope Sixtus IV (after whom the Sistine Chapel gets its name). The word nepotism comes from the Italian word “nipote” for nephew and the papal practice for favoring relatives. Also, most of the papal nephews were actually their sons.
There was way too much learning to record here so I’ll just post little tidbits in the photo captions.
So, why does the Vatican have so much art?
The Pope’s power was based on a book that only a very limited number of people could read. The art depicting scenes from the bible equated to power. It was the mass media of the past.
I have to say, prior to this tour, I didn’t know anything about art – and still don’t really but I do know a bit more – and I didn’t really care. Didn’t see how it impacted me or was connected to other things. But I see the connections now and am so glad we went on this tour for that and for a million other reasons.
One more fun bit of learning: The Pope-mobile, as it is affectionately known, is gathering dust in the Vatican garages. Pope Francis insists on driving himself! His body guards ride along with him in the passenger and backseat of this little Ford! All registration plates on Vatican cars start with SCV – Latin and abbreviated for the Vatican City State.
Overall, Italy was fabulous. The food was fabulous, the people, the culture, the history. All amazing. I feel so grateful to have experienced it. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
Coming back to the reality of children, school schedules, music class and swim lessons was ROUGH after two full weeks off – one of which was child free.