If you want to tour the “Ancient” in Ancient Rome, there are no lack of options. We took a day to see the “Big 3” – which I would highly recommend, especially if you love history, it’s your first trip to Rome, or both.
STOP ONE: Palatine Hill
Palatine Hill is the centre of the seven hills of Rome, and one of the most ancient parts of the city. When you climb to the top you look down on the Roman Forum in one direction, and then Circus Maximus on the other. According to myth, it was Palatine Hill where the cave was were Romulus and Remus were found, and raised by Lupa, the she-wolf. The boys were raised, overthrew their uncle, and built a new city along the river. Romulus is said to killed Remus – and thus the name “Rome” was built on this legend. Palatine Hill has archeological excavations that date it’s original settlements to 10,000 BC. When we arrived in Rome we thought “Gladiator” old – but Palatine is a whole different type of old. There are evidence from early settlements and the palace built on top of it later (with many expansions). Many emperors lived here into the beginning of the first millennia AD. If trying to understand the history of Rome – Palatine Hill is where it began. So start here. [Bonus: the ticket you buy for the Colosseum include Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum as well – but the line ups here are the shortest. So a great place to buy your ticket and save some time.]
STOP TWO: Roman Forum
The Roman Forum was the centre of Roman public life. Trials took place here, along with speeches and gladiator matches. There were churches, government buildings, temples and a house for the vestigial virgins. Much of what we associate with Ancient Rome as we know it, is centred here. The earliest structures were erected in about 500 BC, and it was the a significant aspect of Ancient Rome for over 1000 years. While presently it’s more ruins that city centre, there is much we can learn about ancient Roman times – making it one of the most popular places to visit for tourists in Rome. The judicial offices and senate of Rome were based here, as was Julius Caesar, a notable historical figure from this era. Augustus gave the forum it’s final form, but Constantine the Great was the last person to expand the Forum complex – including a large Basilica in 312 AD. This is the largest structure in the Forum. Two centuries later was the fall of the Roman Empire, and the end of the Roman Forum as they knew it. During medieval times some of the buildings in the forum were transformed into churches, but things were torn town in the 13th century, and it hasn’t had the same role in Rome since. I can’t imagine visit in the summer – with 40+ degree heat and no shade. The Roman Forum is cobblestone surfaces, open spaces, sunshine and much bigger than it looks. The story of Rome started at Palatine Hill, and continues here at the Forum. So we felt that was the perfect order to visit them in as well.
Lunch Break: A walk past Nero on our way to Osteria Maracuja. Sangria, Saltimbocca, and some Lasagne before continuing.
STOP THREE: Colosseum
A trip to Rome is not complete without a visit to the Colosseum. The Colosseum is to Rome what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris and Big Ben is to London – Iconic. However, it is MUCH older and holds MUCH more historical significance. Before reaching Rome, I had plans to go, but I wasn’t really excited to go. I didn’t remember much about Ancient Rome (grade 8 humanities and Gladiator were the extent of my knowledge), and I just felt like having seen pictures (and again, Russell Crowe in Gladiator), pretty much summed it up. So even while we were waiting in line to get inside, I was ready to get in, snap a few pictures, and get going. But I much say, I was wowed. I didn’t expect that. But the sheer size of it. The architecture. The way the light bounced off the bricks. The advanced engineering of the floors and trap doors. The proximity of the crowd to the beasts. The views of the Roman Forum out the window. Everything about it was just biggest and more beautiful that I anticipated.
On the outside I managed to get some great photos, showing both the side that is construction free (showing the inside structure), and the side that shows the actual outside, that is crumbling, but shows how much bigger the Colosseum really is. There are two main levels to explore on, though you can’t walk all the way around both. I wish we were on the ball and could have booked the underground tour – and will definitly do so next time, because there is so much more to explore. Near the front there are “guides” walking up and down the lines offering you “tours” and to get you in quickly. Avoid this. If you want a guide, book one in advance (well worth it, as I learned on my later trip). What really blew my mind was the complexity of the physics needed to build something of this magnitude! Sometimes we think we have learned and grown so much, and other times, we forget how much they could do in Roman times.
The Colosseum (aka, Flavian Amphitheatre), the largest ever built, is made from concrete and sand. It was completed in 80 AD and could hold 50,000 to 80,000 people. It is most famous for holding gladiator competitions, and was used for animals hunts, speeches, and other activities up until just after 500 AD. It has been damaged over the years, not by time, but by a series of earthquakes (and one major fire) over the last 1900 years. Construction is constantly under way to preserve the building. In the 1500’s the Pope declared it a sacred site due to the murder of some Christian martyrs, and now it is used every Easter for the stations of the cross. This helped preserve the building as well (opposed to it being used with slaves as a yarn factory, as the previous Pope had planned before his death). The building has a very long, and very interesting, story. It’s going to take many more visits to fully grasp it all – though I am up to the challenge.
So there it is – Ancient Rome in three parts. If you have been, I’d love to know what you thought of it, and if you haven’t – put it on your bucket list! You won’t regret it.