The post that all of you have been waiting for – when Emerson goes to visit the place he was born to rule – the floor of the Colosseum. If I had been born in Ancient Roman times, no doubt I would have been a gladiator. Not a single doubt. I’m beginning to think more and more that Ridley Scott’s movie is based on a premonition he had of my past life. Maximus Decimus Tuttilus has a nice ring to it.
I LOVE this strategy of getting to things just as they open if you hadn’t noticed. My plan for the ancient section of the city was no different, and visiting il Colosseo first was an easy choice. Based on the masses I’ve witnessed visiting this beast at lunchtime on a Tuesday, I’d imagine that weekends are brutal. So I championed the line formation at the gladiator’s den before the opening at 0830.
Getting a chance to be one of the first into the building is quite a cool experience. Solitude in such a monstrosity of a complex, at least for a few minutes, is priceless. I frantically searched for the stairs to the second level after a quick breeze-through of the main level, and joined the one other person peering down from il secondo piano. Pictures act as a good representation of a visit, but they can’t truly capture the feelings a place like the Colosseum elicits. Just steps away from the bustling Saturday morning streets of Rome, it is a serene architectural wonder whose past reflect some of the more brutal aspects of human nature.
I loved seeing the formerly covered passages and rooms of the lowest level (under the old fighting pit), and even saw a few descendants of the large felines that at one time served as members of the show (in other words, there were some stray cats). To imagine the building full of royalty, politicians, knights, plebeians and the ‘mob’ in general, all captivated by battles to the death was a thrilling experience.
After walking around for quite some time, and seeing that the building was getting increasingly crowded, I turned my vision outwards. Interestingly enough, I found that some of the views from the inside looking out were the most striking – the ancient clashing with the modern, the manmade with the natural. And then, as I was getting ready to leave, the most intense clash of cultures began its wondrous show…
REMINDER: I am in Rome. It will not seem like I am after the next few lines of text, trust me. So as I was still wandering in the Colosseum, a massive racket was stirring outside the walls. It was characterized by loud bangs, engines revving, horns blaring, and crowds evidently cheering. Much to my dismay (though I already knew it was coming – I still hadn’t really come to grips with such knowledge), hundreds if not thousands of Harleys were ripping through the city. You read me right. Today was a Harley convention, in Rome. A Harley convention for the ages. And here I am, exploring buildings built in the 1st century AD.
First off, I thought I had left this shit behind me in Amurrica. Isn’t it bike week in New Hampshire right now? Shouldn’t these folk be there, rather than here? More questions than answers…
After running into two different duos of body-builders flexing for photo shoots with the Colosseum in the background, I moved on to my next destination – Palatino, or the Palatine Hill. We take the name ‘palace’ directly from this hill, where Emperor Domitian did his thing and built up the Roman palaces in the 1st century AD. It is an enormous area which you may have seen from my earlier post (via my walking route to work). Vast, open ruins peppered with umbrella pines, gardens, and complete with an impressive cryptoportico – 128m of underground tunnelage.
Connected with il Palatino is the Foro Romano, or Roman Forum. A forum in the ancient Roman sense referred to an area that served as a combined marketplace/civic center/religious grounds. Today little remains of the original structures, rather solitary pillars and fallen columns act as a skeleton to frame an image of the former city center. I joined the masses and marched from Arco to Arco (that of Titus and Septimus Severus, respectively) down the Via Sacra, or the sacred road.
After feeling like an old-timer Roman for the better part of the morning and into the afternoon, I grabbed a panino and headed to the Capitoline museums – named thusly as they stand on Capitoline Hill. Another amazing museum complex, this one originally founded in 1471 by Pope Sixtus IV (hilarious name, right?). You start in a building (I should say former palazzo) on the South side of Piazza del Campidoglio and work your way through three floors of scientific discovery, sculpture, and artwork:
Next, you plunge down to the basement where a tunnel underneath the Piazza gives you a breathtaking view of the Foro Romano from above:
And then you follow the tunnel to another palace on the north side of the Piazza del Campidoglio, which is filled with impressive sculptures:
I almost didn’t go into the museum(s), because at this point I’m a bit museum-ed out… However, I’m glad I did. The final stop of the day was il Vittoriano (also known as Altare delle Patria = Altar of the Fatherland), a masterpiece of modern Rome. This marble behemoth can be seen from nearly every high point in the city, and I’ve heard it’s horse statue is one of the largest of its kind on the planet.
I managed to arrive at il Vittoriano at the perfect time. The altar also serves as Italy’s version of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and as I climbed the steps I was fortunate enough to view the changing of the guard. Not quite the same as in the US, but impressive nonetheless. Before I left the altar, I had to touch the sky.
For an unreasonable €7, you can hitch a ride on a glass elevator to the top of il Vittoriano. Hell, I was in tourist mode, and eager to pay it. Thankfully, I did, and the view was absolutely stunning. Enjoy – I’ll drop one below here, and a few others will rotate on the banner up top.