Our first full day in Rome was somehow much like our first full day in Paris, Venice, Athens, etc.. Despite our best intentions we ended up seeing everything (in passing at least) all at once. The problem is that so many things are packed into the center of Rome that you're always just a few blocks from something else of interest. We started at one of the four patriarchal basilicas of Rome. This is Santa Maria Maggiore, more impressive from the back (this view)
This is the front view. Santa Maria Maggiore sits on the Esquiline hill (one of Rome's seven hills). Like just about every church in Rome it contains a fantastic wealth of art which we won't detail because we took the super rushed tour as mass was starting shortly after our arrival.
On the way from the Esquiline hill to the Palatine area we stopped for gelato (of course). Melanie had Crème Uovo (egg cream)
and Stracciatelle (Chocolate Chip?)
. David had pistachio
both of which will be repeated. Oh yes, that is the colosseum and Constantine's Arch in the background.
The Colosseum is probably the best known landmark in Rome. Despite its rather violent history it is very impressive architecturally. It was inaugurated in 80 AD. The line to get into the Colosseum was about 15 to 20 minutes long on our visit and was filled with official and unofficial tour guides offering quicker ways to get in. From complaints we overheard, quite a lot of these were scams.
The Colosseum was built with three tiers for seating along with extensive catacombs underneath and an elaborate awning system that was used to shade the spectators. The similarities between the Colosseum and modern stadiums is really quite striking, at least in terms of design.
The Colosseum lasted more or less intact into the middle ages when it became a fortress. Since then earthquakes and other building projects which have used it as a quarry have caused most of the destruction. There are relatively limited areas open to visitors and you definitely can't expect to have a section to yourself.
The emperor Constantine had a triumphal arch built to celebrate a military victory in 312 AD. Based on the number of triumphal arches scattered around ancient Rome, it was really just a rite of passage for emperors to come up with some reason to have a triumphal arch built. Constantine's is probably the most impressive of those remaining.
This view across the Roman Forum shows the arch of Settimio Severo. The massive white monument in the distance is the Vittorio Emmanuel II monument, which commemorates Italian unification.
The Palatine hill is the legendary site of the founding of Rome. The she-wolf of myth who nursed Romulus and Remus can be found all over the city. During the heyday of the Roman empire, the Palatine was the place to build your mansion if you were among Rome's elite. This stadium was most likely private and used by the emperors.
The Palatine hill is a little bit cooler and shadier than other areas around the forum, plus it is not as extensively visited. A ticket to the colosseum is also good for entrance to the Palatine. Everyone who did not realize that will be standing out front trying to sell their duplicate tickets.
Visiting the Roman Forum consists primarily of winding down a narrow path through the center of the ruins trying to dodge tour groups. The forum area is free to enter while it is open. The largest building is Constantine's basilica, shown here.
One of the more interesting stories connected to the forum is that of the Vestal Virgins. Virgins were selected before the age of 10 and served the Temple of Vesta for 30 years bound by a vow of chastity. Violating the vow led to burial alive for the priestess and death by flogging for her accomplice.
This temple is also a fairly interesting story. It was originally built and dedicated to the Empress Faustina. Later the Emperor Antoninus Pius was added on and it became the Temple of Antonino and Faustina. In the 8th century, the Christians came along and turned it into the church of San Lorenzo, building the church inside the original walls of the Roman temple.
The domed building here is the Curia, the traditional meeting place of the Roman senate. Naturally this spent a time as a church as well during the middle ages. It has since been restored and can be peered into from the doorways.
Curiously enough, we visited the forum on the Ides of March, the date on which Julius Caesar was murdered. This is more or less the location of that scene and the burning of Caesar's body which followed.
On the far end of the forum from the Colosseum is the Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo. The building centered here is the Palazzo dei Senatori.
The most spectacular sight in Rome in our opinion is the Pantheon. Originally built in 27 BC as a tribute to assorted Roman gods and goddesses, the inside dome is a perfect half-sphere and unfortunately does not translate well on film so you'll have to go see it for yourself. Italian kings and the renaissance artist Raphael are buried inside.
Piazza Navona is an enormous oval-shaped opening in an otherwise densely packed area of Rome. There are lots of restaurants in the square and it's a great place for people watching. We had a pleasant meal on the square although there was a fine line between a relatively frigid wind blowing through the square and the overbearing heat lamps employed by the restaurant. Most of us were extra tan on one side by the end of dinner.
The Spanish Steps were somewhat disappointing. They are in essence just a meeting place but we were in the area a couple times while in Rome and it was never very interesting. We did have some gelato nearby though. Yes, twice in the same day. David had melon
. Melanie had almond
Despite the hype, Trevi fountain is pretty cool. There's plenty of Baroque to go around as the fountain is really quite large, especially considering the tiny piazza it is located in. If you stand facing the fountain it's really a very pleasant location, and you can pretend you don't know what's going on behind you…
Behind you is a horde of screaming people videotaping everything in sight and throwing coins over their shoulders. Okay, so we did the coin throwing too. Trevi, along with Piazza Navona are the two places that always seemed to have a lot of activity in and around them regardless of the time of day.