By Saul Schwartz
Rome is probably the city in Europe where ancient history is the most visible. You can’t stroll through the Forum without tripping over ancient ruins or walk around the historic centre without encountering one imposing antique structure after another.
History is alive here like no other place and defines the Eternal City. And nothing shouts “Roman history” more than these iconic buildings.
Follow Saul Schwartz on his continued quest as a first-time visitor to soak up the beauty of Rome in these historic places.
Built over 2000 years ago, Il Colosseo was constructed as amphitheater to host the city’s entertainment, including gladiator fights.
The Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built and was designed to hold over 50.000 spectators. It contains underground tunnels, as well as a hierarchy of seating levels. The lower seats were designed for religious and political authorities, with a special place for the Emperor. It is amazing that the main structure still stands today and it is one of Europe’s most recognizable landmarks.
To get to the Colosseum, we took the Metro to the Colosseo stop on the B line. We booked an English language tour through Viator/TripAdvisor. The 3 1/2 hour tour of the Colosseum allowed us to skip the line and the tour provided us with an informative guide who shared stories about life in ancient Rome.
We learned that the normal daily entertainment included animal hunts involving exotic animals imported from Africa and the Middle East and mock sea battles.
The Roman Forum
Our Colosseum tour included walking through the Forum Romanum, the core of ancient Rome. A tour guide is essential here to explain the purpose of particular structures and ruins. The plaza consists of ancient government buildings, temples and a market place which were the center of everyday life in Rome. Today these ruins and grand arches are what remain of the political, commercial and religious city center.
Hearing the story behind the Arch of Titus was particularly interesting to us. This well preserved arch commemorates the Roman victory over the province of Judea in 70 A.D. One side of the arch shows in a sculpted relief the booty from the sacking of the temple in Jerusalem. Soldiers are shown carrying a Jewish menorah and other plunder, such as silver trumpets.
Our tour ended on Palatine Hill. Overlooking the Forum, this hill is the oldest inhabited spot of ancient Rome. Walking up the Hill, our guide told us the story of the mythology of the formation of Rome that took place on this site. Two abandoned baby brothers, Romulus and Remus, were found by a she-wolf who kept them alive in a cave by the Palatine Hill. From here, they founded Rome.
This domed circular temple is said to be antiquity’s best preserved Roman building.
The Pantheon we see today was built as a Roman temple by the emperor Hadrian in 120 A.D. The exterior portico is Greek in style with large granite columns at is entrance. The rotunda sits under a concrete dome, with a central opening to the sky. Today the Pantheon is used as a church and admission is free, through two ancient bronze doors.
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The interior holds decorative statutes and the tombs of famous Italians from more recent centuries, including several painters and an architect. Two kings are buried inside – Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I. The artist Raphael is buried near the main altar. To get to the Pantheon, we walked from the Barberini metro stop on the A line.
About Saul Schwartz
Saul lives in Alexandria, Virginia and has lived in the Washington, D.C. area since 1984. He loves to travel throughout Europe with his wife and family and particularly enjoys interacting with local residents and learning about life in their city and country.