Aside from my newfound appreciation for English taught classes, I have been able to get in some great sightseeing/exploration over the past few months. I have been able to visit multiple places throughout Europe, but of course my favorites have been right here in the beautiful Eternal City. My all time favorite however, was when I decided to take a weekend and explore the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum, the Capitoline Hill and the Basilica di San Clemente. Yes…it was quite the long weekend, but TOTALLY worth it!
The first thing I want to say about the Colosseum (a.k.a. the Flavian Amphitheater) is: Holy crap! It was a phenomenal experience to be able to walk into a structure that was erected in 70AD. The best part of my tour throughout this amazing monument was that I didn’t have to wait in the 3.5-hour line to get in. Luckily, they have English speaking tour guides who will bump you to the front of the line and get you a ticket for the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill all for 20 euro. So of course I decided to do that! And I am grateful I did, because I was able to learn quite a bit by having a personal tour guide. For example: Did you know that certain people/families were given lifetime rights to specific seats within the Colosseum. In doing so, his or her name/family name was carved into the seat so no one else would be able to sit there. So if you have ever heard and/or used the phrase “I don’t see your name on this seat.”, now you know where it came from. Another example: The bathrooms in the Colosseum (as well as bathhouses throughout Rome) were co-ed, so men and women used the same bathrooms. Because of this, Romans placed a stick with a sponge at one end so that the ladies could…you know…and so if you’ve heard/used the phrase “You’ve got the wrong end of the stick.”, now you know where it came from as well. Pretty neat huh?
Something I did not know about the Colosseum, and I feel quite ignorant for not, was that the maze-like structure in the middle was used for holding the untamed beasts used within gladiatorial games.
My whole life I have seen pictures of the Colosseum or watched movies that replicated it and thought that the gladiatorial games were held within that maze-like structure. Stupid …I know. It wasn’t until now, being almost 22 years old, that I learned the maze-like structure is a cage area for the wild beasts used in the gladiatorial games. As a matter of fact, there would be trap doors placed in the arena floor (which was laid over top of the cages) where an elevator-type contraption would raise the beasts into the arena to fight.
I will say one negative thing about visiting the Colosseum however. If/when you plan to come anytime soon (or later I guess), be prepared to be attacked and constantly harassed by selfie-stick salesmen. I’m not kidding! They line the sidewalks. They barricade the exit area. They even chase after you. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE!!! If they can see you have a cell phone (sometimes you don’t even need that) then they will go in for the kill. Fortunately, Italy has recently made the sale of those awful objects illegal within the Colosseum and in turn illegal to sell them in the close area surrounding the monument. But that does not mean you won’t be attacked by the salesmen.
So my advice to make it out alive:
- Keep your head down and avoid eye contact at ALL costs.
- If you disregarded step 1, they will ask you “You want selfie?” and you should respond with a stern “No Grazie.” <– This means “No thank you.” and lets them know you have no interest and are ready for a brawl.
- They will most likely continue to hassle (probably because you didn’t say it sternly), so this time respond with a STERN “Ho detto di no. Grazie.” <– This means “I said no. Thank you.” and lets them know that if they continue to chase after you your gloves are coming off.
- They will still chase after you (it’s inevitable), so at this point you must run. Just hike up your trousers, make sure your shoes are tied and run for the hills. All you can hope is that you’re faster than the other guy.
- You will bump into another selfie-stick salesman.
- Repeat steps 1-5.
Other than that though, the Colosseum was great, very much worth the 20 euro.
Palatine Hill & Roman Forum:
The Palatine Hill is quite the quaint area in Rome. Possibly the quaintest I’ve found yet. Being the founding spot of Rome, it is filled with history and legend. As a matter of fact, the founder of Rome, Romulus, and his brother Remus were raised by a she-wolf (or so legend has it) on this very hill. The story goes that when Romulus and Remus (twins) reached the age of 15 they went to consult an oracle, as most men would in ancient Rome, to predict their future. The oracle informed the two that one of them would become the founder/ruler of the world’s greatest empire. So of course, they both agreed to play a game to determine which of the two would become that great ruler. The game was fairly simple in that they would each sit atop a hill and count the vultures in the sky and the one who counted correctly would live to fulfill the oracle’s prophecy. Now the way this game was kept fair between the two was through the idea that they had no control over the amount of vultures in the sky, but rather the gods would be the ones controlling how many each of the boys would see. So Remus sat atop the Capitoline Hill whereas Romulus sat atop the Palatine Hill. Remus counted 6 and Romulus counted 12; therefore Romulus would soon become the founder/ruler of the greatest empire in the world. But, as I’m sure you’ve guessed already, Remus was not too keen to losing so he decided he would kill his brother in order to secure the empire for himself. Unfortunately, his plan backfired and Romulus ended up killing Remus in the end. And so the point of the story is that, because Romulus fulfilled his prophecy atop the Palatine Hill, he would choose it as the starting point for his new empire. An empire named Rome because it would represent his own name (ROMulus and ROMe).
Once you reach the top of the Palatine Hill, sitting beautifully below is the Roman Forum.
The Roman Forum acted as a downtown (of sorts) for ancient Romans. Here you would find vendors, small markets and public events for all to enjoy. Additionally, basilicas (churches), government buildings and even households were established in the area over the years, which ended up increasing its importance as a center for Rome. And it was here, in the Roman Forum that the first road ever made in Rome was laid. Via Sacra (Sacred Road) was the main street of ancient Rome that led from the top of the Capitoline Hill, through some of the most important religious sites in the Forum, all the way to the Colosseum. And at the northwest end of the Forum sits a beautiful arch, the Arch of Septimius Severus. This triumphal arch was dedicated in 203AD to commemorate the Parthian victories of Emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons.
Finally, my journey down Via Sacra ended with a pleasant reminder to Carpe Diem (Seize the Day).
Although I didn’t spend too much time on the Capitoline Hill, as you now know (from up above) that this was the hill on which Remus sat counting vultures in hopes he would be selected by the gods to become the founder/ruler of the world’s greatest empire. Now sitting atop this hill, there is Piazza del Campidoglio (Capitol Square). Designed by Michelangelo (right down to the staircase leading up to it), Piazza del Campidoglio contains elegant murals and statues. One of which is the statue of Pollux, a son of Zeus and Leda.
Even though I didn’t get many pictures, or much history from the Capitoline Hill, I was able to try some street vendor food for the first time! I hadn’t eaten all day, so I decided to dip into my budget a little bit and splurge on a Pizza Rossa con Mozzarella (red sauce pizza with mozzarella cheese) from a nearby street vendor. And let me tell you…it was to die for! Italy’s pizza (from a restaurant) is eons beyond what we have in America so I of course had high hopes for this vendor pizza, but my goodness! It blew my expectations out of the water! Now, it’s no Dominos, but add a bit of garlic butter on the outer crust and it would give Dominos a run for their money. And before you say anything: Yes there was (a lot of) cheese. And yes I am lactose intolerant. But most importantly…yes it was delicious!
Basilica di San Clemente:
The last place I explored that weekend was the Basilica di San Clemente. Although it is not a “Most Popular” touristy spot, it was well worth the 5-euro entrance fee.
As soon as you enter the building, you walk into a church (with pews and all) where they hold mass to this very day. But once you trek down a level, you find yourself entering an ancient church (converted from a Roman home) that was built in 4th century. This second level was used in the 1st century as a church whereas the basement was used as a mithraeum during the 2nd century. Now continuing further down into the ruins, you find yourself entering yet another level underground which are the ancient ruins of a republican era building that was destroyed during the Great Fire of 64AD. So here I am, by myself 3 stories underground in ancient ruins, and the only thought that comes to mind was “I’m going to die here”. Seriously though, this place is pitch black (other than a few lamps on the wall) so it is nearly impossible to see. Also, there are barely any signs to tell you where to go, so I was walking aimlessly throughout these dark ruins wondering when the ghost of San Clemente was going to force me out of my body and possess my physical being, leaving me in the ruins for an eternity. BUT, during all of my internal turmoil, I was able to snap one picture (no cameras or cellphones were allowed…oops). It’s a pretty eerie place, but I enjoyed every minute of it. And even though I say I had internal turmoil, I was really just hoping I could finally experience my first paranormal encounter. Maybe next time!
Back In Trastevere:
After all was said and done, I found myself back in Trastevere (my home). It was clearly a long weekend filled with exciting activities and explorations, but it was nice to be able to relax before the week was about to start. And there was no better way to relax than with my very first authentic Italian gelato! There is actually a gelateria across the street from my apartment (literally walk out the front door, cross the street and go down 2 doors) so I decided to splurge yet again and buy myself a small gelato.
Yes…it was totally worth it.
Kenneth is a current student at the University of Missouri studying at John Cabot University (JCU) in Rome, Italy during the Spring 2015 term.