When in Rome…

Our next stop was Rome. To get there from our Venice apartment we first took the vaporetto (waterbus) to the train station. We left at rush hour, and the vaporettos coming down the canal were jammed full of commuters. We had what amounts to a reverse commute, and weren’t so cramped.

The train from Venice to Rome passed through Bologna, where in retrospect I should have leapt off to make an impromptu circuit of the nearby Lamborghini and Ferrari museums. Or go for a test drive. Guess I’ll have to come back.

Our train then passed through tunnel after long tunnel under the Appenines to get to Florence, where it disgorged a giant mob of tourists. Originally we had thought about stopping in Florence ourselves. The boys have a limited tolerance for art museums though, so ultimately we decided to save it for Rome and the Vatican.

Our apartment in Rome was just off the Piazza del Popolo, a lively square that was once the northern gate to the city. Close to the metro, it made an excellent base for exploring the city. We didn’t see everything in Rome, but managed a fair bit during our week there.

Early on we visited the Pantheon, the Roman temple with the famous concrete dome. The dome is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world, a title it’s held for nearly 2000 years! We also saw the large, ornate Trevi Fountain. Despite the rain that day, both sites were well-attended by tourists.

The Pantheon
The Pantheon, which is now a church
Looking up at the dome of the Pantheon
Looking up at the Pantheon’s dome. The oculus (hole) makes the roof lighter, lets in light, and – as we saw firsthand – lets in rain. “Ubi lubrico infectum” is latin for “slippery when wet”!
The Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain

We took a guided tour of the Colosseum, which we learned is properly called the Flavian Amphitheater. The name ‘Colosseum’ comes from the Colossus of Nero – the 100’ tall statue of Emperor Nero that stood nearby for several hundred years before disappearing. The amphitheater itself is a marvel. It’s huge. Not quite football stadium-huge, but nonetheless big enough to hold more than 50,000 people in 3 tiers of seating. And despite the efforts of 2000 years of earthquakes, looters, and pollution much of it is still standing! From a viewpoint on one of the upper tiers it was easy to imagine gladiators dueling in the arena while vendors hawked their wares in the stands and the emperor sat in his arena-side seat, ready to pass judgement on the fight.

Exterior view of the Colosseum in Rome
The ‘good’ side of the Colosseum. You’d have a ticket just like you do for a modern sporting event, and would enter through a numbered gate. You can still (just barely) make out the numbers above the lower arches.
Interior of the Roman Colosseum
View of the inside of the Colosseum, showing the honeycomb of cells underneath the old arena floor where animals were kept before going up to the arena. The emperor would have sat in a box seat near the scaffolding on the right. There’s a lot of conservation work underway at this site!

The Colosseum got us thinking about gladiators. To get a taste of gladiatorial combat, we signed the boys up for Gladiator School. Since it’s off-season, we were the only people in the group and wound up with a private class. Upon arrival Jack decided to be a moody teenager and sit it out, so I took his place. (He really missed out here – it’s not every day you get a parent-sanctioned chance to fight with your brother!)

I quickly learned I was too old to be a gladiator: our first activity was calisthenics. Oof. Once warmed up, we learned how to wield the gladius, the short sword that gave its name to the sport. After some practice on both offense and defense, we had a tournament. Nate quickly figured out he had a distinct advantage: he can bend down a lot farther than I can, so he went for the legs. He emerged undefeated from our 3-round tournament and was crowned Invictus the Invincible by our instructor. I was advised that I have reasonably good form on attack but should nonetheless keep my day job.

Invictus the Invincible vs Daddy the Defenseless

For the boys, the highlight of our time in Rome was probably a cooking class hosted by a local chef. In her home’s kitchen she taught us how to make gelato, fettuccine, and ravioli – all from scratch! The food was delicious, and we enjoyed good conversation with the Australian couple who were in the class with us. We are excited to make our own pasta when we get home!

Making pasta

One afternoon we visited the ruins of the Roman Forum – the beating heart of Ancient Rome. The Forum is just up the street from the Colosseum, and was far smaller than I envisioned. I expected grand boulevards with stately temples set on large plots of land. Nope! The Via Sacra is the main street, and is quite narrow. There definitely wasn’t enough room to double-park your chariot. The temples and other buildings were very close to each other, and their towering columns must have been both awe-inspiring and a bit claustrophobic to the Romans who lived during their heyday.

View down the northern arm of the Via Sacra in Rome
Running down the Via Sacra. The ruins of the massive (and often overlooked) Basilica of Maxentius are on the right.
Exterior of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. It was turned into a church, thereby avoiding the fate of other temples destroyed by the church in its quest for marble.
Remains of the Temple of Vesta
Remains of the circular Temple of Vesta. The temple was torn down in the 1500’s so the marble could be used in churches. These remains are a reconstruction dating to the 1930’s.
Looking east along the Roman Forum toward the Arch of Titus.
Looking east along the Roman Forum towards the Colosseum. The Arch of Titus is visible in the distance. The three columns to the right are the remains of the Temple of Castor and Pollux.

We spent much of another day at the Vatican, marveling at the incredible collections of art and architecture. Since the Vatican is a separate country, I’ll cover it in another post!

The remains of the Circus Maximus, an arena nearly 1/2 mile long that would have seated more than 150,000 people for chariot races and other events. The building in the foreground dates from medieval times.

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