Italy: A Walk through Ancient Rome

It’s first thing in the morning and a steady drizzle has settled in over Rome. This is the first on my list of things I want to see. Brought up on the ruins that the Romans left behind in the Scottish borders I think I might have an understanding of what I’m looking at. I would be wrong! Initially the Roman Forum which I have come to see looks like a jumble of columns and rocks which make no sense.

The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum

I hit the map in my guidebook, locate myself and settle in for a morning of exploration! The Roman Forum used to the be heart of ancient Rome. A place for triumphal processions, elections, government, public speaking, commerce and the site of the city’s important buildings. It house government buildings and numerous temples and shrines to the Gods important in Roman life. The forum is located in the valley between the Palatine and the Capitoline Hills. Initially it consisted of marshy ground and water but as the valley between two people groups of early settlers it was drained in order that they might have a place to meet to settle their differences. It developed gradually, rather than being a product of city planning and grew organically. There were a few attempts to impose order but eventually the public square was reduced to a small rectangle by the large public buildings surrounding it.

You can see the remains of the rostro – the public speaking platform reputed to be where Marc Anthony gave his ‘Friends, Romans and Countrymen’ speech (dramatised and made famous by Shakespeare) at Julius Caesar’s funeral. The rostro was the place for public speaking in ancient Rome.  Just next to this is the Arch of Septimus Severus which was built AD 203 to celebrate victory over the Parthians.

There is a temple in honour of Caesar built in the forum – the temple boasts a more complete structure than much of the forum.

Temples also abound for various deities – Saturn and Vesta and the church of San Luca e Martina.

From the forum you can walk from the arch of Titus down the oldest street in Rome; the Via Sacra. The arch dates to around 82 AD and was built in honour of Titus, brother of the Roman Emperor Domitian. It’s worth pausing to absorb the fact that this street has been in use for 2000 years. Today it is pedestrianized but you do have to cross one modern road to reach the Colosseum.

The Colosseum, the largest amphitheatre in the

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

world, is a well known silhouette against the skyline. At first the inside of the structure is hard to make visual sense of, largely because the original floor is no longer present as it was made of wood. A small amount of the floor has been reconstructed over the numerous passages which lay beneath it so make your way around to that side of the arena to get a better picture.

Beneath the wooden floor was a system of rooms and tunnels from where gladiators and wild exotic animals could be raised on platforms with hoist and winches to create drama in the arena above. Moveable scenery was installed in the arena which often saw mock hunts occurring, as well as re-enactments from sea battles and gladiatorial shows.

The amphitheatre could house up to 50,000 people by modern estimates and as Roman society was highly stratified, had a strict system of seating. Even certain entrances were restricted to certain groups. The Emperor has his own entrance for his party so that he didn’t need to mix with the lower classes. The best seats in the house would have been reserved for noblemen, with the lowest classes seated right at the very top of the building.

The Colosseum today often houses temporary exhibitions related to Ancient Rome. The one that was showing on my visit was a very comprehensive breakdown of the history of the Roman Emperor and extremely well done.

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