Travel Journal: The Footprint of Ancient Rome Melts into the Modern
The Roman Empire was one of the first ancient histories we learned about. As children we think of this time as nearly mythic and we read excerpts of the odyssey and think of it as all long ago fairy tales. In reality this was a civilization and a city, a reality and a life for many.
When you grow up you realize ancient history was only a blink ago and the line between history, fairy tale and forgotten is all but a step in the sand.
Ancient Rome left but a footprint and the modern city rises up around it juxtaposing the brown sandy stone with the polished white and still even the newer gleaming glass. As you walk through Rome the ancient, the renaissance and the post-modern greet you on every corner. The small streets never fail to delight with mosaics, fountains of all sizes, shapes, styles and ages. You’ll come across old steps and castles, pre-world war mansions and humble houses that have all stood the test of time and the growth of Rome.
Rome excited poems in me from the first glimpses, and the longer I was on the ground the stronger the feeling became. We flew into Rome at night and the lights of the city flooded the hills rolling away like the waves of an ocean. The city seemed endless even from the air and I was stuck by how little I knew about this place and how much bigger it is than I had imagined.
Coming from the pyramids of Uxmal, Palenque and Calakmul I wasn’t sure what to expect when visiting the colosseum. I knew I was going to see old rocks and structures. It was just that, but much much bigger than I had imagined. Not in height but in girth, it’s oval form was much longer than I had estimated from photos I had seen in magazines and text books all those years ago. As I walk through and listen to the audio guide I learned about the wood structures and shade cloths, the retractable floor and elevator lifts that made the grand show possible. Animals and gladiators, both revered and feared by the audience enamored with the spectacle. As I look at the silent stones today and watch the people move and take pictures and selfies as they shuffle along the crowded inner corridor there is no echo of that bloody past, little memory remains in the stones but the historians make sure we don’t forget.
The Forum on the other hand was an in your face inspiration of architecture and it truly amazed me that 2000 years ago they were building structures like these.
Adjoining the Colosseum (after another lengthy wait in line, mind you) are some of the gardens and temples of Rome called the Roman Forum. The path winds through stones mostly collapsed, and takes you past a fountain that must have seemed like a magical act of engineering 2000 years ago, as today fountains still evoke awe. Up a man made an incline of which some of the original building is still preserved the winding paths of the gardens start and you can lose yourself in the bushes, shrubs, trees and flowers as you look for some piece of the magic our nearly mythical ancestors left behind for their gods.
Other structures or fragments of structures remain including temples to the gods like Saturn, and the most important Temple of Vesta with the adjoining house of the Vestals.
The Vesta is of great interest because this is where the sacred fire of Rome was kept and every year the household of Rome had to put out their cooking fires and come for a new portion from the Vesta. Today I fear many are disconnected from an element so important as fire. They relegate it to camping or the grief they have during natural disasters. Most of us still use fire to cook, although it’s a much more processed and contained method now. In the times of the Roman Empire however fire was the heart of the home, how one cooked and kept warm. I can’t imagine what it looked like when the whole city coming together to share in this one thing.
While the grounds of the Roman Forum don’t go on forever, they are impressive in size and also hold a number of preserved Archways and Basilicas within the grounds.
What’s a Basilica anyway?
I didn’t know and after seeing my 20th or so I decided it was due time I looked it up.
You are going to see this word and these buildings all over the place, but it is especially prominent in Italy with basilicas turning up inside of the Ancient roman ruins, on nearly every other common street corner and inside the grounds of the Vatican.
This word comes from the Greek meaning royal house and in ancient Rome they were buildings characterized by rows of columns and an arched roof. They were used as meeting halls and to do business and other trade. I imagine they would have been one of the grander parts of Rome and great feasts and important decisions were house within their walls. Although now they are little museums housing artifacts, sculptures and pottery. I can still see the long silks or tapestries hanging from the walls and long tables laid out with food or maps or perhaps even spices and weapons to be bought and sold. These buildings today are much different.
After the transition to Christianity/Catholicism began these buildings starting transforming into churches. Today the pope would have had to give a church it’s Basilica title and there are several religious or ceremonial prerequisites that have to be upheld.
Just outside the walls of what’s preserved from Ancient Rome the city starts, there is no separation as the buildings rise up with full restaurants and apartments. Walking through the rest of Rome I was delighted at every turn to see something new and something different. Fountains and steps and small facades and corner statues. There was history and art nearly everywhere I looked. I wrote my grandma a text saying, I long held the belief that Germany was the most beautiful place I had visited, until I came to Rome.” I only spent 2 days in Rome but it left me with a great impression of a city with everything to offer. There were countless parts I didn’t see and I don’t really know any of the reality outside of the tourism.
As soon as you leave the archaeological sight it’s easy to find the Altar to the Fatherland a huge white building, you can even see it sticking out from inside the Forum in the first picture below. The other shots are taken from the buildings wonderful terrace which give views back towards the Forum and Colosseum showing just how integrated it is in the city. More interesting was getting to know the city in a 360 way as you walked all the way around the terrace and back again.
What I saw was full streets, happy people, helpful waiters, a good bus and train system, vegan sandwiches if you looked for them and every so often a piece of outstanding art just sitting on the corner of a building. One day I hope to be blessed with more time in Rome to step off the most common paths and see more of what the city has to offer.
My only pester in Rome were the prices. Everything was absolutely worth seeing and even walking around was a beautifully rewarding experience but it was a pricy city to sleep and spend time in. We ended up making a lot of sandwiches and eating them for breakfast as well as taking them with us. We also found ourselves buying packaged snacks and bars, but the good news is vegan options are widespread and Happy Cow is full of suggestions.