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ROME – The Eternal City

Rome is the capital of Italy. Rome is located inland about 25 km (16 mi) up the Tiber River, on both banks, about halfway down the W side of the 1,100-km-long (700 mi) Italian peninsula. Just when Rome was founded, and by whom, is shrouded in legend and mythology. Tradition says it was in 753 B.C.E. by a certain Romulus, its first king, but there are graves and other evidence indicating it was inhabited at a much earlier time. The first known settlements were built on seven hills on the E side of the Tiber River. According to tradition the Palatine hill was the site of the oldest settlement. The other six hills located around Palatine (beginning in the N and turning clockwise) were Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Caelian, Aventine, and Capitoline. In time the marshy valleys between the hills were drained, and in these valuable areas dwellings, forums, and circuses were built. According to Pliny the Elder, in 73 C.E. the walls surrounding the city were some 21 km (13 mi) long. In time the hills and valleys to the W side of the Tiber were annexed, including the more than 40 ha (100 acres) occupied today by the Vatican. Before the great fire of Nero’s time, according to conservative estimates, the population of the city was well over a million people.

THE COLOSSEUM

The Colosseum is probably the most famous landmark in Rome. Built in the 1st century AD, this great arena was the largest Roman amphitheater in the world. Emperor Vespasian, founder of the Flavian Dynasty, started construction of the Colosseum in 72 AD. It was completed in 80 AD, the year after Vespasian's death. The huge amphitheater was built on the site of an artificial lake, part of Nero's huge park in the center of Rome which also included the Golden House (Domus Aurea) and the nearby Colossus statue.

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The Building

The elliptical building is immense, measuring 188m by 156m and reaching a height of more than 48 meters (159 ft). It is elliptic in shape in order to hold more spectators. It had four floors; the first three had eighty arches each; the arches on the second and third floors were decorated with huge statues.

The Colosseum could accommodate some 55,000 spectators who entered the building through no less than 80 entrances. Entry was free for all Roman citizens, but places were divided according to social status. Above the ground are four stories, the upper story contained seating for lower classes and women.

The lowest story was preserved for prominent citizens. The tiers of seats were inclined in such a way as to enable people to get a perfect view from wherever they sat. Below the ground were rooms with mechanical devices and cages containing wild animals. The cages could be hoisted, enabling the animals to appear in the middle of the arena.

Like modern sports stadiums, the Colosseum gave spectators efficient protection from the sun thanks to its ingenious roof covering, the “Velarium”. The Velarium was an enormous linen tarpaulin hung by a system of ropes, winches and wooden poles that girded the top of the outer wall. It took one hundred sailors from the Imperial fleet to move it. They moved in perfect synchrony to the beating of a drum.

Emperors used the Colosseum to entertain the public with free games. Those games were a symbol of prestige and power and they were a way for an emperor to increase his popularity. The shows taking place in the Colosseum were both of a symbolic and solid nature and created a link between citizens and their leader through common participation at important public events with the not unimportant function of giving the people some fun to distract them from political problems.

The two underground floors housed the lifts and hoists with their counter weights, of which we can still see the rails today; they were the special effects of the time, used to hoist up animals and gladiators who burst into the arena through trapdoors, suddenly appearing in a burst of white dust giving the audience great surprise effects. Games were held for a whole day or even several days in a row. They usually started with comical acts and displays of exotic animals and ended with fights to the death between animals and gladiators or between gladiators. These fighters were usually slaves, prisoners of war or condemned criminals. Sometimes free Romans and even emperors took part in the action.

Inauguration

Hundred-day games were held by Titus, Vespasian's successor, to mark the inauguration of the building in 80 AD. In the process, some 9,000 wild animals were slaughtered.

The Ruins

The southern side of the Colosseum was felled by an earthquake in 847. Parts of the building - including the marble cladding - were later used for the construction of other landmark buildings such as the St. Peter's Basilica and Palazzo Farnese. What we see nowadays is just the skeleton of what was the greatest arena in the ancient world.

But why does the whole world call it the Colosseum?

This name appeared for the first time in a famous prophecy of the medieval monk Venerable Beda: “Rome will exist as long as the Colosseum does; when the Colosseum falls so will Rome; when Rome falls so will the world”. Perhaps he got the name from the enormous statue of the Emperor Nero, “the Colossus” 35 meters high, which stood right next to the amphitheatre and has now been completely destroyed.

ARCH OF TITUS

Located at the highest point of the Via Sacra which leads to the Roman Forum, this triumphal arch, with only one passageway, commemorates Titus' conquest of Judea which ended the Jewish Wars (66-70). Engaged fluted columns frame the passageway, the spandrels depict Victories in relief, the attic contains an inscription and the internal faces of the passageway depict in relief triumphal processions. Triumphal arches were typically built shortly after the triumph since both were granted after exceptional military service to Rome and essentially served to advertise to the Roman people the general or emperor receiving the triumph. The Arch of Titus, however, was built after Titus’ death.

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The arch was erected posthumously, after Titus had already become a “god.” The arch was constructed of Pentelic marble on a travertine foundation. The dimensions of this arch are 15.4 meters tall, 13.5 m. wide, and 4.75 m. deep. The archway is 8.3 m. high and 5.36 m. wide. Above the archway is a simple entablature with inscription, preserved only on the eastern, Coliseum side. ‘’’The inscription’’’ “Senatus Populusque Romanus Divo Tito Divi Vespasiani Filio Vespasiano Augusto” The Roman Senate and People to Deified Titus, Vespasian Augustus, son of Deified Vespasian.

‘’’Relief of The Spoils of the Jerusalem’’’ The scene depicts the triumphal procession with the booty from the temple at Jerusalem–the sacred Menorah, the Table of the Shewbread shown at an angle, and the silver trumpets which called the Jews to Rosh Hashanah. The bearers of the booty wear laurel crowns and those carrying the candlestick have pillows on their shoulders. Placards in the background explain the spoils or the victories Titus won. These few figures, standing for hundreds in the actual procession, move toward the carved arch at the right, complete with quadriga at the top.

‘’’Relief of The Triumph of Titus’’’ This scene depicts the actual triumphal procession with the toga-clad Titus in the chariot, but with the addition of allegorical figures–the winged Victory riding in the chariot with Titus who places a wreathe on his head, the goddess leading the horses (identified by some scholars as Roma, others as Valor [Virtus]), and the semi-nude Genius of the People. Because the reliefs were deeply carved, some of the forward heads have broken off.

THE PANTHEON

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Built more than 1800 years ago, the magnificent Pantheon still stands as a reminder of the great Roman Empire. The name Pantheon refers to the building's original function as a temple for all the gods. Pantheon is a Greek word meaning “to honor all Gods.” The most remarkable part of the building is the more than 43 meter high dome. It was the largest dome in the world until 1436 when the Florence Cathedral was constructed.

At the top of the dome is a large opening, the oculus, which was the only source of light. The front portico has three rows of columns; the first row has eight columns while the other two have four each. A huge bronze door gives access to the cylindrical building. Its diameter equals the interior height of 43.3 meters.

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The original Pantheon was a rectangular temple built by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, son-in-law of Augustus, the first Roman emperor, as part of a district renewal plan in 27-25 BC. What tourists see as they relax in front in the Piazza della Rotonda is radically different than that original temple. Hadrian rebuilt the structure; maker's stamps in the bricks allow us to peg his restoration between 118 and 125 AD. Still, the inscription on the architrave attributes the construction to Agrippa during his third councilship. The portico in front of the Pantheon is what remains of Agrippa's original temple.

Originally a temple for all pagan gods, the temple was converted into a church in 609. The Pantheon now contains the tombs of the famous artist Raphael and of several Italian kings. Its ecclesiastical interior design contrast with the temple's structural design, but the marble floor - which features a design consisting of a series of geometric patterns - is still the ancient Roman original.

The Pantheon is the best-preserved ancient Roman building in Rome Largely because the Pantheon was turned into a church, it was kept remarkably well-preserved. In fact, you can still experience the building much as the ancient Romans would have. Sure, some things have changed (there’s a Christian altar here now, for example, and frescoes of saints), but the dimensions of the building, along with much of its decoration, has remained the same.

CIRCUS MAXIMUM

What visitors see today is a large oblong field that modern-day Romans go for walks in. But Circus Maximus today is not so very different to what the ancient Romans saw when they first started to use this small valley for sports. People sat on the ground on the slopes to watch sporting events. Admission to the Circus Maximus was free and all levels of Roman society, from the emperor to the urban poor, came to see the chariot races. Like gladiator games, chariot races were very popular with the Roman people. King Tarquin laid out an arena known as the Circus Maximus. Down the center was a barrier (spina), with pillars at each end around which charioteers had to maneuver – carefully. Julius Caesar enlarged this circus to 1800 feet in length by 350 feet wide. Seats (150,000 in Caesar's time) were on terraces over stone arched vaults. A building with stalls and entrances to the seats surrounded the circus.

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The shape and structure of the Circus Maximus changed as fast as Rome grew and with the importance of chariot racing, one of the great Roman passions. The first building, built in the VII century B.C. by Tarquinio Prisco was made of wood, but in its moment of splendour, Circus Maximus would have been completely covered in marble and travertine stone. Circus Maximus is the biggest sports stadium ever built. Just think that it could hold almost three hundred and eighty thousand visitors with free access to races. Almost four times bigger than the biggest stadium today.

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Its structures couldn't have been so different to our horse racing tracks. Imagine watching a horse chariot race surrounded by the cheering and clapping of thousands of people, betting huge fortunes on the races, eating, arguing and cheering their champions on just like modern fans. Excitement, risk and tension were vital ingredients of the race.

Over the centuries, the building was damaged by fire several times. It is well known that the famous fire of Rome (the one that legend says was started by Nero) began on a short side of the Circus (the one where you can now still see the brick remains), but after each fire Circus Maximus was repaired, rebuilt and even enlarged straight away. The last race at the Circus Maximus in Rome was held in 549 AD , almost a millennium after the first races were held at this location. The circus fell into disuse and gradual decay. In 1587, two obelisks were removed by Pope Sixtus V, and one of these was placed at the Piazza del Popolo. Today very little remains of the Circus, except for the grass covered racing track and the outline of the central barrier.

THE TREVI FOUNTAIN

The Trevi Fountain is a fantastic work of art that is much more than a mere sculpture. This triumphant example of Baroque art with its soft, natural lines and fantasy creatures embodies movement as the soul of the world. The fountain is a true wonder, a jewel of water and stone that is nestled between the palaces of the historic centre of the city.

The Trevi Fountain is situated at the end of the Aqua Virgo, an aqueduct constructed in 19 BC. It brings water all the way from the Salone Springs (approx 20km from Rome) and supplies the fountains in the historic center of Rome with water.

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In 1732, Pope Clement XII commissioned Nicola Salvi to create a large fountain at the Trevi Square. A previous undertaking to build the fountain after a design by Bernini was halted a century earlier after the death of Pope Urban VIII. Salvi based his theatrical

The restive sea horse is a masterpiece on this design. Construction of the monumental Baroque fountain was finally completed in 1762.

The central figure of the fountain, in front of a large niche, is Neptune, god of the sea. He is riding a chariot in the shape of a shell, pulled by two sea horses. Each sea horse is guided by a Triton. One of the horses is calm and obedient, the other one restive. They symbolize the fluctuating moods of the sea. On the left hand side of Neptune is a statue representing Abundance, the statue

The crowded square on the right represents Salubrity. Above the sculptures are bas-reliefs, one of them shows Agrippa, the general who built the aqueduct that carries water to the fountain.

It is said that if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the water, you will be sure to return to Rome. An estimated 3,000 euros in coins are thrown into the fountain every day.

THE ROMAN FORUM

The Roman Forum (Forum Romanum) was the central area of the city around which ancient Rome developed. Foro was the name that the Romans gave to the central square of the urban settlement. Here was where commerce, business, prostitution, cult and the administration of justice took place. Space where religious activities were conducted and the communal hearth of the city.

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The Roman Forum was designed by the architect Vitruvius with proportions 3:2 (length to width). For centuries, the Forum Romanum was the site of the city's most important public buildings, such as the Arch of Septimius Severus, built in AD203 and the Roman Forum Rostra or platforms for public speeches. The reliefs on the triple arch represented many of Rome's victories over oriental tribes and the Rostra was decorated with prows of warships captured during battles. The Roman Forum became the spectacular showcase of the Roman Empire filled with beautiful statues and architecture.

It was only in the eighteenth century that the Forum was rediscovered and finally the definitive process of the recovery of the ancient ruins began, bringing this long-forgotten and barbarically plundered historic patrimony back to life.

The main sight of the Forum include the Arch of Titus (Arco di Tito), the Temple of Saturn, Temple of Vesta, and the church of San Luca e Martina. These are all linked by the Sacra Via, the main road through the Forum.

SPAGNA SQUARE

Piazza di Spagna is one of the most beautiful squares in Rome. Dominating the famous Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti, or the Spanish Steps, is the church of the same name built in the sixteenth century. It is here that starts Via Sistina, the road leading directly to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

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The monumental stairway is one of the most impressive sights in Rome. Designed by Francesco de Sanctis, it was to be a creation in honour of the Christian Trinity. It is well worth visiting the Trinità dei Monti in the spring when the steps are delightfully bedecked with hundreds of azaleas, a tradition dating back to the 1950s.

Also in Piazza di Spagna is the Barcaccia, the famous Baroque fountain sculpted by Bernini. It was built in memory of the flood that deluged Rome at the end of the 16th century and the barcacce, boats used for transporting goods that allowed people to reach the point of the fountain from the river Tiber.

Many artists continue to frequent the square which, for a long time now, has been the cultural and tourist hub of Rome.

SANT'ANGELO CASTLE

This Fortress was built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian (AD130-139), but it has also been a prison and a papal residence. It was used by former Popes who absconded there for protection in times of danger. There has been a covered passageway which still connects Castel Sant'Angelo to the Vatican.

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The National Museum of Castel Sant'Angelo inside retraces its history. The castle has various exhibits ranging from Renaissance paintings and pottery to antique military weapons. A huge spiral ramp ascends upwards the Castel Sant Angelo for about 400 feet.

As in the last act of Tosca, admire the beautiful view from the terrace but don't throw yourself off - go for a coffee instead in one of the rampart towers.

Did you know?

The Via Appia was named after Appius Claudius Caecus, the Roman statesman who began building it in 312 B.C.E. This road, some 18 to 20 feet [5-6 m] wide and paved with large blocks of volcanic rock, eventually extended 362 miles [583 km] southeast from Rome. It linked Rome with the port of Brundisium (modern Brindisi), the gateway to the East.

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  • Guide rionali di Roma: Pigna (a cura di Carlo Pietrangeli)
  • Guide rionali di Roma: Testaccio (Gallavotti Cavallero Daniela)

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