This morning we had timed, early morning tickets for a 9 a.m. entry into the monumental Roman Colosseum. There was a very efficient line leading to the entrance, and we entered exactly at the time on our tickets. The galleries and passageways leading into the heart of the colosseum have become a museum of the Roman Empire. We were very impressed with the displays.
I found the maps of the Roman Empire and its provinces at its pinnacle especially interesting. It is amazing how much territory they managed to control – it was vast! It covered an area of 1.7 million square miles, with 50,000 miles of Roman roads constructed! In 211 A.D., it covered all of the area spanning from western to eastern Europe all around the Mediterranean, southern Britain, northern Africa and the near East and parts of Asia. Watch this YouTube video about the span of the Roman Empire. Here is a map of the Roman Empire in 212 C.E.
From the gallery spaces, we proceeded to enter the body of the Colosseum, by ascending some brick stairways through interconnecting passageways, under imposing brick and stone arches.
It is simply mind boggling that the Colosseum was so well-designed that it could hold 50,000-80,000 spectators, yet all of the spectators could exit the Colosseum in 15 minutes. What a marvel of Roman engineering! The Romans developed many engineering marvels, for example, their ingenious aqueducts, which carried water from outlying springs to cities, such as the aqueduct in Segovia, Spain – one of the best-preserved of all Roman aqueducts.
We did not take the tour to the pit areas where the gladiators and animals were held before battle – I kind of wish we had for a different perspective of the colossal structure. Once inside the body of the Colosseum, we walked all around, observing the massive tiered seating areas and the vast network of tunnels and rooms that were below the Colosseum floor. We even saw the box that the emperor and senate watched from.
From the Colosseum, we proceeded to enter the heart of the imperial Roman Forum, which covers a huge area. This area was a reclaimed swamp, but became the social, religious, political and economic heart of the great city of ancient Rome.
Today was a gray, drizzly, dreary day. There were partial remains of ancient pagan temples, statues – mostly headless and single freestanding and multiple marble columns abounded, some supporting pagan temple pediments and friezes.
One temple, the one to the founder of Rome in 753 B.C., Romulus, still had its original bronze doors. It felt like we covered most of the Forum in several hours, but it was pretty vast, so we could have easily missed something.
After the Forum, we climbed some very steep stairs to Palatine Hill. The views from on high are magnificent, with the Circus Maximus lying in the Valley of Murcia and the Aventine Hill to one side, and the imperial Roman Forum and the city of Rome on the other.
The Circus Maximus could hold 250,000 spectators for its chariot races.
Once on top, we entered the Palatine Museum. This museum contained some excellent archeological relics dating back to Paleolithic times, many artifacts, a model of Romulus, Rome’s founder’s hut on the Palatine Hill and a worthwhile video showing how Rome grew over the 7 ancient hills on the Tiber River to eventually dominate all of Italy.
There were great models of the Iron Age villages where Rome is now, with thatch-roofed mud and wood-walled huts (11th-10th centuries B.C.). Romulus mythologically founded Rome in 753 B.C. atop the Palatine Hill.
The Palatine Hill eventually became home to many of the luxurious villas of imperial Roman Emperors during the Roman Empire, due in part to its cooler temperatures, cooling breezes off the Tiber and its location away from the bustling crowds in the settled valleys between Rome‘s hills. The museum even contained a statue of the twins Remus and Romulus, nursing the Etruscan she-wolf who found them.
After the Palatine Hill we walked back down into the Roman Forum and up the many steps to the Capitoline Hill. None other than Michelangelo designed the plaza in front of the governmental buildings on three sides of the plaza (he also designed the facades for two of these building), dominated by a bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, which was originally erected in 175 A.D., possibly in the Roman Forum. These make up the Piazza del Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill.
Inside the Capitoline Museums, we took a break for a snack of tiramisu, chocolate tart and an aperitif.
The Capitoline Museums, which was established in 1734, was the first museum in the world, a place where art could be appreciated by all, not just the elite. The museums’ collection has grown to include many ancient Roman statues, inscriptions, and other artifacts; a collection of medieval and Renaissance art; and collections of jewels, coins, and other items.
I was fascinated by the colossus of the emperor Constantine the Great in the courtyard – his face, hand and foot.