Going on a guided tour is often a mixed blessing. Sometimes a lot is learned and other times a lot of money is spent for very little. At the ruins we joined a tour group to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, walked up Palatine Hill and saw the Arch of Constantine. The guide inside the Colosseo was excellent. He explained how the building got its name. A colossus is an enormous statue, and there was one in ancient times, a 30 meter high bronze sculpture of the emperor Nero, which was modified into the Sun God, Sol Evictus, as soon as Nero was in his grave. The amphitheater known today as the Colosseum was actually the Flavian Amphitheater and got the name Colosseum due to its proximity to the colossus statue. The circular "playing field" inside was a wooden platform with a maze of pathways and trapdoors underneath for the emergence of combatants and animals. It was covered with sand, called 'arena' in both Latin and Spanish. The sand made for easy removal of blood and body parts, more sand was added for the next performance.
|An archeological mix: ancient Roman Forum ruins|
in the foreground, less ancient Christian churches (left)
and the modern monument to Vittorio Emanuel II, the
first king of Italy (white building)
The guide explained that after the Roman Empire began to fall apart, the population of the city dropped to under 20,000 people, and much of the city was abandoned. Regular silty floods of the Tevere eventually deposited 3-5 meters of mud preserving the ruins, but also providing fertile, relatively flat land for farms and eventually new buildings. On the higher land north and east, some buildings like the Pantheon continued to be used as a temple and then a church for two thousand years. Today it is a Basilica of the Catholic Church. The technically innovative and enormous dome is still intact, with a large hole in the top and drainage in the floor where the rain pours in. It was designed this way to reduce the weight the roof must support. Inside are the crypts of various popes and the artist Rafael, as well as impressive sculptures and paintings.
Further to the north and east, there are other large and impressive ruins. One exposed section is the Largo de Torre Argentina, mentioned in an earlier post as the no-kill sanctuary for Cats. Most of these smaller sites are not on the average tourist's radar, but things we tend to stumble across while walking or riding the public transport.
In addition, there are large areas south of the Colosseo and Forum that are full of catacombs and ancient baths. Most of the Roman settlement was on the east side of the Tevere, the Vatican occupies much of the western side along the river. Vatican City was much larger in earlier time, with a surrounding wall, a section of which can still be seen in the Trastevere neighborhood. Compared to the Roman walls and aqueduct systems, it is thin and not very defensible, an athletic teenager could climb right over it.
|Long section of Roman wall that kept out|
invaders and the river at one time.
|Inside the amphitheater, with a small section of platform|
indicating the "floor" of the arena. Look closely for stairs
that once led up to trap doors on the arena's floor.
|View of the Forum, from the Colosseum|
|A structure called The Basilica, for which all Basilica|
Churches are named. This is only one side, it once
had a domed ceiling reaching across to an identical
structure opposite which is now gone.
|The Arch of Constantine (and me)|