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Italy - France Journal
June 18 to July 4, 1998

Day Four: Sunday, June 21, 1998

Neque protinus uno est Condita Roma die. (Rome was not built in a day.)
-Pietro Angelo Mazolli (Palingenius, Pseud.), Zodiacus Vitae

Today we set out to discover ancient Rome. Our first stop was the Colosseum - dubbed by Flora as "Rome's tourist trap." The vendors hawk everything imaginable (nothing having to do with Rome, by the way). There are men dressed up as gladiators, and for L5000 (about $3 US), you can take a picture with them with your own camera. How cheesy!

Upon entering the Colosseum, we noticed that a free guided tour in English was about to begin. We latched onto it and stayed with this group for the rest of the day. Jim, the tour guide, was an American graduate student of Roman history who spends his summers in Rome giving walking tours. He brought the Colosseum to life for us with facts and humor. The Romans were very advanced technologically, but very barbaric in many other ways. We learned about the Velarium, which was a cover for the stadium that could be put into place in a matter of minutes, thus making the Colosseum, not the Astrodome, the first "domed stadium". We also learned of the Vomitorium, where people would run to be sick after viewing the atrocities on the field.

When the tour finished, Jim announced he would be leading a tour (paid, this time) of the nearby Roman Forum. (A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum, but this is a story for another time.) As we walked along the Via Sacra to the Forum, we passed the Arch of Constantine - erected in the year A.D. 315 to celebrate Constantine's victory over Roman emperor Maxentius. At the entrance to the Forum, we saw the Arch of Titus, erected in A.D.81 when the Romans conquered the Jews, beginning the Diaspora and scattering the Jewish community for nearly two thousand years (until A.D. 1948).

During the 1½-hour tour of the Forum, we saw the Arch of Septimus-Severus, the Temple of the Vestal Virgins and the temple of St. Bartholemew. Especially interesting was the spot where Julius Caesar was cremated (Jim treated us to Marc Antony's complete eulogy for Caesar: "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…"). Also interesting was the tomb believed to be that of Romulus, the founder of Rome. Since the tomb is "cursed," it has never been opened to confirm it is actually the tomb of Romulus. (Remus and Romulus were brothers who each wanted Rome to be named after him - so Romulus killed Remus, and called the city "Rome". Otherwise, it would have been called "Reme," I suppose.) There is more history in these few square blocks than in most countries. The ruins are perhaps 40 feet below modern Rome and were covered for centuries. They were rediscovered several hundred years ago and restoration has continued from that time. Even today, it is difficult to do any underground work in Rome because one is always running into ancient ruins.

We signed up for an evening walk with Jim through Renaissance and Baroque Rome and spent the few hours between tours relaxing in the shade of the Colosseum and people watching. Flora power-walked around the Colosseum a few times. We found a trattoria near the Colosseum, Trattoria L'Albanese, and enjoyed chicken, salad, spaghetti a la pommodoro, and more wine. The evening tour included Piazza Venezia and the Vittoriano monument (called the "wedding cake" by Romans), and Capitoline Hill (one of Rome's seven hills, and the home of the mayor's office). We also visited the prison where St. Peter was held prisoner and where several miracles took place. Well, he was a saint. He was also Jewish (no relation between the two). Next, we passed the square where Mussollini, Napoleon and Michelangelo all lived - not at the same time - or even in the same century, for that matter. Then on to the Trevi Fountain - where one coin thrown in with your right hand over your left shoulder assures a return visit to Rome. Having only one coin between the two of us, Flora threw it assuring her return to Rome where she will bring Barry so he can throw a coin in the fountain. Next we visited the Pantheon, whose architecture is copied in buildings on many town squares and college campuses. It's not much to look at on the outside, though, and it was closed for renovation. Our last stop was the Piazza Navonna, a big square (although it's oval) with Bernini's famous "Fountain of the Four Rivers" in the middle. Having covered two days worth of sightseeing in one day, we returned to the hotel at 11pm.

The Colosseum, Rome

Tour group at the Forum, Rome

Ancient ruins at the Forum, Rome

Gladiators "guarding" the Colosseum, Rome

Trevi Fountain, Rome