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Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Roman Holiday


ROMA - Ancient Rome & Papal Rome

Imagine going back 2000 years in time and space while standing on the stone floor inside a colossal amphitheatre. Amidst thousands of Roman spectators. The booms of drums reverberate as the ceremonial parade enters the stadium. After saying ‘Ave imperator; morituri te salutant’ (those who are about to die salute you) to the Emperor, the gladiatorial combat begins. Crowd shouts, jeers and throw their hands up in excitement. 60000 spectators? Like the excitement at Eden Gardens in Calcutta while watching a Cricket match. The gestures, the excitement, the uproar may be different from our present day Mexican waves. But how does that matter? After all a stadium is a venue for entertainment – be it the bloodiest sport in the history of mankind. And how the Romans loved watching violence and killings. Historians remain befuddled as to how Romans who are regarded as precursor of human civilization could have indulged and enjoyed such brutal practices. Records show that these sports continued for 400 years in this grand amphitheatre, the construction of which was started by Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD and completed by his heirs Titus and Domitian of the Flavian Dynasty. It was known as Flavian Amphitheatre for almost thousand years. It is said that the name Colosseum (Colosseo) was coined up because  a colossal bronze statue of Nero  stood near it. A marvel of engineering, Colosseum was built with travertine (a form of limestone) quarried from Tivoli those days. Even the concept and design make one sit back and think. The arena, elevator and pulleys for lifting caged animals to the surface ( operated with hydraulic system), hypogeum ( a series of underground tunnels for housing animals and slaves), the galleries, seating arrangements all speak of the immense engineering capabilities of the Romans 2000 years back. For almost four centuries since its inception, Colosseum witnessed bloodbath of unsurpassable magnitude, be it gladiatorial contests, mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions of criminals and Christians, dramas based on classical mythology. It is said that on the inaugurals sometime in 80 AD about 9000 exotic animals were slained – so vast was the arena, the floor of which no longer exists. The events used to start in the morning and continue till evening. In Imperial Rome, Emperors encouraged people to watch these horrific events as otherwise setting of boredom in general masses may trigger criticism and revolts against the rulers. Today also many governments use similar ploy- the difference being that with modernity many other avenues are open to keep people constructively engaged instead of idling away. The Colosseum was indeed colossal. Historians and archaeologists believe that it was four storied with awnings to protect the crowd from direct sun, and columns of classic architectural styles, colourful statues and marble decorations adorned the stadium extensively.  Gladiators (from ‘gladus’ meaning sword) were trained in a school beside the Colosseum. A defeated gladiator was left to the mercy of the spectators – ‘thumbs down’ meant ‘kill’ and ‘thumbs up’ meant ‘spare’. Many gladiators became famous and were swooned over by the spectators like heroes of our modern day Tinsel Town. I have seen life sized movies on two famous gladiators. Maximus portrayed by Russell Crowe in the film ‘Gladiator’ and Spartacus portrayed by Kirk Douglas in the film ‘Spartacus’. Gladiatorial fights were there during the time of Julius Caesar; when Rome was a Republic.  But the fights used to be held on large open spaces with temporary seating arrangements. Before Colosseum came up there was only one huge ‘U’ shaped stadium in Rome, which used to host Chariot racing- a favourite sports for the Romans. The Hippodrome in Rome was the largest and had a seating capacity for upto 250,000 people. It also used to host gladiator fights, processions and major events till Colosseum came up. Built in the 6th century BC, the stadium was of wooden structure which got burnt down during the Great Fire of Rome and rebuilt in marble in 103 AD. Located close to Colosseum, the Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo) lies on the valley between the Palatine Hills and the Aventine Hills. Unlike Colosseum, the structure decayed over the years, and as a result only the remains of the ruins and outline of the structure can be viewed within a public park.  A classic Hollywood movie where Charlton Heston plays the role of ‘Ben Hur’ shows Chariot racing in details. The film went on to receive 11 Academy Awards. What we see of Colosseum today is only a small fraction of the mammoth structure. Most of Colosseum survived even some massive earthquakes that shook Rome over the centuries. Stones from the major portions which survived the nature’s brunts were stolen for building palaces and St. Peter’s Basilica. The structure which still stands firm like the Colosseum’s exterior wall is the Arch of Constantine. It is still regarded as the largest Roman triumphal arch with inscription still prominent on the arch. Lying between the Colosseum and Palatine Hills this was built to commemorate Emperor Constantine I‘s victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD.  And from thereon the vestiges of glory are scattered over the sprawling Palatine Hills Known as the Roman Forum, which was the urban centre of ancient Rome. The ruins of the market place, palaces of Imperial Rome, villas, senate hall where Julius Caesar was assassinated by the nobles are so scattered and sprawling, the tall remains dominating the skyline made us feel for a while that we belong to the first century. The ruins, excavated by the archaeologists over centuries, blend beautifully with the modern metropolis and express the essence of a city which has seen civilization for over 2000 years. As if Nero (portrayed by Peter Ustinov in the film ‘Quo Vadis’) playing fiddle and shedding tears when Rome burnt did really happen. The city grew up on both sides of the ‘mythical’ river Tiber. On the other side of the river is Vatican City (the papal Rome). Over thirty bridges connect both sides, out of which only seventeen bridges were constructed during the 19th and the 20th centuries. Rest, long ago. Like Ponte Rotto (Broken Bridge) was the first stone bridge constructed in 179 BC. It is another enchanting site. 


On the west of the river Tiber is Vatican, the pilgrimage centre of Rome. Supposedly the holiest of the Catholic shrines. World’s largest church in the smallest country, its central dome dominates the skyline of papal Rome. It took over a century (1506 to 1626) to build this massive basilica, and was built over the church set up by Emperor Constantine I in the fourth century. The Church stands on very high altar, underneath which lies the grave of Simon (St Peter, head of the twelve apostles of Jesus).  St. Peter was the first Pope and was crucified head down (according to his wish) during the reign of Nero, a persecutor of Christians. Adjoining the basilica is St. Peter’s Square, where thousands of people gather during liturgies presided over by the Pope, such as Christmas, New Year etc.

The apartment, where we stayed, was in building 11 at VIA LAMARMORA, near VIA RICASOLI,(close to Rome Termini station  platform 25 end). We took the Line 1-Red Line metro from subway station Vittorio Emanuele, which was only a couple of minutes walk down the Arcade from our apartment. It was quite early in the morning and most shops in the Arcade had not opened. So we decided to have breakfast after reaching Vatican (metro station ‘Ottaviano’). There are ticket counters at Ottaviano metro station from where tickets for guided tours are sold. Bought two tickets for Sistine Chapel and St.Peter’s Basilica. Then walked down to the office from where the tour started. We were a small group, from various places around the world like Spain, France, USA and even Bangladesh. Got quite friendly with a retired army General and his wife from Bangladesh. Our group was greeted and briefed by our guide, a pretty middle aged Italian lady. She handed over earphones to each of us so that we could hear what she says even at a distance. After a quick briefing, she led us towards Sistine Chapel. Our entry to the Chapel was smooth and without any hassles. Our guide efficiently handled the situation at the security, as we could see long queues waiting outside to get in.  Sistine Chapel is a Papal conclave where religious and functionary papal activities take place, including selection process for a new Pope. It was named after Pope Sixtus IV who restored it between 1477 to 1480. We had to climb a lot of steps to reach Sistine Chapel. There we passed through long vestibules adorned on both flanks by magnificent artwork, sculptures, frescos, reliefs and tapestries  from Renaissance artists like Botticelli, Perugino, Rosselli, Raphael, to name a few. Like Michelangelo was asked to design and paint the ceiling of Sistine Chapel, his contemporary Raphael was asked to design the tapestries. Both were great rivals. They were both of opposite characters. Raphael had a pleasing personality and was considered a Casanova. Raphael was pleasure loving, and as mentioned by our guide (in a hushed tone), he died young due to excessive sex with various women. Michelangelo, on the other hand, was grumpy and lonely. Pious and a devout Catholic, he was a genius. A painter, a sculptor, a master on anatomy and a great architect. The central dome of St.Peter’s Basilica, which we see today, was designed by Michelangelo (similar to the Duomo of Florence) .Sistine Chapel ceiling, was painted by Michelangelo, and it had taken him four years to complete. A painting of stunning beauty, unparalleled and found nowhere on earth.  Researchers and experts in neuroanatomy have recently come out with stunning revelations that the figures of God painted on the ceiling show intricate details of human neurological and anatomical features craftily concealed in the paintings by the painter, who at the age of seventeen started dissecting corpses from the church graveyard. From Sistine Chapel we were taken inside the St. Peter’s Basilica. The vastness of the interior, the height of the vault, rich d├ęcor with Baroque stuccos, mosaics and statues by great artists through the centuries are stupendously magnificent. Shielded by thick glass, Michelangelo’s masterpiece Pieta was in the first chapel. Holding the dead and limp body of Christ on her lap, Madonna’s (Virgin Mary)  expression is that of submission to destiny. Dating back to 1499 this marvelous sculpture in marble was made by Michelangelo when he was only twenty four. This, perhaps, is the only work signed by the artist.  Starting from Constantine I there are many other statues of saints inside the basilica. When we came out in the open, our guide asked us to keep the earphones as souvenirs. After spending some time with our friends from Bangladesh, taking photographs and exchanging views, we descended down the sweeping steps to St. Peter’s Square. We were fortunate to see the change of guard.Vatican is the smallest country in the world with an area of only 0.2 square miles, and is guarded by the smallest army in the world. That too by mercenaries from a different country, i.e. Switzerland. Known as the Swiss Guards, they are the defense system of Vatican for over five hundred years. For their valour and courage, the ‘warrior class’ Helvetian soldiers were first invited by Pope Julius II in 1506 to guard the Papal complex and Vatican City.  The tradition continues till date, and the guards also maintain the same uniform they wore five hundred years ago. 


It is said that crucifixion of St.Peter took place near an ancient Egyptian Obelisk in the Circus of Nero. This Obelisk now stands at St. Peter’s Square, and revered as “witness” to St. Peter’s crucifixion.It is worth mentioning at this point that outside the St. Peter’s Square most of the vendors and local guides were from faraway Bangladesh. Some even have their own souvenir shops (it was there at Pisa also). They are settled there for years, some even over a decade and can speak fluent Italian. Even outside Rome Termini there were a lot of eateries run by Bangladeshis. They are so enterprising that they even run deluxe bus services from Termini to Fiumicino Airport. What is good about their presence is that they are hospitable, helpful and like to form a group and chat till late night on street corners. So even when a tourist walks down a street late in the evening, he or she feels secured. Before coming to Rome, we were cautioned about notoriety of the city on thefts, snatching and pickpockets roaming the streets. We did take extra care, but the presence of Bangladeshis made us feel confident and at home. Shopping in the market near the Basilica was a wonderful experience. 

Before coming to Italy I had learnt that fashion is synonymous with Italy. Italians brought fashion to forefront right from the fifteenth century Renaissance period. Italian males, in particular, love to be dressed up smartly. May be that is one reason for Rome earning the name of ‘Fashion Centre’ of the world. Knowing this I secretly cherished a desire to dress up like an Italian. So I bought a shirt, a pair of trousers and a pair of Italian leather shoes to fulfill my desire. 


Whether in Vatican or Rome or any other place in Italy, we made it a point to refresh ourselves with Italian homemade Ice Creams or Gelato. I have tried Ice Creams at many places in the world, but nothing to beat Gelato. Simply heavenly and yummy! A great number of flavours are available in Gelato shops, but the ones which we enjoyed were treats of triple scoops of one’s choice in cones. And the one which excited my taste bud was scoops with a layer of hot vanilla cream over it. While on Gelato its worth mentioning about a Gelato shop in Florence. This family owned fifty years old shop was very close to our hotel. When we used to return back to our hotel in the night after a day’s outing we skipped dinner and instead indulged in ice creams and pastries in the warm Gelato shop run by a lovely Italian lady, who became extremely friendly with us.


In limited time we tried to see as much as possible. We tried to taste as many flavours of Gelato as possible in Italy and Rome. We tried to do a great amount of shopping. But we still continued to feel that we have missed something. Also the Tiber and its bridges have a lot to offer to tourists for which one day is not enough. And for that we need to come back again to Rome and Italy.

We, therefore, made up our mind to go to the eighteenth century Trevi Fountain located in the Trevi district of Rome. It is the largest baroque fountain in the world and connects one of the aqueducts that supplied water to Ancient Rome. This fountain has been made famous by the song and the film of the same name “Three Coins in the Fountain”. To fulfill one’s wish coins have to be purportedly thrown with the right hand over the right shoulder. An average of 3000 Euros are thrown every day in the fountain. We went there to wish for another visit to Rome so that we could complete all the places we missed this time.



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Colosseum at Colosseo

Map of Ancient Rome (as it was in the first century AD)


Colosseum

The Guide Map outside Colosseum and ruins of Roman Forum dug out by the archaeologists 





Triumphal Arch dedicated to Emperor Titus

Arch of Titus



Ruins excavated at Roman Forum



Ruins of Domitian's palace complex. Emperor Domitian belonged to Flavian Dynasty, and said to have completed construction of Colosseum.



Stairway from the Roman era


A passage in he Roman Forum

Shops in the marketplace at Roman Forum


Surviving structures at Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Colosseum as seen from Roman Forum


A view of hypogeum and part of the surviving arena inside Colosseum


Inside Colosseum

Inside Colosseum . The portion fenced was the location for lift constructed for gladiators and animals.

Closer view of hypogeums (series of underground tunnels and cells)




Inside Colosseum.Some Doors can be seen intact after 2000 years

Another view of hypogeums


Colosseum


Inside Colosseum






Arco di Constantino.This is Rome's largest triumphal Arch built to commemorate Emperor Constantine's victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD

Palatine Hills


Road built in the era of Republican Rome

This Arch was built as a gate to the Imperial Palace in the first century AD
The ruins of the vast palace built during the rule of Flavian Dynasty. The palace was so tall that it dwarfed the pyramids of Egypt


Domus Augustana





Nymphaeum



Vatican




At Vatican with our Italian Guide and our friends from Bangladesh


Entrance to Sistine Chapel

School of Athens - a fresco by Raphael in Vatican

Frescoes on the walls and the ceiling of Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo's painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel


St.Peter's Basilica

The Obelisk which witnessed the crucifixion of St.Peter now stands on St.Peter's Square outside the Basilica. It was earlier at the Circus of Nero

Inside the Basilica

The Pieta. This is Michelangelo's first sculpture for Vatican, and was made by him when he was only twenty four years old.

Pieta Chapel

Chapel inside the Basilica

Inside St.Peter's Basilica

The Tomb of Apostle Peter is located here, beneath the high altar. The discovery of St.Peter's burial site was validated by Pope Pius XII in his pre-Christmas broadcast in December 1950. 



The interior of the tomb of the basilica designed by Michelangelo


Chapel of the Virgin Mary

Another view of  tomb's  interior


Change of Guard. The famed Swiss Guards at Vatican



Exterior of  Basilica

The basilica from St.Peter's Square


Another view of  the basilica



Another view of the obelisk


Vatican City



Vatican City

Artwork inside Vatican


Artwork inside Vatican

Sculptures adorning Vatican Church



Sculptures adorning Vatican Church



Artwork on a vase inside Vatican



Most of the cars in Rome are Fiats

Delicious and yummy Gelatos

A gelato shop and its lovely owner in Florence


Trevi Fountain

Two Coins in a Fountain. At Trevi Fountain in Rome

Photo Credit:  Arundhati Sengupta




 Rome & Vatican Guide. Follow us.........

Like most European cities Rome also has integrated transport system, ie. Bus, Tram and Metro. Passes are available at Tabac (Tobacco) shops, Bars and at vending machines in metro stations and Rome Termini station.It is recommended to keep cash handy,as the vendors like Tabac Shops, in particular, do not accept credit or debit cards.  One can buy a pass depending on the number of days of stay and sightseeing in Rome. I always prefer public transport. It is cheap,comfortable,passenger friendly and runs on time. And at the same time one can see and feel the pulse of the city by travelling in this manner. Most importantly for a tourist  to see and explore the city at a leisure pace. The two most important metro lines for the tourists are Metro A (red line) for visiting Colosseum and Ancient Rome; Metro B (blue line) for Vatican. Both these lines meet at Termini metro station. Trams and buses are good but at certain places we found them crowded. 
For tourists from Indian subcontinent and gourmets for Indian Curry, there is an excellent eatery (name - Indian Restaurant) near Rome Termini Station. One has to approach  from Platform 25 end of the station. Cross the main road, take Via Filippo Turati, pass Radisson Blu  Hotel and after a couple of buildings towards Vittorio Emanuele metro,the restaurant appears. A humble looking shop,it is frequented  by locals. The mutton curry rice platter I had was delicious and excellent.  Frankly, I fell for it and skipped Italian cuisine for the rest of the nights we stayed in Rome.
Some important Bus routes for tourists are:
Some key, frequent routes for the tourist are listed below, but there are many, many more.

40 (Limited stop express) - Termini - Piazza Venezia - Argentina - Piazza Pia 

(for St Peter's/Vatican)

64 - Termini - Piazza Venezia - Argentina - Vatican

62 - Repubblica - Spanish Steps - Piazza Venezia - Argentina - Vatican

81 - Vatican Museums - Piazza Imperatore (Spanish Steps) - Piazza Colonna 

(Trevi Fountain) - Piazza Venezia - Circo Massimo - Colosseum

60 - Termini - Piazza Venezia - Colosseum - Circo Massimo

- Termini - Piazza Venezia - Argentina - Trastevere

8 (Tram) - Piazza Venezia - Argentina - Trastevere

Like we availed bus no. 40 for travelling from Vatican to Termini. 

Rome Metro Map


Rome Tram Routes

Tram lines

The tram network in Rome has six lines:

  • Line 2: Piazza Mancini – Piazzale Flaminio.
  • Line 3: Piazza Thorwaldsen – Trastevere.
  • Line 5: Giovanni Amendola – Piazza dei Gerani.
  • Line 8: Torre Argentina – Trastevere. Most important line for tourists
  • Line 14: Giovanni Amendola – Palmiro Togliatti.
  • Line 19: Piazza Risorgimento – Piazza dei Gerani
Present Map of Rome & Vatican



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3 comments:

Amlan Banerjee said...

Feel very nostalgic. Tempted to revisit Rome .

Warren Julian said...

It looks as though you're having a great time in Rome. It's an amazing place.
Your blog contains great detail that would be valuable for someone planning to visit those locations in Rome. It is excellent and could form the basis of a visitor’s guide that you could make available.

Roberto Bortolotto said...

Hi, thanks, and compliments. Great blog and amazing images.