I’m so excited that international travel is finally picking up. It’s been way too long! We have been very anxious to get back to one of our favorite countries – Italy! And I recommend, if you can only go to one city in Italy… go to Rome. Or, if you are fortunate enough to visit several areas of this beautiful country…I would definitely start in Rome. This place is absolutely epic and surreal!
The Ancient Roman Empire is a journey into the “Eternal City.” It’s one of the few cities in the world that can boast 3,000 years of uninterrupted civilization. There’s always something new to see and to learn in this phenomenal ancient place.
Beginning in the eighth century B.C., Ancient Rome grew from a small town on central Italy’s Tiber River into an extremely powerful empire that at its peak, covered most of continental Europe, Britain, much of western Asia, northern Africa and the Mediterranean Islands. It’s almost too much to comprehend!
Because of limited space I’m going to focus on five areas of Ancient Rome that are my personal favorites.
- The Coliseum: This Roman icon was very high on my list of “must see” while in Rome, and it did not disappoint. We learned the coliseum is also known as the “Flavian Amphitheatre”. Built of concrete and stone, it is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering. It is the largest amphitheatre in the world. It’s also beautiful to see at night as it is illuminated.
We were shocked to learn that this mammoth structure was built in only 10 years. Construction began in 70 AD, and was completed in 80 AD by Jewish slaves. The Coliseum could hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators. A person’s seat depended on their social status. This entertainment venue was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on classical mythology.
On my plane ride back to Texas, I just had to watch the movie “Gladiator”…one more time.
- The Roman Forum: This location is where commerce, worship, business, prostitution, cult and the administration of justice took place. For centuries, the Forum was the site of the city’s most important public buildings, such as the Arch of Titus, where Paul pleaded his defense of Christianity as noted in Acts: 25-26 and the Roman Forum Rostra, a popular platform for public speeches. The Roman Forum became the spectacular showcase of the Roman Empire filled with beautiful statues, buildings and architecture. It was a showplace back in the day and is still visually fascinating!
- Circus Maximus: This was the largest stadium in ancient Rome. Popular chariot races were held here for almost a millennium. At one point the Circus could seat 250,000 people, one quarter of Rome’s population. These races appealed to all social classes from slaves to the emperor himself. Today only the layout of the original circus can be seen in what is now mostly grassland. This is where merciless persecution of Christians took place. Ron and I walked completely around this enormous elliptical that runs along the base of Palatine Hill. Thinking of all the Christians killed here is a sad and very sobering experience.
- Castel Sant’ Angelo: This Fortress was built as a mausoleum from 130-138 AD, but it has also served as a prison and the Pope’s residence. It was used by former Popes who absconded there for protection in times of danger. There has always been a covered passageway which still connects Castel Sant’Angelo to the Vatican. Swiss guards protected Pope Clement VII during his underground escape from St. Peter’s Basilica to Castel Sant’ Angelo. Of the 189 Swiss guards, only 42 survived.
Just a short walking distance from the Vatican, Castel Sant’ Angelo is worth a visit! A huge spiral ramp ascends upwards the Castel Sant’Angelo for about 400 feet. Know that there’s also a restaurant at the top called Le Terrazze. The view from the restaurant and the top of the Castel is just spectacular!
- The Pantheon: After taking a college class on Ancient Rome, our daughter desperately wanted to see this historical city. The top site on her list was the Pantheon. Just walking into this ancient structure is awe-inspiring. This building is very unique and spectacular. Historians say, “It’s the oldest building in Rome.” Michelangelo felt it was the work of angels, not men…I have to agree.
It has a rectangular vestibule that links the porch to the rotunda, which is under an exquisite dome, with a central opening (oculus) to the sky. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Unbelievable! It is one of the best-preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings. It has been in continuous use throughout its history, since the 7th century. The Pantheon is the Roman monument with the greatest number of records: the best preserved, the biggest brick dome in the history of architecture and is considered the forerunner of all modern places of worship. It is the most copied and most imitated of all ancient works.
We booked an “Ancient Rome” tour with a private guide. The tour was four hours long and started at the Pantheon. The amount we learned and the level of increased enrichment of the experience was truly worth it. If you are not with a guide, I would suggest going early in the morning to miss the big crowds. A highly trained guide in Rome is required to spend 5 years studying Roman history, so most are extremely knowledgeable and will truly bring this fascinating history to life!
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