Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Ancient Rome: *insert Roman pun here*

Well, I'll be honest: it was a bit rough coming back here after another fantastic break with friends and family. Infinitely easier than the first time, but still, this is going to be the 30-some week long stretch, so goodbyes were tough. However! Nothing eases twinges of homesickness quite as effectively as gladiators and looking at all the pope's cool stuff, and so with only one day to unpack and repack, Tracy and I took to the skies again to spend a week exploring Rome.

Completed 80AD, so 2011-80=1,931 years ago!!!
Our very first day, we arrived exhausted and starving, but unwilling to let ourselves go to bed without having laid eyes on at least one epic Roman structure. As a result, when I first laid eyes on the magnificent Colosseum, it was already dark outside. It appeared so unexpectedly; I was just walking along the city sidewalk and suddenly: yellow light gushing through stone arches, chilled air full of Roman ghosts.

Neighboring the Colosseum was the Arch of Constantine, dedicated to him
by the people in 315AD after he finally took down Maxentius (who nobody really liked).

We returned to the Colosseum about two days later to explore the inside (as much as was open) during the day. If it screamed "I am ROME and I am on top of the WORLD" from the outside, then the inside, well, it just screamed it louder.

 Brilliantly designed in a theatrical sense, you just look down on everything, from wherever you are. There can't have been a truly "bad" place to watch what was going on down below. They are working on reconstructing much of it now, so what you see in this picture (below) are actually the exposed hallways and cells beneath where the original field was-- the wedge of white platform off to the side is where the field would have been, so imagine that stretching all the way across. It would have been covered in sand too, you know, to soak up the blood of the fallen, etc. 

A closer shot of the series of tunnels, etc that wound underneath the field itself-- they've found all sorts of stuff under here, but especially animal bones. After the animals had (if the gladiator was lucky) been killed in a fight, the Romans took what was left underneath and harvested absolutely anything off of it that could be offered or sold to the people: meat, fur, horns, organs, etc. Very efficient.

The view off of the colosseum was packed full of other major sights too; Ancient Rome was still everywhere. 
It was incredible to sit down for a few seconds and suddenly realize, oh, wow... I am sitting on a massive hunk of rock that over a millenium and a half ago was upright, towering over the city, potentially as part of a sacred temple, etc. Of course, this doesn't mean we didn't have a decent amount of fun being stereotypical cheeseball tourists:

From the Colosseum, we headed over to the ruins on Palatine Hill, which are mainly a combination of haunting, crumbling walls and overgrown stones still outlining the original homes (see below).

Stadium of Domitian's Palace, around 6th Century-- they're not quite sure what the stadium was used
for (private track? public stadium?) but it this guy was clearly loaded.
Recently discovered though, were the beautifully preserved original frescos in the House of Augustus <House of Augustus!> BBC has much better video of it than me, since it was so sensitive there was no flash allowed and only five people could go in at once. Fortunately, Palatine Hill was relatively deserted while we were there, so we were able to get in quickly. The experience knocked you backwards though; the small, enclosed rooms seemed to cling to the past, waiting for Augustus to return home.

At the top of Palatine Hill, we then stumbled into the Farnese Gardens, which were pretty much unmistakeable--orange trees (and orange rinds) were all over, so the air itself smelled rich and zesty. People were trying anything to pick the remaining oranges off the higher branches. These gardens were created mid 16th Century by Cardinal Farnese, who bought the remains of the palace of Tiberius, and apparently decided a garden would look nice on top of them.

From the Farnese Gardens, we began meandering our way back down Palatine Hill...
Arch of Titus, c.82AD, honoring his victories etc., but especially the Sacking of  Jerusalem
Detail: Titus' Roman guys making off with the Jewish menorah, among other things
...and it was then we stumbled into the Roman Forum. A stretch of time-worn columns still reaching for the sky, refusing to resign their dignity even among the rest of the ruins, chunks of sacred temples scattered everywhere, slowly sinking into the earth: walking through the remains of the Forum was easily my favorite experience; even today, it made you either proud to be a Roman citizen, or made you really wish you were. It was essentially the Roman city center, ancient government buildings and temples lining the streets of the marketplace.

Overall, I think Ancient Rome has held up to the test of time with shocking grace; I don't think until now I really appreciated the word "empire," especially in the sense of one centuries ago. The Romans utterly dominated the landscape, and even now, approaching two-thousand years later, after earthquakes and storms and countless shifting seasons, in an age of skyscrapers and revolving restaurants, when we look at this we still have to nod to their empire. Regardless of how it finally fell, well done, Romans, well done.


The Cast of the Rome Trip (aka, members of Photography Club):
Dirk, from Germany- huge dude with blonde ponytail (total viking), designs computer programs that will eventually be able to count the number of penguins in any given photograph.
Farid, from Malasia- not terribly city-savvy, but his super power of choice is to be Harry Potter (which is brilliant).
George, from Greece- highly intrigued by the concept of "Greek Life" at USA universities: "Yes, tell us, what is Greek Life like?"
Matt, from England- impression of Americans sounded like a drunken New Jersey man repeatedly saying, "That's friggin' awesome!" (apparently they do not say that here) Also, he loved the story of Touchdown Jesus' unfortunate demise.
Steph, from England- visited USA for some time. Apparently every bar she went to, the Americans just begged her to say certain words in her accent (especially "orange," haha, which does sound smashing in British). Long story short, they are TOTALLY aware of the fact we swoon over their accents.

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