Saturday, May 7, 2011

Italy Day 4: Rome Teaches Ancient History

Wednesday, May 4

We got an early start to attempt to do the rest of the Rome highlights in a single day.  We were nearly the first the enter the Colosseum that morning.  The hype was justified, our jaws dropped at how well preserved the stadium was.  We enjoyed reading about its history.  Poor or imprisoned men fought for their lives against animals and other men as spectators gawked.  The emperors used the stadium as an unemployment benefit, getting people off the streets and entertained so they would not cause any political trouble.  It is also crazy to think that slaves built the Colosseum by hand and ox, gathering all the materials and constructing it on site. 

We continued to Palentine Hill, the central high point where emperors planted their palaces.  The most striking thing about the Roman landscape is the Cypress tree.  They are abundant in central Rome, especially Palentine Hill, and project an ambiance of earthly paradise.  Atop the hill, I felt like I was in another world, one distinct from all the other unique places I have been on this trip.  Gradually, we started to piece together periods of Roman history from the ruins we were seeing.  It is one part of history that I am not totally clear on, but several visits on this day reawakened moments from high school--from Mr. Pappas's World History to Mr. Coleman's World Literature.  These subjects are far from what I have studied at IU for the past three years, but I felt inspired to look into them again.  Clara and I remarked that we wanted to take a Roman history or classical literature course all of the sudden.  We agreed that we had been bored by the subjects at times in high school.  Now they seemed more relevant. 

We had to take a break for lunch.  We miraculously found a local restaurant around and feasted on plates of pasta to boost ourselves up for the rest of the day.  We joked about the Italians always using the word, "prego."  As we discovered, it really means everything:  "You're welcome," "Be my guest," "How can I help you?" and the list goes on. 

After we filled up on carbs, we ascended Capital Hill (another high point in central Rome).  It had been home to the temple of Jupitar and after 2,500 years it is still the center for city government.  Michelangelo designed the steps leading up to the high point.  We ascended even further to the top of the Victor Emmanuel II monument (celebrating Italy's unification in the 1800's).  We could see the bird's eye view of all of the ruins.  We climbed down and headed to the next main event: the Roman Forum.

The Roman Forum appears to be a hodepodge of ruins.  With some imagination it is possible to recreate the structures there.  We saw where the body of Julius Caesar was burned, part of Caligula's palace, and the center of the Roman republic.  Here the powerful Senate gathered, even during the ages of emperors.  Just outside the Senate house is a law court where citizens worked out inheritances and permits.  Also, the nearby Rostrum offered a public forum for debate and free speech.  Considering the dark and middle ages that followed, the ancients were extremely sophisticated. 

After the photoshoots at the Forum, we walked to Rome's Pantheon, an ancient domed structure converted into a Christian church.  This is the height of Roman brilliance.  The sphere was enormous and still perfectly preserved.  The architects of the domes in Florence and Pisa studied the Pantheon to replicate it and fuel the Renaissance.  Walking into the Pantheon marked the highlight of the whole trip (not really, but it was a case of incredible coincidence).  As we entered, we overheard, "Hey, that's Rick Steves."  We turned around and there he was, in the flesh, exiting the Pantheon.  With our Rick Steves guidebook in hand, having been reading it aloud moments earlier, we approached him and asked for a picture.  He wanted to not been seen by others, but he agreed to snap a shot.  We were like little children in disbelief.  We toured the Pantheon in a daze of what happened.  Rick Steves was still outside with his camera crew when we left, so we took some more pictures of him without being too obvious.  No one in Europe knows who he is; he can remain somewhat anonymous. 

Before heading back to the hotel, we passed by two famous plazas: Navona and Campo de Fiori.  Both were bustling with nightlife. We soaked in our last moments of Rome, caught a bus back to the hotel, and ate delicious street-side pizza in our room. 

To see pictures of this day, click: "Italy Day 4 - Rome (5-4)" at

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