When in Rome

Wednesday, Oct. 20


While we arrived in Rome yesterday afternoon, we took the day to catch up on some rest and relaxation.

Today, we packed in as much as possible.

We visited the Colosseum, the Forum Romanum (Roman Forum), the Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) and the Pantheon.

First – the Colosseum.

Deciding to break one of our rules, we paid for a group tour. Considering most of our knowledge on the Colosseum is based on the Russell Crowe movie, Gladiator, we thought an eight Euro tour would be worth it. The entrance fee was already 12 Euro, so 20 in total wasn’t all that bad. It also got us into the Roman Forum with another guided tour.

Best decision ever.

Not only did we jump the line, but we also learned tons of interesting points that you can’t find on Google. (And yes – I was that person with a note pad and pen, asking questions.)

Here’s what I jotted down:

The building itself

– The Colosseum used to have gold ceilings; marble floors, walls and sculptures. The building was stripped of these features to help build the Vatican.

– The hundreds of holes in the Colosseum’s walls are the result of metal thieves. The metal rods were stolen to build weaponry.

– The theft of the metal supports left the walls of the Colosseum weak. And for some reason, it was done primarily on one half of the building. That’s why two layers are missing from the outer ring – they crumbled during an earthquake.

– When building the Colosseum, the Romans designed it so all 76,000 people could be evacuated in 18 minutes.

Gladiators

– The gladiators were trained for years. The training was both mental and physical, as they were taught to fear nothing ¬– especially not death.

– Women weren’t allowed in the bottom stands of the Colosseum. According to our tour guide, it was to prevent them from falling in love with the gladiators.

– The gladiators were the sex symbols of their time. Their blood was sold in vials for fertility reasons.

Entertainment

– The entertainment in the Colosseum started in the morning. The best theatre group in Rome would act out famous plays with full sets and costumes. The sets would incorporate animals from the local zoo and shrubbery. All of the props were brought up through the floor using pulley devices.

– The thieves in Rome were incorporated into the plays at the last minute. They would be done in the same makeup and costume as the actors, but only participated in the final scene. It usually saw them torn to bits by a trained eagle or another animal.

– Other skits included hunting scenes – man versus animal. The men were often given very poor defence mechanisms and sent into the arena naked. It generally resulted in them being killed.

– Between acts, magicians and jugglers would entertain the crowd.

– The main show of the day was always the gladiators.

– Before building the stage and elaborate underground area – which had passages and elevators – the arena’s centre was filled with water for naval re-enactments.

Second – we crossed the street to view the Roman Forum.

The area is basically a gigantic field of ruins – some of which were still being excavated.

The main sewer system in Rome, the cloaca maxima, was built in the sixth or seventh century B.C. and is still used today. That’s how smart the Romans were.

The area was named the Roman Forum because it translates into Rome’s downtown – the first in the country. All of the local farmers would gather in the valley, literally coming down from their hills, into town.

Third – we ventured to the Trevi Fountain.

The fountain itself was beautiful. We even saw one of those guys using a magnetic pole to fish coins out of the water get busted by an undercover cop.

Fourth – the Pantheon.

We came across it after a last minute suggestion from one of the tour guides.

(We had no idea what it was – how ignorant. But it’s also one of the benefits of not researching a place before you visit. Finding a building like this by fluke made it even more special. We like it better than wasting an entire day staring at a map in frustration. At the same time, I’m sure we missed a lot of cool things by not planning. But what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Right?)

Matt was incredibly interested in seeing the Pantheon because it has the oldest functioning doors in Rome.

If you’ve seen the Ron Howard movie, Angels & Demons, then you’ve seen the building. (I’m embarrassed making that reference, but it was one of the first things out of my mouth, other than “Oh my goodness.”)

Some fun facts:

The Pantheon has a miraculous hemispheric dome that is 43.3 meters across. It’s the biggest dome ever vaulted in brick.

There is a circle in the centre that’s nine metres wide. From the ground, it doesn’t look that big.

The floor has 22 holes for drainage for when it rains.

The building’s walls are lined with statues and elaborate paintings. To the left of the central shrine is the tomb of Raphael, the famous artist.

Finally, when the building underwent conservation in 1930, no scaffolding was used. They didn’t want to put holes in the walls. Instead, it was done only by skilled rock climbers.

Hopefully, this makes up for our ignorance.

That night, while cooking dinner, an Italian man in our hostel witnessed us making spaghetti. He was clearly disgusted, but couldn’t speak any English.

He shook his head at us for using canned sauce and started throwing spices, leaves and parmesan into our pot. After picking out the cheese (which I can’t eat), it was delicious.

I think we did our first full day in Rome some justice.

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