Exploring the Heart of the Roman Empire

Rome. It’s a powerful name that conjures up images of Cesar’s armies, fierce gladiators and incredible architecture. It’s a place rich with history and being there, you feel that history all around you. Walking through a park, over a hill, and having the tattered skeleton of the coliseum rise up in front of you brings into focus how many have come before you. You wonder how many have stood in the same place, marveling at the same exceptional creation.

Rome. It’s a powerful name that conjures up images of Cesar’s armies, fierce gladiators and incredible architecture. It’s a place rich with history and being there, you feel that history all around you. Walking through a park, over a hill, and having the tattered skeleton of the coliseum rise up in front of you brings into focus how many have come before you. You wonder how many have stood in the same place, marveling at the same exceptional creation.

Men are capable of great things. Rome is representative of that, good and bad. I wonder what my generation will be remembered for. What will we contribute to the progress of the world? We gotta do better than Facebook.

Our first glimpse of the Colosseum from a nearby park

Italy, being the tourist hot-spot that it is, made couch surfing impossible. We found a brilliant Hotel called The Beehive that ended up being completely booked but did have off-site apartments to rent right in the heart of Rome. The location was perfect. The train station, coliseum, and much more than we had time for was all within walking distance. We stayed in a single bedroom of the 3 bedroom apartment and had a shared bathroom and kitchen. It had started out as a studio for an artist so it had a lot of character. Staying at an apartment really let you feel like you lived there.

The other huge bonus we got when staying with The Beehive was a guide from the American-born owners that outlined the attractions to see and listed the best food to get nearest to each of them. It was a life-saver in the absence of a friend to show us around and kept us clear of the overpriced tourist traps.

First I had to try one of the only truly cheap foods in Rome, the pizza. Angela was feeling a little sick after a day of traveling so she crashed in the apartment and I set out to find Pizzeria del Secolo. The pizzas are displayed behind a glass counter uncooked. You point to the one you’d like and indicate how large or small of a slice you’d like and then they cook it for you. You pay by the weight so it’s cheap and easy to try several kinds in one meal. I picked 3, and they were all delicious. No sauce, thin crust, and lots of veggies. It is what pizza should be. My favorite, and Angela’s too when she tried it later, was definitely the potato pizza.

The menu at Pizzeria del Secolo

The next day we set out for the Coliseum. It was incredibly well preserved for being nearly 2,000 years old. Parts of it were in the midst of restoration cleaning to remove the smog and pollutants that have accumulated on concrete over the years. Once covered in marble, most has been stripped away to reveal the naked stone. Inside, the elaborate rooms beneath the arena were being excavated and part of the floor had been reconstructed with wood and had sand spread evenly across it.

Colosseum exterior where marble had been stripped away
Colosseum from inside
Colosseum from inside (opposite end)
Model of the Colosseum underground pulley system used to hoist animals into the ring with the gladiators
Colosseum chart showing seating as richest to poorest — Stadiums are still that way!

For lunch we used our guide and decided on Panella, a bakery and bar that showcased an incredible amount of delicious looking pastries and cakes. They also served light lunch fare. After we had lunch, which was really good, we had our first Italian gelato.

Breads and pastries at Panella
Panella pastries and cakes — They were reeeeally good.

Our next trip was to the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland). This was the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen. Its size was mind boggling and the details and statures are masterpieces. It screams of wealth and distinction. It was built to honor Victor Emmanuel, who was the first king of Italy. It was designed in 1885 and finished in 1935. Artists from all over Italy helped create it. [Wikipedia – Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II]

Altar of the Fatherland — Pictures just don’t do it justice
Incredible statues were built right into the side of the walls and a massive bronze
chariot challenges from above.
Exquisite details lined every inch of the architecture

To the right of the Altare della Patria was a mysterious looking building that we wandered into. Passing through two massive doors we were led into a dark room filled will elaborate paintings all over the walls and ceiling. Larger than life statues were setup in dramatic scenes that lined the isles. It was known as Santa Maria in Aracoeli. It was another example of the excessive nature of architecture, only this was a church. Its foundation was laid in 574 and was built and rebuilt many times since. [Wikipedia -Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven]

Inside Santa Maria in Aracoeli
Ceilings of Santa Maria in Aracoeli
Santa Maria in Aracoeli pulpit

We left the church and headed to the Roman Forum. Considered the center of Roman public life where elections were held, public speeches were given, criminal trials were put on display and gladiators fought for recognition. The statues and monuments were erected to celebrate men of the time. Reminiscent of our time in Greece, most of the structures were in disarray. Many completely collapsed or only partially restored buildings and monuments were scattered throughout the large field. We wandered through the area to see everything up close, but the best part was standing on the streets above and looking out over the whole of the area. It is hard to describe the experience in words other than it’s incredibly powerful and interesting. [Wikipedia – Roman Forum]

Roman Forum

Our last day in Rome we spent at Villa Borghese park. We stumbled upon it after exploring some neighborhoods in the north area of Rome. It began as a vineyard in the 16th century. It was like a scene out of a movie. As far as you could see there were old trees scattering their leaves to soften the paths below them. Many old buildings, some of which were built for the 1911 World Exposition, were throughout the park. We also stumbled upon what seemed to be an epic museum. We could not enter as it was by reservation only and had sold out for the next 4 days already. It was one of the many times we said, “we have to come back here someday.” [A view on cities – Villa Borghese]

Villa Borghese Park
Temple of Aesculapius in Villa Borghese Park

That night we wanted something different for dinner. We walked up and down the streets near the train station and found just that. It was Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine at a small place simply named “Africa”. It was our last night so I ordered a 9% beer that our waiter recommended. The staff was awesome, the beer was awesome, and so was our food. I highly recommend stopping by if you are ever in Rome.

We wanted to see so much more but we left saying what we have so many times on this trip, “we just have to come back.” And so we set out for Tuscany to enjoy Italy in a way that is virtually impossible in Rome, by relaxing.

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