When in Rome, and in what century

Katie Siebenaller

        Reluctant to say arrivederci (goodbye) to Florence, I hopped on the rail with my fiancé, Tyler, making our journey to our final Italian destination: Rome.
        A metropolis, Rome is a mosaic of its past and present selves, piecing together tiles of ancient, medieval and modern times. Walking the sidewalks of Rome, ancient ruins can be seen fenced off to the left as cars pass on the right. The city is surreal in this manner, and I think that’s what makes it so memorable. At any given moment, an artifact or piece of architecture 10 times older than our own nation can be viewed in Rome. Cities like Philadelphia and Boston suddenly appear infantile by comparison.
Visiting Rome feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Having had the honor of experiencing the city twice, I’d like to share my favorite highlights:
        The Colosseum
        Rome’s most-visited attraction and one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the Colosseum has stood since 80 A.D., withstanding not only the test of time and being stripped of materials, but also German bombings in World War II. Originally named the Flavian Amphitheatre after the emperors of the Flavian Dynasty who commissioned and saw out its construction, it is theorized the name “Colosseum” started out as a joke that ended up sticking.
        The Roman emperor Nero (reigned 54-68 A.D.) had a gigantic statue of himself that was installed near the Colosseum. This statue, the Colossus of Nero, is estimated to have been close to the height of the Statue of Liberty. It is said that, being cynical and funny as people are prone to being, the Romans began to refer the Flavian Amphitheatre as the “Colosseum.”
        In addition to having a sense of humor, the ancient Romans loved being entertained. And for nearly the first 500 years of its existence (the last recorded games took place in the 6th century), the Colosseum did just that, hosting exhibitions featuring exotic animals from Africa and the Middle East, prisoner executions, recreations of famous battles and gladiator fights.
        Seating an estimated 50,000 Roman citizens and elite, the Colosseum can be likened to one of today’s many professional football stadiums, albeit with gorier games. Everything was numbered and marked — from the aisles and seats to the many entrances and exits. And the closer your seats were to the action, the wealthier and more entitled you were (the Colosseum did not have special enclosed suites in the top levels). The Romans also took tailgating to an entirely different (figurative) level.
        On our visit to the Colosseum, Tyler and I had the pleasure of seeing a special temporary exhibit. On loan from various institutions were artifacts from in and around the Colosseum, including what would be considered today’s litter in the stands.
        Essentially, the Colosseum was BYOF (bring your own food). With entertainment often spanning an entire day, the Romans came prepared, packing their ancient George Foreman-equivalent grills with arrays of meats and water bottles (ceramic vases and jugs). Pieces of pottery and small animal bones were the evidence found in the stands, along with ancient makeup application instruments and crafting supplies (which points to the ancient equivalent of bored spouses on their phones). Spectators, however, were saved from having to supply some sort of sunscreen or sunglasses by the canvas ceiling covering the Colosseum.
        How anyone could possibly eat when executions were specifically performed at lunchtime was more of where my concerns lied.
        Fontana di Trevi
        Aside from the Colosseum, seeing the Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) was essentially the reason why I wanted to go to Italy when I was little (thanks to “The Lizzie McGuire Movie”). Those with a more refined taste in film might recognize the large Baroque fountain — measuring 86 ft. by 161.3 ft. — from “Roman Holiday,” starring Audrey Hepburn.
        The name “Trevi” derives from the Italian “tre vie” (three ways), referencing the fountain’s position as an intersection point of three roads. The fountain’s origins date back much further than its final iteration, completed in 1762, however. In 19 B.C., the fountain formed the end of the Aqua Virgo (now Aqua Vergine) aqueduct, one of the 11 aqueducts that supplied water to ancient Rome. The first fountain was built during the Renaissance.
        Today, throngs of tourists visiting the Trevi Fountain can be seen taking pictures and standing with their backs to the fountain, throwing coins in with their right hands over their left shoulders, a la 1954’s “Three Coins in the Fountain,” in the hopes of returning to Rome. The euros collected from the fountain are used to support charitable causes.
        Travel tip: The Trevi Fountain actually supplies drinking water! To the left and right of the fountain are smaller “drinking” fountains where people can stop for a refreshing sip (or attempt to refill a water bottle).
        Piazza Navona
        The Piazza Navona (Navona Square) is a public square built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian, Circus Agonalis (competition arena), where the ancient Romans would gather to watch agones (games) — specifically athletic competitions.
        Rome’s most popular square, Piazza Navona is home to three impressive fountains, built in the late 16th century: the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers), the Fontana del Moro (Moor Fountain) and the Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune). The beautiful Sant’Agnese in Agone is also featured in the square. A church dedicated to Saint Agnes; it overlooks the area where the saint was martyred — the once Stadium of Domitian.                The square is lined with restaurants and touristy shops, and in addition to hosting great examples of Baroque works, Piazza Navona is a great spot for people watching. Street performers of all sorts can be found here. One of our favorite moments in Rome was watching a man create these gigantic bubbles for children (and adults) to enjoy. It was a wonderful moment, getting to witness the pure joy something so simple produced.
        Travel tip: Sometimes the most enjoyable and unique attractions are free, however, I would encourage leaving an impressive or favorite street performer or artist a tip. It’s a little gesture to let them know you appreciate their talents and encourage them to continue.
        The Pantheon
        Not to be confused with the Parthenon (that’s in Greece), the Pantheon, also known and the Pantheon of Agrippa or the Roman Pantheon, was completed in 126 A.D. It has stood the test of time, all the while boasting the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The Pantheon is one of the best-preserved buildings of ancient Rome, in part thanks to the Catholic Church.
        In the beginning of the seventh century Byzantine emperor Phocas donated the Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV, who had the building consecrated as a church, dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs. As a result of its consecration, the Pantheon was saved from being stripped for spoils that so many other ancient Roman creations suffered as a result of abandonment.
        Today, the tombs of several Italian kings and people of note — most famously the tomb of Renaissance painter and architect Raphael — as well as numerous works of art still reside within the Pantheon’s walls. These sites are lit with natural lighting, provided by the Pantheon’s oculus in its dome.
        Bonus travel tip: Though technically its own sovereign state, a passport is not needed to visit Vatican City, located in Rome. Within are architectural and artistic masterpieces, including St. Peter’s Basilica and the vast number of works in the Vatican Museum — not to mention Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (the only way in is through the Vatican Museum, where the chapel is the last stop before exiting). Even standing in the middle of St. Peter’s Square is a site to behold.


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