One of the best ways to discover Rome, the eternal city, is by walking: low, comfortable shoes, camera… and off you go… Rome will be ready to be discovered in all its splendour!
Let’s start our tour with the Colosseum: it is the most emblematic, unmissable monument, one of the seven wonders of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site:
Inaugurated by Titus (son of Vespasian, founder of the Flavian dynasty) with 3 months of games in 80 A.D., the Flavian Amphitheatre was only called Colosseum in the Middle Ages, probably because of the enormous statue known as the “Colossus of the Sun God“, which was placed nearby and which had the appearance of Nero.
With its capacity of more than 50,000 spectators, arranged in 80 rows of tiers, it is the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world: a huge building in the shape of an ellipse, 189 metres long, 156 metres wide and 48 metres high.
This building is said to be a model for modern stadiums, given its ingenious design and effective solutions to problems that still exist today. Various construction techniques were used and it is interesting to know that it had to be excavated up to 14 metres, as the building was located above a lagoon, and cemented almost 13 metres high.
The tiers of seats were built so that each floor was reserved for different social classes:
- the podium, i.e. the first, was for senators, magistrates and priests, and at the extremes (in the best seats) was imperial tribune;
- the maenianum primum, for aristocrats who did not belong to the Senate;
- the maenianum secundum divided into imum for the rich citizens and summum for the poor;
- finally, the highest was the maeniamum summum in legneis, made of wood and probably without chairs for poor women.
Access to the tiers was through an entrance called the vomitorium: it was so well designed that the 50,000 spectators could be evacuated in less than five minutes.
It immediately became a symbol of imperial greatness and was mainly used for celebratory events, for the entertainment and amusement of the people who could watch gladiator shows, re-enactments of famous battles, dramas based on Greek mythology and even simulated naval battles.
The activities followed a precise programme: in the first part of the day there were fights between animals or between a gladiator and an animal,
after which the death sentences were carried out.
The day culminated with the gladiator fights, the most awaited moment for the spectators. So there was a lot of violence and a lot of blood. To give you an idea, during the inaugural games ordered by Titus, 2,000 gladiators and 9,000 animals died!
Nowadays the Colosseum is the biggest tourist attraction in Rome and thousands of tourists enter the arena every year. Inside, on the upper floor, there is a museum dedicated to the Greek god Eros, where several interesting temporary exhibitions are held.
The Forum was the religious, commercial, administrative and cultural centre of the city.
The Imperial Forums are a unique architectural complex, the centre of the political activity of ancient Rome, a place that over the centuries has been enriched with structures and buildings built over a period of about 150 years, between 46 BC and 113 AD.
The first Forum was built on an ancient marshland, reclaimed by Caesar, and was inaugurated by Caesar himself in 46 BC.
It opens into a large square where the bronze equestrian statue of Caesar was originally installed.
Inside, there was a picture gallery with paintings by the best Greek painters as well as numerous works of sculpture and objets d’art. Here stood the Temple of Venus Genetrix, from which the Emperor boasted of his descent.
Between the 1st century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D., the Forum of Caesar, the Forum of Augustus, the Templum Pacis, the Forum of Nerva and the Forum of Trajan were built side by side and without interruption.
In the space between the eastern end of the Forum of Trajan and the northern end of the Forum of Augustus there is a building to which the elegant Loggia of the Knights of Malta, commonly called ‘Terrazza Domizianea’, was added in the 15th century.
From the Forum of Caesar, some columns and the podium of the Temple of Venus remain, as well as portions of the colonnades and porticoes that delimited the square and numerous architectural fragments scattered throughout the area.
Of the Forum of Augustus, we can now appreciate the conspicuous remains of the temple, with its splendid Corinthian colonnade, the entire northern exedra and most of the southern exedra.
The Forum of Peace has been almost entirely buried under the modern road: some parts are visible in correspondence of the Basilica of Maxentius, the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian and in the Torre dei Conti, at the end of Via Cavour.
The Forum of Nerva, actually built by Domitian, is almost entirely buried under Via dei Fori Imperiali: a small portion of the foundations of the temple of Minerva survives.
The last and largest of Rome’s forums is the Forum of Trajan, which includes the splendid Trajan’s Column, the emperor’s funeral monument and the only perfectly preserved monument.
Lose five minutes to observe on the shaft of the column, Trajan’s two battles against the Dacians narrated in a continuous bas-relief with a helical development 200 metres long: battles, scenes of life in the camp, executions, construction of fortifications, everything is reported with truly impressive precision and realism.
Next to Trajan’s Column, the Syrian architect Apollodorus of Damascus built the Trajan Markets for retail trade.
The Circus Maximus, one of the largest spectacle buildings of all time (600 m long by 140 m wide and a capacity of 300,000 spectators), is linked by legend to the very origins of the city.
Here, in fact, took place the Rape of the Sabine Women, one of the first important events in the city of Rome.
Its main function was to host the Roman Games (Ludi Romani) in honour of Jupiter, which were held annually in September.
In the Circus Maximus various competitions were held, such as chariot races: the competitors, who competed in small horse-drawn chariots, were gambling for more than prestige or a prize: they were slaves fighting for their freedom!
During the games there were also equestrian parades, known as “Ludus Troianus”, representations of battles, or foot races, which lasted several hours.
The competitions held in the Circus were the most popular competitive activities among the Romans, along with the gladiatorial games: the drivers of the quadrigas soon became idolised characters among the Roman people. Since the chariots were run by different stables according to their colours (green, blue, red, white), the spectators too were divided up on the circus steps according to the colour of their favourite riders, who were cheered on with chants and mottos composed for the occasion. The large space at the bottom of the valley also lent itself to events related to the political, social and religious life of the city, such as triumphal demonstrations, processions and public executions.
Other events were hosted at the Circus, including wild animal hunts, public executions and Gladiatorial fights, some of which were unusually spectacular, such as when Pompey organised a contest between a group of gladiators and 20 elephants.
Devastated several times by fire, the Circus Maximus was almost completely rebuilt under the principality of Trajan, to whose phase most of the currently visible structures belong. Numerous interventions were carried out by later emperors, including the spectacular erection of the gigantic obelisk brought to Rome by Constant II in 357 AD, now at the Lateran.
The Circus remained in activity until the first decades of the 6th century.
The Roman domus of the Caelian are located below the basilica of Saints John and Paul. Also known as the house of the martyrs John and Paul, they contain over four centuries of history and bear witness to the passage and coexistence of paganism and Christianity.
Together with the excavations of San Clemente, they represent one of the most fascinating places in underground Rome, due to the extraordinary state of conservation of the frescoed rooms and the high artistic and religious value of the site.
Inside, you can admire some of the most beautiful frescoes of the late antique period.
The complex is accessed from the cliff of Scaurus, one of the residential quarters of the ancient city: from here, descending below the level of the modern church, you can admire what remains of the stratified history of this site, taking a journey through time from the second to the fifth century AD.
In fact, the oldest structures in the complex date back to a rich Roman domus from the 2nd century AD with a thermal bath. In the 3rd century AD, a high block of flats was built opposite the domus, occupied by shops on the ground floor and rental flats of various sizes on the upper floors. In the 4th century the whole block was then acquired by a single owner who transformed the complex into a single new rich domus, full of luxurious decorations still partially visible today. The area changed its use in the 5th century when the Church of St. John and St. Paul was built here, on top of the rooms of the domus that, according to Christian tradition, had become the domus of the martyrs John and Paul in the previous century. The construction of the church led to the final abandonment of the domus, now rendered impracticable by the foundations of the basilica above it.
On the upper level there is a small but interesting museum with beautiful prices from the excavations.
An extraordinary complex in terms of size and decoration, the Thermae Antoninianae or Baths of Caracalla are one of the best preserved grand imperial buildings of antiquity. They were built on the initiative of Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Bassianus, known as Caracalla, son of Septimius Severus, who inaugurated the central building in 216 AD.
The plan is rectangular, typical of all “great imperial baths”: not only a building for bathing, sport and body care, but also a place for walking and studying.
The central block, the one used for the baths, is arranged along a single axis along which the caldarium, tepidarium, frigidarium and natatio open in sequence. At the sides, symmetrically arranged and doubled, are the two gymnasiums and the changing rooms. In the enclosure surrounding the central area were the cisterns and the two symmetrical libraries, two large exedras, the main entrances and the tabernae inserted in the perimeter space to the north.
The Baths of Caracalla are one of the rare cases in which it is possible to reconstruct, even if only in part, the original decorative programme. Written sources speak of huge marble columns, flooring in coloured oriental marbles, glass mosaics and marble on the walls, painted stucco and hundreds of statues and colossal groups, both in the niches of the walls of the rooms and in the most important rooms and gardens. A special branch of the Acqua Marcia aqueduct, the Acqua Antoniniana, was created for the water supply. Restored several times, the baths ceased to function in 537 AD.
The dungeons were the hub of the complex’s life, the place where hundreds of slaves and skilled workers worked to operate the ingenious technological machine of the Baths. Preserved for about two kilometres, the undergrounds were a maze of carriageable tunnels where, in addition to the timber stores, there were the heating system, consisting of ovens and boilers, a water system, a mill and the Mithraeum, one of the largest preserved in the city of Rome, in which it is still possible to recognise the fossa sanguinis, probably used for the initiation rituals of the followers of the cult. The Mithraeum is an integral part of the bath complex and denotes the strong closeness of the Severan family to cults of oriental origin.