Being Steeped In History
Human lifetimes are usually limited to a century.
My grandpa was born, lived and died within the same century. My father’s life spanned two. My daughter might be lucky enough to see three, if she’s a centenarian.
But, by and large, our minds have trouble fathoming time spans longer than one hundred years.
In history, we read of wars and achievements from the past. Years like 1526 (Battle of Panipat), 1789 (French revolution) and 1815 (Battle of Waterloo) are memorized by rote, without any real appreciation of how long ago they happened.
Sometimes, though, the past becomes tangible.
Like when you stroll down a “road” where people have walked… centuries before Christ!
The Roman Forum and Via Sacra
Via Sacra (sacred road) extends down the middle of the Roman Forum. It was the main street of ancient Rome, leading from Capitoline Hill to the Colosseum. Dating from the 5th century BEFORE Christ, it’s still intact, even if worn by the ages.
We approached it from the Colosseum-end, walking past the Arco di Tito (Arch of Titus) constructed in 82 AD to commemorate Emperor Titus’ victories in battle.
Arco di Tito (Arch of Titus)
The Roman Forum is filled with ruins and remnants of a once-glorious part of Rome, boasting of the most prestigious addresses in the ancient empire.
Here’s a view of the layout, with the Temple of Venus and Rome in the background and the Tempio di Antonino e Faustina (Antoninus and Faustina temple) in the distance.
The Roman Forum
The Temple of Caesar below was built in 42 BC, when the senate deified Julius Caesar.
Temple of Caesar
This interesting ruin of the Tempio di Vesta (Temple of Vesta) where the vestal virgins lived and prayed has some interesting stories to share.
Tempio di Vesta
If a nun on duty let the eternal flame die out, she was punished by being starved to death! And if any vestal virgin violated their vows of chastity, she was walled up alive (because it was forbidden to spill her blood) – but her unfortunate lover would be flogged to death in public.
The high point of any historic tour of Rome is, of course, the Colosseum.
Inside the Colosseum
Constructed by emperors Vespasian and Titus between 70 and 80 AD, it seated nearly 50,000 spectators who entered through 80 entrance arches, and was the scene of gory, bloody sports where gladiators fought each other and vicious, starving animals – to the death.
To mark its inauguration, Emperor Titus held games that lasted 100 days and nights, during which some 5,000 animals were slaughtered. Trajan later topped this, holding a marathon 117-day killing spree involving 9,000 gladiators and 10,000 animals.
From the stands, you can picture the Colosseum full of screaming toga-clad citizens enjoying the spectacle. While it might sound gruesome and dreadful in today’s refined socio-political climate, these fierce games kept the citizens of yore occupied and entertained… so that they didn’t bash each others’ brains out!
The ruins also reveal the underground dungeons where slaves and wild animals were housed.
Palatine Hill, where Romulus is said to have founded the city of Rome in 753 BC, today only has ruins of the imperial palace and offers views of the Roman Forum. This Stadium dates back to 1 AD – that’s 2000 years old!
Notice the funny flattened shapes of the tops of the trees? It’s how they looked through most of Rome!
There’s more history all over the city.
Like the Pantheon, a 2,000 year old temple that’s among the best preserved of Rome’s ancient monuments.
The Pantheon, Rome, Italy
The Pantheon was dedicated to the classical gods (pan = all, theos = gods).
Its fascination is the gigantic dome, the largest unreinforced concrete dome in existence (43.3 meters in diameter). Light enters through the oculus, an 8.7 meter opening in the dome that served as a symbolic connection between the temple and the gods.
Inside the Pantheon
Roof of the Pantheon – Rome, Italy
And then, there’s the awesome Santa Maria Maggiore – but that’s for another post. Don’t miss it!