Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ancient Rome

Another fabulous tour by Context Travel!! Our guide, a Roman history expert, took us through the Palatine (the ruins of the emperors' palaces), the Forum (the ruins from the ancient city center) and the Colosseum (where the gladiator games were held). This was a four hour tour that began at 3pm. The first area we went to was the Palatine. I was thrilled that we had a guide because there are only some brick walls standing, tiny groupings of what was once gorgeous marble floor, a small museum and some other random pieces of buildings. But she made the area come alive. She explained that the area was once covered with the palace of the emperors of Rome (around 100-400 AD or so) with the most luxurious accommodations. The ceilings were 3 stories high, the floors and walls were covered with marble that was imported from the most distant lands of the Roman empire, there were underground tunnels for the slaves to move around the palace, and there were beautiful fountains with running water in courtyards within the palace. If we hadn't had the guide, I probably would have walked through in 20 minutes with the the history in mind.

We got the same type of information about the Forum. The most interesting story from the Forum was that ancient Rome had something called Vestal Virgins. These were women that were picked (at age 6) from wealthy families to keep the everlasting fire of Rome burning. Apparently this was the highest honor for a family to have, and the virgins were almost treated as well as the emperor and his family - including being given the best seats (opposite the emperor) at the Colosseum. These women had to be virgins until they were relieved from duty at age 29 (literally old maids by then). If they had sex while they were Vestal Virgins, they were buried alive, and the man was stoned to death.

The other interesting part of the Forum was that there are still several buildings standing. Just amazing. Really the only ones that survived were ones that were turned into churches. The guide also showed us drawings that show that even through the 1700s, most of what has now been uncovered as ancient Rome was buried beneath the city.

Our final stop was at the Colosseum. We arrived at sunset, about one hour before it closed. Again, it was virtually empty! Super cool. Even though the Colosseum is something that you see images of all of the time, it was the least interesting historically. It was built by the Flavian emperors (who were a different family than the original Caesars) to win over the people of Rome. The Colosseum was a huge stadium for gladiator and animal games. Of course, it was also an architectural feat of the times and fascinating in that most of the structure still stands today. The best part of our tour of the Colosseum was that it was almost empty and it was sunset. It was like being in a museum at night, and you could almost feel the history in the silence.

That night, we had our final meal in Rome. We both ate pasta and went home to relax before our early flight to London and then to Los Angeles. With the time difference, we left Rome at 8am and arrived in LA at 3pm. How fab!

I left the next day for Columbus. I'll write more soon.

Jessica O.

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