What’s left of the Glories of Rome
The Coins of the Day: Hadrian and Trajan
Hadrian and Trajan are “Good Emperors” that we skipped over earlier in the trip, because I was saving them for today. Much of what I saw today was built by one or the other of these two people.
Denarius of Trajan
Trajan ruled from 97-117 CE. This denarius dates to 103. Reverse depicts Roma.
And this sestertius (1/4 denarius) was minted in 116. The reverse depicts Providentia (personifying foresight and forethought).
Trajan was succeeded by Hadrian, 117-138 CE.
This denarius, depicting Quies (rest and repose) on the reverse, was minted in 119.
Flavian Amphitheater (Colosseum)
Trajan and Hadrian didn’t build this; it was done by the Flavian emperors, hence “Flavian Amphitheater”. The Flavians ruled from 69 to 96 CE, picking up after the chaos that followed Nero. The first decade was Vespasian, then from 79-81, Titus (whom we “met” two days ago), then the remainder was Domitian.
This tour was quite thorough, but first we had to avoid a threatened strike. Apparently, in Italy strikes happen pretty much at random, with spotty effects. Shortly before we were due to start, the word came down that the Colosseum was open, but other sites weren’t. It was luck of the draw. (Later, I was to notice that the escalators in some metro stations (three out of about two dozen) were switched off due to a different strike.)
One thing you may have noticed in pictures of the Colosseum is that there’s a semi-circular outer wall enclosing a smaller structure inside. (You can see one end on the right in this picture.) It looks as if they planned it that way (since the outer wall ends in two clean, angled ends), but in fact the outer wall used to run all the way around the thing, giving it an upper tier of seating. An earthquake sometime in the last 1900 years knocked half of it down, and someone came along and cleaned up the edges on what had survived.
It’s a marvel of first century high tech.
Incidentally this Colosseum is what’s depicted in the movie Gladiator. (The story is historically inaccurate, but the setting is properly done; the wide sweeping vistas of Rome are as close as we can get to the reality, today.)
And this is what was under the floor, the hypogeum:We then walked back inside, and down to the levels below the floor.
Archways, held together by nothing but gravity. The top archway is an example of the flat arch. The main load bearing lines of force still form a curved line. It’s what you’d get if you extended the stones in the bottom arch until they were level with the tops of the two walls.
The claim is that this roof (the restored floor) is constructed much like the original was. (The original wood is long gone.) I don’t quite believe it since I see modern joist hangers and the like here. But it’s probably not too far off.
Now moving on to upper levels.This was, basically, one or two levels up. Some places where the decking was preserved are visible to the left; the restored floor we initially walked out on is on the opposite side.
We eventually got to the upper level of the outermost complete wall. Here’s a view to the west of the temple of venus, behind which is the basilica of Santa Francesca Romana:And a look into the Colosseum. You can see the floor level (of course), including the partially restored section we were on earlier, at the far end. You can also see the level we were on two pictures earlier.
The opening at the far end were for the gladiators after the games.
Whoops. I almost forgot: The Italian Five eurocent coin. (whew!)
Next, we walked to the Forum.
So help me, the public works department has taken to putting SPQR on their manhole covers.
There’s a lot of stuff here, and really no way to identify much of it, (I just don’t remember much) so I will be somewhat brief.
The columns are from an older temple dedicated to Antoninus Pius and Faustina (after they were deified, hence Divo and Diva); the Baroque building behind it was built later (and ground level was where that door was, it had silted up that much before that building was built.
Temple to Vesta (the “home” of the vestal virgins).
Triumphal arch to celebrate the suppression of the Jewish rebellion, which ended in 73 AD with the capture of Masada.See what they are carrying as spoils of war:
The tour then went up to the Palatine, the imperial palace. Not much is left, alas. It’s a large complex, but much is pretty nondescript today. I know one spot was described as “where the Emperor sat during banquets” but I can’t find or recognize it in my photographs now.
That was the end of the paid part of the tour. I had sat down with Google Maps and designed my own walking tour to go on after this, but first, it was time to get to a few parts of the Forum we didn’t do on the tour.
Back to the Forum–And More Fora
Temple of Saturn:
View down the forum from near the Temple of Saturn.
I left the forum, headed for Trajan’s market, and was reminded that Rome had multiple connected forums. Here’s the Forum built by Augustus.
And one built by Trajan.
Another thing built by Trajan, Trajan’s column commemorating his victory in Dacia (now Romania, and that victory is why it’s called Roman-ia today).
the base, which is now below the present street level.
And here is where the scattershot strike got me. A tiny museum/bookstore was open. The market itself was not.
Trajan’s market was actually an early shopping mall, wedged into an odd location, and a piece of innovative architecture, given that they had the difficulty of bringing natural light into the place. There was no satisfactory artificial light back then. (Edison deserves our gratitude for lengthening our useful day and for making much modern construction practical.)
Here’s a picture of it showing the layout.
Couple of things from the museum
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
I then began to walk towards the Pantheon, and this was on the way. It’s the Altare del Patria, a monument to Victor Emanuele II, regarded as the Father of Italy. Italy as we know it today only came into being in the 1860s, before that it was a collection of smaller kingdoms (including the Kingdom of Naples).
Incorporated within it is Italy’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (that’s not just an American thing, lots of European countries instituted this after the First World War.
This Unknown Soldier died in WWI. My grandfather fought in that war; furthermore he fought in the Italian Army, on the alpine front against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Whoever it is that’s buried here, he was one of my grandfather’s comrades. RIP.
The Pantheon, as we know it today, was built by Hadrian in 126 CE. Two earlier buildings had been destroyed; the third time was the charm. It was a temple dedicated to all of the gods.
And it’s almost perfectly preserved. That’s because it was used as a church after the Roman Empire fell.
It’s a circular main building (complete with a very large freestanding dome) with a portico.
And walking through the doorway:
That free standing dome, 150 Roman feet, 43.3 meters or 142 feet across, weighing 4999 US tons, has stood for 1900 years. It’s made out of unreinforced concrete. Furthermore, the occulus, 30 Roman feet (28 US feet or 8.6 m) across, is 43.3 meters above the floor, so one could imagine a 43.3 meter sphere fitting perfectly into this building.
That occulus was also the only source of light, back in the day.
The Romans could build.
I’m using my hand to indicate the thickness of the door.
Ceiling of the portico
As I said (and as you can see), the Pantheon was converted to a church in 609. Both Raphael and Victor Emanuele II are buried here.
I ran into this quite by accident, a column erected by Marcus Aurelius. No way I am not going to take pictures of that!
The funny thing is in 1589 Pope Sixtus the Fifth went around Rome and exorcised (AB OMNI IMPIETATUM EXPURGATAM) all the ancient columns and obelisks; his inscriptions are on the other two sides of the base.
And that was that. I saw a couple of other things on the way but this has already gone overlong. I walked back to my hotel.
Time to head home. The first step of that is to take the train to Milan, because tomorrow morning my flight takes off from there.
This time, by golly, I did catch the train hitting 300 KPH! I have no idea if it got to 301…it cut to the advertising less than a second after I took this picture.
Tomorrow: Going home the long way.