Ancient Rome

In April we took the boys to Italy for spring break, thinking that they would have a marvelous time exploring all that history.  Seeing that history is their favorite subject, mixed with historical politics we also though ancient Rome would be a favorite spot.  When we got there, we were surprised to see bored faces, and unimpressed looks.

It seems we have Hollywood to blame for this.  When we made our way to the coliseum (and realizing we were losing our audience) we thought we’d wow them with the ancient structure.  Turns out, they were expecting a rebuilt version of it’s former glory, something akin to what they saw in Gladiator.  I guess we should have taken them on a formal tour to pike their interest.

In the end, they thought it was impressive.  But their favorite tour turned out to be Villa Adriana and Villa Deste, better known as Tivoli Gardens. Who knew?

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio means Old Bridge.  The original bridge was built by the Romans around 996 to cross the Arno River at it’s narrowest point, but was swept away in a flood nearly 100 years later.   It was rebuilt of stone and swept away in another flood in 1333, and rebuilt again in 1345.  The Upper portion was built in 1565 and is known today as the Vasariano Corridor which connects the Ufizzi Gallery and the Pitti Palace.

Bridge in Florence behind the Ponte Vecchio

Italian Countryside and Olive Oil

The Countryside of Florence is so very beautiful.  We drove from San Gimingnano to this little place that made Fattoria Olive Oil in San Donato where we had lunch, and got to taste Grappa.  It’s a good thing we weren’t driving.

San Gimignano, Italy


San Gimignano, Italy became a town in the 10th century.  It was named after the poet Folgore da San Gimignano who was born there in 1270.  It boasts five museums and nine monuments and is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.  We had a great afternoon wandering through the town and through the shops.  Many shops sell sketches of the Italian countryside done by local artists that are quite good.

Courtesy of Google Maps

The Temple of the Italian Glories

The Basilica di Santa Croce, also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories because of the number of famous Italians entombed there is located on the Piazza di Santa Croce 800 meters south of the Duomo.  It is the principle Franciscan Church in Florence, has 16 chapels, and was probably started in 1294.  There are a total of 16 tombs and monuments of famous Italians such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Dante, and Rossini.  The neo-gothic façade dates 1857-1863 however, and the campanile 1842.  Some 19 artists have contributed to the artwork.

Duomo is Dome in middle of photo


Galileo

Machiavelli

Undergoing restoration…

Michelangelo

The Street Performers of Florence

The street performers of Florence were really amazing.  In 1437 a street performer named Fiasco performer juggling and other acts on the streets of Florence.  Now some of the most seen are mimes.  I could not detect even the most infinitesimal movement from them unless they were “on.”

The Vatican Palace, Part I

We went to the Vatican as part of the speed tour, so I would do it again, but differently.  A tip from another traveler suggested that the end of the day, roughly two hours from closing is the best time to see the Vatican.  She said she got the tip from Rick Steve’s or Fodders travel books on Italy.  I had Rick Steve’s, so I must have missed that page.

Seeing the Vatican the way we did was a major deal, and not in a good way.  The line was unbelievable, and the same method once inside of practically sprinting through was annoying to say the least.  The only respite came when a ten year old in our group (who did NOT want to be there) ran off.  The whole place came to a stand still while all the guards and police searched for him.  I would not recommend this tour for kids that age unless they really like historical Rome, but if you do, rest assured, they have an amazing system in place for finding lost children.  Not a single person was allowed to move ’till he was found–quite a feat considering how many people were in there.

The Vatican Palace was built between 498AD and 514AD during the reign of Pope Symmachus on the left bank of the Tiber River in Rome.  It contains some 11,000–yes thousand, rooms on 13.5 acres and in 2003 the property was worth an estimated $1.21 billion not counting the art.  I can’t imagine the dusting and vacuuming.

The Vatican is now used mostly for religious and administrative meetings.  There are many priceless works of art housed within the Vatican and it’s five museums; The Museo Pio-Clementino, the Galleria Chiaramonti, the Braccio Nuovo, the Egyptian Museum, and the Etruscan Museum.  Some of the art is in the form of sculptures, like the ones below.

And some in amazingly detailed paintings on the walls and ceilings.

The museums within, and the art they contain, and the art on the building’s walls and ceilings are breathtakingly amazing.  So amazing that words cannot do them justice.

More on Ancient Rome

As I was looking through my photos, I found myself wondering why all the ones of ancient Rome were from a distance and above.  It occurred to me that I had forgotten that we went twice.  The first time was an organized tour through a local company, prearranged before we arrived in Italy.  I do not recommend this.  It was a huge disappointment.  It reminded me of the jokes you hear about seeing the Grand Canyon where you run to the edge, look out over the expanse for two minutes, then someone says, “O.K., moving on…”

In the first tour, that is exactly what they did.  They drove us to the Spanish Steps where everyone got out and walked to the top where there is a view of ancient Rome from the backside.  We looked over it for a few minutes, then the tour guide announced it was time to move on.  Same for the Colosseum.  Everyone was really ticked.

“You mean we are not going in?”  Several people chimed.

The tour guide looked at his watch, then announced, “No time!  Let’s go!”

That evening we were sitting in a small restaurant where the tables were very close together.  A couple from Ireland at the next table heard us talking about our disappointment of the days tour, and they caught our attention, and leaned in to tell us exactly how to get an awesome tour.

“Go to the Colosseum and stand around and wait for someone to approach you and ask if you want to take a tour.”

We were a little nervous.  DH said, “Is that safe?”

The Irish guy nodded.  “Yes.  They have a license, they can bypass the lines and they will take you everywhere.”

So, with a lot of trepidation, we went back two days later.  Sure enough, within ten minutes a young guy approached us and asked us if we wanted a tour.  We said yes, something we will never regret.  It was amazing.  He asked us to meet him in an hour while he gathered more people for the tour, and when we came back the group was ten people.  Everyone paid him and we were off.  We bypassed the enormous line and walked right in to the Colosseum.  He took us on the ancient Rome tour after a break for lunch.  That’s when I got the shots of the Colosseum from the previous post as well as the following shots of ancient Rome.



Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum


This is the Arch of Constantine.  It sits between the Colosseum and Palatine Hill.  It was built in the early 4th century to commemorate Constantine’s victory over Maxentius in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.

From here we walked to the Colosseum.

This guy was taking a break from his acting duties.  It was pretty cool seeing people dressed up as though it were ancient times.

The North Wall of the Colosseum is the only remaining original wall.

In the bottom is a series of tunnels referred to as Hypogeum.  The ground floor is closed to tourists, but can be seen from above.

The Colosseum was started between 70-72AD by Emperor Vespasian.  It was finished in 80AD by Emperor Titus, the older son of Vespasian.  His younger son, Domitian added the hypogeum or tunnels to the bottom for slaves and animals.  There were dumbwaiter systems that would raise the captives through holes in the floor above.  The original Colosseum was three stories, but a top gallery was added later.  The small square hole at the top right was one of many along the top that was utilized for a framing system to hold awnings to keep the sun off of the Emperors.

You can see a reconstruction of the floor in the bottom left of this photo.  It was a wooden floor that they covered with sand for the games.  You can also see a reconstruction of the seating on the right just above the flooring.

The Hypogeum from the first level.

The Spanish Steps and Ancient Rome

The Piazza di Spagna and the Piazza Trinita del Monti are on either end of the Spanish steps, with the Trinita dei Monti church at the top.  They are the widest set of steps in all of Europe.  In the Piazza di Spagna at the base, Fontana della Barcaccia.

Every time I look at this I have the same thought:  My, he has a rather high opinion of himself, doesn’t he?

Ancient Rome has been here since the 8th century BC.