My trip to Rome coincided with the heat wave which, although welcome in that it meant I didn’t need to carry around a shower-proof jacket (just in case), did mean I had to carry a paper umbrella bought from a street trader who must have thought his birthday and Christmas had come along at the same time, so many were the customers queuing up to buy his parasols.
Rome is wonderful in any weather but walking in 34ᵒ heat this time made sight-seeing a trifle difficult. It did, however, allow for many more granitas and gelato stops, even as it cut down on the photography.
We stayed at the wonderful Forum Hotel, so named because it faces the Forum. To wake up every morning and look out on the sprawl of ancient pillars and stones glowing from the rising sun, was magical. We had the same view from the breakfast terrace on the rooftop, so although I usually forego breakfast, in this case it was a must.
The Forum was ancient Rome’s showpiece centre, a site originally developed in the 7th century BC from a marshy burial ground which grew into the social, commercial and political hub of the Roman Empire. It was a handsome district of temples, basilicas and bustling public spaces which, with a little imagination is easy to people with toga-clad inhabitants going about their business accompanied by their slaves.
Part of the Forum is open for wandering around but to see it all one needs to pay. However, I would say leave this until the end of your stay, because a) you can see some of it without charge and b) there is so much else to see in Rome and you can always return to it if you wish.
It is but a short walk from the Forum to the Colosseum, the hugely impressive, troubling monument to Roman imperial power and cruelty. Inside this emblem of Rome, behind the serried ranks of Tuscan, Iconic and Corinthian columns, and three storeys of superimposed arches, Romans for centuries cold-bloodedly killed thousands of people for amusement, and sent gladiators to their death as they fought wild animals like lions, tigers and leopards for the amusement of the rulers and the populace.
The Colosseum is now a mere shadow of its former self as only about one-third of the original building still stands, its glistening marble and stone having been carried away and used in the building of palaces and churches by Roman popes and aristocrats who coveted it. Nearby Palazzo Venezia and the Tiber’s river defences are just two examples of this.
Originally the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world, a pleasure palace built for the people by the emperor Vespasian (69-79) to a design worked out before the building began, it was capable of holding 50,000 spectators,
It is difficult not to quote sizes and quantities in such an undertaking, suffice to say that drains were built 8m beneath the structure to take away the streams that flow from the valleys and hills that surround Rome: the foundations under the outer walls and seating are 12-13m deep while under the inner part of the arena they are only 4m deep. The spoil dug from the foundations was used to raise the surround level by over 6m.
Sometimes quoting facts and figures like these can take away from the brooding power of the Colosseum, but I never fail to be moved by an atmosphere still inside those walls.
The Victor Emmanuel Palace.
Also known as ‘Il Vittoriano’ and sometimes referred to as The Wedding Cake Palace by the locals, this monument to King Victor Emanuel II, is a bombastic monument of sparkling white marble decorated with numerous allegorical statues, reliefs and murals. At the center of the monument is the colossal equestrian statue of Victor Emmanuel, and on either side are fountains representing the seas that border Italy, the Adriatic Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea. At the foot of the statue Guards of honor, selected from the marine, infantry and air divisions, guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier day and night.
Inside the monument is the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento, which charts the events that led to the unification of Italy, with a display of paintings, documents, photographs and memorabilia, the entrance to which is to the left of the monument, at the Via di San Pietro in Carcere.
During the 1930’s, the Italian dictator, Mussolini, delivered his speeches to the populace from the terraces and balconies of this building.
The Victor Emmanuel Monument cannot be considered one of Rome’s most beautiful buildings and its stark whiteness does not fit well into the soft ochre color of the surrounding buildings. Nevertheless, it is well worth the visit if only for the great views from the top (which is also connected to the Capitoline Square which may also be on your list).
A useful tip for visitors: You will see lots of advertisements – everywhere – to buy tickets that “skip-the-queues” and indeed you do skip the line for tickets. But unfortunately, after many years of this, the queue for the “skip-the-queue” line is much longer than the normal one to buy tickets at the office, so take my advice, ignore this (and ignore the touts who will offer you tickets for immediate entry), join the queue for tickets and you’ll be through in no time.