A March 2004 trip
to Rome by jaebirdypie
Quote: On the surface, Rome may seem as chaotic as an overpriced plate of spaghetti. In truth, it has been functioning delightfully well for over 2500 years! With a little pre-trip research, this city can be a bustling, beautiful open-air museum ripe for the picking.
What I can suggest is simply this: choose at least one less known site to visit that will somehow make Rome your own. If you are American, Spanish, or Italian, perhaps the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore will interest you. It is gilded with the first gold brought back from the New World. If you are a Christian, maybe the Arch of Constantine will speak to you. If you are a Michelangelo fan, the church of San Pietro in Vincoli would delight you.
That brings me to my second favorite mode of Roman transport: walking! Rome is a beautiful, bustling, and wildly energetic city. Hoofing it makes for a lovely way to drink it all in and find little nuggets that aren’t in the guidebooks.
A word on crossing the street: if you are from NYC, no worries, just do like you would at home. The rest of you must develop and perfect the "I-will-zap-you-with-my-laser-eyes stare". Give this fiercely untrusting look to any oncoming cars and step confidently out into the street. DO NOT BREAK EYE CONTACT! Flag for even a moment and I PROMISE you half your bum will be riding around town mashed into the grill of the car that hit you.
I would imagine that most visitors come to have a love/hate relationship with this hotel’s service factor. On one hand, the staff is comprised of very friendly, helpful people who are happy to accommodate any request. On the other hand, visitors must request EVERYTHING they need such as additional toilet paper (one small roll for three people for one week?), fresh towels and heat. One thing that was always done like clockwork, however, were the bed linens. Each night we slept with crisp, clean, heavenly white sheets on beds made up tight enough to pass a crabby sergeant’s inspection.
A stay at Hotel Seiler includes a free daily breakfast of buttered rolls, sweet croissants, juice, coffee, tea and hot chocolate. Although the breakfast room is located in the basement, the cheery colors, pretty mural-painted walls and "good-morning" service more than make up for its lack of windows. If rolls and croissants just aren’t your thing, don’t fret! The hotel is located very close to several great snack shops and restaurants, a sublime pasticceria and a supermarket. The Termini train station and several historic sites like the Coliseum, National Museum of Rome and Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore are also within a short walking distance.
Hotel Seiler is a good, basic hotel in a safe and convenient location for those seeking an inexpensive place to rest, shower and stash belongings. I would recommend it to anyone who doesn’t have a need for "honeymoon perfection" or a sauna, whirlpool and gym. The reception is staffed 24 hours a day and there’s no curfew or risk of being locked out for the night…just buzz ‘em and they’ll gladly open the gate for you.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 30, 2004
VIA FIRENZE 48
Rome, Italy 00184
As to the food, well, it’s just heavenly! It was here that we experienced the most exquisite dishes of Pasta Carbona, seared prawns, antipasti and homemade ravioli ever created. Although it was humanly impossible to consume any more, we practically shed a few tears when our food was finished. And desserts? Let’s just say that the lemon cake could be considered an aphrodisiac!
As if the experience of dining here weren’t enough, patrons also have the opportunity to leave their mark in the eternal city. Before bidding their customers farewell, the waiters present them with a small box of crayons and invite them to sign and doodle on the walls. Students, athletes, politicians, celebrities and tourists from all around the world have been signing away for so many years that it’s now begun on the ceilings! I managed to find a small spot just large enough to write a simple heartfelt sentiment: Che un pranzo meraviglioso! The restaurant is open everyday except for Sunday and reservations are usually not necessary.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 30, 2004
Hostaria Romana Ristorante
Via del Boccaccio 1
+39 (06) 4745284
It’s no secret that Ostia holds less fanfare than wealthy Pompeii, but in some ways it’s better. As both the rich and miserably poor lived here, Ostia's remains provide a more complete view of a typical Roman town and the gritty workaday lives of average Romans.
Entering the gates to the excavations, visitors first come upon the cemeteries as ancient Romans buried their dead outside of city walls. Known as the Isola Sacra, the roads leading out of Ostia Antica are lined with a fantastically eerie series of tombs.
Up where the road becomes narrow is where the grand gate into the city once stood. The Decumanus Maximus (Ostia’s main drag) picks up here leading to the Forum. Several places of great interest are along the way, my favorites being the Piazzale delle Corporazioni, theater, and public latrine.
The Piazzale delle Corporazioni holds remains of some 60 trade offices. Most still have their original mosaic floors advertising wares and services intact. The theater, constructed during the time of Augustus, received constant use until the Late Empire. One of the oldest brick theaters anywhere, it's still used for concerts and classical plays today. The view from the top is undoubtedly impressive, but keep in mind this theater was actually twice as high in ancient times. Up to 4,000 Romans could gather here at once!
With its revolving door, running water and seating for 20, the public latrine must have been the height of civility in its day. I'd play along if only it weren’t for that scary sponge-on-a-stick. That’s right, folks, ancient toilet paper. Even more shocking is that these people "freshened" their sponge by dabbing it in a small gutter of water at their feet.
A stone’s throw from the hair-raising lavatory is the Forum and the city’s main temple. Seated at Ostia’s main crossroads, today this once busy compound looks open, and calm -- almost sleepy. Squat staircases with pretty trees all around once lead to imposing and fearsome temples. One such temple is the Capitolium dedicated to Jupiter, Minerva and Juno. Set upon a high foundation, the temple stood clear of all other rooftops proclaiming the state religion from the highest point of an otherwise tolerant Ostia.
There is much more to see and explore beyond the Forum. Guidebooks suggest two hours for the site and museum, but I recommend three. There's a cafeteria and fantastic gift shop on site. The gates open at 9am and close one hour before sunset. Admission runs about $5.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 16, 2004
Via dei Romagnoli, 717
Rome, Italy 00122
Attraction | "The Colosseum"
The Flavian Amphitheater, as it was truly named, was in no doubt ahead of its time. The 2,000-year-old stadium with its four stories and 80 entrances would be impressive if built today. That it was completed inside of ten years during ancient times is dumbfounding. Operated by slaves, massive treadmill-powered pulley cranes hoisted the gigantic, heavy stones into place. With an estimated capacity of up to 80,000 people, the Coliseum sits over 160 feet high, 617 feet long and 512 feet wide and was considered "state of the art" until very recent times. The stadium featured a retractable roof to shield spectators from the rain and sun. Lower tiers were fitted with nets to protect the crowd from flying body parts and other gore. And, beneath the arena floor, an intricate maze of sophisticated staging devices made for the most spectacular, surprise unleashing of killer animals. The stadium was eventually nicknamed "Coliseum" because of the 120 foot Colossus of Nero that once stood nearby.
Admission was always free and tickets came in the form of broken pottery shards with an entrance number on them. Seating was done by social rank. Nobles and high officials sat on the first level protected by iron bars and high box seats. Middle class sat on the second tier, and poorer people on the third. The fourth level, furnished with steep wooden bleachers and standing room at the back, was for women and slaves.
Like much of today’s entertainment, the "Games" usually began with a few opening acts. These consisted of anything from dogfights to female gladiator battles to the ridicule and eventual execution of Christians. Afterwards came the main event: Gladiators! These men were usually slaves, POWs or condemned criminals taken and taught to fight in gladiatorial training schools. Those who survived the battles worked their way up the ranks to be rewarded with better equipment, privileges and even fan clubs. Some within the best of the best were even rewarded with their freedom. The spectacles were often theatrical, sometimes featuring recreations of famous battles and events. Naval battles were a particularly special treat achieved by flooding the arena floor via the aqueduct connection nearby.
Centuries of neglect, stone scavenging and ransacking have left the Colosseum a mere shell of its former glory--but what a glorious shell it is! Pictures in no way do it justice, but are helpful in sparking the imagination. Tickets run anywhere from a basic admission of eight euros all the way up to twenty euros depending on which type of tour or combo admission is included. Gates open at 9am and close one hour before sunset.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 22, 2004
Piazza Del Colosseo
Rome, Italy 00184
+39 (06) 7004261
Attraction | "Arch of Constantine"
In 315 AD, this arch was dedicated to celebrate the emperor Constantine’s victory over his rival and co-emperor, Maxentius, in 312 AD. The night before that crucial military blow, Constantine had a vision of a cross spread across the sky. Proclaiming he owed his victory to Christ, the now sole emperor legalized and installed Christianity as the state religion in gratitude. In no time at all, it seems, the entire Western World turned away from the pagan practices of old and adopted the religion of a once unpopular and fiercely despised group of believers.
So, that is the meaning WITHIN this one arch among many, but to seek any meaning ON the arch proves to be a confusing and senseless task. By the fourth century the Roman Empire had already started to dwindle. As a result, this arch was rather hastily built and quilted together with reliefs, medallions and statuary scavenged from earlier monuments. Any tangible or recognizable decoration found will most likely pertain to the emperor Trajan.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 24, 2004
Arco di Costantino
Via San Gregorio
Rome, Italy 00184
Attraction | "Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore"
From its majestic Romanesque bell tower to its twin domes built in the Baroque period, Santa Maria Maggiore is host to a wealth of different architectural styles. Among its most striking features is the Renaissance ceiling, a gift of the Spanish monarchy, gilded with the first gold Columbus brought back from the New World. Another stunning asset is the baldacchino crafted sometime in the mid-1700s. With its rich, red columns and delicate bronze ornamentation, Ferdinando Fuga’s masterpiece seems a heavenly place to celebrate mass. The most magnificent and famous treasures in all this church, however, are found looming above in the nave. Santa Maria Maggiore houses some of the world’s oldest, most beautiful and best preserved early Christian mosaics. Bright, colorful and realistic, these fifth century mosaics were about 1,000 years ahead of their time. Just one look proves that they alone are worth a visit here.
The basilica has a lovely gift shop on site that carries a nice assortment of religious and Roman souvenirs. Anything from colorful magnets and hand painted ceramics to rosary beads and landmark figurines can be found here. Prices average about two dollars less than what vendors charge on the street. The church is open from 7am to 8pm daily. No admission fee is charged, but donations are appreciated.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 28, 2004
Santa Maria Maggiore
42Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore
Rome, Italy 00185
+39 06 44 65 836
Attraction | "Church of San Pietro In Vincoli"
The vincoli, or chains, may have given the church its name, but today it’s best known for Michelangelo’s Moses. This amazing work of art captures Moses, armed with the Ten Commandments, just at the moment he makes ready to return to the Children of Israel. The dazzling statue was originally intended to be part of a gargantuan, monumental tomb for and commissioned by Pope Julius II. About a year into the project, however, the Pope changed his mind and ordered Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. Four years later he returned to his work on the tomb, but in an on-again/off-again fashion. He died having only completed Moses and The Dying Slaves (now housed in the Louvre). His students eventually completed the few other figures that he started, but they remain a far cry from his intended number of 48 statues.
Regarding Moses’ little horns: They should really be beams of light and are the result of a wrong mediaeval translation of the Old Testament. The artist knew about the mistake, but chose to use it in order to capture the prophet’s anger. After all, he caught his people worshiping a golden calf god!
The church is located relatively close to the Colosseum and is open daily from 7am to 12:30pm and again from 3:30pm to 7pm. No admission fee is charged, but donations are appreciated.
San Pietro in Vincoli
Piazza di San Pietro in Vincoli, 4a
Rome, Italy 00184
Attraction | "The Pantheon"
Most tourists tend to bypass the exterior of the Pantheon and rush right in to be dazzled by the spectacular dome. True, the outside of the building doesn’t hold quite the mystique and splendor found within, but a little study of it is necessary to appreciate this fine gem of the Ancient World. When facing the portico, visitors may notice a bit of a wall behind the triangular pediment. This is not a structural support or decorative feature of any kind, but rather an everlasting reminder of a wee mistake made in the measuring department. That pediment was actually supposed to grace the top of this wall, but when the columns arrived from the contractor, they were much shorter than requested. Hmmm, perhaps those responsible were thrown to the lions? From the portico, tourists should walk around the side of the building towards the "drum" which supports the dome. These walls are 19 feet thick and reinforced with hidden pillars and weight relieving arches. Visitors will find these embedded brick arches towards the top of the drum, above the little windows.
Upon entering through the ancient bronze door, tourists seemingly step into the past. In constant use since it’s construction, the Pantheon is Rome’s most well preserved ancient site. It’s not at all hard to imagine what this place must have been like in ancient times. The only real changes made since those days are the saint statues that now grace the niches where pagan gods once stood and a few tombs of famous people.
The dome of the Pantheon, the largest created up until the Renaissance, sits atop its circular pedestal like a great eye focused on the heavens. It is equal in height as well as diameter (140 feet) with an oculus spanning about 30 feet across. The dome was cast by pouring concrete mixed with different types of volcanic rock over a temporary wooden framework. As a result, the dome gets lighter and thinner towards the top. The hollow, decorative squares incorporated into the design also help to reduce the weight significantly. Perhaps the most architecturally influential building in all the world, this site has played a large role in the inspiration and design of many famous landmarks. Buildings like the Florence cathedral, Saint Peter’s, the US Capitol and even Arlington Cemetery all share definite characteristics first created here.
No admission fee is charged for the Pantheon and it’s open Monday through Saturday from 8:30am to 7:30pm and again on Sunday from 9am to 6pm. Remember, this site is now considered a church, so "modest dress" is required.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 2, 2004
Piazza della Rotonda
Rome, Italy 00186
New York, New York