Today we did three serious looks at the Rome from its' peak (about the time of Christ) until today. To have just three places help define such a colossal an empire as was Rome must be pretty well preserved as well as revealing the hearts of that society. And the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum did just that.
We began at the Colosseum, the amazing structure that helped define Rome from its peak to its ruin. Built over the span of three rulers by countless slaves this incredibly large, ingenious and awe-inspiring edifice served as a place of cruel "games", a mighty show-case for leaders, and (late in its life) a place of obscene drama.
While the today Colosseum is far from complete it is (from our limited experience) the best preserved historic building we've seen. As we walked with (or were carried by) the crowds we caught our first glimpse through one of many archways and saw an architectural jewel and just plain HUGE place where gladiators, animals and (later) Christians were sent to fight and die for the delight of the massive crowds of 87,000 screaming, booing, clapping or deciding the fate of combatants with a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down." The use of archways throughout the structure was an amazingly enduring architectural design. The thickness of columns and archways were measured in feet, not inches. The seating was all good, and you almost thought you'd hear somebody hawking tickets, crying "Cold beer here" or "Cracker Jack". Unlike some of our contemporary designs this massive structure really DIDN'T have a bad seat in the house. Of course the "Prime" seats were for the government officials or (during the decline of the Roman Empire) the latest "Caesar".
One Caesar in particular named Julius was such a poor leader that an assassination plot took place in the Colosseum. We both learned that one of the people who stabbed him to death was his adopted son Brute, and it was to him that the dying Caesar cried, "Et to, Brute?"
The Colosseum was fantastic literally from side to side and top to bottom. The 'killing field' was, at its center, over two football fields in length and perfectly proportioned from side to side. But, top to bottom perhaps showed the Roman Peace at its most awe-inspiring. Unbelievably it was sporting event's first stadium to have a retractable roof over the entire structure. More amazing, however, was what was going on beneath the playing surface. To the sports enthusiasts of long ago they didn't care just how it was done, but who would win or lose. But centuries of neglect resulted in the entire playing surface being disintegrated, revealing how the Romans could magically make a bear and a lion appear on the field. But, now we know. All of the playing surface was actually built on planks with a labyrinth of adjoining tunnels through which lions, bears, Christians and those who fell out of favor with the latest "Caesar" could seem to magically appear on the grass. Trap doors were a new invention, and the Romans used it to it fullest extent. No doubt a major factor in the Colosseum survival was that the Romans perfected the use of concrete in its design. Fire-cured bricks about 2" thick but about 8"wide and 12" deep also helped in the massive design's longevity.
Ok, so we were just a bit awestruck with the Colosseum, but the Roman Forum deserves, equal billing. Well, maybe not that equal. It wasn't as flashy as the Colosseum, but the works of the leaders of the Roman empire wielded such enormous power that their concept of community, having a civil society, and making sure that every person felt valued is still at the core of all legitimate societies.
It was Caesar Constantine who became a believer in the small Christian sect that literally changed society. The same Christians who were thrown to the lions today were honored the next, with their pagan accusers now finding themselves in the Colosseum as bear-meat. This was discussed and made into law.