Our first day in Rome, John and I went to the Colosseum while the others did the hop-on, hop-off bus tour. Despite our getting there early, it still took us well over an hour to get in to the Colosseum. What annoyed me were all the tour groups that got preferential entry. And there were busloads of them.
The Colosseo was gigantic and it is amazing that it was built around 80 AD. It was built on the same lot of land that Nero’s house of gold was built to eradicate the last memories of a hated emporer. The colosseum was for the people and was free to everyone. It was here the Romans engaged in fights to the death be it animal against animal, animal against man or man against man. In all, over the life of the venue, over 1 million animals and 1/2 million men and women were killed mostly brutally. 50,000 spectators watched and cheered. On one hand, it tells me how we have progressed as humans in that forcing people to fight for their lives in an arena filled with cheering people is now considered barbaric and is no longer considered acceptable. However, I look at what engages people today with the video games and movies and I wonder if we made a stadium available to watch this, would we fill it? I think we would unfortunately.
I forget how many tonnes of travertine was used to build the Colosseum but it was lots. After Constantine, it was used less and less when the killing games were stopped and then fell into ruin. Much of the travertine blocks were removed to build the Vatican.
The Roman Forum and Pallantine Hill was interesting from the perspective of this was where the political and economic decisions were made when the Roman Empire was at its peak. Our system of government today has its beginnings right here in the Roman Empire.
The next day was our visit to the Vatican. Fortunately, we had booked a private tour and the guide was excellent. He was extremely knowledgeable about both Catholicism and history. I cannot begin to tell you all that I learned. We started very early, fortunately, and enjoyed a quiet time in St Peter’s Basillica hearing about how it was built and all the icons. As our guide said, all of this info is tradition in that none of it has or can be confirmed but it is widely believed to be true.
Our scheduled time for the Vatican Museums and the Cistene Chappel was 11 am. I have to say that nobody could have prepared me for the unbelievable crowds we encountered. It was literally shoulder to shoulder one tiny step at a time. Fortunately, our guide had a mike and we had earbuds as the whole visit would have been lost without that. It was a shame as there were fantastic tapestries, maps etc but one was not able to truly admire them.
At times, we had to go through doorways that were narrower than the hallway we were traveling through. We were told that this was the Vatican’s way of slowing down the crowd and controlling the numbers entering the Chapell. I thought it was a disaster in the making. It went on for some time and even I was getting claustrophobic from it. Our guide said the EU has an organization that visits all of the iconic sites in the EU and sets safety standards. They have cited the Vatican several times and told them to change things but nothing has been changed.
Apparently, they have not only increased the price but also are allowing any number of people through. They put through about 42,000 people a day. At €30/ head, that is over a million euros a day. Apparently the Vatican is on the verge of bankruptcy. The buildings and paintings, tapestries, sculptures are priceless but they don’t pay the bills. They seem to be property rich and cash poor. Bad investments and economic decisions are apparently the cause of this.
We entered the Cistene Chapel where everyone was supposed to be silent but it didn’t happen. The frescos by Michelangelo were amazing but I didn’t want to stand there for too long. My neck couldn’t take it. I can now say I have visited the Vatican but never again.
When we came outside, they were in the process of setting up chairs and barriers in the square. There was a big ceremony the next day in the square where five people were being canonized - four women and one man (who was British). How the times have changed. I would have liked to have gone just to say I was there but I couldn’t handle the crowds.
Last day in Rome. First stop - the Pantheon. This was built as a pagan building. It was converted to a Christian building in the time of Constantine. It is the largest unsupported dome and the best preserved historical building. It is pretty much today as it was then except for the ceiling of the portico. This was originally gold lined but the gold was removed and taken to the Vatican. One thing the Romans were really good at was engineering. But they weren’t very artistic. So, they often took the decorative elements from the Greeks who were artistic. So you will often see a large column which the Romans perfected topped with decorative leaves or some other Greek decoration. The Greeks however, portrayed perfection in their art but the Romans tried to make their art as realistic as possible.
We also visited the Victor Emmanuel Monument. This was a massive monument. It was actually a war memorial for the First World War but named after Victor Emmanuel - the man credited with uniting Italy. The rest of the day was spent wandering the historic center and the Jewish quarter. There was a heavy police and military presence everywhere probably due to the canonization ceremony at the Vatican.
So, it is good-bye to Roma and Italia. Today we start heading home. I am so looking forward to my own bed and the quiet surroundings. I have forgotten what it is like to live in a big city.
So Au Revoir and Cioux till next time.