A Tale of Two Cruises - early winter 2009 travel blog


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Patheon from afar

from the front



Piazza Navona


Roman Forum

another view

still more

city view

Victor Emmanuel monument

We came out of the subway and there it was looming before us – the aptly named Colosseum. Today's Texans might feel a great affinity with the ancient Romans; bigger was definitely better. Put in a new floor and the next Superbowl could be held right here. Next to the Colosseum was a giant arch commemorating the defeat of the Israelites. The ancient Romans were pretty nice as conquerors go. They pretty much left you alone as long as you promised to worship their emperor as a god. Since most of the folks that they conquered were already worshipping a long list of gods, adding one more was no big deal. But the Jews worshipped only one god and could not be talked out of it. After another Roman invasion the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. With no temple as the center of their faith, the Jews dispersed and scattered around the world, only uniting in modern day Israel 2,000 years later, a military defeat that still has repercussions today.

A short walk uphill brought us to the Roman Forum, the center of ancient life beginning in 500BC and lasting 1,000 years. The Senate was here; Julius Caesar died here. Every conqueror marched through the area parading the slaves and captured booty. At its height perhaps 1,000,000 people lived here bathing regularly and going to shows at the Colossseum. After the fall less than 10,000 remained and the forum area was covered with detritus. It wasn't until the 1700's when the tops of some of the columns were noticed again and excavations began. Being buried under the soil for so long, kept many of the remnants of the powerful empire in good condition. The area made us think of a giant jig saw puzzle. The pieces are scattered all over and archeologists are still trying to put them all back together.

As the Roman empire collapsed, the Catholic church took over, in many cases coopting the buildings or parts of them and making them into churches. The Pantheon is the best example of this – this building has been used as a place of worship for 2,000 years. The Christians took out the statues of Roman gods and replaced them with statues of their own. The dome of the Pantheon served as the model for the dome of St. Peter's. The Romans invented cement and used it to create this open air construction. The marble floor slopes slightly so that the rain that comes in the roof hole can drain. Compared to some of the other churches we've seen here, this Roman design is a light and airy temple as vital as it was when first built. It is elegant with various colored pieces of marble comprising the main decoration and is not nearly as over the top as the other more baroque churches here.

We got a great aerial view of all the sights we've seen here by going to the top of the Victor Emmanuel monument. Italy was still a collection of city states long after the other countries in Europe had unified, and Victor Emmanuel is the George Washington of Italy. While we honor George with a modest sized monument, the 50th anniversary of unification was celebrated with the construction of this monstrosity, the altar of the nation. The statue of VE at the top is so huge, his mustache is five feet wide. The monument is located right next to the Forum and doubtless covers over more precious ruins, and many locals hate it giving it nicknames such as “the wedding cake,” “the typewriter,” or “the dentures.” We've only just twirled around it on a bus in previous visits, so it was fun to go to the top and see all Rome before us. Since no building is allowed to be taller than St. Peter's, Rome has a condensed skyline, totally unlike our home city.

Rome has many picturesque piazzas and we have visited a number of them only at night, when the street performers come out and put on a show. We decided to see Piazza Navona during day light and enjoy the Bernini Fountain commemorating the four continents known at the time with statues representing their rivers. The huge square is built on a former Roman emperor's racing oval. Having some gelati here is a must; we complied. It was a relaxing end to another sunny day filled with walking and photography.

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