Today was pretty jam packed with visiting archaeological sites around Rome. I actually went this morning to St Peter's again to see if I could get tickets to the Papal Audience on Wednesday morning, however it seems that everyone had the same idea because when I got to the Vatican at 9am there was already a massive line. I asked one of the tour guides around the place who said that generally people would be waiting 2 hours to go through security. To be honest, I wasn't really prepared to wait around that long, especially as I was aware that time for in Rome was running out and there was still so much I wanted to see. So I left it – the Papal Christmas Eve mass was fantastic to I think I should be grateful I got in there and move on.
So I hopped on the Metro and made my way to where most of the big sites of Ancient Rome are – that includes the massive Colosseum and the Roman Forum. It's an amazing complex of ruins. Some of them are quite well preserved so you can imagine them being a facade of a temple or part of the market place, and others are so ruined that you really have to use your imagination to see how they could possibly have been buildings. There was huge queue to get in to the Colosseum, however there were tour guides around the place advertising their services and for a little extra I could join one of these groups and skip the queue. It was well worth it.
I learned so much today that it's hard to compress it all into a simple blog post but suffice to say that the Romans liked their blood and guts. A day of games at the Colosseum (which was not called that during its day, rather it took this name after the giant statue of Nero in the guise of Jupiter that was erected out the front – it was called the 'Colossus') would be about 9 hours and include hunting animals, gladiators fighting other men and animals, ritual sacrifices to the gods and public executions. Apparently the stench of blood by midday was so strong that there were slaves whose job it was to fill long cylindrical pipes with fragrant flowers and blow on them in the women's areas so to stop the stench. I consider myself fortunate to have not had the experience of smelling a great deal of blood and I can tell you that after learning about what happened at the Colosseum I am pretty happy I wasn't alive around then.
10 years ago, Pope John Paul II erected a cross in the Colosseum, right where the Emperor would have sat, to commemorate the Christians who were killed there by the Romans. I was quite struck by our tour guide when she spoke of this. She had given us a colourful explanation of the violent games that went on with gladiators and animals, however when she came to talking about the Christians who were executed there, she was very sombre. She told us that until the cross was erected in the Colosseum, she had not been allowed as a tour guide to speak about the Christians who had been killed. In my own study of ancient Rome, some of the primary sources I have read of descriptions of such executions are very graphic – again, as a Christian I would not want to be around during ancient Roman times. I actually didn't know this, but each Good Friday, the Pope (this may have been JPII and not BXVI) comes to the Colosseum and prays there for the martyrs and then walks around the big building, praying. Hoards of people come to join him.
After the Colosseum we went to the ruins of the Roman Forum. Essentially this was the giant meeting place for every day Romans as well as senators and the upper class Patrician families (kind of the aristocracy of the day). Over the centuries, new temples and buildings were added, so there are still archaeological excavations taking place that are uncovering new finds. You can walk all the way through the area – it's very large. And above it looms the Palatine Hill where the Imperial Palace was. This palace was huge. When you go up there and see the ruins it looks like it was a village but all the ruins belong to the one palace. Nowadays the Palatine is really peaceful – there is kind of a botanical garden up there with fruit trees so it was really nice wandering around there.
I actually really enjoyed being with our guides too because, having studied ancient Rome for quite a while now, it was cool to know what they were talking about.
Here are some pics of the various ruins.
The outside of the Colosseum
View of the ruins of the Roman Forum from up on the Palatine hill
Some guys dressed up for photo ops with tourists (mostly female I might add!)
The park lands up on the Palatine Hill
And lastly, I've made a change to my travel plans. On Wednesday I was going to catch the train to Assisi and spend a few days there and then spend another couple of days in Siena before going to Florence. However, the trains in Tuscany have been hampered by snow so trying to make my way through that area by train will be difficult and I will also be trying to catch trains on New Years Day, which I've been told is pretty up in the air as to whether they will run or not. I have therefore made the decision to stay in Rome for the extra time and from here go straight to Florence. It is a shame to miss out on Tuscany, however I am actually glad to spend some more time in Rome. I've been here nearly a week and have been busy every day but I've barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer, so some extra time will be great. I've had to book another hostel but luckily I found one – as you imagine, New Years Eve time the demand suddenly skyrockets but staying in Rome is actually going to be a lot cheaper than my accommodation in Tuscany.
One day I will come back to Europe in the warmer seasons (most likely when I finish studying and can actually take holidays at those times of the year!) and will go to country Italy.