Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Coloseo


I have saved the most visited spot in Rome for last, the Colosseo; impossible to miss and captivating. A thing of beauty yet at the same time a mask of horror in its heyday. It is a known fact that this amphitheatre is a venue of bloodshed and brutality. It is a place where someone’s life ended for another’s entertainment.

Originally named the Flavian Amphitheatre after the Flavian Dynasty, the era in which it was built. It is considered as one of Rome’s most ancient buildings and perhaps the greatest example of Roman architecture and engineering. It can accommodate about 50,000 spectators and the seats were perfectly inclined to enable the people to get the perfect view wherever they sat. This megalithic amphitheater took 10 years to build and upon its completion, a lavish opening ceremony was held which lasted for 100 days. On the inauguration, the arena was filled with water to reproduce one of the most fantastic events called naumachias - real sea battles. During the 100 day celebration, the Romans were treated to great gladiatorial fights (munera), shows and animal hunts (venationes). Historians estimate that about 5000 animals were slaughtered for the occasion. The games inside the Colosseo continued for four and a half centuries.

What we see now is actually just a skeleton of what the greatest arena in the world used to be but even in its ruined state, it stands in full grandeur. I can only imagine how awesome it must have been before - all white, made out of marble, completely covered in travertine stone slabs and huge statues decorated the arches. As the Empire declined, the Colosseo was abandoned. In the Middle Ages, with the popes orders, it was ransacked and its marble, lead and iron were harvested to use as materials to build the Barberini Palace, Piazza Venezia and St. Peter’s Basilica.

The first time I saw the Coloseo, it took my breath away and it still does. It's like meeting a superstar and getting starstrucked. Brain stops functioning, speech fails you and you're just standing there deliriously happy. Don't wonder why my Coloseo article is short. I tried my hardest to write more but.. FAIL!

As the sun sets, marking the end of my journey. I leave Rome with nothing but great memories that would last a lifetime and a hopeful heart that I would find myself back in the Eternal City.

Of all the world's well known and magnificent landmarks, the Colosseo tops my list followed by the Pyramids in Gizah, Egypt.  One down, one to go and then I can die happy. :)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Roaming Rome 2

I certainly had a good night sleep from all the walking I did yesterday and ready to walk some more today. I decided to have breakfast in one of the many cafes at the city center, the starting point of today’s itinerary.

Campidoglio or Capitoline Hill, is one of the seven hills in Rome and this is the citadel of ancient Rome. The Hill and the Temple of Jupiter in it represents Rome’s power as they call it then caput mundi (capital of the world).

Going up, one has to go through cordonata, the broad flight of stairs adorned with statues of an Egyptian lion at the base and on top, Castor and Pollux. This leads you up to Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by Michelagelo. The piazza is home to two museums Palazzo Nuovo, which is the oldest public museum in the world and Palazzo dei Consevatori. In the heart of the piazza is the Palazzo Senatorio which is still being used today to hold Rome’s city council meetings.

Just beside the Campidoglio is the Il Vittorio, a monument to honor Victor Emanuele, the first king of a unified Italy. Built out of pure white marble and it features a grand staircase, Corinthian columns, fountain, a statue of Vittorio Emanuele and two statues of the goddess Victoria. The construction of the monument created a lot of controversy since building it means destroying a large portion of the Capitoline Hill. This led to several irreverent nicknames such as: the dess Victoria. The construction of the monument created a lot of controversy since building it means destroying a large portion of the Capitoline Hill. This led to several irreverent nicknames such as: the wedding cake, false teeth and typewriter. Today, the Il Vittorio also stands as a memorial for an unknown soldier of World War I.

From the Capitoline Hill and Il Vittorio, walk a bit further and here the Foro Romano (Roman Forum) appear in your very eyes. The Roman forums is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. The Romans called it Foro for the central square of urban settlement. In those days, it is here where the crowds would gather to hear meetings done by the orators, witness criminal trials, discuss politics, latest military campaigns or simply chat with each other most likely about the gladiatorial games or races; activities which the Romans are particularly fond of.

In here, the ruins of ancient Rome come to life and instantly my mind wanders how spectacular it must have been. The Roman forum is a vast area of temples, basilicas and arches all in ruins. It took me a good two hours to roam around the Foro and just marveled at the history that is in front of me. There is an admission charge for the Foro but it will also cover for the Colosso and Palatino. The entrance starts at the Arch of Septimus Severus and ends near the Arch of Titus. As I approached the latter, I can see the monumental Colosseo beckoning me to visit her again but there is just one more place I have to see, the Palatino.or the Palatine Hill is the centermost of Rome’s seven hills and is one of the most ancient areas in Rome. In mythology, Palatine Hill is the location where Romulus and Remus has been adopted and raised by a she-wolf. According to the mythology, “Rome” got its name from Romulus.

Palatine Hill became a fashionable place to live during Rome’s republican era because of the magnificent view it offers. It stands about 70 meters (230ft) above the city. The ruins found in here are gardens and houses belonging once to Augustus, Cicero, Marc Antony and other Roman emperors. According to Roman history, once upon a time, the entire hill was covered with imperial palaces. If I could turn back time, I would have loved to be here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Roaming Rome 1

I head on to my next destination, which is about 20 minutes walk from the Vatican. The Spanish steps is a 200 year old, 12 flights of steep stairs located in between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Trinita dei Monti on top. It has been said that this is the longest and widest staircase in Europe. Designed by Francesco de Sanctis in 1717, the steps follows a butterfly plan and is described as a daring architectural feat then. Its ramps and stairs, intersect and open out like a fan connecting the Piazza and the Trinita Church. The Spanish steps is in its full beauty in spring, where the stairs is literally covered in flowers.

At the foot of the stairs is yet another renowned fountain in the city, the Fontana della Barraccia (Fountain of the Old Boat Man). Created by Pietro Bernini, the father of the more famous artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The Piazza is also famous for its high end shops. If you are looking for brands then this is definitely the place for you. A little tip, one of the best times to shop in Rome is the first week of January where almost everything is on saldi (sale) even the branded ones.

A leisurely 15 minute walk would take you to another of world renowned site, the Fontana de Trevi (Trevi Fountain) may perhaps be the most famous fountain in the whole of Rome. It has been featured in numerous films, particularly in romantic ones. The most memorable one may be La Dolce Vita.

day shot

Just like all the other fountains in the city, the Trevi Fountain is intricately and artistically done. The center of the fountain depicts the Neptune, the Roman god of the sea. He is seen riding a shell chariot pulled by two sea horses each guided by a Triton. The sea horse are in contrast of each other, one is calm and the other restive. This is to represent the ever changing mood of the sea. On Neptune’s left is a statue representing Abundance who spills water from her urn and on his right is Salubrity holding a cup from which a snake drinks. The fountain is captivating no matter what time of day. You have to visit the fountain and see it both in the morning and night.

at night
There is a belief that if you make a wish and threw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, it ensures your return to Rome. Nobody knew who started and how it started but it has become a practice and now there is even a right way to throw the coin. The current trend is to throw three coins with your right hand over to your left shoulder and your back to the fountain. The Trevi Fountain is so famous that it makes about 3,000 euros each day which is used to subsidize a supermarket for the less fortunate Romans. Fishing coins out of the fountain is a crime that is why the police are keeping a close eye of the fountain.

After ensuring my future return to Rome special thanks to the Trevi Fountain, I now head to the last stop of my day which is the Pantheon. From the Greek word pan which means all gods and theois meaning shrine. Therefore, the Pantheon basically means a shrine of all gods. I personally think that the Pantheon is interestingly ironic. The irony brought about its evolution from a place of worship to all gods and then to just one God. In brief, the Pantheon was built in 27 BC, destroyed by fire in 80 AD, partially rebuilt in 125 AD by Emperor Hadrian and in 609 AD the once pagan temple was converted into a Catholic Church. Converted as it is now, signs and symbols honoring Rome’s ancient gods are still visible inside it.

the oculus
The Pantheon is another example of the majestic feat of Roman architecture. 2000 years after it has been built, it is one of the best preserved buildings in Rome and its dome is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. Standing about 43 meters tall, with 24 massive marble columns weighing about 50 tons each and an enormous bronze door awaiting to welcome you in. Stepping inside, one cannot help notice the oculus, the large opening in the dome. This is the Pantheons only source of light.

The Pantheon is not only a church but also serves as a tomb of the great painter Rafael and three Italian royalties; Vittorio Emanuelle II, Umberto I and his queen Margherita.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Stato della Città del Vaticano

Vatican City is technically not in Rome but it is another city enclave within its walls. It is said to be the smallest city state and is considered the heart of Roman Catholicism. It may be small in area but the treasures within are priceless.

As I enter the walls of the Vatican, I cannot help but feel a little nervous, after all it is considered a holy place. Entering the Vatican and walking through the magnificent columns, St. Peter's Square comes into full view. Designed by Bernini, the famous square draw pilgrims and tourists alike. Directly in front of it the famed St. Peter's Basilica.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica is a sight to behold both inside and out. It is the world's largest church and its dome is the world's largest as well. Inside there are 45 altars and its interiors were decorated by famous artists such as Michaelangelo who did the Pieta; papal altar and throne of St. Peter by Bernini. The church is ornately beautiful. Visitors are welcome to take pictures and video record the inside of the church however there are areas where it is not permitted. It was a Sunday, so I decided to hear mass and pray. Though unable to understand Italian and not being Catholic, something beside me is moved just by the sheer reverence and sacredness of the place.

Exterior and Interior
After mass, I decided to head to the Dome Observatory to have a closer look. The Dome is designed by Michelangelo and it took him 18 years to finish and perfect his design. There is a small fee to go up the observatory and two options to get there. You can either take on 491 steps or take the elevator as far as it goes (which will just save you 171 steps!). Taking the stairs is a much longer yet interesting experience. The journey on the way up seemed like unending flights of stairs, winding and uneven. Some parts would require you to lean, crouch and hold on to a rope to guide you up. The view from the observatory is spectcular! Here you have a magnificent view of Rome, St. Peter's Square with its long symmetrical columns, Vatican Gardens and even the papal apartments. The view is worth every step that I took.

View from the top
Unfortunately, the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel were closed at the time of my visit. However, I did get an unexpected surprise. As I was leaving the Vatican, I saw Pope Benedict XVI. It was actually more of a glimpse of him. He was delivering his speech addressed to the Spanish students gathered in the square. Never in my life, hvae I thought that I would get the chance to see one of the most powerful man in the world.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ciao Bella Roma: an Introduction

This post is actually written months ago for my friend Eileen. This is the first time in a loong time I've tried to write again. I want to make my first post on traveling about my favorite destination. WARNING: this is a long artie so I'm making it a series.

A few months ago, a good friend of mine echoed a question I was asked on the final interview when I was still applying for my current job. “What is your favorite destination and why?” (I know, I know, sounds like a like a beauty pageant question but trust me the questions after that are a lot tougher. It was just an icebreaker.) I answered my friend the same way I did my interviewers; a face filled with reverence, a great big smile playing on my lips and said in a heartbeat, ROMA. She then asked me to write about it. I told her, it would be so difficult to encapsulate Rome in words but here I am trying.
Rome is one of the most visited cities in the world, whole year round. I have a theory why, it is simply because Rome has a lot of offerings that will surely catch your fancy. This is the place where the ancient and the modern coexists amazingly well. A city filled with beauty and history. A history lover or enthusiast would certainly appreciate relearning the exploits of the Roman Empire in the Romans own turf. An art student, collector or just about anybody who likes art would be happy to know that they can come face to face with artworks created by Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Bernini and Rafael. Any architect and engineers would undoubtedly be impressed and inspired by the monumental buildings the Romans built ages ago and survived many calamities both human and natural. A gourmet, would have the gastronomic pleasure of eating pizza and pasta at the heart of the country that made it famous.

Since, I am to write about Rome and the last time I was there was over a year ago, I decided to book a flight and fall in love with the city all over. This time, I can only stay for three days so I have to make sure I cover the “must visit” places in Rome. But not to worry, Rome is actually one of the few cities that I have been in that is easy to explore. How great is it that everything that the city’s must see is within walking distance to another. Walking is actually the best way to go around Rome. First of all it is free and great for your health. However, the best part is that it means you can load up on your carbs and burn them all whilst visiting the places on your list. Clever eh? So don’t forget your shoes that are made for walking!

The night before I leave, I listed all the must visit places in Rome and divided them into two groups in relation to their proximity. I labeled them Day 1 and Day 2 accordingly. Day 1 is allotted for: Vatican City, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. Day 2: Campidoglio, Il Vittorio, Foro Romano, Palatino and Colosseo.

It was still January so the weather is a bit too cold for a tropical girl like me but being in Rome, I ignore it. I woke up early determined to put my plan in action and rediscover the city that I love. Most hotels, in Rome have free shuttle buses that would drop you off in the city center and once there, you are free to roam Rome as you please.

** Pictures taken and edited by Noel Teano **