8th Oct 2014
So for my final full day of the trip I’ve pencilled all of the big hitters of Rome tourism into my schedule. I visited nearly all of the following places on my 2007 trip and saved these for last this time around just in case I wouldn’t have enough time to finish everything else earlier in the week.
I arrive at the Palatine Hill so that I am the first visitor of the day.
One of the most famous of the Seven Hills, the penchant of the rich, famous and Imperial to build their villas here mean that we derive our modern words ‘palace/palais/palazzo/palast’ from ‘Palatine.’
In one of the myths concerning the founding of Rome, the twins Romulus and Remus were found by a she-wolf in a cave on the Palatine called the Lupercal. The wold suckled them to keep them alive long enough to be found by a shepherd who raised them. As they grow up the charismatic twins acquire followers and decide to found a city. Romulus decides that the Palatine hill is the perfect place but Remus prefers the Aventine Hill instead. In the argument that ensues Romulus kills Remus. Romulus names his new city on the Palatine after himself and the rest is history.
The hill was definitely inhabited from the Middle Paleolithic onwards, so between 35,000 and 100,000 years ago.
In the Republican period the hill was densely populated. Cicero had a house here (that would be destroyed by Clodius and restored by the Senate,) as did Clodius himself. Mark Anthony, Marcus Agrippa and Germanicus also called the Palatine home. The forum is only a short walk away making it wonderfully convenient for these great men.
Palace of Septimius Severus
Elliptical Nymphaeum in the Domus Flavia
View to the Colosseum
Next on the list is the Forum Romanum, the beating heart of the ancient city. The setting of triumphal processions, famous speeches and trials, elections and public funerals, the Forum was the epicentre of Roman life.
The Arch of Titus, built after his death by his brother Domitian in 81/82AD. It commemorates Titus’ victories, including the 70AD siege of Jerusalem.
The church of San Lorenzo in Miranda is built on the foundations (and preserves the pronaos of) the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. Antoninus Pius deified his wife in 141AD following her death, 20 years later he was also deified after death and Marcus Aurelius rededicated the temple to Antoninus as well.
The famous circular Temple of Vesta, Goddess of hearth and home. The temple was home to the sacred flame which was never allowed to go out. The flame was tended to by priestesses known as Vestal Virgins, selected as prepubescent girls to serve a term of 30 years of service. Vestals were treated with great respect and were allowed several privileges forbidden to other women, but had to remain chaste. Vestals found to have lost their virginity were sentenced to be buried alive. It was a truly horrifying death, but was one of the only forms of execution that avoided spilling their blood, which was forbidden by law.
The atrium of the House of the Vestal Virgins, allowing the priestesses to be close to the sacred flame at all times.
The Temple of Castor and Pollux, originally built in 495 BC to commemorate the early Republic’s victory over the Tarquin kings at the Battle of Regillus. During the Republic the Senate used the temple as a meeting place.
A game board carved into the steps of the Basilica Julia.
(background left) the Curia, (meeting house for the Senate) originally started by Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Caesar never saw the building completed as he was assassinated on the steps of the Theatre of Pompey, the temporary Curia during construction. Eventually completed by Augustus, the Curia was renovated and repaired by several emperors. (foreground left) the Rostra, a platform designed for public speaking. It was originally decorated with the battering rams of enemy warships as well as, during the turbulent late Republic, the heads of executed political rivals. Mark Anthony displayed the head and hands of Cicero here after ordering his execution in 43 BC, Cicero as a famous orator had of course given many famous speeches from the Rostra. (centre) The Column of Phocas, built in 608 AD making it the last structure to be built in the Forum.
The back of the Basilica Julia, built by Julius Caesar from the spoils of the Gallic War. The Basilica housed law courts and offices, areas for banking and rows of shops.
At the foot of the Capitoline hill lies the Temple of Saturn, God of the Capitol. The temple housed the state treasury and was the first temple to be built in the Forum.
The Milliarium Aureum. Have you heard the phrase “All roads lead to Rome”? All roads specifically lead to this stone, and all distances throughout the empire were measured to this specific point.
The triumphal arch built to commemorate the victories of Septimius Severus over the Parthians. Following the death of the emperor, his sons Caracalla and Geta ruled jointly. Caracalla had Geta assassinated and all images of Geta were removed from buildings and statues, including the arch.
Very little remains of the Regia today and yet it was an incredibly important building from the early Kings, through the Republic and into the Imperial era. It acted as the office of the Pontifex Maximus, the high priest of Roman state religion. It housed the official calendar, annals and a shrine to Mars, the God of war. Julius Caesar created his Julian calendar here during his term as Pontifex Maximus.
Little remains of the Temple of Caesar, erected by Augustus in 29 BC. The temple, just in front of the Regia, stands on the site that Caesar was cremated.
The forum as viewed from the Tabularium on the Capitoline Hill
If one should exit the forum from north western corner you’ll be heading up a flight of steps almost exactly where the Gemonian stairs once stood. The Gemonian stairs were once famous as one of the primary public execution sites in Rome. From the reign of Tiberius onwards, the condemned would usually be throttled at the top of the stairs and their bound bodies thrown down the steps. The corpse would be left on the steps in full view of the forum to be scavenged upon by rats and dogs. Eventually the corpse would be slung into the river Tiber. The first man to have this fate meted upon him was Sejanus, prefect of the Praetorian Guard under Tiberius. Ruthlessly ambitious, Sejanus became the right hand man of the emperor, consolidating his own power and growing ever more audacious. He eventually overstepped the mark and Tiberius ordered his death in 31 AD. Cassius Dio states that the Roman mob abused the corpse for three days, and that his three children also were executed here shortly thereafter.
Vitellius, third emperor in the Year of the Four Emperors, 69 AD, was executed on the Gemonian stairs by the Praetorian Guard as Vespasian triumphantly marched into Rome to become the new Emperor.
Most tourists don’t pay much attention to these stairs and rarely pause. Close by is another reminder of the brutality of ancient Rome. Underneath the church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami is the ancient Mamertine Prison, known by the ancient Romans as the Tullianum. It was the only prison in the ancient city as incarceration usually only occured prior to trials and executions. Famous prisoners include
- Sejanus, who did not have a long journey to the site of his execution on the stairs outside,
- Vercingetorix, Chieftain of a tribe in Gaul. Vercingetorix was paraded in chains during Caesar’s Triumph in 46 BC and then throttled in the Tullianum
- Co-conspirators of Catiline, a senator who sought to overthrow the government in 63 BC
- The Numidian king Jugurtha, displayed during Marius’ triumph in 104 BC, later dying of starvation in the Tullianum,
- Saint Paul and Saint Peter are also traditionally said to have been incarcerated here before their deaths, Peter apparently conducted baptisms from inside the dungeon.
The Tullianum – A small space with no natural light and a very low ceiling
The space is small, with a low ceiling and no natural light. It’s not a place that many wish to linger, but it is the type of place where the history feels tangible and I’d recommend that visitors don’t walk past and ignore it.
It is my last evening in Rome and I decide to spend it in one of my favourite places in the world, the Capitoline Museums. If a visitor to Rome only has time to visit one museum of statuary and monuments, it really has to be the Capitoline. Made up of the Palazzo Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo atop the Capitoline Hill, the cream of Roman archaeology finds are displayed here. Many famous works of art are on view, but my favourite part is actually the Galleria Lapidaria, an underground area beneath the piazza that houses the epigraphical (inscriptions) collection. I urge you not to rush through this section on your way to famous statues, as if you take the time to read the translations on some of the tombs you can really get a glimpse into the lives of ordinary roman citizens, as well as a few celebrities.
In this respectable tomb Glyconis lies serenely: sweet in name, but even sweeter in her soul. She never cared for splendid honours for her too austere, but she rather preferred to be wild and pleasant, to be inebriated by wine and to perform songs with simplicity. She often amused herself by weaving beautiful wreaths of flowers with sweet love for herself and her children, who she left in puberty; the sons she created were brothers in likeness to Castor and Pollux. Worthy to enjoy a blessed and eternal life, she hurried to where the good fates call us. Publius Mattius Chariton saw to the making of this tomb for his well-deserving wife.
For the souls departed. Alexander lived 3 years, 4 months and 19 days. His father, Quintus Canuleius Alexander, and his mother, Clarina, saw to the making of this tomb for their dear, devoted and well-deserving son. He is buried here! I beg of you, when you pass, to say: “May the earth not weigh upon your remains.”
While I passed my entire life in joy, smiling, playing and happy, and I delighted my soul with all kinds of pleasures in the art of song, never sorry, I never uttered offensive words, but was a friend of the Muses, of Bacchus and of Aphrodite. I arrived from Asia to Italy, now I rest among the dead while still youthful. My name is Menophilos.
For the souls departed. The instructor and expert gladiator Aelius Macion saw to the making of this tomb for the well-deserving Anicetus, gladiator armed with sword and specialised in attacks.
Crescens, charioteer of the blue team, originally from Mauretania, 22 years old. He achieved his first victory with a quadriga in the 24th race when Lucius Vipstanius Messalla held the consulship (ie 115 AD), on the anniversary of the birth of the divine Nerva (ie 8 Nov) with these horses: Circius, Acceptor, Delicatus and Cotynus. Between the consulship of Messalla and that of Marcus Acilius Glabrio (ie 124 AD), on the anniversary of the divine Claudius (ie 1 Aug), Crescens raced 686 times. He won 47 competitions: 19 with one chariot, 23 with 2 chariots and 5 with 3 chariots, ( ie 1,2 or 3 chariots of the same team racing other teams); in one race he won thanks to his teammates; in 8 he was in the lead from the start, and from last position he won 38. He came second 130 times, third 111 times; he won 1,556,346 sesterces.
Spinario – “Boy With Thorn”
“The Dying Gaul”
The 2nd century BC gilt bronze statue of Hercules, originally found in the Forum Boarium (an area sacred to Hercules.) The statue stands in front of a surviving section of the massive Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus that once crowned the Capitoline Hill.
Statue of Marsyas, a satyr who, in a fit of hubris, challenged Apollo to a music contest to be judged by the 9 muses. Of course, Marsyas lost and was flayed alive for his audacity.