There are few civilizations that have fired our minds quite like the glory of ancient Rome. At one time Roman legions controlled the bulk of the known world, and, were it not for being unable to control their own wealth and property, would have continued to add lands and peoples to their retinue. Like Egypt and Greece, the story of Rome defines who we are as a culture. Imagine how intriguing it would be to visit Rome and walk among the ruins, to see a few pillars contrasted against the sky and be able to imagine how they looked when they belonged to a grand temple. If you plan carefully, you can see just what the ancients did when you travel to Rome.
Whether walking or taking a tour, you’ll find it hard to miss the famous (or perhaps infamous) Coliseum. It is the symbol and spirit of everything Rome, a remarkable piece of ancient architecture. One of its official names is the Flavian Amphitheater. In its heyday, the coliseum (or colosseum, depending on where you look) could seat thousands upon thousands of anxious fans waiting for the games. Now it is just a shell of its former self, but enough remains to show us the austere beauty of the Roman building style.
The Roman forum (Forum Romanum) is another great ancient site to propel you through time. With nondescript ruins and huge white columns surrounding the area, it is like stepping into a city of the dead and days long gone. Each ruin tells a story. The Forum was the administrative center of ancient Rome and a very important place for everyone ruled by the Empire. One of the old temples you will find here is the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina (Templum Antoni et Faustinae), constructed in the 100s A.D. Surprisingly, its stately exterior seems to be in good shape considering its age. The Arch of Titus, also found near the Roman Forum, is a popular tourist site and a beautiful architectural piece. Finished in 85 A.D., it looks today just as it would have in the days of its youth.
The Templum Vestae, or Temple of Vesta (a Roman goddess) exists only in ruins, but enough remains to show some of the original design. The white columns are beautifully constructed and add an air of broken beauty to the Forum. Some of the huge pillars that surround the Forum were once part of the Temple of Castor and Pollux (members of Roman mythology). Some of the others belong to the Basilica Julia, once a place of fellowship and high visitation by the Roman citizens. Another monument remaining intact is the Arch of Septimius Severus, built in the 200s A.D.
Outside the Roman Forum you will discover Trajan’s Column from the 1st century A.D., the Arch of Constantine (which looks very similar to the Arches of Septimius Severus and Titus but has a very different story to tell), the Tiber River, and Palatine Hill. One of the most interesting sites on Palatine Hill is the House of Romulus, ruins revered since ancient times for their supposed connection to Rome’s founder.
The Pyramid of Gaeus Cestius shows that Egypt obviously had an influence on the Roman Empire. Though not as old or venerable as the “actual” pyramids, it is very striking. The Pantheon is another famous Roman monument. Built and rebuilt in different time frames, this beautiful temple received its name from the Roman “pantheon” of gods. Visitors can stop by any day of the week, but times change slightly on Sunday and some holidays. It will not be open for certain holidays. You don’t have to pay to explore, and there are some great picture opportunities. The Pantheon was dedicated as a church in Christian times; elegant walls and beautiful floors are just some of what you will get to see.
The Hippodrome, associated with Emperor Domitian, was the scene of many games enjoyed by Rome’s wealthy and influential people. Although some think the area’s purpose was a garden, this has never been proven (besides, the image of the games is so much more entrancing!). Visitors can stand on the grassy ruins and imagine chariots barreling towards one another thousands of years ago. Rome is not yet a modern city; it’s a living, breathing artifact of the past. Those of us who love history can only hope these beautiful, haunting ruins will be preserved for many successive generations.
By Lacie R. Schaeffer