Monday, June 21, 2010

The Eternal City

Photos just don’t do some things justice, including the ruins of ancient Rome.

The Colosseum – so called not because of its size but because of the colossal statue of Nero that once stood nearby – is so enormous in scope that it can only be taken in by your own eyes.

According to legend, the nearby Palatine Hill is where the city was born. The centermost of the seven hills of Rome, it’s where the twin brothers Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf that kept them alive. They grew up to slay their great-uncle, who had seized the throne from their father, and eventually Romulus killed Remus in a violent argument. The city that rose up bares his name.

Remnants of an aqueduct on Palatine Hill

In fact, Rome sprang from settlements of the Sabines and the Albans on the Palatine about 1,000 BC, and by the time of the Roman Republic the Palatine was the home of many of Rome’s most distinguished citizens.

Nearby is the Roman Forum, where many of the most important structures of the ancient city were located and around which the ancient Roman civilization developed. The Senate, government offices, Tribunals, religious monuments, memorials and statues cluttered the area – along with the complex where the Vestal Virgins resided and performed their duties.

The Forum

All of these structures have, over time, been damaged by earthquakes, looting and scavenging for stone and marble for other uses. The Pantheon, however, still stands much as it did in ancient times thanks to its adoption and continued use by successive religions.

The Pantheon was originally built and dedicated by Marcus Agrippa in 27 BC on what was then the outskirts of Rome on the Campus Martius, which served as a gathering place for elections and the army. Rebuilt twice after fires devastated the area in 80 AD and 110 AD, the Pantheon eventually passed to the popes who converted it to a Christian church, which saved it from the abandonment, destruction, and the worst of the spoliation that befell the majority of ancient Rome's buildings during the early medieval period.

The Pantheon

After thousands of years, the Pantheon still holds the record for the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome, and has served as an architectural inspiration for St. Peter's Basilica to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello to the U.S. Capitol.

While most tourists do a hit-and-run visit to the Colosseum – getting their picture taken with a gladiator before running off to have pizza for lunch – and don’t bother with the rest, Lisa and I spent an entire day taking it all in and roaming the paths where Augustus, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian once strolled.

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