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Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain
I recently earned my Masters in History at NWMSU and am now working as a language assistant in a Spanish elementary school.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Italian Interlude: Part Un

It's been awhile since my last post. I spent eight days in Rome, starting on December 29. It was an amazing trip. The weather was cloudy and rainy several days, but Rome has a certain quality that draws you in. While I was ready to return to Spain at the end of the eight days (living out of a suitcase for that long can be wearisome), I knew I would miss Italy and immediately wanted to plan a return.

Rome (or Roma as it's known in both Italian and Spanish) is a much older city than Madrid. While Madrid emerged as a city in the 800s AD, Rome already existed as a small village nearly 1,700 years prior. Madrid is the larger of the two cities, exceeding the population of Rome by 1.5 million people. There was much history to see in the city including the ancient ruins of the Roman Republic (510-44BC) and Empire (27BC-476AD), the remnants of the medieval city, Renaissance art and villas, monuments to the nineteenth-century wars of Italian Unification, and a few relics of the Mussolini dictatorship.

Cody and I left Madrid from Barajas Airport at six in the morning. Since the public transportation does not run all night and we had to be at the airport early, we stayed the night in our departure terminal. I stayed awake the whole night, wearing the swashbuckler goatee I had decided to have as a joke for the trip. Our airline was Vueling, a discount Spanish airline which offers flights all throughout the European Union. The flight lasted about two hours. When we arrived at the airport we took a shuttle to the main train station, Termini. From there I followed the directions from my hostel booking to our place. The directions told us to take the Metro to the stop called Valle Aurelia. Once there, the hostel was supposedly right down the Via Aurelia. The directions did not specify that our destination was located five miles down Via Aurelia and that Via Aurelia was nowhere near the Metro stop. After several hours of searching for maps and walking through the rain, we finally espied our place, Plus Camping Roma outside the city limits. We checked in to what looked like a typical camping resort found in the Ozarks, walked across the street to a grocery store called Panorama where we bought some food, then ate and slept until the next morning. Here is a picture of Plus Camping Roma:

After this rough start the rest of the trip went smoothly. There was a bus stop in front of the hostel which took us to the center of the city, at Piazza Venezia. When we got off the bus, the first thing we saw was the giant Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of a unified Italy who took the throne in 1861. The monument also holds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (from the First World War) and was built between 1911 and 1935.
To the right of this monument stood a large expanse of Roman ruins. The first we saw was Trajan's Column, which is part of the larger area known as Trajan's Forum. The column was constructed in AD 113 to celebrate Emperor Trajan's victory in the Dacian Wars. Spiralling up the exterior of the column is a continuous frieze, depicting the events of the Dacian Wars. The interior of the column contains a spiral staircase which is now closed off. A statue of Trajan once stood atop this column, but vanished at some unkown point. In the late 1500s, a statue of St. Peter was placed on top where it still remains.
Here is a detail of the column's frieze:
After this, we walked past Trajan's Market, a large area of ruins adjacent to Trajan's Forum. The buildings seen above the semicircular ruins in the picture below were constructed in the Middle Ages. We went inside Trajan's Market, so I'll mention more about it later.
We next walked across the street to the area of the Roman Forum, the central location of the ancient Roman Republic:
We bought tickets to go inside the Roman Forum which were good for entrance into the Palatine and Colosseum as well. The Roman Forum, which lies at the bottom of the Palatine hill, was overwhelming. It included many ruins from the Republic and Imperial eras. One such ruin was the Arch of Septimius Severus, constructed in AD 203 at the behest of the Emperor for whom it is named:
The ruins of the Temple of Saturn (the Roman god of farming) stood nearby. These are the oldest ruins in the Roman Forum. The temple, from before the Republican era, was originally constructed around 500 BC. After the original's destruction by fire, it was partially reconstructed in the late 200s AD:
Here is a photo of the two ruins side-by-side:
Down an old road known as the Via Sacra stood the Temple of Vesta (goddess of the hearth). This was originally built in the 600s BC, during the Roman Kingdom (753BC-509BC). Like all temples to Vesta, the building was originally rounded as can be guessed by the picture.
Across from the Temple of Vesta stood the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina (named after Emperor Antoninus and his wife). This was constructed in 141 AD. During the Imperial Roman era, traditional worship of the Roman gods (a religion adopted from the ancient Greeks) was replaced by worship of the Emperor. Once an Emperor died, they could be deified by their successor and worshiped by the people. Once Christianity took over as the religion of the Roman Empire, the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina was converted into a church. Significant architectural changes were made to the structure in the meantime, but due to its continued use and care, the building remains in good condition. The church has since moved and the building is under the care of the city of Rome.
From here, we climbed up the Palatine hill where I was able to get a photo of the largest ruins in the Roman Forum, the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine, built in 308 AD:
We continued on to the Palatine, the high area where many of the nobles of the Roman Republic and emperors of Imperial Rome lived. (Our word 'palace' derives from Palatine). Around 44BC a series of civil wars erupted in Rome which brought about the downfall of the Republic. The grand-nephew of Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus eventually took over as the first Roman emperor. During the early Imperial era, which was the height of Roman civilization, the power shifted from the area of the Roman Forum to the Palatine. On this hill now stand several ruins of imperial palaces as well as ancient orchards and vineyards.
The Hippodrome of Domitian, an Imperial-era stadium is also located here:
As we headed back down the Palatine hill, we could see the Colosseum:
We continued on our way to the Colosseum. It was built somewhere around 70AD and is the largest Roman ampitheater. Part of the external wall was demolished during the Renaissance for use in several buildings. It was built under Emperor Vespasian and was initially used for a variety of organized events which drew large crowds such as exotic animal hunts, military reenactments, and, most famously, gladitorial combats. In the later years of the Roman Empire, the Colosseum was used mainly as a theater. Some accounts claim the Colosseum was once flooded and used to stage a reenactment of a naval battle. We walked inside the entrance of the Colosseum between the two walls as seen here:

Inside on the upper floor of this outer ring was a display about Emperor Vespasian with several statues of him and his family as well as several pieces of the Emperor's propaganda (which in Imperial times had to be approved by the Senate). We then entered the inner ring of the Colosseum where the network of rooms which originally lied under the center are now exposed. Only one section of the original seating remains and can be seen on the left-hand side of this picture:

From one of the openings in the Colosseum I could see the Palatine hill and the Arch of Constantine, the largest triumphal arch in Rome, which sits outside the Colosseum:

The arch was completed in 312 AD to commemorate Emperor Constantine's victory in a civil war. Also in the Colosseum, this fragment of a sculpture was on display. It was discovered just last year:

When we left the Colosseum we walked past the Arch of Constantine to get some close-ups of it:
I got a sandwich of prosciutto and salami from a street vendor near here, then we headed back to Piazza Venezia. We saw that there was a free exhibition at the Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II and went inside. The exhibition was concerning Italian immigration to the United States and had several newspaper advertisements, personal photographs, and other items from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In another part of the monument (up several flights of stone stairs) was a museum of the Risorgimento (the Italian Wars of Unification). Throughout its history, Italy was a collection of several independent states. The wars, fought from 1848 to 1866 created the modern Italian state. A few places in the Italian Peninsula remain independent states such as San Marino and Vatican City. Many items from the wars were on display, including the sword of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the revolutionary commander and heroic figure of modern Italy. The museum led out on to a balcony of the monument where there were some great views of the city at night:


  1. Great post Eric (I mean Frank Zappa) I can only imagine being right there with all of that history. Super night time photos as well.

  2. Oh bub! You know I love moustaches but wow...that is too funny! I hope it isn't a permanent look for you. Your pictures are amazing! I love and miss you heaps!