If there’s one icon that stands out in Rome, a city full of icons, it would have to be the Colosseum. Finished in the late 70s (A.D.), it was originally called the Flavian Amphitheater, having been built during the reign of two of the Flavian dynasty emperors, Vespasian and Titus. During the reign of Hadrian, a gigantic statue of Nero was moved from its original position to a spot adjacent to the Flavian Amphitheater. The statue was called the “Colossus of Nero.” You see where this is leading…. Today the remains of the Colosseum still stand. The Colossus is gone.
From looking at the ruins, it’s hard to get a picture of what the original building looked like. The floor is gone, exposing the elaborate configuration of the lower areas used for barracks for gladiators, storage for stage props, cages for wild animals and areas for prisoners who would become feature attractions in some of the venue’s bloodiest spectacles.
In its heyday, the Colosseum could accommodate 55,000 people seated — this figure could balloon to 70,000 or more with standing spectators. The arena was so large that, at one point, it was flooded so that naval battles could be staged. The marble which originally covered the structure was salvaged for the construction of other structures in Rome, including St. Peter’s Basilica. Time, war and earthquakes have taken a toll. But it’s amazing that so much of the Colosseum is still standing — a monument to Roman ingenuity, building techniques and lots of free labor.
Chris Shorow pointed out that when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., they returned to Rome with riches and thousands of captives. So the Romans designed the Colosseum but a lot of it was funded with plunder and built with Jewish slave labor.
From the Colosseum, we could see parts of the Roman Forum but didn’t have time to explore. I didn’t realize that Rome had a number of different forums built at different times. Our bus driver Giampaulo (more than just a driver, a source of information, entertainment and a complete delight — and it didn’t hurt that he looked like a cross between Paul McCartney and George Clooney) said it best, “Rome is like a lasagna!”
And it’s true — the city is made of up of centuries of layers of civilization. In the heart of the city, bits and pieces of ancient buildings stick up among more contemporary construction. The juxtaposition is both unsettling and exciting.
The Pantheon holds the title of oldest intact building — the original structure was built between 25 and 27 A.D., but the building that stands today is a reconstruction undertaken by Hadrian (of wall fame) between 118 and 125. The building is circular with a dome, so proportioned that a perfect sphere whose diameter equals the diameter and height of the building would fit perfectly inside. There are no windows. A hole in the dome (the oculus) lets in light — and rain. Inconspicuous holes in the floor and brilliant Roman engineering prevent flooding.
The Pantheon was built as a temple to all the gods. It was later consecrated as a church. Today is serves as resting place for a number of Italian monarchs and the painter Raphael.
Near the Pantheon is the Piazza Navona whose shape was defined by a stadium built in the first century by the emperor, Domitian. Did we go seeking antiquity? No, we were on a more visceral mission. In addition to art and history, our leader, Chris Shorow, is a connoisseur of confections. And Tre Scalini in the piazza pronounces itself the “real house of the only and original tartufo.”
For chocolate lovers, this is the holy grail — dark chocolate gelato with dark chocolate chunks and chocolate sauce topped with a glop of whipped cream and a cookie. One of my personal goals was to eat gelato every day — and I did, all but one. The tartufo was truly paradise on a plate!
The food in Rome was wonderful, from antipasto and thin-crusted pizza to four- and five-course meals. Because we traveled as a group, frequently restaurants would not let us order. Instead, they would just start bringing out dish after dish. We didn’t always know exactly what we were eating but it was all good. Several places served croustades with liver paté. Jack just couldn’t bring himself to try it. Good! More for me!
One thing that surprised us was Italian potatoes. I don’t know if they are different varieties from ours; or there’s a terroir thing going on; or they just fix them differently. They were invariably delicious — softer and sweeter than we’re used to.
It may be corny and cliché, but we had to go to the Fountain of Trevi. It was crowded — probably all tourist, not a Roman in the bunch. Inching our way up to the edge, we turned and threw in our coins. It’s said that if you throw a coin in the fountain before you leave, you will return to Rome. If the fountain doesn’t work, the tartufo will! We all want to go back.
ELAINE WARNER is an Edmond resident.