Sunday, July 17, 2011

Entry 116 7.15.11

Entry 116, July 15th, 2011, 1:27am (GMT +2)

I made it in to Rome today despite still feeling pretty down with this head cold, and I'm glad I did. I spent the day in the forum and Palatine hill, where the center of Roman archaeological remains are.

It's a huge area – easily several acres – that fills a roughly triangular space between the tomb of the unknown soldier, the Colosseum, and the hollow where the Hippodrome used to be. The entrance is marked with only a small arch, some two or three hundred meters from the Arch of Constantine. The ticket is for the Forum, Palatine, and Colosseum combined, so if you're looking for an easier way to get a Colosseum ticket I recommend the Forum ticket office. Even though the line was shorter than the massive Colosseum line, I still had to wait about an hour.

So how were the ruins, David? Well, I wrote a brief haiku while I was exploring (a brief haiku? is there any other type?):

White bones of antiquity

Baking in the sun

Beetles crawl up Caesar's nose

But seriously, they were pretty awesome. (Coincidentally, I saw the place where Julius Caesar was cremated, and there were fresh flowers there. More than 2000 years dead and he's still got fans, what a G). The Curia, or senate meeting hall, is very well preserved, as it was turned into a church at one point. I actually got to sit in the place where Roman senators used to sit. Many of the other buildings,
though, were just ruins, foundations, or bits of column. A few of the columns showed signs of attempted demolition, but I guess they were built too strong to tear down and turn into churches. Most of
the rest is lying in pieces on the ground – bits of detail work, a cornice, rows of broken columns lying on the ground, covered in ivy. There was a third of a basilica (in Rome, this had no religious purpose but was a place where justice was administered) intact that must have been massive.

What I never realized about Rome was how involved in day to day life the temples were. Almost all of the buildings on the forum were temples. The Roman treasury was stored in the temple to Saturn, and several of the other temples also served as offices or as seats of political power. It is such a difference from the United States where the separation of political and religious power is taken so seriously.

From the Forum I hiked up the Palatine Hill. This is where the guidebook began to become a bit “imaginative” with its recommended route (later it vaulted straight over a chasm that I would've needed a grappling hook to traverse). I had to backtrack a few times before finding my way to the top where the series of palaces had been built and rebuilt before finally being covered with gardens during the Renaissance. Rome set an interesting precedent in Europe for the consolidation of political power – many of the guides I read mentioned that until the palaces were built, Rome wasn't really a monarchy. The palace provided the emperors with a seat to govern from and the infrastructure to govern with.

There's not much left, but there were several huge houses there at one point. Most of it has been reduced to half walls that now divide a series of meadows. Titus's (or was it his son's, Domisomething?) hall of mirrors is visible – built because of his assassination paranoia. Didn't help him much, since he got assassinated anyway, but . . . the stadium built by Severus Septimus is clealy visible as well, set down a level from the main palace. You can stand opposite the emperor's box and imagine the gardens that used to exist there, with various nobles strolling through or being carried on litters. Severus Septimus is also the one who supervised the extension of the Palatine Hill towards the Hippodrome via several artificial terraces held up with a series of arches.

I can't even really understand how old most of this stuff is. Most of it has been around 80 to 90 of my lifetimes. And to think that there were ancient things around when the Palatine palaces were new! When were the pyramids built? Thousands of years before that? Past a certain age, I can't understand it. Intellectually, maybe, but not emotionally.

The train was packed on the way back. I ended up smashed between three sweaty Italian teenagers in the vestibule of one of the cars (no air conditioning, of course). An argument broke out between some of the passengers, and this old Italian lady started screaming at everyone for a good quarter hour. I went through my mental Italian phrasebook to see if I could help calm the situation, but neither “thank you” or “what the fuck!” seemed very appropriate and that's about all I know.

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