While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand; when falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall, and when Rome falls, the world.
– Lord Byron, English poet and leading figure of the Romantic Movement
I remember 18 years ago when we landed in Rome in the morning and we followed advice to stay awake the entire day so as not to prolong jet lag. Our first stop was the Coliseum and the Forum. And I remember vividly my awe as I approached the Coliseum and looked up at one of the great wonders of the world.
This time around, we weren’t a couple on the verge of becoming engaged. We were a family of four traveling with good friends, another family of four. We took two taxis and promptly wondered how we would communicate, given that we didn’t have Internet access. I remember the crowds, but somehow this time around the crowds were more intrusive. This is probably due to the influx of selfie sticks, which I now roundly condemn. No longer do people communicate with strangers and ask them to take their picture. Now we have single people or couples who don’t take into consideration who is behind them or in front of them, as they become self-absorbed in taking their photographs. But enough said of this phenomenon!
As before, I was in awe of the monuments. We took a guided tour, which was a mixed bag of having to deal with a crowd within a crowd and missing a lot of what our tour guide in training was saying because it was hard to decipher his words via the speakers. One thing we all agreed to hearing was how the word “vomit” came to be. Passage ways in the Coliseum were built below or behind the seats so that people could disperse quickly upon completion of the event or in an emergency evacuation. The Latin word “vomitoria” means rapid discharge. The English took that word to mean what we know it as today.
One other thing that I remember our tour guide telling us was the argument among archaeologists about whether to rebuild the Coliseum or to let it continue to crumble, showing the passage of time. I saw sections of the Coliseum that had been rebuilt with newer brick. After comparing them side by side, I have to agree with the archaeologists who believe that it should not be rebuilt. It just doesn’t look the same. Perhaps it can be rebuilt elsewhere, but the ruins remain as is. I agree that after all is said and done, you can’t renovate a masterpiece. It becomes part of antiquity and future generations can read books and see photographs – and perhaps see a rebuilt version on other grounds.
After the Coliseum tour, we ate our first mediocre meal of our trip, which we figured would be the case, given its proximity to the Coliseum and our understanding that many of these nearby dining establishments cater to tourists. That was planned because after lunch we then went to the Forum, an enormous rectangular piazza filled with wondrous ancient ruins.
The one ruin I was especially looking forward to revisiting was the Vestal of Virgins. David had taken a series of black-and-white photographs of this row of statues 18 years ago. After walking around, we thought perhaps they were behind sections that were cordoned off for refurbishing. Thank goodness, to my delight, the last section we entered was the famed ruin. It did not disappoint. Neither did David’s new set of photographs.
While we were walking around the grounds of the Vestal of Virgins, the promised thunderstorm that was lurking behind gathering clouds early afternoon finally came down with mighty force. We were prepared with our rain jackets and umbrellas. As Sofia, Raissa and Mike’s daughter, dutifully held the umbrella to protect David’s camera, David took this amazing photograph:
One thing David and I didn’t do when we were here 18 years ago was go to the top of the gardens and overlook the Forum. We were in for a breathtaking treat, which was a fitting way to conclude our visit to the Forum.
Our last stop of the day was to see Michelangelo’s statue of Moses (with horns) at San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains). The famous marble statue was commissioned in 1505 by Pope Julius II for his tomb. Michelangelo worked on it from 1513 to 1515. The church also contains the chains of Peter, which were used to bound Saint Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem.
We concluded our evening with our last dinner at the Grotta Azzura, two doors down. And went to bed with our red birds safely watching over us in our Roma apartment.