Rome: The Living Archive

OCTOBER 2006…

“All roads lead to Rome”, as the saying goes. And “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. The fact that these phrases still exist today is testament to the influence of the Roman Empire. Even after its heyday was over, the Roman Empire left behind a treasure trove of architecture – some well-preserved, some having seen better days. Today, Rome is a living archive, thanks to its 2,500-year history.

An archaeological hunt in a modern city
Walking around Rome was like being on an archaeological hunt. We literally walked through ruins and visited endless preserved or restored structures. Even “ordinary” buildings in the city had the power to stop us in our tracks and made us wonder if it was a historical spot.

The Colosseum in Rome.

The largest amphitheatre ever built – the Colosseum.

Our first stop in Rome is not something that you should, or can, miss – the Colosseum. Visiting Rome without stopping at the Colosseum would beg the question of “were you even there??” So, even if it is just a photo stop, this goes first on the itinerary.

The Colosseum in Rome.

Listed as a Wonder of the World, the Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built. It easily sits 50,000 to 60,000 spectators and was used to host gladiatorial contests back in the Roman Empire.

The ruins of ancient Rome at the Roman Forum.

See the ruins of ancient Rome at the Roman Forum.

From the Colosseum, we followed the crowds and found our way to the Roman Forum. An active archaeological site, the Roman Forum was once the city centre of ancient Rome. But it has seen better days. Today, all that remains are ruins of once-impressive temples, monuments and other important buildings.

Roman Forum, Rome.
Roman Forum, Rome.
Roman Forum, Rome.

Even when we were not keeping an eye out for anything in particular, it was hard to miss the sights. That’s because they were often huge, intricately-designed and awe-inspiring. These were the ones that made us stop in our tracks and feverously flip through the guide book to find out what it was.

To illustrate my point, right around the corner from the Roman Forum was a magnificent white building with a statue of a man on horseback. Despite not knowing what it was, it had “important” written all over it and so, we decided to snap first, then check later. Turns out, this was the Altare della Patria, a monument built in honour of the first king of Italy, Victor Emmanuel.

The Altare della Patria, Rome.

The magnificent white facade of the Altare della Patria.

The Castel Sant’Angelo was another example. Its big cylindrical body loomed across the River Tiber, something hard to miss. The Castel Sant’Angelo started out as a mausoleum for the emperor Hadrian, but was later used as a fortress. It now houses the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo.

Leading up to the Castel Sant’Angelo is the Ponte Sant’Angelo, a bridge of angel sculptures. Of course, I only found that out recently after I did my awfully-belated research. I never once noticed they were angels until I took a good look at the photo below. Oh well, better late than never.

The Ponte Sant'Angelo and the Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome.

The bridge of angel sculptures, Ponte Sant’Angelo, and the Castel Sant’Angelo.

We did not enter many of the paid attractions such as the Colosseum and Castel Sant’Angelo, because, I suspect, they were not cheap (my memory fails me…) Hence, the been-there-seen-that pictures that don’t seem to say much. Oops.

But not to worry if you are on a budget as well – there are many free attractions in Rome. One is the Roman Forum, another is the Trevi Fountain. Yet another is the Pantheon.

The Pantheon, Rome.

The Pantheon, once an ancient temple, now a church.

If you came from Paris and had a bout of déjà vu, don’t worry, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. This is the original Pantheon which the French version was based on. But the facade is where the similarity ends. While the French version has a raised dome rising into the sky, the Roman version features a rounded top. Not as impressive, you think? Don’t let its nondescript shape fool you. The Pantheon holds the record for the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.

The Trevi Fountain, Rome.

The famous baroque fountain, Fontana di Trevi.

We only made it to the Trevi Fountain after the sun set, but apparently, the crowds had not retired for the day. It was hard to get a picture of the fountain and even harder to get anywhere near it. It is said that tossing a coin into the fountain will ensure that you return to Rome. And boy, did everyone want to return. An estimated €3,000 is tossed into the fountain every day!

Rome is full of people, tourists to be exact. As you can see, all my photos feature a cluster of human heads. And occasionally, I would catch one seemingly posing for my camera.

Interestingly at the Spanish Steps, we didn’t have this problem. Maybe the idea of climbing 135 steps to the top wasn’t such an enticing proposition. I bet most tourists walk by from the bottom, take a picture of the fountain, look up and decide to continue on their way.

At the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Feeling at the top of the world at the Spanish Steps.

Well, if you thought we were one of the rare enthusiastic ones who climbed all the way to the top, we didn’t. We simply emerged from the other end and found ourselves at the top with a great view of the city. Lucky us.

A compact city of historical sights
The sights in Rome were so compact we literally walked from one to the other and could have covered all of them in one day if we really wanted to. Many of the sights we visited were also beautifully documented in travel brochures, so we could have easily avoided the crowds and couch-surfed our way through Rome.

But pictures just don’t tell the story of length and breadth, much less convey the grandeur of many greats like the Colosseum. Nothing beats seeing the real thing where it stands, crowds and all.

Find out what else there is to see in Rome in my next article!

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