Thursday, 13 October 2011
Italy 2011, Rome, The Roman Forum and Italian Unification
High on this hill overlooking the Forum was apparently a pleasant place to live because the site intercepted the welcome breezes coming in from the west and it was relatively free from the dust and diseases of the Forum below. According to legend Romulus and Remus were brought up here by a wolf in a cave. Later, the orator Cicero had a house here, Augustus was born here and lived with his wife Livia and the Emperors Tiberius, Caligula and Diocletian all built extravagant palaces on this site.
There was a path that took us to the bottom of the Palatine and into the Forum which for the Romans was the centre of political, commercial and judicial life. According to the playwright Plautus the area ‘teemed with lawyers and litigants, bankers and brokers, shopkeepers and strumpets’. As the city grew successive Emperors increasingly extended the Forum and in turn built bigger temples, larger basilicas, higher triumphal columns and more lavish commemorative arches. We started at one of these, the arch of Titus, and followed the original Roman street down into the heart of the Forum past the Temple of Romulus and the house of the Vestal Virgins and then the Temple of Julius Caesar erected on the very spot that he was cremated following his assassination in 44 BC.
It was very hot now and we were becoming weary as we walked along the uneven streets and through dusty excavations. We visited a small museum which provided some temporary relief from the sun but we were soon back outside walking past the Temples of Saturn and Vespasian and finally leaving through another arch, this one erected to the memory of the Emperor Septimius Severus after which we climbed some steps and found some welcome shade and took a quick break from the schedule.
Although there was still lots of Rome to see and we couldn’t possibly hope to achieve it all in just two days in the middle of an exceptional heat wave we had one last area to visit before walking back to the train station.
The Capitol, the southern summit of the Capitoline Hill was the centre of the Roman world and the Temple of Jupiter was the scene of the most important religious and political ceremonies. We approached the top via a zig-zag path up from the Forum into the Michelangelo designed Piazza Campidoglio with a statue of Marcus Aurelius dominating the centre of the geometric paving and the Renaissance façades of the surrounding buildings. We descended by the Cordonata staircase and passed the adjacent Aracoeli staircase where according to popular belief if you climb the one hundred and twenty-four steps on your knees then you significantly improve your chances of winning the Italian lottery. No one was attempting it today either because it simply isn’t true or on account of the searing heat!
After the unification of Italy in 1861 the Italian State planned a massive memorial, the Victor Emmanuel Monument, to commemorate the achievement and at the northern end of the Capitol constructed a huge white marble edifice which although impressive is far too big and sadly out of place amongst the mellow ochre stones of the surrounding buildings and it is unloved and savagely mocked by modern Romans who call it the wedding cake or the typewriter amongst other unflattering names. Today the National Monument looked especially immaculate as part of the hundred and fifty year celebrations to mark unification and the twelve metre long equestrian statue of the first King of Italy was flanked appropriately on either side by Italian tricolour flags dancing delicately in the occasional breeze.
After two days and several kilometres of walking around Rome we were exhausted now so set off in the general direction of the station. Christine almost bought the souvenirs she needed but unwanted intervention from Kim stopped the transaction at the very last moment necessitating more souvenir shop visits as we walked along Via Cavour (the first prime minister of Italy) stopping about half way along for a much needed rest and a drink, which we were glad of despite the excessive price.
I think it is fair to say that by the time we reached the Termini and walked the final four hundred metres to the platform we were all completely done-in as we boarded the cream and blue train, found seats and enjoyed the ride back through nine stations and stops to Albano Laziale thankful for a seat and a carriage air-conditioning unit.
On the way back to the hotel we had a stop at what had become our favourite bar and this being our fourth visit we were treated to complimentary tapas like bar snacks while we sat in the shade and reviewed the two days of visiting Rome. Later we returned to the same trattoria that we liked and as this was our last night ordered more food than we really needed, paid a little more than we had expected and, too embarrassed to leave it, wastefully threw some away on the short walk back to the hotel.