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First day in Roma

ITALY | Monday, 4 March 2013 | Views [394] | Comments [2]

Well here we are! We have been here in Rome for 3 days, and I couldn’t tell you what my first impressions are of this city. Rome feels at once like a disaster of styles and time periods fighting with each other, and then like a crumbling empire that has been haphazardly put back together so many times you cannot tell which parts are from when. Our hotel is in the old part of town, where streets are as wide as alleyways and paved in cobblestone, and at any minute you could be run down by a scooter or stumble onto ancient ruins randomly jutting out from the block.

Rome is not a city of tourists, although there are plenty to be found. What I mean is that despite the mass crowds of picture-taking, map wielding foreigners, there are Romans living in Rome. They are proud of this crazy mess of a city, and it shows in their step. Perhaps because they are able to navigate the cobbled streets in six inch heels without breaking an ankle. We could barely do it in flat shoes.

Our first day here was spent at the Flavian Amphitheatre (also known as the Colosseum); a building that single-handedly defines Rome. It is the symbol of what this city has accomplished, endured and ultimately sacrificed. We went on two tours and were there for over four hours and we still came away wondering and wanting more.

Walking into the Colosseum, you are bombarded with history. You can imagine the stage covering the maze of cages and pulleys, of slaves and wild animals. You can hear the crowd cheering under the massive canvas sails. You can smell centuries of blood and sweat.

The Colosseum was built in 8 years. It was used to entertain Rome for over 500 years, using the exact same format: Gladiator fights, exotic animal hunts, and criminal sacrifice. Everything had a purpose, but the ultimate purpose was to show the people that Rome was in control. There is a saying in Rome that if the Colosseum falls, Rome falls. Although it has seen neglect, decay, earthquakes and war, the fact that it still stands is a great testament to Rome’s stamina.

Our tours were interesting, although the first was a bit of a rip-off. Our guide was an old curmudgeonly man with a sarcastic, almost cynical view of Rome’s history. He asked us if anyone was from England and a few people put up their hands. He then chuckled and said “well then you know a thing or two about being the greatest and smartest country in the world”. We laughed nervously, but I think his sarcasm was lost on most of the group. I’m pretty sure he was educated in England.

 The second tour allowed us access to the recently uncovered lower levels, as well as the highest level. Our guide on this tour was much younger, and he struggled more with his English, but we decided later that he was more honestly proud of his Roman heritage than was our first guide.

The lower levels of the Colosseum were only uncovered in around 2009, and are great examples of history preserved, as they have been covered in dirt for a thousand years. Down there is damp, mossy and almost ghostly, although this isn’t surprising considering how many people and animals died there. We also walked out onto an area that has been recreated to look like the original stage. It’s quite a feeling to walk out there through a gaping roman arch, and imagine 75,000 people watching, as you march to your death. It takes your breath away, in much the same way I imagine people feel when they see the Rockies for the first time, though the Rockies were not built by man in less time than it takes to build a Skytrain line.

Later that evening, tired and awestruck we wandered to the Pantheon; one of my favourite pieces of architecture from my art history classes. Nestled low in the ground, and lit from below (as it was evening), the Pantheon seems to be the sturdiest building you’ve ever seen. This could be true as it is one of the oldest standing buildings in all of Rome. It is an amazing feat of architecture, and remains the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever constructed. The walls of the dome are 21ft thick at the base! I won’t go on and on about nerdy architecture, but know that this building has been in use continuously since Hadrian finished it in 126AD. People have been visiting the Pantheon for almost 2000 years. I can’t quite wrap my head around that.

For dinner we went to a somewhat cheesy restaurant in a piazza filled with expensive touristy restaurants, for the sole reason that we were hungry and Italians don’t eat til after 8. Despite the red and white checked table cloths and the overly friendly wait staff, the food was extremely good and the wine even better. We sat outside next to a heat lamp and watched the people meander through the piazza, expertly manoeuvring the cobblestones.

After dinner it was straight to our hotel with the green door, and straight to bed where we listened to the city night bustling away outside. Not a bad first day in Rome!

Tags: colosseum, history, pantheon, rome

Comments

1

What did you eat at the extra-cheesy piazza restaurant?

  JC Mar 4, 2013 4:44 AM

2

Sounds amazing Maeghan!! we miss you!!

  Christina Mar 5, 2013 3:32 AM

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