Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Earthy ruins and soaring structures

Day three was a big ol’ Roman extravaganza. We took the metro down to the entrance of the Palantino, after another wonderful tip which allowed us to bypass all queues. The Palantino, Forum and Colosseum all fall under the same joint ticket, so once you’ve bought from one place, you can nip past all the queues in the others. Buying from the much quieter Palatino (with a queue time of less than 5 minutes!) meant that later in the day, when we went to the Colosseum, we walked straight past the huge line…

Anyway, back to the Palantino. It’s a large site, with plenty to see. For the most part we put away the map, and wandered around to get a feel for the area. The ruins range from the very well preserved (or in some cases, partially reconstructed), such as Hadrian’s house with its lovely 3-D effect painted walls, to rambling ruins in the process of being reclaimed by nature. A tiny museum highlights some of the best artefacts excavated.

The sites all link together, so we walked through to the Forum, a stunning site with lofty columns and intricately carved arches, well preserved enough to give you a true feel of how the city must originally have been.

After a quick stop for a rather over-priced lunch we hit the building which possibly only competes with St. Peter’s as the most well-known in Rome – the Colosseum.

It’s huge, dominating the ancient part of the city, and standing inside and looking up at the rows upon rows of seats is especially impressive. Even though the clouds decided to empty themselves just as we got in (after threatening to break for most of the late morning), the temporarily darkening skies only highlighted the structure even more, and it isn’t hard to imagine its original grandeur.

The underground chambers, once covered but now visible, reinforce the complex planning and execution of spectacles that must have taken place, and short, interesting snippets of information dotted around the interior help bring the place to life. There’s even a video for the visual kind of learner, although as it appeared to be pasted together from snippets of just about every Hollywood Roman-based adventure (and some rather bizarre Photoshop creations), I think it left us more confused than enlightened…

Nevertheless, it is well worth the hype surrounding it, and we were extremely impressed with the price – for all three sites the combined ticket is less than 15 euro, amazingly good value for Europe. And of course, there's the token 'Gladiator' or two hanging around outside...

I was particularly keen to visit the Bocca Della Verita before finishing up for the day, a circular carved head of marble with a large open mouth which was once a manhole cover, now residing in a beautiful church about 10 minutes walk away from the central Roman sites.

The legend goes that if you lie when your hand is in the statue’s mouth, it will close, taking your hand with it… None of us took the chance, satisfying ourselves instead with a few photos before heading back to the metro station via the Circo Massimo – an ancient Roman stadium which, whilst now overgrown and resembling a park, still retains many visible features of its former glory (and is in fact still used as a site for sporting and music events). With help from the earlier rain, it was lush and green and we sat for a while on a nearby bench, overlooking the stadium basin and the majestic Roman sights peering out from behind it.

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