Rome (Roma), Italy
When in Rome, do as the Romans do...well almost. We did some touristy things as well. Rome, the capitol of Italy, is a sea of modern day humanity living symbiotically with an ancient city. The sights from ancient Rome dominate the center of the city, and the people pretty much left that part alone. The rest of Rome is a seething cauldron of busy Romans on millions of scooters dotting every which way in the streets, disregarding every traffic control device devised by man and nature. Millions of tourists dodge these noisy mopeds running from one sight to the next, clutching their wallets to protect their valuables against gypsies. The most popular piazzas (San Pietro and Spagna) are so packed with visitors that you can't possibly get a good photo. The air wreaks of moped exhaust and smoke. But, I'm not trying to paint a grim picture of Rome or anything...
Rome has lots to offer the first-time tourist. Ancient Romans left tons upon tons of ruins for us to explore including the Coliseum, Forum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and of course, the Vatican -- the center of Roman Catholicism. Roman cuisine is absolutely fabulous, that is if you stay away from the tourist-trap places and find a mom-n-pop restaurant down a blind alley. We had the best pasta of our lives here, and I would be glad to eat the same thing every night for the rest of my life!
First stop in Rome is the Coliseum (Coloseo). The Romans built this monstrocity 2,000 years ago to hold their favorite sporting events (gladiator fights, chariot races). We are just glad that we found the place, and that I was lucky enough to ward off a gypsy just as she managed to unzip my fanny pack in the subway station. Here we are resting up for the day's sightseeing under a nice shady tree.
Roman "soldiers" outside the Coloseo help tourists take some memorable photos, and help themselves to some of their Lire. Hey Byron, that can't be too comfortable!
The Arch of Constantine, just outside the Coloseo. The Palatine Hill lies just beyond the famous Arch. Apparently, the word "palace" is derived from the name of this hill and its palaces.
Taking a photo with Katie and Scott just inside the entrance to the Coloseo. Most of the interior is in a deteriorated state, but it's nevertheless impressive that the Romans were able to engineer this huge stadium 2,000 years ago. Our modern stadiums aren't much different. They were able to take advantage of the paterns of airflow through those arches in the back to cool the stadium. It really works!
Thousands of years of wear has destroyed the original floor of the Coloseo. But it affords us a view of the dungeons under it.
The Roman Forum was a place where they gathered to hold public events, shop, and to socialize. It was the social center of Ancient Rome. Now it lies in ruins, except for a couple of fairly well-preserved buildings like this one.
A panorama of the Forum shows its deteriorated state.
Just north of the Forum lies Piazza Venezia, a large plaza many consider the center of Rome. This grandiose structure is a monument dedicated to Vittorio Emanuel, King of Italy. Rome's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies at the top of the steps. If you look carefully you can see the two armed guards watching over the eternal flame at the base of the white statue in the center of the photo. To the right of this photo is Palazzo Venezia, where from its balcony, Mussolini addressed his Fascist followers during WWII.
Not far from the Piazza Venezia, there's a bunch of ruins of the four Republican temples in a square called Largo di Torre Argentina sunken below ground level. This pit houses some of the oldest ruins in Rome (dating back to the 3rd or 4th century B.C.), and Caesar was assassinated here. Today, it's home to hundreds of homeless cats, cared for by volunteers.
Couldn't pass up a chance to pet these cats, Scott walks into Largo Argentina to befriend a kitten or two.
The Pantheon is one of the most famous buildings in Rome. Its concrete dome was the largest in Europe until this century. The builders used lighter and lighter material as you go up in height. From the base of concrete to the top made of volcanic pumice, the Pantheon represents some of the finest engineering of the time. Now it houses the remains of Italy's first two kings as well as the artist Raphael.
Here is one of the tombs inside the Pantheon. (Couldn't remember which person this one belongs to.)
Here is another tomb. The Pantheon also serves as a church, and this one has an altar built into it.
The Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) was built in 1751 and uses water brought into the city via the Roman aquiducts. Today, it's a popular gathering place for tourists as they each toss two coins over their shoulders. They say if you make a wish here with two coins, you will return to visit Rome next year. (Well, it worked. See my return to Rome).
Not too far from the Trevi Fountain, you'll find the Spanish Steps in Piazza di Spagna. The proper name is "Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti), and it was built in 1723 by architect Francesco de Sanctis. It was a gathering place for romantic poets such as Keats and Shelley. Artists also combed the crowds here for prospective models. Now it's just a cool place to watch the people.