All roads lead to Rome, and, as with most cruise ship ports, the road is long and slow. We set off for the Imperial City from the Port of Civitavecchia, over 60 kilometers northwest of the capital. The subsequent drive through Civitavecchia struck me as a tour of time with 17th and 18th-century warehouses--not in the same neighborhood, next door, mind you--but one after another, fronted by the retail similar shop- displays juxtaposed with modern structures showing similar fronts.
The drive to Rome led through a surprisingly rural area, with pastures and occasional farm homes and outbuildings. I had to wonder why no more development occurred in the area developed over centuries. We enjoyed a windshield inspection of the historic area on our way to the Colosseum, a highlight of Rome for tourists.
We drove through century or millennia old palaces, churches and basilicas en route to the rugged bulk of the arena dedicated to placating the populace with bread and circuses. Contemporary life on the streets by twenty-first-century residents seemed every day, typical small town with emphases on food, antiques, and coffee only with a backdrop of antiquity.
The name of the Coliseum might well be queue. Lines of would-be visitors dwarfed the line for retrieving tickets. As a group with tickets purchased earlier, our wait was shorter, but not nonexistent. Our guide kept a running commentary on the structure, pointing out who got in, the costs, the bloody events staged between man and beast, beast on beast, or man versus man. The noon intermission was for executions. We learned that a thumbs up sign meant kill him, a closed fist said let him go; and a down thumb bogus sign. The anthropology profession, our current lecturer, pointed out the few areas, which were original, which one reconstructed. In the heyday of the arena, all surfaces shown in their marble shells. With marble in demand, later residents stripped the walls and floors. Builders purloined other stones as construction materials. The remaining walls featured brick, and I noticed several arches were brick-filled for additional stability. Our tour was confined to one floor, a good thing as a new elevator provided transportation up for stair-haters.
We adjourned to the Forum, the marketplace and political stage of the classical age. We picked our way with caution along the cobblestones wet with rain. The umbrella fairies appeared out of nowhere, hawking umbrellas or ponchos. When the rain grew heavy, they gained customers. We walked where some of the great names of history walked, viewed their shrines, temples, and monuments to the great ones of the age. After a climb back up the hill, we went to lunch, a typical Roman meal—antipasto, breads, cheese, sausage followed by a bowl of pasta. We considered the meal done until the final course arrived, salad and veal cutlet. This was a graphic lesson that Americans, teenagers excepted, lack the hearty appetites of true Italians.
Our tour coordinator added the next stop for those who’d been to Rome before. The surprise was a visit to the Roman Domus at Valentini Palace. The Domus consisted of a mix of classical fourth-century ruins of a mansion, adjacent or encroaching later building constructed after a massive earthquake caused much of the upper stories to collapse. Part of an earlier mosaic lay inside the older runs and part on the other side of the wall constructed for the adjacent building.
We entered the private baths area used by the original resident with a heated area and a frigidarium with an icy pod. The floors were intricate mosaic, the walls frescoes. Neither was intact until today’s technology completed the view to reflect what the first owners saw complete with niches filled with statues, tall ceiling inlaid with tile, benches on which to recline. Other rooms of the mansion shared the same bi-polar nature with rough ruins transformed into complete beauty. The program explained the history and purpose of each room.
The group wandered through one corridor and another to reach great columns of granite felled by the earthquake, somewhat intact statutory and a severed head. We peered through the window, which once opened onto a beautiful garden and overlooked the monument to Hadrian and other heroes. The story carved in a three-dimensional depiction of the giant obelisk in the square adjacent illustrating in a carved circular design carved into the column showing one of Hadrian’s vistories is an early comic book in stone. The Domus is a must-see on a visit to Rome.
Next stop Barcelona.