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did you know?
...that in Rome live
17.418 Filippinos
10.873 Americans
8.244 Poles
7.863 Spaniards
6.372 Britons
6.368 Indians?
(Source: City Council)
   
 
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The ultimate tool to answer your numerous questions about Rome!

A


ARA PACIS AUGUSTAEARA PACIS AUGUSTAE The Ara Pacis is one of the city's great sights: the great sacrificial altar consecrated by the Emperor Augustus himself in 9 BC is enclosed in a magnificent frieze of Roman portraiture at its best. It is essentially intact, or at least extraordinarily well reconstituted.


ARCH OF CONSTANTINEARCH OF CONSTANTINE Built in the early 4th century AD to commemorate Constantine's tenth year in power, the arch was intended as yet another great monument of Roman propaganda. Over the long term, however, it fails miserably: in cobbling together for it some excellent sculpture of previous centuries and adding a few crabbed friezes of its own, the Romans created a fascinating comparative art gallery in which the Constantinian age does not come out well.


ARCH OF TITUSARCH OF TITUS Sober, simple, restrained, and beautifully sited, the Arch of Titus is a much more successful monument, an architectural exemplification of the Roman virtue of gravitas. It's also of greater historical interest, since it commemorates the end of the Jewish Wars in AD 70: among its reliefs, a triumphal procession with a unique representation of the sacred furnishings of the Temple of Jerusalem.

B

BATHS OF CARACALLA The Baths were public facilities where Romans could go and take a warm bath. In the larger baths, like those built by Caracalla, there was a dressing room, a gymnasium (where they could run , do gymnastics, box, fence and above all play ball), a sauna, three different pools: a hot one, a warm one and a cold one and yet another one just for swimming. There was also a library and three large rooms where feasts and banquets were held (these rooms had a special system through which air was perfumed).

C

CIRCUS MAXIMUS The Circus Maximus was another amusement site. Chariot races were held there. It was as long as six football fields in a row and could hold 250.000 spectators. The chariot that completed seven laps won. There were no rules and any unfairness was permitted. This was considered so much fun that Emperors like Caligula and Nero also participated with their two-horse chariots.

P

PALATINE HILLPALATINE HILL The Palatine Hill is a sort of 2800-year-old palimpsest of landscaping. Called the cradle of Rome because they found and raised babies in it - Romulus and Remus, according to tradition - it has by turns been the seat of the rich and powerful, an abandoned waste, a luxury escape for Renaissance popes, and now, less successfully, a mass of excavations. This rather weak subsite teases you with the so-called House of Livia and the Farnese Gardens.

PANTHEONPANTHEON There is often a disparity between the significance a building had in Roman times and its importance to us now as a witness to those times. For example, in the Roman Forum the best preserved temple is that of Antoninus and Faustina: of a dozen more imposing shrines in the Forum there remains little or nothing.

Nary a trace is left of the Temple of Jupiter Capitoline, yet we have the Temple of Portunus pretty much the way it was. The Pantheon is a wonderful exception to this unfortunate rule. Conceived as a major monument when Roman architecture was at its zenith, willed by the highest political authorities, and centrally located it has survived essentially intact.

The Pantheon was intended to honor the highest gods of the Roman religion. Despite the obviousness of its name, however, it was probably not a temple to "all the gods": nothing is simple, and in fact no one knows who exactly was worshipped here, although the arrangement of the interior, with its seven altars, has suggested the gods of the seven planets which might also account for the temple's central opening to the sky. To be even more frank, no one knows that much about Roman religion; when in our own day the exact meaning of prayer, for example, is subject to many sometimes conflicting interpretations even within a single monotheistic religion, we can easily imagine our ignorance as to what it meant to build a temple to the all-high gods.

An unsatisfyingly vague awareness of numen or divine mystery in its multiple forms is the best we can do: just maybe, by the sheerest accident, that in fact is the meaning of this spherical building open to the sky; but I would not want to project it into the mind of any Roman. What we can know is what we ourselves see, or what ancient writers tell us: first built in around 25 B.C. by Agrippa (we may think of him as Augustus's vice president), within less than 150 years the Pantheon had been devastated by two fires, and Hadrian saw fit to rebuild it and call that a restoration.

While no one knows what the original building looked like, the consensus is that Hadrian's building is nothing like it: welcome to the mystifying world of archaeology. Once the particular gods had died in whose honor the monument was built, the building stood intact yet apparently unused no one knows exactly until the visit from Constantinople to Rome of a thoroughly detestable man, the briefly reigning emperor Phocas, who gave it to the Catholic church.

Sensibly, the church preserved it, consecrating it on May 13, 609 ad omnes Martyres, that is, to the thousands of Christians slaughtered thruout the empire during the death throes of the old religion: so although the cultural face of God has changed, the Pantheon is still now a place of worship. It is in our own age, sadly, that the numen seems to be dying. I once saw two young women wander into the temple slurping on ice cream cones. They were stopped at the door by a priest, but I can't fault them: what were they to make of the fair-like atmosphere and the constant throngs of flash-popping tourists, including of course yours truly?

PYRAMID OF CESTIUSPYRAMID OF CESTIUS This pyramid was built during the last years of the Republic (1st century B.C.) to hold the ashes of Caius Cestius, Praetor, Tribune and Septemvirate of the Epulos, as the inscriptions recall.

 



PROTESTANT CEMETERYPROTESTANT CEMETERY The Protestant Cemetery (more properly il Cimitero Acattolico or Non-Catholic Cemetery) is an oasis of both history and great beauty, tucked away behind the Porta Ostiensis and the Pyramid of Cestius. Keats and Shelley are buried there, and so is Gramsci. It has been said that this is one of the few cemeteries that actually makes you want to die... For now, the only grave online here is that of Augustus Hare (only the uncle, mind you, of the famous writer).

T

TRAJAN'S COLUMNTRAJAN'S COLUMN In 113 AD the Senate dedicated the column to the Emperor Trajan. The masterpiece, built in the Trajan's Markets and Forum area, was something completely new to Roman art: a giagantic marble column (30m high) with 200m of scenes carved up its sides. There are about 150 different images rich scenes, which show the implacable series of victories of the roman legions personally lead by Trajan on the other side of the Danube against the Dacians, and the Dacians' incredible resistance. The scenes are full of compassion for the beaten enemy.

V

VILLA BORGHESEVILLA BORGHESE The gardens of the Villa Borghese are on yet another hill: a beautifully landscaped large park with just the right density of tempietti, fountains and statues. If you are a non-Italian visitor to Rome, you're probably not even giving this place a thought - mistake. The place to get some cool air surrounded by Roman families on their day off.

 
 
 
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