ultimate tool to answer your numerous questions about Rome!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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).
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.
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.