Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Roman Ruins, 4.11.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 24, 2007

After a good night’s sleep we set off early to do the Roman ruins. We planned to begin with Trajan’s column and the Markets, but were distracted by a military parade at the Victor Emmanuel monument. After a great deal of messing about, they got themselves organised and put on an impressive display, complete with a marching band, the army, navy and air force, lots of dignitaries and the President of Italy, as well as a fly past of jets trailing the colours of the Italian flag. We asked one of the locals what the occasion was, but it transpires that there wasn’t one – this pomp and ceremony is almost an everyday event.

Trajan’s Column has been excavated very cleverly so that it’s possible to get quite close to the reliefs, which are still in extraordinarily good condition. (Perhaps they’re been restored?) I really like these columns because although they celebrate military victories, they show remarkable scenes from Roman life and I like the miniature stories they tell. The Markets are next to the Column, and are amazing – you can so easily imagine the hustle and bustle, even though they have spoiled the atmosphere a bit with interactive computers and interpretive displays for students inside. If it encourages Italian louts to value their culture and stop spraying graffiti all over everything, I suppose it’s worth it.

From there we did a tour of the Colosseum. It’s not until you get up close to it that you realise just how big it is, and of course it was swarming with other tourists and ‘gladiators’ wandering about looking foolish for photos. The queues to get in were horrible, so when a tout offered a tour which bypassed the wait, of course we took it – and it turned out to be very good. It was a small group, her English was good, and she had researched her story well.

On a beautiful sunny day it was strange to reflect on the human misery and cruelty to animals that was part of the spectacle, but the view of Rome from the top tier was brilliant. There was also a fascinating display of ancient artefacts inside the internal corridors, but with only one day left in Rome, it was time to move on. We went out under the Arch of Constantine to find the Palatine Museum, but our map led us astray and we ended up climbing to the top of the hill.There we saw the Domus Augustinian and the Domitian Circus, but by then we were hot and tired and we’d had enough. Just when we were starting to feel peeved because we couldn’t find the exit, there was the museum we’d been looking for! Alas, there was no congenial cafe to rest our weary feet, so we had a quick look at the displays and then pressed on for the Forum.

The ruins really are amazing. There was so much more than I had imagined, and from the Palatine it’s quite easy to work out what the buildings were. I found myself remembering my Form Two Latin text book, and its explanation of the basic layout of Roman houses, and wishing yet again that I had studied up on the gods and the order of the Roman Emperors before leaving home. We had planned to have lunch and then come back but we ended up traversing the whole complex, most of it along uneven cobblestones, clambering over rubble and endless steps and risking a ricked ankle.

It was hot, too, so we were very glad to find Cafe Alvaro exactly where it was supposed to be in Via dei Cerchi near the Circus Maximus, and we had a wonderful meal there. There were just four Japanese girls finishing a meal, and when they left it was just us – and it felt like dining with relations because Mama and Papa were having their lunch too, with their family. The fish I had was superb, and it was very nice indeed to be sitting down after being on foot from 8.30 am till about 3.oo pm!

Back at the hotel for a well-earned rest, we were tempted back outdoors by the insistent rhythmic music from a one-man-band busker in the alley outside. We had a meal at Gran Caffe Caffeteria, (great decor, dull food), and then strolled about looking for souvenirs, and I found some lovely brooches for special friends….

What a great day!

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