Robert Lowe

Part 2: Querying Roman History

The beauty of Rome is one that can be viewed internally, as well as externally. The more you understand about its history, suffering and achievements, the stronger the crumbling rocks that hold the city together seem to become. Rome is a strong city, yet it is equally adoringly fragile in places.

I found this contrast very endearing, as we walked along the cracked concrete pavement towards the local coffee shop across the street from our hotel. Caffe Del Quirinale sells the most delicious Italian pastries and fresh coffee for extremely low prices, and much to my childish delight, the pastries are huge! The coffee shop filled with locals in the morning on their way to work. My dad and I relished watching what they ordered and decided to order whatever they did when we returned the next morning — after all, part of the reason why we were in Rome was to consume some of that Italian goodness! I found that sitting in a local coffee shop was the best way to spend the early morning in Rome to prepare you for the day ahead. It’s a wonderfully gentle way to start your day, and eases you into Roman life, which can be quite busy and hectic. It was perfect for me as a child; as I rubbed sleep from my eyes, we would sit near the window and leisurely eat our pastries whilst planning our day.

Marco Verch

You’d be crazy to miss out on seeing the Colosseum during your trip to Rome —
don’t forget about it just because it’s ‘where everyone goes’, there’s a good reason for that.
(Photographer: Marco Verch; Flickr)

The largest Amphitheatre in the World

The biggest thing (in every sense of the word) for me to see in Rome was of course the Colosseum, the construction of which began in 72 AD and completed in 81 AD. Of course, a seven-year-old doesn’t really have any concept of how long ago this truly was, and how such an unbelievable piece of architecture could have possibly been created in this time. I wasn’t particularly interested in how long ago it was built, how they built it, or who built it. The one thing I was interested in, was why it was there. As we approached the Colosseum an initial shock swept over me of just how huge it was, especially compared to how small it seems in films.

As we approached the amphitheatre it began to tower over us, blocking out the sun, casting us in shade and allowing us to see the depth of its immortality. We walked through the main entryway, clashing with other tourists. My dad held on tight to my hand — he didn’t let go of it for the three days we were away. In order to allow my short head to see over the rocks and into the arena of the Colosseum, he led me up the stairs to the second level, and lifted me up so I could peer over the barriers. Narrow walls lined the bottom of the arena, with shaded alleyways in between them. As I looked at the damaged building, partially ruined by so many earthquakes and stone-robbers over the years, my dad explained to me just why it was there: for entertainment. The underground tunnels that I could see at the bottom were used to hold slaves and animals, and were once covered by a concrete floor. Many different events were held in the Colosseum including gladiator contests, mock battles and animal hunts — if they held a mock sea battle they flooded the Colosseum with water. It was considered the height of entertainment, and I found it fascinating, as well as a little upsetting and eye-opening.

Topher.

The Forum, another famous site in Rome to add to your list. (Photographer: Topher.; Flickr)

The amphitheatre was used for entertainment for 390 years and during this time more than 400,000 people died inside the Colosseum. It’s also estimated that about 1,000,000 animals died there as well, although he didn’t tell me about this part at the time, as he was aware of my strong love for animals. After this small explanation, my naivety began to show, as I questioned why they enjoyed watching people die, and the morality of the Romans as a whole. I found it obscene, yet so enthralling. Children ask “Why?” so often, and this was one time that I truly did question “Why” over and over, yet came to no conclusion. It opened up a vast array of questions that my mind had never approached before. It made me start to question people — what they felt, why they acted so, what bothered them. The whole concept of “Why?” became an obsession from being seven years old, the starting point simply being from seeing my first Roman ruin.

The Ancient Fatherland

On a leisurely walk back to the hotel, we took a look at what Roman life could have really been like during its ancient golden age. The Roman Forum, a huge open space filled with giant ruins can still, despite its damaged physical nature, be considered one of the most influential parts of ancient Rome. As my dad guided me through the wide area and towering crumbled pillars, he explained to me all about what the Romans did in this place — and to my joy, it wasn’t killing people and animals. Roman banks, temples, baths, and businesses were once there, where I could now only see crumbled rock. I desperately tried to imagine what it once looked like in my mind. It was in the Forum where “orating” could take place, and anyone who felt like it could stand and talk to the crowd and express their views on any subject.  However, they could only express their views if they were an adult Roman male. This stopped my thought process. Why? Why only boys? Why not girls? I was learning about far more than just old rocks. I couldn’t understand why girls were not allowed to speak if the Forum was such a vibrant, evolving place of opinion. Girls were just as clever as boys. My dad tried to explain to me that, unfortunately, it was not always seen this way, but if I were to stand on a platform and make a speech to all of the tourists there and then, he was sure they would love to listen to what I had to say. I pondered on the question of “Why?” all the way back to the hotel, again reaching no conclusion by the time I got there.

Damien Dempsey

If you’re a Michelangelo fan, go and see the Pantheon — it was good enough for him! (Photographer: Damien Dempsey; Flickr)

Dinner and the Dome

After resting and playing our favourite game of ‘Top Trumps’ for the afternoon, the nourishment Italy so famously provides was calling us both. My dad decided to kill two birds with one stone and show me the Pantheon whilst feeding me, which I really liked the sound of! The Pantheon was just a short walk away and just like the Colosseum, it stunned me by its sheer size — but this was different to the Colosseum. It wasn’t only more typically ‘beautiful’, for want of a better word, but it stood strong in almost perfect, elegant condition. As we sat in Piazza Della Rotunda eating lasagne in front of it, I wondered if it made the other ruined buildings jealous. It was once used to honour the Roman Gods, and Michelangelo was known to say that it looks more like the work of angels, not humans — I could definitely see where he was coming from.

After asking so many questions throughout the day, and walking around with a permanent furrow of concentration between my eyebrows, I could definitely make at least two conclusions before I went to bed: it didn’t matter what I didn’t understand or disagreed with, I still looked at every crack in the pavements of Rome with admiration due to what appeared to me an almost indestructible ‘immortality’. Also, Michelangelo was right.

Featured image © Robert Lowe

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