Ancient Rome

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Colosseum

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The Colosseum is the most famous building of Antique Rome. Located in the Eternal City, capital of Italy, its construction began in 72 A.D under the reign of the Emperor Vespasian and was finished around 82 A.D. In the beginning, the Colosseum was named “Flavian Amphitheatre” since Vespasian founded the Flavian dynasty. It is composed of three different levels of arches and it is about 48 meters high. This Amphitheatre was able to welcome about 70 000 people for the different shows and games it held. There were 80 entrances; one was personally dedicated to the emperor and his family while three entrances were dedicated to the Roman Elite. Inside, the different terraces were organized in a way that the different social classes were separated from one another while watching the various games. The name “Colosseum” first appeared in the Middle Ages because people were fascinated by the huge statue of Nero (known as the “Colossus of Nero”) that once stood next to the amphitheater.

Things to see

The Colosseum offered different kinds of entertainment to the Roman people such as animal fights, hunts of wild animals such as lions and tigers, gladiator fights, and reconstructions of different battles, including naval battles. Said naval battles were permitted due to the ingenious machinery which brought water inside the Colosseum.

The Colosseum is listed as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Unfortunately, its structure suffers from bad weather, pollution and time. The parts of its walls that are missing and which give it its famous silhouette were taken away during the Middle Age to build other buildings, such as Saint Peter’s Basilica. In other words, Saint Peter’s Basilica was built with stones originating from the Colosseum!

Teatro Marcello – Rome

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The Teatro Marcello is a Roman era open-air theatre located in the Rione Sant’Angelo.  Inaugurated in 12 BC, It was the biggest theatre of its period accommodating up to 20,000 viewers. It was dedicated to Marcellus, Emperor Augusto’s nephew.

The Theatre of Marcellus was constructed mostly of tuff, cement and brickwork, while the exterior was totally covered in white travertine. Its design served as a model for the Colosseum.

At the beginning of the 4th century the theatre fell in disuse.

During the Middle Ages it was modified: the top row of seating and the columns were eliminated. It became a fortress; the transformation luckily saved the Teatro Marcello from further demolition.

During the Renaissance period the Orsini, an aristocratic family, built their residence on top of the ruins of the theatre.

 

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Due to all the modifications made over the centuries just a part of the first two levels of the ancient Teatro Marcello can still be viewed.

However all of these changes transformed the theatre into a unique building.

The upper level of the structure is divided into several apartments, while during the summer it is possible to enjoy small concerts in its surroundings.

Thanks to its exceptional characteristic the Theatre of Marcellus is still one of the Eternal City’s most interesting locations.

Capitoline Hill

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Capitoline Hill is the most famous of the seven hills of Rome; another name often associated to it is the “Hill of Gods”. Capitoline Hill is composed of two summits separated by a gap. During the Roman Empire, Nero built his arch in the gap between the two summits.

On one of the summits once stood the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, the most important temple on the hill. It was not only a place of worship but also the place were Romans used to keep their treasure and precious items. The Temple of Jupiter was destroyed and rebuilt several time until it eventually declined into disuse and ruin during the 5th and 6th centuries. Some say that when Emperor Vespasian rebuilt the Temple of Jupiter, he helped the masons himself. To reach Jupiter’s temple, people had to take the Gemonian Stairs. These stairs were also a place where people were condemned to death sentence and then thrown down the steps toward the Tiber River.

Things to see

On the other summit, where now stands the Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven, there was the Temple of Juno, the protector and special counselor of the state. Romans used to make coins for their currency here; in fact, the practice started in this temple. Another interesting thing about this temple is that according to legend, the Gauls arrived and climbed the Hill to try to steal Roman treasure but Juno’s sacred geese cried out so loudly that the Romans were alerted of the Gauls’ attempt.

Nowadays we can reach the Capitol Square from a huge staircase named Cordonata. On the summit now stands Rome’s City Hall along with the Roman Museum of the Capitoline Hill. The equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius is situated in the middle of the Piazza del Campidoglio, where these buildings are situated, and cannot be missed!

Circus Maximus

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Circus Maximus is the biggest Roman arena and the oldest circus from Ancient Rome. It is located between the Palatine Hill and the Aventine Hill in the Murcia Valley. Circus Maximus was famous for its chariot races; even if today many see it as some mere ruins, we can still appreciate how big it was for its time with its 600 meters in length and 80 meters in width.

Circus Maximus was able to welcome up to 250 000 people when it was originally built, and even more after some renovations were made. It was first used during the Etruscans era in the 6th century B.C. Julius Caesar later extended the Circus and added a gap between the arena and the bleachers in order to protect people watching the race.

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After the big fire of Rome in 64 A.D., the seats were rebuilt out of stone and marble while the arena itself was enlarged to be able to welcome up to 300 000 people. In the middle of the arena was the “Spina”, which divided the arena into two different parts. The Spina was a small wall covered by statues, fountains, columns and other embellishments, along with Augustus’ Obelisk.  This obelisk, the first ever brought over from Egypt, still exists and can be seen today on Piazza del Popolo. The chariots racers would ride around this obelisk in the middle of the Spina.

It is actually still possible to see vestiges of the starting point of the chariots if you go on the side of Viale Aventino. The last race happened in 549 A.D. but after that the Circus Maximus slowly fell into disuse and decay. Nowadays, it has become a large green space where people go to jog or exercise; concerts and other events are sometimes held there.

Palatine Hill

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The Palatine Hill is the most centrally located among the seven famous hills of Rome. It is positioned near the Colosseum, the Circus Maximus and the Roman Forum, and was the home of several emperors. Indeed, Augustus, Cicero and Marcus Antonius all built their palaces on this hill. From the top, it offers visitors a very nice view of the Eternal City.

According to legend, it is on this hill that the twins Romulus and Remus were discovered by their mythical she-wolf mother. It is also on this hill that Romulus decided to found Rome, so Palatine Hill is generally considered as the birthplace of the Roman Empire.

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During the Roman Republic, Palatine Hill became the most popular place to live. In fact, the name “Palatine” is derived from the word “palace” since so many were built. Many chose to live here firstly because it offers a wonderful view of the city and secondly because at the time, people believed there was more pure air here than lower on the hill where laborers worked. They believed that they would get less sick thanks to this pure air.

During the Middle Ages, several churches and convents were also built on the hill. Later, the hill became the property of the cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who had a nice botanical garden constructed upon the ruins.

St. Peter in Chains

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The Basilica Saint Peter in Chains (San Pietro in Vincoli) is located in Rome on the Esquiline Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome. It was built in 430 A.D. under Empress Eudoxia’s orders, who was the wife of Emperor Valentinian III. The goal of building such a basilica was to protect and keep Saint Peter’s chains safe. According to the legend, when Pope Leo I wanted to take the chains to compare them to those in the Mamertime prison, the two chains miraculously fused together and it became impossible to separate one from the other. A convent had also been built next to the basilica but after the Italian Unification it was given to the Sapienza University.

Things to see

The basilica has undergone several renovations since its completion but its current aspect is due to the renovations made by the Pope Julius I in 1503. What made the basilica famous however is the tomb of Pope Julius II. Pope Julius died on February 21st 1513 but his tomb was not finished until a century later. The large structure was made by Michelangelo and is considered as one of the artist’s masterpieces. The initial plan was to build a three-level structure with 40 statues inside of Saint Peter’s Basilica but to Michelangelo’s dismay, the Pope abandoned the project. Michelangelo had many other projects at the time and his contract changed so he never had the chance to complete the full project.

The central statue represents Moses, his fingers stroking his beard as he holds the Tablets of God’s Law under his right arm. He is depicted with horns, which is the traditional representation of people who have been touched by God. The statues either side of Moses, which represent Leah and Rachel, have also been made by Michelangelo while the other statues were realized by his students.