Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Imperial Rome (Monday)

Today was finally a late day for us. We were able to sleep in until 8 am, but of course Matt got up to do his workout at 7. We grabbed our breakfast and were so excited because we finally had salt and pepper! Our eggs finally tasted great.

We hopped a bus with our first tour guide Mauro and headed for the coliseum. They drove around all the ruins of the emperors of Roman time. We saw the remains of Nero, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, and Augusto.

The coliseum is just massive. It once held 50,000 Romans. The coliseum today does not stand as it was during the Roman reign. It is not due to earthquakes or war, but due to the fact that the first Pope wanted to get rid of all the Paganism in Rome so they started to tear down the coliseum and recycled the materials for the Vatican city. This is why Rome is known as the “Eternal City”; they have reused and recycled everything so the city will never die. The parts of the coliseum that are still standing today are there because of the ingenious engineering they had back in those days. The whole place is basically like lego land. They place bronze pins in every brick and stone to add a sturdy core. The bronze is such a great material because it moves with the environment. It absorbs the vibrations of earthquakes.

(Matt putting his finger in the holes where the bronze pins were.
Stolen during economic hard times)

(Hillary as the newly elected Roman Emperor)

The coliseum walls are made from stone, brick, and marble. You can see from the pictures that there are a lot of holes in the walls. This is where the marble was built into the walls, but after Rome collapsed, people took the marble and sold it for money. That is what distinguishes the original walls from the new walls. Marble was such a big commodity then that even the steps and seating were made from marble.

(Marble steps)

(Marble seating)

When we entered, we were able to go through the emperor’s entrance. There were 80 entrances total around the coliseum with 1 dedicated to the emperor. Yeah we got to be royalty today. Whenever we first got there we had quite another experience as well. Mauro was taking us in and got into a fight with one of the ticket people. This is the second day in a row that we have experienced our guides yelling at other people. It got pretty heated and then Mauro walked away to get somebody else to take care of business. After we finally got through the line, Mauro was quick to make sure that nobody spoke Italian. Haha.

(Emperor’s entrance marked by the cross)

The games of the coliseum were such a big deal to the emperor that he actually paid for everything! The food was free, the admission was free, the gladiators were paid, and the animals were bought all by the emperor. Mauro said that in today's time, one event would be 1 billion dollars! CRAZY!

We had a bit of free time so we all went upstairs to the second level of the coliseum. These stairs were quite difficult to climb. They were steep and slanted down toward you. When we got to the top we were able to see down into the arena where they had all the passageways for the animals and the gladiators. It was really neat to see where they released all the animals and then where the gladiators really fought. Mauro said that for a gladiator to be set free he had to be victorious in 20 to the death fights. It may not seem like it would take that long, but they only had fights 2-5 times per year. As a gladiator the first thing you would do is walk into the arena and address the emperor. If you turned your back, it was immediate death. When addressing the emperor each gladiator would hold out their arm (hail Hitler style) and either keep their fingers together or apart. Together means that they will fight to the death, while apart means that they would only fight to the first injury. Experts estimate that during the 500 years of active competitions in the arena, over 600,000 people were killed.

After we left the coliseum a group of 12 (the fun group) stayed by ourselves to taking a walking tour of the palentino and ruins of the ancient emperors. We were able to see casa di augusto. You could still see the marble on the ground that had been broken up and covered by dirt. We even walked through a small museum that had tons of busts and sculptures from this palace. We also saw a wall mural that was put together like a puzzle with only the pieces that they have found through the rubble. We next walked down to see the largest arch in the world. It was really neat.

For our afternoon, we booked the fountain tour around Rome. This was great. Although we were both extremely tired and worn out from all the walking and heat from this morning, the tour gave us something special to do for our last day in Italy. Our guide was John Luigi and he was fabulous and very informative. We visited the famous Trevi Fountain which was only built in the 1700s so is still relatively new.

We also went to St. Peter’s Basilica. This one however, is different from the other basilica we visited while we were at the Vatican. This basilica is where the chains of St. Peter are kept. These are the same chains that he was bound with in captivity both while in Rome and in Jerusalem.

(angel of death)

This is also where the famous “Moses” by Michelangelo is kept.
When designing this statue, Michelangelo put a pretty significant landmark on him. When the Bible was first translated they made a mistake in talking about Moses coming down from the mountain after speaking with God. The text says that he had rays of light beaming from his head (sorry I’m paraphrasing from what the guide told us so this is probably not exact either). But whenever it was translated it said that Moses had horns coming from his head. Well since rays of light are kind of hard to sculpt, Michelangelo decided to keep the horns to signify the history and to make it easier on himself.

We also went by the Pantheon which is named for a place that all the gods were worshipped. This was really neat because they actually have an open hole in the top of the building. And down below they have holes in the floor to drain all the water that comes in during rainy times. To the very left was the door of sunset because the sun actually lands there every night at sunset.

One of the last fountains we saw was in Piazza Navona. This is a very popular square. The fountain was built to represent the four continents (Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas) and each fountain coming from the sculptures represented the largest rivers. America’s river was something that we didn’t really know of and that they said was because when the statues were being built America hadn’t really been explored so they did not know of the biggest rivers yet. Another neat fact or well rumor is that the American statue was built with his hand over his face. It is said its because Barbirini (I think that is the way to say his name) built the statues but did not build the building. He placed the hand over the eyes of America to hide his face for the disgrace of a building that he was looking at. Apparently Barbirini was rude. Haha.


This marks the point of the great flood in Rome. December 28, 18970 the water rose so high as you can see from this picture!

Even though we were both just pooped and exhausted we have to say that this was a great end to our tour. We had our last dinner tonight at the hotel. Our last 5 course meal and of course, it was quite good. We all downed about 2 bottles of water each (and these are the liter size, not 20 oz size). We actually had an early night for the first time. Well, that was until the fun group went back upstairs to have our one last night together. We recruited another 6 people for tonight: Jason and Laurie, Pat and Lenny, Ronnie and Dave. We stayed out until midnight or so, almost not wanting to leave because that meant the end to “us”. I’ve actually set up a trading system with Pat, Lenny, Ronnie and Dave. I will be sending them each some true Cajun file and they will be sending some true northern maple syrup. Yum yum!!

We board the bus for the airport at 6:45 am. I know what I’ll be doing on the plane! SLEEPING!!

We will see you all very soon!

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