Expat Rick Zullo outlines a self-paced morning walk through history in Rome
The city of Rome itself is arguably the world’s greatest museum. Within the open-air confines of the Aurelian Walls are some of the most important historic relics and artistic gems that humanity has ever produced—nowhere else on Earth can you see so much in such a concentrated space. One of the great joys of visiting Rome is that you temporarily share this same space with history, much of which has remained largely unchanged over the centuries.
So save yourself the cost of a museum ticket today and just go for a walk through history in Rome. Here’s my suggestion for a memorable morning that you can enjoy at your own pace:
Start from the area across the street from the metro stop (B-line, Colosseo) where you’ll see men dressed up in gladiator costumes offering to take a picture with you (for a small fee, of course). Walk clockwise around the ancient arena, technically referred to as the Flavian Amphitheater. It was completed in the year 80 A.D., and while much of the outer structure still stands today, the marble veneer has been completely removed—stolen or scavenged—over the centuries. You can see large holes where the iron bindings used to attach the marble to the façade. The Coliseum could hold 50,000 spectators, about the size of our modern stadiums. The entertainment varied; everything from gladiatorial contests to naval battles to exotic animal hunts for the delight of the cheering masses.
As you move around the circumference, peak through the metal gratings to view the interior from various spots. Much of what can be seen from the inside can also be seen from the outside, including the hypogeum or underground tunnels. If you care to cross the busy Piazza del Colosseo toward the line of restaurants at the corner of Via Labicana, you can view the excavated remains of the Gladiator’s training school. The real gladiators, that is, not the ones posing for your photos.
The Arch of Constantine
When you eventually reach the side opposite from the metro stop, you’ll see the Arch of Constantine. This was an important point along the triumphal route when the Roman armies marched through the ancient city, taking their victory lap after their latest conquest. Continue on until you reach the street again—which is Via dei Fori Imperiali—and turn left. After just 100 yards or so, look at the brick wall to your left. Here you’ll see a series of large maps chronicling the extent of the Roman Republic (later, the Roman Empire) at different times throughout its history.
A little further down and you’ll be passing the Forums on your left. This was the “downtown” area of ancient Rome where all the government, commerce, and public affairs took place. Among the highlights visible from here are the Temple of Vesta (7th century BC) and the Arch of Titus (1st century AD)—which underscores the immense span of time for which the Romans ruled and for which this area was literally the epicenter of western civilization. Yes folks, that’s 800 years. Across the street to your right and behind the statue of Emperor Trajan is the massive Trajan’s Market (also 1st century), considered by many to be the world’s first shopping mall.
Keep going down Via dei Fori Imperiali until you see the side of the enormous, white marble Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II (Italy’s last king). This is called the Vittoriano, or more derisively, the “Wedding Cake.” But just before you actually reach the building, take a quick left. You’ll notice a steep set of stone stairs squeezed in between the Vittoriano and the Forums that you’ve just passed. Walk all the way up and you’ll find yourself in the Piazza del Campidolglio on top of the Capitol Hill; a square designed by Michelangelo in 1536. At the top of the stairs is a statue of Romulus and Remus being suckled by the she-wolf, the symbol of Rome. (This statue is an exact replica; the original is in the adjacent Capitoline Museum.)
The view from here is great, but if you really want to see it all you’ll have to pay seven euros to take the elevator to the top of the “Wedding Cake.” From this vantage point you can enjoy a bird’s eye view of Ancient Rome and one of the best photo spots in the entire city. Otherwise, climb down the grand staircase in front of the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius and turn right. Now you’re on the other side of the Vittoriano. At street level is the entrance to the Museum of Emigration—the history of the Italians who left their homeland in search of a better life abroad. Go have a peek inside; it’s free and worth a quick look.
When in Rome
Well, you’ve had quite a walk and now it’s time to rest up and feast like a Roman. Located just across the square between the spiraling Trajan’s Column and the church of Santa Maria di Loreto is a little enoteca, Enoteca Provincia Romana di Palazzo Valentini, that is sponsored by the province of Rome (closed Sundays). It features local products from the region including meats, cheeses, and wines.
Rick Zullo is an American expat living in Rome. Born in Chicago and raised in Florida, he came to the Caput Mundi in 2010 and forgot to go back. When he’s not exploring his adoptive hometown or writing for his blog, he spends his time teaching the world English, one Roman at a time. Visit him at: http://rickzullo.com/