27 July 2011

The Beauty of Ancient Rome

Surrounded by ancient history at every corner of this incredible city you marvel at the engineering and architecture of 2000 years ago.

Colosseum (c. 70-80AD)

Take for instance the Colosseum. Standing at 48m high, 188m long and 156m wide this impressive structure exemplifies Ancient Rome’s power, superior engineering skills and design capabilities.

Seating a near 50,000 people during an event you can only try to imagine the brutality, hardship and deaths that occurred amongst the gladiator battles. There is certainly nothing romantic about this structure given its barbaric history, however, you can see the beauty in the architecture such as the arched windows, the corinthian and ionic columns, the labyrinth of passages and removable stages. Mock naval battles were once conducted by flooding the arena.

Surviving several earthquakes over the centuries and whilst no longer a complete structure the Colosseum withstands the test of time and demonstrates the Romans' exceptional building competencies. It begs the question; would any of our modern buildings still be around in 2000 years?

The ever-present tourists.

Through one of the archways.

Arch of Constantine (c. 315AD)

Near the Colosseum resides the Arch of Constantine. A triple arched structure; it is one of three remaining imperial arches in Italy. Awarded to Emperor Constantine I only a mere three years after the victory against Emperor Maxentius this triumphal arch is richly decorated with parts of old buildings. It is not clear why old parts were used but some explanations such as insufficient time to create new artwork or shortage of artistic skills or complimenting his victory and piousness by using artworks from previous Imperial Greats are afforded.

Regardless of the reasons, Constantine was much respected and seen as the liberator of the city. This is evident in the still legible inscription at the top of the arch which translates as follows:

“To the Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantinus, the greatest, pious, and blessed Augustus: because he, inspired by the divine, and by the greatness of his mind, has delivered the state from the tyrant and all of his followers at the same time, with his army and just force of arms, the Senate and People of Rome have dedicated this arch, decorated with triumphs.” From Wikipedia

The Colosseum through the middle arch.

Imperial Fora (c. 46BC – 113AD)

One can only imagine the grandeur and architectural beauty of the public squares clustered in the Imperial Fora. Used for government affairs and religion, the various squares were built over a period of 150 years.

Commenced by Julius Caesar, he wanted a Forum that bore his name. Partly to show his absolute power, partly to replace the Roman Forum where government affairs were held and partly to be closer to the Senate, which was the centre of power. It is possible that the forum was never completed due to his assassination by the Senate and that it may in fact have been finished by his successor Augustus.

Unfortunately for Augustus himself, he never saw the completion of his own forum and neither did Domitian after him.

The final forum was built by Trajan as a celebration of his conquest of Dacia, now known as Romania (my birthplace). Trajan’s Forum included a market and was the biggest and grandest of them all. Almost as if making its final mark on Ancient Rome.

Very little remain of Caesar, Augustus and Domitian’s Forums. However, the greatness of Trajan’s Forum is still evident in the partially ruined buildings that are still standing today.

Last to be built, Trajan's Forum continues to stand proudly today.

Temple of Venus Genetrix (c. 46BC)

Amongst the ruins of the Imperial Fora, stand three corinthian columns, the remains of a temple honouring the goddess Venus Genetrix. Symbolised as the “creative force that sustains all life”, Venus played an important role in Roman mythology and more importantly in Julius Caesar’s life who claimed to be a direct descendant.

Originally constructed with eight marble columns on a raised podium it was decorated with statues of Venus, Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, Greek paintings and a collection of engraved gems.

Destroyed by fire in 80AD, it was eventually rebuilt and later restored. The remaining three columns today are a result of the later construction.

Temple of Venus Genetrix's remaining columns.

Sant’Angelo Castle (c. 139AD)

This spectacular cylindrically shaped building was initially built by Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his successors. The mausoleum was completed by his successor and adoptive son Antoninus Pius a year after Hadrian’s death. His ashes, along with his wife and first adopted son were eventually interned here.

The function of the mausoleum was short-lived as it was converted into a fortress c. 400AD. A statue of Archangel Michael was added in 590AD from which the castle’s name is derived. It remained a fortress until the 14th century when it was handed over to the Papacy. Eventually connecting the castle to the Vatican through a passage, it was used as a residence in times of danger and even more unpleasantly as a prison and place of torture.

Commencing on the first floor is the famous 120m long winding ramp which once again illustrates their engineering and building skills.

In its two centuries of existence, Sant’Angelo has morphed and reshaped itself on numerous occasions by adding, deleting and modifying. It is a labyrinth of underground rooms, balconies and stairs that today as a museum Sant’Angelo exhibits its own story of past events along with a vast collection of ceramics, paintings, sculptures, armoury and weaponry.

Sant’Angelo has such an exceptional and rich history that the only way to do it justice is to one day write a blog dedicated to it.

Castle Saint Angel and the statue of Archangel Michael atop it.
This is only a snippet of Rome's wonderfully rich history and I could only wish I had more time to investigate, tour, admire and appreciate.

A highly recommended place to visit and experience.  To do it justice one must spend at least a week in Rome to absorb all that it has to offer.