An afternoon in… Rome
by Colette Steckel
Renowned as Italy’s open-air museum, Rome is blessed with a wealth of art, historic buildings, and monuments, all representing its 2,700 plus years of history. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Even now the city is still unearthing relics that bear witness to a colourful and fabled past. All of which means that you’d struggle to see even a little of the city’s legacy in a weekend trip let alone an afternoon. Although that shouldn’t stop you trying. Rather than attempt to do a whirlwind tour of Rome, seeing everything in one hazy blur, your best bet is to choose one major attraction and immerse yourself in all its radiant glory. A good introduction to Rome is a visit to the Colosseum, the city’s landmark monument. Although surrounded by traffic belching toxic fumes, and a shadow of its former self, the Colosseum still manages to evoke Rome’s heady days as a venue for gory gladiator fights. Inaugurated by Titus in AD80, the Colosseum’s façade was covered in marble and could seat 50,000 spectators. After the fall of the Empire, the marble was stripped for use in building palaces and churches and the great amphitheatre was left to ruin. Visitors are able to view the Colosseum up close, once they get past the traffic, and tours are available of the interior, which is gradually being restored. This is where a little imagination (or a rewatching of Ridley Scott’s epic Gladiator) comes in handy. Next door is the Roman Forum, the commercial, political and religious hub of life in ancient Rome. Little is left of the temples, arches and buildings that made up the Forum, so you’ll need a guide if you’re interested in finding out about the relevance of the ruins. Worthy of mention are the Arch of Septimius Severus, the Arch of Titus, the Temple of Saturn and the House of the Vestal Virgins. From the Forum, it’s a short climb to the Palatine
Hill, which offers good views of the Colosseum. Once a residential area for wealthy Romans, the Palatine Hill has a number of villas, some of which are still being excavated. A small museum displays a reasonable selection of artefacts collected from these digs. Nearby is the famed Circus Maximus, although virtually nothing remains of the arena which once hosted imperial chariot races.
Of all Rome’s ancient buildings, the Pantheon is the best preserved. It was built by Marcus Agrippa in 27BC and later reconstructed by Hadrian in the early 2nd century AD. In the midst of a bustling piazza lined with cafes, the Pantheon is an astonishing sight and makes for mesmerising viewing. 43.3 metres in both height and length, the building is topped with a large dome that was once gilded. A nine metre opening in the dome lets light filter through and small holes in the marble floor allow rain to drain away. Outside, the portico is supported by 16 massive columns each hewn from a single block of stone. While inside lie the tombs of the artist Raphael, Vittorio Emanuele II, King of Italy, and his successor, Umberto I.
With so much of Rome’s history in full view, it might be tempting to steer clear of some of the museums that dot the city, which would be a pity as they boast superb collections. The most significant among them are on display at the Capitoline museums, with their vast collections of paintings and sculptures. While the cavernous Vatican Museums have art from virtually every period in history. My own personal favourite collection is at the stylish Galleria Borghese, founded by art connoisseur Cardinal Scipione Borghese.