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The Roman Forum, Part II – A walking exploration

 

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The Forum Romanum looking north from the Arch of Titus

 

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

I really had no idea how much there was to see at the Roman Forum. And how much of our western traditions and government had begun in that valley. I was really unprepared for what was laid out before me as I walked its ancient streets. Luckily I had taken a lot of photos so that when I got home I was able to read up on the history of what I had seen so that I can now share that with you. However in a few cases I didn’t have a good photo of what I considered an important building or temple, in those cases I’ll identify where the photo I posted came from.So walk with me now as we explore the Forum Romanum.

 

The Temple of Venus and Rome

 

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The remaining columns of the Temple of Venus and Rome. The largest temple in Rome in its time.

 

At the southern end of the Forum you’ll see a set of columns sitting above street level across from the Colosseum. These are what remain of the Temple of Venus and Rome.

The Temple of Venus and Rome is believed to have been the largest temple in ancient Rome. It was dedicated to the divine Julian family (which traced its legendary beginnings to the goddess Venus) and to the Imperial City of Rome. Construction begun in 135 AD by the emperor Hadrian and completed by his successor, Emperor Antonius Pius in 141 AD.

This temple was constructed on top of the largest man-made podium of its time. On the temple’s two longer sides were two columned porticos running along it. Its southern end faced the Colosseum and the northern the Forum. Both the north and the south ends featured long stairways going down to the streets across from the Colosseum and to the Forum. Inside the temple were a statue of Venus, which faced out toward the Colosseum, and a statue representing Rome facing the Forum.

To build this temple Hadrian had to remove what remained of the vestibule of Nero’s Golden House. Even the gigantic statue “The Colossus of Nero” had to be relocated to make room for it. It was written that it took twenty-four elephants to move the Colossus. Coupled with the impressive Colosseum, the Colossus of Nero, and the Temple of Venus and Rome the Colossus Square must have been spectacular to see.

As with many of the building in the Forum the Temple of Venus and Rome suffered by being stripped of its marble and stone for use in other buildings. Earthquakes and fire also helped with its destruction. It was an earthquake in the ninth century that finally destroyed what was left of the temple. The first Christian church to be built on the temple’s ruins was in 850 AD, it was then rebuilt in 1612 as the Church Santa Francesca Romana.

Today the terrace of the temple has been restored, and is open to the public.

To get into the Roman Forum proper from the south you enter off the Great Square of the Colosseum and walk up the Via Sacra. The Via Sacra was the main road through the ancient Forum. In the distance as you walk you’ll see our first stop, the Arch of Titus.

The Arch of Titus

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The Arch of Titus 

The Arch of Titus is the oldest of the tree surviving triumphal arches in Rome. It stands on the highest spot of the Via Sacra, and being over 50 feet in height it gives a commanding presence to the Roman Forum below. Dedicated in 85 AD by Emperor Domitian, in honor to his brother Emperor Titus who died in 81 AD. The arch commemorates Titus’ victory in the Jewish Revolt. In that war the city of Jerusalem was captured and the revolt finally crushed with the fall of the Masada fortress in 72 AD.

The reliefs on the arch depict the emperor’s triumphal procession into Rome with the spoils taken in that war. These reliefs were originally in color and the arch was topped with a bronze quadriga when it was first dedicated.

What helped preserve the Arch of Titus is that it was made part of the fortress of the Frangipani family in the eleventh century. You’ll notice that some of stone of the arch has different shades to it. This is because when Giuseppe Valadier worked on restoring this arch, between 1821 and 1823, he used travertine to replace the missing sections instead of marble to distinguish what was replaced from that of the original marble.

Palatine Hill

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The ruins on Palatine Hill as  seen from the Forum

As you pass by the Arch you’ll see ruins on the left going up the side of a hill, and what looks like restored building on its top. This is the Palatine Hill, the legendary birthplace of Rome. Remains of bronze-age huts have been found on the hill, which gives proof that the hill had been inhabited from a very early time. But what’s really historical about these ruins you see are that they are what remain of the palaces of the first Roman emperors.

The first emperor to have his residence on Palatine Hill was Augustus Caesar in 44 AD. But it was his successor, the Emperor Tiberius, who would build a true imperial palace. The following emperors, Caligula, Claudius and Nero would continue to expand the complex.

Palatine Hills was another area that if I had done a little more researching for our visit I would have made time to explore it. As it was there was a lot more in the Forum itself to see.

The Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina 

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The columns from the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina

After you have walked down the dirt incline to the excavated Imperial level of Forum the first impressive structure you see on your right is the remains of the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina. What grabs your attention is that it seems to be two building in one, and you would be a correct in that assumption. This is another example of the medieval usage of a foundation from a ruined Roman temple for a Christian Church.

 

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Notice how high the bottom of the church’s green door is, that was ground level before being excavated.

 

The church building behind the columns is the twelfth century church of San Lorenzo in Miranda. The building you see today is from when the church was rebuilt in 1601. If you look closely at the temple’s remaining columns you can see grooves where they tried and tear them down to build the church.

In the close-up photo notice how high the church’s door is from the temple’s base. That was the level of the ground before the Forum was excavated.

The Temple of Caster and Pollux

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“The Three Sisters”

Not too far from the Temple of Antonius and Faustina, on the opposite side of the Forum, are the three remaining columns of the Temple of Caster and Pollux. This temple was one of the first to be built in the Forum. The first temple is believed to have been constructed in 484 BC by the pre-republic dictator Postumius, to honor the mythological twin brothers that legend says helped Roman to defect the Tarquin Kings. The ruins seen today are of the temple rebuilt by Emperor Tiberius in the first century AD. These three columns are popularly known as “The Three Sisters.”

The Basilica Julia basilica-julie

If you turn around and face north from the Temple of Caster and Pollux you’ll see a large open area with the stumps of column bases in rows, and ruined brick walls at its north end. This is what remains of the large Basilica Julia. Constructed by Julius Caesar in 54 AD, it was the main government building that housed the seat of the Centumviri. This was the people’s court in the time of Imperial Roman. The original building was destroyed by fire in 9 BC, and then rebuilt in 2 AD. In its day it measured over 331 feet long and almost 161 feet wide. Today it is but a field of rubble.

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The Temple of Saturn the-temple-of-saturn

When you see travel brochures and photos of the Roman Forum they most likely will feature the columns of the Temple of Saturn. The Temple of Saturn was the first temple built on the Forum. Although there is some question as to the exact date that it was constructed it is thought to be at around 497 BC. This temple was also used as the treasury for the Roman Republic, and where the standards of its legions were kept.

As with most of the temples and building of the Forum this one was also rebuilt. The ruins today are those of the temple of 42 BC. It was in front of this temple that you’ll find the base of Augustus’ column Miliarium Aureum or Golden Milestone, which marked the center of Rome, and from were all roads lead from.   

The Arch of Septimius Severus the-arch-of-septimius-severus-built-in-203-adIn front of the Temple of Saturn stands the magnificent Arch of Septimius Severus. This triumphal arch is the best preserved of the three arches in the Forum. Constructed by the Roman Senate in 203 AD to honor the Emperor Septimius Severus,and his sons Caracalla and Geta, on their victories over the Parthians, what is now Romania.

This arch stands 75 feet high and 82 feet wide, and is unique in that it has three arched passages. The larger center passage is a little over 39 feet in height, with the two side passages at around 23 feet high. When it was first constructed there was a flight of stairs going through the central passage. Made of marble it features four deep reliefs representing scenes of the Parthian war. At the top in the center of the arch is a large relief of Mars, the god of war. There were two statues of winged Victory on each side that are now lost to history. You can still read the inscription on the arch that says, “Dedicated to Septimius Severus and his sons.” As with the Arch of Titus this was also topped with a bronze quadriga, this one with statues of the Septimius and his two sons. However after Emperor Severus death Caracalla, who didn’t want to share the power with his brother, had Geta killed and removed his name and image from the arch.

The arch is in very good condition because it was incorporated into a Christian Church in the middle ages. Even after the church moved it continued to protect the arch from being stripped of its stone and marble.

The Via Sacra was the main route of the triumphant parades of the victorious generals and emperors. They would start at the southern end of the Forum with the procession ending at the foot of Capitoline Hill, near where the Arch of Septimius Severus stands.

The Rostra

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The Rostra as seen from the side

It’s not hard to miss what remains of one of the most important structures for Roman citizens. This was the one place where they could stand and speak their mind, the Rostra.

The Rostra was the name given to the platform from which orators would stand when addressing the crowds in the public assembly area, the Comitium. This platform was originally called the tribunal until after Roman’s first major sea victory at Antium in 338 BC. Some of the spoils taken from that battle were six bronze ramming prows from the enemy’s ships. These prows were attached to the front of the tribunal as trophies. The Latin word for prow is rostra; from then on the platform became known as the Rostra.

 

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The front of the Rostra

 

In 52 BC Julies Caesar rebuilt the government area after it was destroyed by fire. He detached the Rostra from the Comitium and moved it to its present location on the west side of the Via Sacra. The project wasn’t completed by the time of Caesar assassination so it was completed by his successor Emperor Augustus in 42 AD. The back of the Rostra had curved steps for the speakers to walk up. Besides the ships rostra’s the Rostra was also covered with reliefs and topped with a marble railing.

Many of the famous speeches from Roman history were made from this Rostra. In 44 AD Marc Antony made his famous speech to the Roman Citizens at Julius Caesar’s funeral.

Today we call a speaker’s podium a “Rostrum” which comes directly from the Roman Rostra.

You can see the ruins of the Rostra near the Arch of Septimius Severus and across the Via Sacra from the Curia Julia. Since I missed knowing about the Rostra when we were there I needed to go through in my photos and find an image I could use. The photo of the side of the Rostra is mine that is blown up from the photo of the arch and temple of Saturn. The front view photo comes from penelope.uchicgo.edu/grout/emclopaedia_romana/romanforum.

The Curia Julia

 

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The Curia Julia as seen today. Photo from Wikipedia

 

The Curia was where the Roman Senate met during the Republic and Imperial ages. It was the third important piece of Roman government, along with the Comitium and Rostra. The Comitium, with its Rostra, was originally located in front of the Curia. Before and during the time of Julius Caesar this senate meeting place was called the Curia Cornelia.

In 44 BC Julius Caesar began redesigning, relocating and rebuilding the Forum’s governmental area. He replaced the Curia Cornelia with his, the third Curia, Curia Julia. However, like the Rostra, work had not been completed when Caesar was assassinated. As he had done with the Rostra Augustus completed the Curia Julia’s construction. During the Imperial period the Curia Julia had a raised colonnaded porch across its front.

Emperor Domitian made restorations to the building between 81 AD and 96 AD. After fire heavily damaged it in 283 AD it was rebuilt by Emperor Diocletian between 284 and 305 AD; it’s this building that you see today. The building was saved from being destroyed when it to was converted to a Church in 630 AD, and because of this it’s one of the best preserved buildings of the Forum.

During my visit to the Forum I didn’t take any photos of the Curia Julia because I thought it was a contemporary building, because it looked so good. I didn’t find out its significance until I was doing research for this post. The photo posted here is from Wikipedia.

 The Mamertine Prison

 

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The Mamertine Prison lies below the Church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (the orange building in the background) as seen from the Roman Forum

Our pastor knew that we had been to Roman, so after the service where his sermon was on Saint Paul’s imprisonment he asked if we had been to the Mamrtine Prison. My wife and I looked at each other having never heard about this place while in Rome.

It was in this ancient Roman prison were tradition has that both Saint Paul and Saint Peter were kept before being martyred by Emperor Nero. The history of Christianity is also an interest to me and I felt bad that I had missed an opportunity to visit this site.

So I wondered: where was the Mamertine prison, had we walked past it without knowing? So the search was on. My finding told told me that it was at the foot of Capitoline Hill, which we had walked around many time during our visit. I checked all the maps and brochures we had brought back and found nothing of its location. Finally in working on this post I found a map that showed its where it was.

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The front of the Church of San Giuseppe, and the site of the Mamertine prison. Photo from Wikipedia

Mamertine prison is at the north end of the Forum; just a few yards pass the Arch of Septimius on the Via del Tullinano. Today the Church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami sits over its ruins. I understand that you can reach the cells where the Saints were supposed to have been imprisoned by going through the church.

There’s a funny part to this story; when I was on the Via dei Fori Imperiali taking photos of the Forum of Caesar I was standing only twenty yard from it. This is another reason to make sure to do your research before going on a trip. The photos posted here is a blowup of the one I took of the Arch of Septimius, the Church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami is in the background, and the one showing the front is from Wikipedia.

The Temple of Vesta the-temple-of-vesta-cropped

 

As we left the northern end of the Forum walking along the Via Sacra back toward the Arch of Titus, we stopped to view a temple ruin that was a semicircle with a wall behind its columns. In its time this was the most sacred of all the temples in the Rome Forum, it was the Temple of Vesta. It housed the eternal Sacred Fire of Rome. This fire was kept lit by the six Vestals, who were selected as children from the most prominent of the Roman families.

On the first day of the New Year all Romans would extinguish the fires in their homes and come to this temple to relight them from its sacred flame. There was a hole in the center of the temple’s roof, as with the Pantheon, to allow the smoke to escape.

The remains that you see today date from the time of Emperor Septimius Severus, between 193 and 211 AD. It is thought that this temple served well into the 13th century before also succumbing to the fate of having its marble and stone quarried. This reconstructed portion of the temple is from the 1930’s.

 The House of the Vestal Virgins

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Next to the Temple of Vesta, toward the foot of Palatine Hill, we can walk around a well maintained garden surrounded by ruins and statues. This is what remains of where the Vestal Virgins lived.

The ruins you see are from the complex built by Emperor Septimius Severus. It featured a two floor columned portico which completely surrounded the courtyard garden, that is still well maintained today. The second floor contained the private rooms of the Vestals while the lower rooms held the kitchen, flour mill, ovens and the servant’s quarters. It is believed that this building became the proto-type for our modern convents.

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The statues of the head vestals in the courtyard of the House of Vestal Virgins. The Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina in the background

 

Today only the foundations remain and the courtyard garden. Along each side of the courtyard stand the statures of what were the head vestals.  You can still read the inscriptions of what each’s virtues were.

This post only features a fraction of the many temples and buildings in the main Forum Romanum. Starting with Julius Caesar, and then with some of the emperors that followed, the Forum was expanded to other Imperial Forums.

 

Next posting- Beyond the Roman Forum: The Imperial Fora

 

 

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The Roman Forum, Part I- The center of an empire

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

Ancient history is my passion and the Roman Empire period for me is right up there with that of the ancient Greeks. So when my wife and I were planning our trip to Rome and Italy a visit to the Roman Forum was a must. Our hotel, the Grand Hotel Palatino was a perfect location for our stay, it being only a short four block walk down the Via Cavour to the Forum and the Colosseum.

As we walked along Rome’s Via Dei Fori Imperiali, which borders the Forum, and gazed down at the ruins of what was once the magnificent center of the mighty Roman Empire it was hard to visualize what it must have looked like in its glory days, because of its condition today. But it was at this place that the Roman Republic was born, where the Caesars walked and their legions marched. The Roman Forum was the unquestionable center of the Rome and the world.

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The Forum Romanum at the Imperial Age level along it original street, The Via Sacra. This is looking north toward Capitoline Hill.

What I didn’t know was the fascinating history about the site where the Forum is located long before it became Rome. What I found was that the area is a low-lying valley between the Palatine, Capitoline and Esquiline hills. In prehistoric times this valley was a marshy wetland due to the runoff from its surrounding hills. For those living on those hills it was a place to bury their dead and graze their animals. That changed in the 7th century BC when the last two Etruscan Kings built a drainage canal from the valley to the Tiber River. This canal was named the “Cloaca Maxima.” At first it was an open air canal but the Romans later covered it. This great engineering feat is still in use today.

After the valley was drained it became the central gathering place for the people on the hills. Legend has it that Rome’s first King Romulus, Rome’s legendary namesake, had his fortress city on the Palatine Hill and his rival, King Tatius, had his city on the Capitoline Hill. Legend goes on to tell that the two sides were in constant war with each other. That was until the Sabine women prayed for the fighting to stop. Romulus and Tatius did stopped their fighting and formed an alliance. Whether or not the legend has some truth or not an alliance was indeed formed between the two peoples and that was the start of what would become Rome.

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The marble Arch of Septimius Severus built in 203 AD to commemorate the Emperor’s victory over the Partians. It stands at the northern end of the Forum. In the background is the church Santi Luca e Martina.

Throughout the time of the Roman Republic the Forum continued to be expanded with government buildings and temples added around the Foro, or public square. One of the earliest temples was the Temple of Saturn in 497 BC.

The foot of Capitoline Hill was set aside for the government of Rome. It was there that the Curia (the meeting place for the Roman Senate) and the Comitium (the place of the people) were located. This was the governmental center of the Roman Republic. We get the name Capital for the center of our governments from Capitoline Hill.

Starting with Julius Caesar, and with the Emperors that followed, the Forum was expanded even more and rebuilt to fit the ego of the Caesar that was in power. For centuries the Forum Romanum was the undisputed the center of the Roman Empire. This is most evident when Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, placed a large column in the Forum that he named Miliarium Aureum, or the Golden Milestone. This was to mark the center of Rome, and then also the center of the Roman Empire. Augustus decreed that that was starting point for all roads leading out of the city out into its empire. It is also where the saying, “All roads lead to Rome,” came from.

 

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Visitors stroll along the Forum’s Via Sacra, where the citizens of ancient Rome walked. In the background on the right are the three columns of what remains of the Temple of Castor and Pollux. On the left side of the Via  Sacra the row of columns is the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. The large column on the right in the foreground is the Column of Phocas. Off in the distance you can see the Arch of Titus, which stands at the south end to the Forum.

The Forum was the scene of political upheavals, funerals, triumphant parades, and before the Colosseum was built, gladiatorial battles. As the Roman Empire split and declined so did the importance of Rome the city and the Forum Romanum. At around the 8th century BC the marble from its buildings and temples started to be  taken for other building projects. Some of the buildings of the Forum were partly saved when they were converted into Christian churches. As the site further deterated it became a dumping ground and slit from the hills once again covered what was left. The valley took on a new name, Campo Vaccino or cattle field. The once magnificent Roman Forum had gone back to its original use.

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The remains of the north walls of the Basilica Julia at the foot of Capitoline Hil

In the early 1800’s, during the Napoleonic regime, some efforts were undertaken to unearth portions of the Forum. But even into the 20th century the Roman Forum was neglected. Part of the ancient Forum was destroyed by Benito Mussolini when he paved over a large section by Capitoline Hills for the Via Dei Fori Imperiali.

Today, things are looking better for the Forum Romanum. There is now ongoing excavations and preservation work being done. The area between the Arch of Tito, on the south end by the Colosseum, to the Arch of Septimius Severus, on the north end at the foot of Capitoline Hill, is now open to foot traffic.

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My wife standing on the original paving stones of the Forum Street.

On our visit to the archaeological site my wife and I entered at the south end. We walked down through the centuries of dirt and debris to what was the street level during the Imperial age, the time of the Caesars. We now stood on the very stones that the citizens of ancient Rome had walked on.  You can’t but be in awe at what history took place around these stones over two millennia ago. For these ruins, even in their broken and fallen condition, were part of the very foundation of the western world that we now live in.

 

  

My next posting I will highlight some of the temples and building in the Forum Romanum that you must see when you visit there.

 

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The Church of St. Peter in Chains, Rome Italy

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

 

In an ancient and historic city like Rome there is always something right under your nose that you could miss if you don’t keep eyes open and listen to other. As tourists we sometimes only focus on the main sites and literally walk past others of equal or greater historical value.

As I had mentioned in an earlier post our hotel in Rome was the Grand Hotel Palatino on the Via Cavour. The Palatino is just a few blocks from the Roman Forum and Colosseum. Many times my wife and I would leave the hotel and walk down to those famous ancient sites, ignorant of what we were passing. At breakfast one morning another guest at our table asked, “Have you been to the St. Peter in Chains Church?” “The what,” I asked. She explained that it had Michelangelo’s the famous statue of Moses. We told her we had not and asked where it was located. Her answer makes my point, “Across the street from the hotel and up a few steps.”

 

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San Pietro in Vicoli, Saint Peter in Chains Basilica

And she was absolutely correct in her directions. Across the Via Cavour was the narrow Via di San Francesco di Paola, which was more of a walkway in that location than a street. And she was also correct about the short set of steps up. At the top steps the walkway expanded into a street that vehicles could drive on. And there, as our tablemate had said, was San Pietro in Vicoli, Saint Peter in Chains.

 

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The main alter with is its frescos

 

Built in the fifth century this minor basilica is rather unassuming on the outside when compared to Saint Peters, Sant’Agnese in Agone, or the other majestic churches of Rome. But once you enter you’ll be surrounded by the colorful beauty of its many frescos. But it’s not the frescos, or even the holy relic that this basilica is named for that brings the tourists here, it’s the statue of Moses.

 

 

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This fresco was on the ceiling of the main aisle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michelangelo’s statue of Moses

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There is a wonderful history behind this work of art, but first of all it wasn’t sculpted as a standalone. Michelangelo was first commissioned by Pope Julius II to create a funeral monument and tomb for him. The original design was to be massive, with 40 statues. However Pope Julius II had a big ego, and in his drive to immortalize himself with giant projects he kept pulling Michelangelo off working on the tomb to do other projects, like painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo did not consider himself a painter, but rather a sculpture, causing a deep friction between them. Because Julius kept veering off to other projects his tomb and monument was not finished at the time of his death in 1513, and so the complete monument was never finished. Julius’ well to do family had the finished portion of the monument, with the statue of Moses, moved to Saint Peter in Chains because of the Pope’s love for this small basilica.

 

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The entire portion of the funeral monument with the statue of Moses. This is just one part, imagine what the entire tomb would have looked like if finished

 

Michelangelo considered his statue of Moses to be his best work. The statues surface looks more like it was brushed on rather than chiseled. It was said that Michelangelo saw this statue to be so lifelike that he asked for it to talk when he had finished it. There is also a controversy about the statue’s horns. Moses seems to have two horns coming out of his forehead. Some scholars believe that the reason for these horns could be due to a miss translation in the book of Exodus. In the most common translation of Exodus it says that Moses came down from Sinai with two rays on his forehead. This is the translation of the Hebrew word “Karan” or “Karnaim” meaning “rays.” However the confusions by Michelangelo could have because he thought the Hebrew word was “keren” which means “horns.” No one really knows what Michelangelo’s intentions were. It is also said that Michelangelo hid his profile, and those of his patrons in Moses’ beard as a joke.

The Chains of St. Peter

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The Reliquary holding the chains that bond St. Peter

 

The statue of Moses overshadows what I think is an equally interesting and historical artifact housed in this church, and what this basilica is named and constructed to house. That would be the relic of the chains that supposedly bound St. Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem and Rome. 

The story is that Empress Eudoxia, wife of Roman Emperor Valentinian II, had gotten the chains that held St. Peter while imprisoned in Jerusalem from her mother, who had gotten them from the Bishop of Jerusalem. Eudoxia then gave those chains to Pope Leo I, who already had the chains that bound Peter while he was imprisoned in the Mamertine Prison in Rome before he was martyred. Legend says that as Pope Leo was comparing the two chains they miraculously fused together.

This relic is kept in a reliquary under the main alter. You can go down a few steps at the front of the alter for a closer look. And at peek tourist time it may be easier to view those that the statue of Moses.

So as you travel to historic cities and countries don’t forget to look across the street and up a few steps, you may be surprised what you’ll find there.

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Rome’s famous Trevi Fountain

 

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

 

My wife and I love to traveling through history. Seeing all the famous sites and learning the history behind them. And then sharing them with you, hoping that when you too visit you’ll have a deeper appreciation of what you’re seeing.

 

 

 

 

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The Trevi Fountain while under its twenty month major restoration

With so much restoration going on in Rome it’s hard to find everything you want to see when you visit open, and so it was with the Trevi Fountain. As my wife and I walked down the Via delle Muratte toward the Piazza di Tervi we were told that you can hear the fountain’s gushing water getting more intense as you drawn near it. For us, when we visited, it was only the sound of the crowds in the piazza. When we reached the piazza we found that the fountain was dry, scaffolding was up among the statues, and a plexiglass wall surrounding it.

 

This was due to a major twenty months restoration of the fountain that had begun in 2014, using a 2.2 million euro sponsorship from the Fendi fashion company. Completion, of what was to be the most thorough restoration of the fountain ever done, wasn’t until November of 2015, and our visit was in September of that year. Even with it being dry and having the surrounding wall, the fountains sheer size (161 feet wide by 86 feet high) with its classic grouping of statues makes this magnificent work of art awe-inspiring.  

 

The location of the Trevi Fountain is at the end of one of Rome’s ancient aqueducts, the Aqua Virgo. This aqueduct was built by the Emperor Augustus to feed the hot baths of Agrippa and to also provide water to Rome, which it did for over 400 years.

 

Even after the fall of Rome the aqueduct, with a simple fountain, continued to provide water to the area. It was with Pope Clement XII in 1730 that the fountain we know today came into being. The fountain was to be part of Pope Clement’s project in rebuilding the Tervi district. He knew of plans for a magnificent fountain designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini that was to be built there, but that project had never gotten started. After a heated contest between Roman architects the Pope gave the commission to Nicola Salvi. Salvi began his construction in 1732, incorporating some of Bernini’s original concepts into his final design. When Salvi was constructing his fountain he was bothered by an unsightly sign that a barber refused to remove, so he hid it behind a large sculpted vase. Today Romans call this vase asso di coppe, “the Ace of Cups.” Salvi didn’t live to see his fountain completed, he died in 1751. The fountain was finished by Giuseppe Pannini in 1762, when Pietro Bracci’s large statue “Oceanus” was placed in the fountain’s central niche. The Trevi Fountain remains today one of the most spectacular works of Baroque art in the city.

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The Via delle Muratte leading to the Piazza de Trevi, and its fountain. 

 

The Trevi Fountain has been made famous by being featured in the movies “La Dolce Vita” and “Three Coins in the Fountain.” I was in this last film that began the tradition of throwing coins into the fountain. The proper way is to use your right hand and throw the coins over your left shoulder, with your back to the fountain. It is estimated that over 3,000 Euros are removed from the fountain each day. That is why they included a recessed section of the plexiglass wall so that visitors could still tosh coins into the dry fountain during the restoration.

 

Tradition says that when you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain you will return to Rome, but since the fountain was not working when we were there we did to return to see it in all its glory.  

 

 

 

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Ancient Roman, Great Cathedrals of the world, history and travel, History in Time, Italy, Lost and Found, Myths and Legends, Rome, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, Travel, Uncategorized, World history

Rome’s Piazza Navona, site of the Circus Agonalis

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

The one thing I really love about traveling around the world is being able to combine the history of the cities, counties and the people with how they were and how their are today.

 

Over the centuries Rome has had the ability of reforming, or reusing, many of its sites and building for different uses, so it is with Piazza Navona. Located north of the Rome Forum and just a couple of street west of the Pantheon, Piazza Navona is one of the most spectacular and famous of the many squares in Rome today.

As you enter this Piazza from one of the small streets that encircle it you’re exposed to the many different colors of the building that surround it. Piazza Navona is one Rome’s liveliest areas with its many shops, outdoor cafes, restaurants, and night clubs. The Piazza also features three outstanding fountains and the magnificent Baroque church of Sant’Agnese in Agone.

 

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Piazza Navona, with Sant’Agnese in Agone church and the Fountain of the Four Rivers in the background

 

The most impressive of the three fountains is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) at the squares center.  Commissioned at the request of pope Innocent X, this fountain was constructed between 1647 and 1651. Designed by Berini this fountain features four figures that are reprehensive of the rivers Nile, Ganges, Danube, and the Rio de la Plata. The four statues circle a rock that supports an Egyptian obelisk which once stood on the spina of the Circus Maxentius.

 

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The Fountain of the Four Rivers, with its Egyptian obelisk in the center. The church of Sant’Agnese in Agone in the background. 

 

The other two fountains are the Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune fountain) at the north end of the piazza and the Fontana del Moro (Moor fountain) at the south end.

At the center, across from the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi is the church Sant’Agnese in Agone. This church was also a commission of pope Innocent X. The façade of this beautiful church was designed by Boromini, the Fountain of the Four Rivers designer’s ravel. The church was completed in 1670.

As you walk around this spacious piazza you’ll wonder how, in the very crowded city of Rome, that they were able to build such a larger square. And you’ll also notice that the south end is slightly curved. This is because before this was a piazza it was an ancient Rome Circus.

Built by the Rome Emperor Domitian in 86 AD, this stadium had a larger arena than the Colosseum, which opened six years earlier. First named the Stadium of Domitian, after the emperor, it was later changed to the Circus Agonalis (competition arena). As with most Roman circuses this one was used mainly for races, sporting and festivals.

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The Neptune Fountain

 

Over time the stadium began to be called ‘in agon,’ then ‘novne,’ and finally ‘navona.’ Sometime in the fifteenth century the abandoned arena was paved over to create the present square. Still today you can see remnants of the old circus. There are guided tours that take you underground to view the circuses ancient foundations.  

 

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Ancient Roman, Basilicas of St. Peter, Early Christians, history and travel, History in Time, Lost and Found, Myths and Legends, Nero, Rome, Still Current, The Colosseum, Travel, Uncategorized, World history

The Circus of Roman Emperor Nero: Where St. Peter was martyred

Ron Current

Ron Current

In my post on the Colosseum of Rome I stated that it wasn’t there that St. Peter and most of the other Christians met their deaths, but rather in another location in Rome. Most, including myself, were raised believing that it was within the Colosseum that the early Christians met their deaths. Now after visiting the Colosseum I found that story to be false. In fact most of the martyring was done before the Colosseum was actually built. So how did this story get started in the first place?

 What I’ve found is that this legend of Christians being martyred in the Colosseum had begun with Pope Benedict XIV in 1749; almost seventeen hundred years after those events took place. And over the centuries this decree by Benedict became taken as fact, even though it wasn’t.  

Today historians say that most Christians were martyred, including St. Peter and St. Paul, under the reign of Emperor Nero (Emperor from 54 AD – 68 AD), who committed suicide twelve years before the Colosseum was built. So if it wasn’t the Colosseum, then where were the Saints martyred? That place, most historian agree, was in the Circus of Nero.

 

Roman Circuses where built very differently from arenas such as the Colosseum. They were oblong rectangle building with a track for racing on its floor. A long dividing wall, called a Spina, ran down the center. This Spina created two tracks running down each side. The ends of Spina were open to provide turning points at each end. The Spina was decorated with ornate statures, columns and obelisks. Seating for the audiences was along the outside length and ends of the track ascending up several rows. To visualize what a Roman Circus would have looked like think of the chariot race scene in the movies Ben Hur. Racing, both horse and chariot, was what these circuses were mostly used for. Also at times other performances and presentations would take place there.

 

These Circuses were a major staple for entertainment in the lives of Roman citizens throughout the world. Rome itself had six that we know of in the city’s history: Circus Flaminius, Circus Maxentius, Circus Maximus, Circus Varianus, Circus Agonalis, and the Circus of Nero. Because of their large size and seating the Emperors would hold public events and presentations there as well as races. And it was this use as a place for public presentations that brings us to…

The Circus of Nero

 

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The Piazza San Pietro at Vatican City as seen from the steps of the St. Peter’s Basilica. Could part of Nero’s circus have run along the left side of this photo. At the center and at the top is the Egyptian obelisk that was at the center of the circuses spina.

 

 

It is believed that the Emperor Caligula started construction of this circus in Rome at around 40AD, and then finished later by the Emperor Nero. At first this circus was used as a private race course for both Caligula and Nero, but became a public venue so that Nero could show off his racing abilities. And it was within this circus that Nero conducted the most horrific displays of murder and cruelty ever in human history. So how did these mass killings start, and what caused them?

On the evening of July 18, 64 AD, Rome experienced one of the greatest fires in history. For over six days the city burned. Beginning in the slums near the Palatine Hill the fire spread, fueled by the wooden buildings and the summer’s high winds. Three of Rome’s districts were wiped out. Hundreds of Roman citizens died and thousands found themselves homeless.  Legend has it that the fire was started by Nero himself so that he could rebuild the city; however the emperor was 35 miles away at Antium when the fire broke out.  

What it did do was give cause for Nero to suppress the growing Christian movement in the city that he felt was disrupting the Empire. Using Christians as his scapegoat for the fire he began arresting them. Nero used his Circus for the public execution of hundreds of Christians, including St. Peter. On the circuses track Christians were tortured, torn apart by wild dogs, and burned alive. Along the Spina Christians were placed up on poles and set on fire as human torches. It was also there, along the Spina, where the Crucifixions took place, including that of St. Peter.

So where was the location of the Circus of Nero? Ancient Rome records show that Caligula built the circus on the property of his mother Agrippina, and here comes the surprise, on the Ager Vaticanus (Vatican Hill). Yes, the place where the early Christians and St. Peter were martyred is the site of the center of the Catholic Church, Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica.

Today most of the remains of Nero’s Circus are gone. Although it was moved, only the Egyptian obelisk that once stood in the center of the circus’s spina remains. It now sits in the center of Piazza San Pietro in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Looking out from the steps of St. Peter the circuses wall and track could have run along the right side of plaza and the Basilica. The drawings below give two examples of where the Circus of Nero may have sat in relationship to the Basilica and the Piazza San Pietro.

 

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One theory has Nero’s circus running through the left side of St. Peter’s Basilica and then across its Piazza. Image is listed as public domain taken from Wikipedia

 

 

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This example has the circus running along the left side and through the Basilica, and not in the piazza at all. Image is listed as public domain taken from Wikipedia.

 

 

 

When you go to Rome and visit the Vatican, and as you walk through St. Peter’s and the Piazza San Petro remember that you are walking were early Christians and St. Peter died to spread the faith of church you are standing in front of.

 

 

 

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Ancient Roman, history and travel, History in Time, Italy, Myths and Legends, Rome, Still Current, The Pantheon, Travel, Uncategorized, World history

The Pantheon of Rome: A window into ancient Roman architecture

 

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The majestic Roman Pantheon seen from Piazza della Rotonda.


Ron Current

Ron Current

As you enter the Piazza della Rotonda and first see the Pantheon what comes to mind is how good it looks. Unlike the other ancient structures in Rome, like the Colosseum and those in the Forum, that are in ruin the Pantheon looks as if it successfully survived the ravages of man and time over its almost two thousand year history. That’s because the Pantheon is the best preserved building from ancient Rome. So why was it built and how did it survive the destruction that befell the other Roman monuments?  What is the history behind this magnificent and breathtaking structure?

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Sunlight streaming into the Pantheon’s rotunda from the Oculus at the top of its dome

Roman legend says that the first temple built on that site was to Rome’s mythical founder Romulus, however most historians’ now agree that the first Pantheon was constructed by Emperor Augustus’s right hand, Marcus Vipsanius Aprippa, in 27 AD. That temple burned in 80 AD, followed by a second temple constructed by Emperor Domitian. This building also was destroyed by fire after being struck by lightning in 110 AD. The Emperor Hadrian began the reconstruction on what is the current Pantheon in 120 AD, with the Greek architect Apollodorus of Damascus, and completed it in 125 AD. Hadrian is known for rededicating buildings and monuments that he rebuilt or repaired after the original dedicator, this is why the name on the facade reads: M. AGRIPPA L.F. COS TERTIUM FECIT (Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, the three-time consul, made this). This facade is the only portion of the original structure remaining of the 80 AD Pantheon.

What does the name Pantheon mean? Records do not specifically state to what god the temple was built for, but the name Pantheon in Greek means, “Honor all gods.” A theory is that it was the place that the Emperors could go to make public appearances that would reinforce their divine status to the citizens. On April 21st, the date that ancient Romans consider as the founding of Rome, an amazing lighting effect occurs.  When the midday sun hits a metal grille above the door it causes light to radiate out into the courtyard. Picture the Emperor standing in the door with all the light streaming around him from inside the Pantheon; they would look like a god.

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The wondrous design and color of the interior rotunda.

How did the Pantheon survive what happened to the other buildings in Rome through time, that suffered from neglect and their materials reused for other buildings.  The Pantheon very well would have gone the same way if not in 609 AD, the Byzantine emperor Phocas gave the Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV who consecrated it as a Christian church: the Church of Mary and all the Martyr Saints, as it is still known today. This saved the Pantheon from being abandoned and ripped apart. The only losses to it were the sculptures that adorned the pediment above the front door and also Pope Urban VIII took all the bronze from the Pantheon’s dome and melted it down to be recast into canons. Another reason that helped preserve the Pantheon is that it was later also used as a tomb for the famous and the noble. The artist Raphael and several Italian Kings and poets are entombed there.

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The Oculus at the center of the Pantheon dome.

The Pantheon may be one of the first Roman buildings whose interior is more glorious than its exterior.  As you enter through the two giant bronze doors you’re told that although these doors are ancient they are not the originals, those have been lost.  Now you are in the most amazing aspect of the Pantheon, its rotunda. As I walked in what awed me was the shaft of light coming into the rotunda from the hole at top of its dome (I snapped a photo as I entered, which is the one near the top of this post).

This hole, that is open to the sky, is almost 29 feet in diameter and is called a Oculus (sky), and is the only source of light inside the rotunda. Even with this sizable hole in its roof rain very seldom falls in and if it does the floor is slanted to drain the water.

You learn that the rotunda is a perfect hemisphere, where the diameter of the room is the same as the maximum height of the dome itself. This breathtaking dome is made of concert and was covered in bronze on its exterior, this is what was removed by Pope Urban VIII. The Pantheon’s dome was the largest in the world for over 1,300 years. It still holds the record as the largest unsupported dome. Although it doesn’t look like it it’s larger the dome of St. Peter’s basilica. Comparing it to our U.S. Capitol’s, which is 96 feet in diameter, the Pantheon’s is much larger at 142 feet. It’s an amazing architectural feat done by the Roman engineers, who lighted the weight of the dome by progressively decreasing the thickness of the its walls and creating internal spaces within those walls.

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M. AGRIPPA L.F. COS TERTIUM FECIT (Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, the three-time consul, made this).

Everything about the Pantheon is amazing. The columns supporting the portico came from Egypt and weigh 60 tons each. They are 39 feet tall and 5 feet in diameter.

The Pantheon is not only the most perfectly preserved building from the ancient Roman period,  it is also with its magnificent dome and interior design a perfect example of the skills of Roman architects and engineers.

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