One of my friends asked me if it felt like seeing a celebrity, seeing the Colosseum, and…yes, kind of, but it was even more than that. I think that's maybe because we learned about it during our Architecture Unit a few years ago, and during that time we also got a set of tiny plastic architectural landmarks which the kids would play with like they were people. Especially Seb, as I recall: "Colosseum is riding on the train with Arc de Triomphe!" he'd say, for example. So it almost felt more like meeting an old friend.
My mom was worried about it being disappointing to see all these famous monuments just sitting there in the middle of a modern city. "Was there a shopping mall across the street?" she asked us somewhat worriedly. Well, there were gelaterias and apartments and so forth, of course. But the Colosseum is such an imposing structure, it can hold its own. And you get to walk past the ancient Fora of Julius and Augustus Caesar on the way, to get you in the proper mindset. It was dusk as we walked down the street for our tour, and I found it quite satisfyingly awe-inspiring to approach the Colosseum on foot and then gradually see it looming over us until it filled the whole sky:
Our tour was at night, which was very nice, temperature-wise, since the days were soul-sappingly hot. I was surprised to see all the excavation of the tunnels and rooms under the arena floor, since in pictures I think I'd always seen just a grassy field in the middle.
The stone passageways underneath were really cool. Look at those flat arches with their keystones!
There was even a lovely moon.
Sam and I had had to take separate tours 45 minutes apart, so after I finished I got to just sit around waiting for him outside on some ancient travertine blocks, looking up at these beautiful arches. It was surprisingly quiet, with most tourists cleared out of the area for the day, and there were couples walking by speaking in Italian, and bats flying around in the hot night air. It felt very solemn and ancient and I had many Thoughts (few of which I can recreate in my current very prosaic environment of sitting at the computer and yelling "Be quiet! Go to sleep!" in the direction of the girls' bedroom every few minutes). But they were to do with time passing, and spaces, and the things we leave behind. I thought several times, "Here I am in this place. And through the rest of my life I will think of this and it will only exist in my memory." And so it does.
Towering and magnificent as it was to stand beneath the archways of the Colosseum, I didn't really feel like I got a sense of the whole thing, so Sam and I walked back there the day before we went home, hoping to get a better vantage point. It seemed very doubtful that we actually would, crowded up with buildings as everywhere in Rome seems to be, but finally we cut across a park full of dead grass and ruins of ancient Roman baths, and suddenly there it was! In all its circular glory. And I felt like NOW I could go back to Sebby (who, as I said, looks upon certain structures as dear friends) with a clear conscience and say I'd really visited the place.
It was very beautiful, with the setting sun lighting up the archways and making them glow from underneath. I was really glad we got another good look at it!
For comparison's sake (and WARNING: this post is going to jump around a bit!), here is a picture of the Theater of Marcellus, which is another Colosseum-like structure in the Jewish part of town. I had never heard of this, and was so surprised to see it! It used to be a theater (obviously)—not for sports but for plays and things, in Roman times, but then they built apartments on top of it in the Middle Ages, and people still live in them! Someone told us they are the most expensive apartments in the world. And I think they still have concerts, inside the arena.
It's quite beautiful. And there are some ruins from an Ancient Temple right by it there, no big deal.
This whole Roman concept of just…building things on top of other things, willy-nilly, is very, very strange to me, but I guess it makes sense when you think how much time and material it would save if your foundation and stone work were already mostly done for you! Still, we couldn't believe just how MUCH everything was layers on top of layers on top of layers. ("Like a big lasagne!" said about four of our tour guides, which sounded somewhat contrived but was nonetheless a pretty good metaphor.) So many things survived just because they were Roman temples made into government buildings made into Christian churches, or whatever. This building above was an ancient apartment building, built and rebuilt several times, and later made into a church…"later" meaning in the First Century A.D. or so. So OLD! Everything is old, and FELT old. The whole city felt heavy with its past.
More layering: temples and churches and palaces all jumbled together.
One thing we did that was really cool was a sort of light show in the Forum of Caesar after dark. Our host at the school Sam was teaching at recommended it to us, and we were so glad! You walk down into the forum with headsets and narration, and then as you go among the ruins, they broadcast lights and pictures around to help re-create what it would have looked like in ancient times—completing broken columns, showing how structures would have looked inside, demonstrating what different parts of the forum were used for. It was fascinating and felt a little like going back in time.
Also, we saw this little hedgehog scurrying away from the lights. So cute!
Another ancient place: the Circus Maximus, where the Romans held chariot races. This was once an arena with seats, but now it's just a big elliptical field.
And this is looking across at the Imperial Palace (on the opposite side of the Circus Maximus) from Palatine Hill. Several emperors lived here. I learned that the word "palace" actually comes from this place, Palatine Hill. All other things called "palaces" took their names from this one.
One of the places I felt most awed to actually be was on this ancient road, the Appian Way. This is where Peter would have walked, and the Apostle Paul, on their way to Rome! The stones are original and it just felt…solid, and connective, through time and space.
You can see grooves from the chariot wheels that used to travel along this road. I loved that so much it gave me goosebumps!
But maybe even MORE cool was seeing these Roman aqueducts, a little way outside of the city. I'm not quite sure why I like aqueducts so much: I guess, even more than the Colosseum, they're something I've always wanted to see in person? I'm fascinated with how advanced the engineering had to be; the gradual and continual slope, the precision of the placement, how large of a population they supported and how much they contributed to Rome's greatness—and how some of them are STILL working! Amazing. So yes, this really did feel like seeing a celebrity. Better, maybe. :) Also, they are such lovely examples of the Roman Arch!
(This guy seems to like aqueducts as much as I do, if you want to know more.)
Here's one of the aqueducts that is still working—it has been repaired a few times, but still!
Among all the ancient structures, you'd think piazzas or buildings like this, so splendidly Baroque, would seem out of place. But they just add to that sense of layering. You can see how the architects of later times were always looking back and being influenced by the splendors of previous eras.
And, again, so many places are a patchwork of styles. This church, St. Mary Major, actually dates back to the 5th Century, but has been added to and renovated many times since then.
Here's the ceiling inside St. Mary Major. Almost…too much, right? But lovely.
Some of the most crowded places we went were the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, both of which apparently got really famous after the movie "Roman Holiday"? I've seen the movie but it was years ago and those places didn't particularly stick in my memory, but obviously they did in MANY peoples'! They were almost too crowded to enjoy. And the Spanish Steps were being remodeled, so you couldn't walk on them. Still—beautiful places!
The fountain is especially lovely. One guide told us that they get 3000 Euros in coins out of the fountain every day!! The city government uses it for maintenance costs (which seems astronomical, but then, government projects aren't known for their frugality or efficiency).
Another fountain and the only picture we got of Sam and me together in Rome, I think.
As far as grand fountains go, though, I think this one in Piazza Navone remained my favorite. It was so beautiful at all times of day, and the surrounding Piazza was so lovely with its elliptical shape. (It used to be a Roman Circus as well, for chariot races, which is why it has that shape. You can still go down underground and see the ruins.)
And I love the church in that same piazza. Every piazza in Rome has a church and a fountain in it.
Trajan's Column—if you've had any Classical History or Art History classes, you know it. I feel like they never stopped talking about it. :)
Here is the Pantheon! Another old friend. This is what you see as you approach from the back. The successive layering is really apparent back here! This was the Roman temple to all the gods, but it was later made into a Christian church (and all the statues of Roman gods replaced with saints). That's probably why it has survived so well for so long.
Nice Corinthian columns
From the front it's so familiar, I almost thought, "Have I been here before?" But it's just because I've studied the building so much, and because pretty much…well…everything in the Neoclassical era was inspired by it. :)
This angle gives a better idea of just how massive it is.
The dome and the oculus, from inside, are the best part. Seeing it in person at last, I was blown away by the size and scale of that concrete dome. It's the biggest unreinforced concrete dome in the world…STILL! And it was built in the First Century! How did they do it?? We still can't re-create their concrete. And the proportions are so beautiful. The interior diameter of the dome is exactly the height of the oculus. Everything was so carefully constructed!
I went inside one day when it was raining lightly, and the rain comes right inside and goes into some drainage holes in the floor. But I really loved how the light streamed in another day when the sun was out. It's hard to capture how directional and intense that beam of light was!
At sunset. That lovely light on the dome.
We saw lots of old friends in the Borghese Gallery. Sam knew more of them than I did, but I knew this one: Bernini's David. I love his expression. (We were there with a guide, but we would rather not have been…I would have preferred Sam's commentary, and to go at our own pace in such a small museum.) Bernini's sculptures are amazing. You would swear they were made of clay or flesh, not stone.
Like this—look at Pluto's fingers on this poor lady's leg! It seems impossible they're made of marble.
Gardens outside the Borghese Gallery
There were lots of cool things to see along the river, crossing back and forth over the bridges. Even some of the bridges themselves are works of art! This cool fortress is the Castel Sant'Angelo.
And there's St. Peter's Basilica, glowing against the evening sky.
One night we took Uber across the city and it took forever. The traffic was even more horrible than usual, and when we got out, we found out why: there was some sort of protest/riot (don't they usually turn out to be the same thing?) going on, and you could hear people chanting and singing, and see smoke in the air. I think it was related to the critical issue (ha ha) of funding cuts for the soccer team.
The evening light made everything look so pink and gold and beautiful!
I especially loved the Roman Forum at that time of evening. Every moment the light was changing and something different would be highlighted.
Here's another section of that ancient road, the Appian Way.
One of countless triumphal arches. They all reminded me of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris…but they're the originals, of course!
I love these umbrella pines. Do you know the music "The Pines of Rome" by Respighi? I've been listening to that since I was little, but I always pictured in my head the pines of Rome being tall and columnar, like these. (We did see lots of those, but they're Mediterranean Cypress trees.) But "the pines of Rome" are these distinctive Umbrella Pines. They're everywhere, and they're so interesting and beautiful! Now I'll think of them every time I hear that music.
An old Roman marketplace, lit up at night.
After seeing all these other old friends, though, there was one old friend that felt most comforting of all. We went to see the progress on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Rome Temple and just being close to it felt like home. There have been many delays and problems with the construction (you should read some of the history here; it's interesting) and I'm sure it's been frustrating, but just seeing that holy structure take shape was a good feeling. It's a good thing, too, because we took Uber to the temple site from church, and then couldn't get another car, so we walked the two miles back in stifling heat and uncomfortable Sunday shoes. It was worth it, though!
Church always feels like home, too.
And for a special bonus…when we got back to church, Elder and Sister Uchtdorf were there! We were so happy! They were vacationing in Italy too! Seeing them definitely felt like seeing old friends, even though of course we don't actually know them any more than we "knew" the Colosseum! But we love them so. We felt strange and awkward going over to shake hands or take pictures—partly because that always feels like such an invasion of their privacy (even though I knew they are used to it, and gracious about it)—and partly because it seemed selfish for us to take time the Italian members could have been using! It felt like, "Well, since we live in Utah, WE can see the Uchtdorfs anytime! And the people who live here might never get that chance again!" (Even though, of course, it's not like we really CAN see them anytime. But we can go to General Conference, etc. more easily. And of course, I'm like this with Sister Oscarson:))
So, we just stood on the sidelines and watched and smiled in Elder and Sister Uchtdorf's general direction, and felt the love and spirit that beams out of them. And waved goodbye when they drove off.
And just that night, one of my friends emailed me and said, "Were you at church with Elder Uchtdorf today?" And I said, "Yes but…how on earth did you know?" And she said, "Sam and your dress are in the background of a picture my friend posted on Instagram!" Ha! So I guess we did get a picture of them after all! :)