Ever since, I was young I had read in the books about Rome and the Romans, their Empire which stretched, in the North to Dacia (Romania), in the East, it went as far as the Euphrates River (Iraq), the southern border lay along the deserts of Arabia in the Middle East and the Sahara in North Africa. Such a strong nation of its time, not only Romans expanded militarily but also were gifted in the applied arts of law, government, city planning, and statecraft, but they also acknowledged and adopted contributions of other ancient peoples-most notably, those of the Greeks, much of whose culture was thereby preserved.
Initially, the eastern half of the Roman Empire (often called the Eastern Roman Empire), it survived the 5th century fragmentation and collapse of the Western Roman Empire and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until 1453. With the arrival of Islam in the Arabia peninsula in the seventh century, the Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire had fought many wars with the Muslim armies over the centuries. The Byzantine Empire had lost its territory to Muslim advances but it not only survived but continued to prosper, even with the arrival of the Crusaders in the Holy Land. The Ottoman Turks were the last Muslim power to put a nail into Byzantine Empire's coffin.
It wasn't only the above link, which brought me to Rome, there was more to it. The Muslim armies had conquered. Sicily and Sardinia. From there, they went on to attack the Vatican and sacked Old St. Peter's in Rome in 846. At that time, the Roman forces were unable to repel the Muslim attack but they were better prepared in 849. It was a naval battle between the Italian league of Papal, Neapolitan, Amalfitan and Gaetan ships and the Muslim fleet. The battle ended in favour of the Italian league but that battle had left its own legacy in Rome, it is called Battaglia di Ostia (The Battle of Ostia). There was a famous painting in the Vatican representing that historical battle.
If above reasons were not enough, then there was another twist to it. I am a keen student of the ancient Egyptian History and when the Romans conquered Egypt around 30BC. They were fascinated by the Egyptian culture and their Phoranic monuments. They transported ancient Egyptian Obelisks to their own capital, actually eight of them. I wanted to go and see them by myself. It was my homage to those master craftsmen, the great conquerors, the statesmen and above all how they managed to do all that for so many centuries.
I had flown from Dublin to Bergamo in Italy and my brother in law, Nasir was there to pick me up. The following day I spent around a small village, where they were living. In the Evening, I managed to go to Bologna for few hours.
Towers of Bologna
After catching a train from Ferrara, I arrived at Bologna Central Train Station. I took a taxi which brought me to the two towers, the traditional symbol of Bologna, stand at the strategic point where the old Aemilian way entered the town. Today they stand right at the middle of the opening of Porta Ravegnana square. The taller one is called the Asinelli while the smaller and leaning tower is called the Garisenda. They had very important military functions (signalling and defence), beside representing with their imposing heights the social prestige of noble families. In the late 12th century, at least one hundred towers dotted the town’s skyline, but today only twenty have survived the ravages of fire, warfare and lightning.
The Asinelli Tower was built in 1109 - 19 by the Asinelli family, but by the following century it had already passed under the control of the Commune. It is 97.20 m-high with a drop of 2.23 metres and an inner staircase of 498 steps completed in 1684. The plinth is surrounded by a small 'stronghold' built in 1488 to house the soldiers of the watch. Today, its arcade is occupied by a few craft shops and ateliers, as a memento of the merchants' trade of the Medieval 'mercato di mezzo'.
The Garisenda Tower, built around the same time, is much smaller (47 metres) with a steeper drop (3.22 m) due to an early and more marked subsidence of soil and foundation. Dante, who saw the tower before the process had started, compared it to a leaning Anteo in the 31st Canto of his Inferno. In mid 14th century the tower had to be lowered.
In the Evening, Nasir came to pick me up from Bologna, well, his job as driver (joking) wasn't over yet. Next Morning he had to drop myself and Yasir (his brother) at Ferrara train station.
I woke up at 5am and I was ready to leave the house at 5:45am. I was brought to Ferrara train station. The train was meant to be at the station at 6:24am but it was late by only five minutes (I can forgive the Italians for that). The one thing which I noticed on display board was that it was showing departure time of the train from Ferrara station rather than arrival time.
After purchasing ticket, we had to punch our tickets on a machine in order to validate it. The ticket didn’t have train number; it just had departure time and if one didn’t punch their ticket, could end up paying a huge fine.
Train was relatively quiet as it was early in the Morning. When it reached Bologna train station, it was almost empty. After coming out of the train, I went through a tunnel which brought out of the train station on to the street. As I had noticed yesterday at the station, entry and exit doors had two different accesses at Bologna train station. It was a good practise to avoid overcrowding, especially if it was a busy train station.
We entered the station through the main entrance and it brought us to a main hall. It didn’t have ticket office inside. There was no sign to inform where the ticket windows were. We walked through the hall, came out on the other side and turned right; the ticket office was located there. We purchased ticket for high speed train. In Italy it is generally called Frecciarossa, meaning red arrow. The one, we bought ticket for, was Frecciargento (silver arrow). There was third one, which was called Frecciabianca (white arrow).
In the train
The train arrived at 7:43am, as per yesterday's train ride from Ferrara to Bologna and this Morning again; I didn't need to sit at any particular seat. So I thought that we just needed to occupy any available seats as per previous experience. I was looking for a space where I could leave my suit case. There were small stands at the start of the wagon but they were all taken. I tried to put it overhead but it wouldn't fit. The leg room was very narrow because all seats had tables in front of them. I scanned the whole wagon and realised that some overhead were little bit bigger. So I shoved suit case in one of them and it was a sigh of relief. Then we both sat on two empty seats, five minutes later, an Italian guy came over to us and spoke in Italian. Before I could answer, he switched to English and told me that it was his seat. I apologised for occupying his seat and told him that I wasn't aware of the seat numbers. He told me to show him the ticket, he pointed out that we were in wrong wagon. I felt bad, because we didn’t have enough time to change the wagon. The train was about to leave. The guy sensed our trouble and he told us politely not to worry about it because train wasn’t full and he would sit anywhere else. I would say he was really a nice guy.
Train moved at its' departure time and started to pick up the speed. Most people in the train were on their computers and I could guess from their looks that they were wealthy people because one way ticket was €56 Euros per person. Most of the passengers were in their suits.
Train passed through few tunnels. Whenever train was coming out of the tunnel the pressure inside the train changed so I could feel closing and opening of my ears. That experience was similar to the one would experience while in the aeroplane, may be it was due to high speed of the train.
The train passed a hilly area with fog over the mountains. It was lush green area and sun was spreading its wings over Italy's peaceful countryside.
There was a monitor in the compartment, which was showing train's speed. The train was travelling close to 245 km/hour. The maximum speed which train had reached was 250km/h. It always dropped the speed after reaching that number.
This train had only one stop, it was Florence or Frenzia as the Italians would call it.
Arrival in Rome
Train arrived at Termini train station (Rome) at 9:50am. It was a very busy station due to Morning rush hour. The building was huge and it resembled to an airport. After coming out of the station, I checked the map on the mobile phone. As per map we were only fifteen minutes’ walk from the hotel. So we both decided to walk, we passed through the bus station and buses were coming in and out. There were few vendors on the station, selling their stuff. I crossed the road and on my left hand side was a small Egyptian Obelisk, it was the start of my countdown of the obelisks in Rome.
It was found in 1883 near S. Ignazio. It was originally erected in Heliopolis (greater Cairo) by Rameses II. In 1887 it became a little monument to the 500 Italians who had fallen at Dogali in Ethiopia and it was placed in front of the Termini Railway Station.
Roman Baths and the Basilica
After passing through that small park, I stayed on left hand side on there was a very impressive building and some of the staff were at the entrance. It looked like a hotel, opposite the building was Fountain of Naiads and on other side of it was the Baths of Diocletian (Thermae Diocletiani). The Baths of Diocletian were the most magnificent spa facility ever built in Rome. Erected between 298 and 306 AD, had an area of over 13 hectares and could accommodate up to 3000 people simultaneously. The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs was installed around 1562 and it occupies very ground of the thermal baths.
We arrived at the hotel at 10:25am. The room wasn't ready and I was told that I could check and leave bag in the room. After dropping the bag in the room, I took off the light jacket which I was wearing. It was certainly warmer in Rome than Bologna. I came to the reception and guy behind the desk gave me a local map and he also highlighted the nearest point of interests. He asked me what time I was coming back to the hotel? I told him that it wouldn't be till late afternoon or it could be even late Evening. He gave us the keys to the room because reception wasn't 24hours.
After coming out of the hotel, we turned left, crossed a street Via del Traforo and there was a tunnel for traffic on my left hand side. I reached Fountain di Trevi in less than ten minutes.
Fountain di Trevi
The area was very busy with the tourists. Some of them were throwing coins in the water. It is said that anyone, who throws their coins into its water to assure their return to Rome. The Trevi Fountain (Fountain di Trevi) is an iconic eighteenth century monument in Rome. It was designed by Nicola Salvi, but following his death in 1751 it was continued by Giuseppe Pannini and completed in 1762. A stunning depiction of several ancient deities and resplendent with frescos of legends and myths.
After this we decided to go the Plaza de Espagna. Along the way, I gave map to Yasir and he took full time duty of navigating the streets and finding the next closest attraction which I was going to tell him with the help of map on my phone and the kindle (later, our two men team will prove its operational success). I was more practical to do that way because Yasir was fluent in Italian and it was easier for him to ask locals in their own language than in English. I was responsible for time, finance and transport management (though, we didn't need on our first day).
On the way to Piazza di Espagna, I saw some sort of protest was going on. The crowd was wearing white uniform and they had signs and banners in their hands. They were walking on opposite side of the street and they were chanting. It seemed they were related to medical department.
On reaching Piazza di Espagna, I saw few horse and carriages were around. They were there to bring the tourist around in the city if anyone was interested. The building opposite the Piazza had few date trees in front of it and they were looking very majestic. When reaching on top of the steps, when I looked back, I could see a long street. There was also another Egyptian obelisk.
Piazza di Espagna
The Spanish Steps (Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti) are one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions. A grand staircase with 138 steps leading down to the Piazza di Spagna, the Spanish Steps were designed in the 1720s by Francesco de Sanctis, an Italian architect, and completed in 1726. They were called the Spanish Steps after the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See, then located nearby. A popular spot since the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, today this beautiful staircase is always buzzing with tourists and leads to Rome’s most upmarket shopping area. The memorial of the English poet John Keats-Shelley was on the second floor. There was also an obelisk in the piazza but it was Roman not the Egyptins.
Piazza de Popollo
Then we walked to Piazza de Popollo (people's Square). Piazza del Popolo is a harmonious oval square situated near the Borghese Park. On the north side, the square is dominated by the Porta del Popolo, which leads to the Via Flaminia. The Via Flaminia was built in 220 BC to connect Rome with the Adriatic coast and was one of the most important roads leading to Rome. Hence many travellers entered the city from the Via Flaminia, passing through Piazza del Popolo. The twin churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria Montesanto were on one side of the square.
Egyptian Obelisk in Piazza
Also called Flaminio, the obelisk was initially erected by the Pharaoh Rameses II in Heliopolis. In 30 BC, Augustus brought it to Rome where it was put at the centre of Circus Maximus and dedicated to the Sun (in line with its original dedication in Egypt). It fell during the wars between the Byzantines and the Goths for the control of Rome in the 6th century AD and it was covered by debris. In 1587 the area was excavated and the obelisk was repaired (though slightly shortened) and moved in 1589 to Piazza del Popolo.
At the centre of the piazza was Fontanna dell' Obelisco, beside the obelisk. When I looked on top of it, there were few stray clouds, which were moving aimlessly. It looked like that obelisk itself was moving and it was going to hit me. This square had three streets starting from here and making it trident.
After leaving that square, we walked towards the August's tomb. It was a straight street (Via di Ripetta). While walking, I came across a shop which was selling ladies undergarments and they were displayed in a small window in very seductive manner. There was an Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma (Academy of Fine Arts in Rome) on the right hand side, the building itself was impressive.
Tomb of Augustine
On one side of the tomb was an old building. It was National Institue of Social Security. I took right turn and tomb was on my right hand side, when I moved little bit further. There was a church on of San Carlo al Corso. The tomb was on right hand side and I was hoping to find an entry door, while I stood there and Yasir went around to ask someone for the door. I saw a dog chained with a brand new BMW car. It was hard to know if BMW was there to protect the dog or dog was minding the car. If I ever owned that expensive BMW, I wouldn't do as the Romans did to that dog. Yasir came back and told me that access to tomb wasn't allowed. The building itself was in despair and it needed renovation.
finished already and he was working on the third. Beside that painter was a van parked and in front of the van was a cat sitting. I would say the cat was doing the same thing what dog was doing to the car but one difference was that cat didn’t have leash around her neck. As we were walking, we saw a huge building and in front of it were police and military guards.
On the opposite side was San Louis of French and had a statue, which had sword in one hand a ball in his second. Then we took a small street which brought us to the Piazza Navona.
Navona Square, with its ornate fountains, baroque palazzi and colourful cast of street artists, hawkers and tourists, Piazza Navona is Rome’s most celebrated square. It sits on the ancient ring of the Stadium of Domitian - also known as Circus Agonalis. It was built to host Greek athletic events, agones (games), with the typical rectangular shape of the arena with its curved northern side.
Obelisk of Domitian was in the middle, it was a Roman creation.
In the middle was Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers), depicting personifications of four great rivers, it's festooned with a palm tree, lion and horse.
At the southern end was the Fontana del Moro (The Fountain of the Muslim) with a basin and four Tritons sculptures A Statue of Moor or Muslim who was wrestling with a dolphin was added later on, at the northern end was Fountain of Naptune.
Piazza Navona's largest building was the 17th-century Palazzo Pamphilj, built for Pope Innocent X and now home to the Brazilian Embassy.
One Indian or Pakistani guy was wearing bright orange dress and he was doing balancing without any support in view. Only few metres away, they were two guys and they were doing the same thing but double tier. A girl was doing “headless person” stunt. I couldn't see her face but her colourful shoes and body structure gave it away. I wanted to take few photos of the square, I removed the lens cap and put on top of a small pillar. After taking the photos, I forgot to take the lens cap. A guy ran after me and gave me the lens cap. Thank you very much, sir.
Now we were walking to the Pantheon. We decided to have lunch in one of the restaurant. It was close to the Pantheon, I ordered gnocchi and Yasir ordered Bolognese. And we chose our favourite cakes as a dessert, chocolate biscuit cake for Yasir and lemon cake for me. He got his food but only thing I got was a cake. Yasir told me or enlightened me that in Italy, people ate desserts before their meals. It was bit strange to me but I wanted to respect the Roman traditions (if it was the case). After waiting for nearly half an hour. I reminded the girl that I was waiting for my food. She came over and apologised because she had forgotten the order.
The Pantheon and Piazza della Rotonda
The square, in front of the Pantheon was called Piazza della Rotonda. It had a small size obelisk in front of the Pantheon.
Small Egyptian Obelisk
The obelisk in Piazza della Rotonda was originally erected in Heliopolis by Rameses II. It was located near S. Macuto and referred to as Guglia di S. Macuto in several descriptions of Rome. In 1711 Pope Clement XI (1700-21) moved it to the centre of the already existing fountain in front of la Rotonda.
Fonta del Pantheon was designed by Giacomo Della Porta in 1575.
The Pantheon in Rome is the Roman monument with the greatest number of records: the best preserved, with the biggest brick dome in the history of architecture and is considered the forerunner of all modern places of worship. It is the most copied and imitated of all ancient works. Michelangelo (1475 - 1564) felt it was the work of angels, not men. According to Roman legend, it is the place where the founder of Rome, Romulus, at his death was seized by an eagle and taken off into the skies with the Gods. Originally built by Marcus Agrippa in 25BC, the Pantheon served as a temple to the many gods of Rome. The original Pantheon was destroyed by the great fire of 80AD and the structure which stands today was completed around 125AD during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian.
There was no entry ticket. Once inside, there was constant announcement made over the loud speaker, telling people to keep quiet. Because it was still an active church, which was opened in 609AD. There was an opening on top of the dome and rain water would drain through two small holes on the floor. A good crowd was inside the Pantheon and around the fountain. Few African guys were selling hand bags, next to the fountain. They had D&G and Gucci on them. I am not to going to judge if those bags were the real deal or cheap Chinese copies. Then all of sudden, those guys started to wrap up in a panic. I looked around, there were two policemen coming to the square and al traders disappeared in seconds.
Santa Maria sopra Minerva Obelisk
On one side of the Pantheon was Santa Maria sopra Minerva and in front it was another Egyptian obelisk. It was found in 1665 in the cloister of the church. It was originally erected in Sais, a town in Lower Egypt, by the Pharaoh Apries. In 1667 Gian Lorenzo Bernini erected the small obelisk on top of an elephant (a work by Ercole Ferrata).
Piazza di Montecitorio
Then we came to Piazza di Montecitorio. There was police presence there and they told us that access to the square was closed. On the far side of the plaza I could see a protest was going on. I asked one of the policemen if I could take few photos of the Obelisk. He didn’t seem to mind. Yasir was my translator.
Also called Solare, the obelisk was originally erected by Psammetichus II in the 7th century BC and then brought to Rome by Augustus who placed it as a sundial in a vast square, where its shadow indicated the hours of the day and the days of the year. The obelisk was found split in five pieces in 1748 and it was eventually repaired and erected in front of Palazzo di Montecitorio.
We went to the other side of the square and we were in front of the obelisk. The crowd was still there and a guy was making speech to the crowd.
Piazza Venezia and The Altare della Patria
Then we walked to the Roman Forum and colosseum part of the Rome. A big square, called Piazza Venezia. The Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) also known as the Monumento Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele II (National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II) it was built in honour of first Italian King Emanuel II who unified Italy. This monument lied between Piaza Venezia and Capitoline Hill. The monument holds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with an eternal flame, built under the statue of Italy after World War I.
On the right of the Palazzo Venezia is a palace called, the Palazzo Bonaparte. It was named after Letizia Bonaparte, mother of Emperor Napoleon I. After Napoleon Bonaparte's empire fell, pope Pius VII granted his mother asylum. She resided in this 17th century palace until she died in 1836.
While walking to thecolosseum, there were statue of the leaders and ruins were all around it. The colosseum was encased in a steel structure. Because renovation was being carried out.
There were two queues, one was for the groups and other was for the individuals. I was told by the security guard to go to the side where individual tickets could be purchased. There was no queue at all. While on opposite side, things were really opposite (very slow). I purchased the ticket, which was a combination of three attractions, the Colosseum, the Palatino hill and the Roman Forum.
We climbed through the stairs on the first floor and then took right to come on to the walkway. There was display of how lift system worked with the help of the pulleys in the Roman times. There were also some bones of animals which were brought in the arena to fight with the gladiators and the criminals.
History of the Colosseum
Located to the East of the Roman Forum, The Colosseum is a site like no other. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, nothing represents the sheer power and magnificence of the Roman Empire like this stunning piece of ancient architecture. The Colosseum, or ‘Colosseo’ in Italian, was so large that it could hold 50,000 people. Vespasian started to build this masterpiece in 70AD ant it took ten years to complete.
The Colosseum was opened with great fanfare by Titus, Vespasian’s son and successor. He marked the opening of the Colosseum with one hundred days of games. In the Middle Ages, when no longer in use, the Colosseum was transformed into an enormous marble, lead and iron quarry used by Popes to build Barberini Palace, Piazza Venezia and even St. Peter's. The holes still seen in many columns are just the holes made to extract the lead and iron used by the Romans for the nails inside the marble blocks.
The Colosseum has perimeter of 1788ft and height of 157ft.
It covered the area of 513ft x 620ft, the largest in the Roman Empire. It had four main floors with following heights of each floor.
1st floor had a height of 34ft, second floor was 38ft high, third floor was 37ft and fourth floor was the central arena was 180ft wide and 287ft long. It is estimated that one million animals may had died. It wasn't necessarily in the arena but in captivity or during the transportation as well.
Entry was free for all Roman citizens, but places were divided according to their social status. The seats at the top were for the common people, but with distinct sections for men and women, the nearer you got to the arena the higher your social status; in the front row were senators, vestals, priests and the emperor.
Underground area of the Colosseum
The two underground floors housed the lifts and hoists with their counter weights, of which we can still see the rails today; they were the special effects of the time, used to hoist up animals and gladiators who burst into the arena through trapdoors, suddenly appearing in a burst of white dust giving the audience great surprise effects.
After the 6th century, with the Empire's decline, the Colosseum fell into disuse and its walls housed confraternities, hospitals, hermits and even a cemetery. From the Middle Ages onwards, the Colosseum has been one of Rome's and the world's greatest marvels, attracting hoards of visitors. Threatened with demolition by Sixtus V for town-planning reasons, it was declared a sacred monument dedicated to the Passion of Christ by Benedict XIV, placing a cross on a pedestal, as a symbol of the sufferings of all Christian martyrs. Thus declaring it as a church, it did save the building from further destruction.
Stairs which were bringing on the ground floor was steep and narrow and I must say that they were over used. I wouldn't blame bricks in that case. I came on the ground floor. Arch of Constantine was covered in iron casing as well. It was being renovated.