Thursday, October 8th, 2009
We started our first full day in Rome with the customary “included breakfast”. The Locarno hotel had a beautiful spread with meats, cheeses, eggs and all the rest. We were seriously on our way to gaining some weight, but enjoying the decadence of these delicious feasts.
We got a map from the front desk and headed out on foot to see what we could discover. We had our Frommer’s travel guide and Katie’s knowledge and knew we had so much to see and experience. It was already incredibly hot and was on its way to being over 100 degrees. Honestly you just have to hunker down and trudge forward! There is an amazing surprise in Rome….there are many fountains from the grand ones to small ones on the wall as you are walking through the streets, they all have very cold fresh water. Every one stops to fill their water bottles or cool their faces and hands. We found out after inquiring with several locals that it comes from an ancient Roman aquaduct. Is that amazing technology or what? I was in awe and with the intense heat I took full advantage.
The first place we headed to was the Spanish steps. After following our map and winding through the streets we found ourselves on a very posh street with high end stores that lead to the Spanish steps (or the Piazza di Spagna). One thing we never got tired of was hearing about all the history behind all these famous landmarks – nothing short of amazing.
With its characteristic butterfly plan, the Piazza di Spagna is one of the most famous images in the world, as well as being one of the most majestic urban monuments of Roman Baroque style. In the Renaissance period, the square was the most popular tourist attraction in the city: it attracted artists and writers alike and was full of elegant hotels, inns and residences. At the foot of the stairs, you will find the famous Barcaccia Fountain, the work of Pietro Bernini and his son, Gian Lorenzo. With its characteristic form of a sinking ship, the fountain recalls the historic flood of the River Tiber in 1598 and refers to a folk legend whereby a fishing boat carried away by the flood of the river was found at this exact spot. In reality, the sinking boat was ably invented by Bernini to overcome a technical problem due to low water pressure. The sun and bee ornamentation is a symbol of the Barberini family and a reference to Pope Urban VIII who commissioned the work. However, the main attraction of the square has to be the spectacular staircase.
The Spanish Steps
We continued to wander some more and found our way to Trevi Fountain….WOW!!…
The Trevi fountain is at the ending part of the Aqua Virgo, an aqueduct constructed in 19 BC. It brings water all the way from the Salone Springs (approx 20km from Rome) and supplies the fountains in the historic center of Rome with water.
The central figure of the fountain, in front of a large niche, is Neptune, god of the sea. He is riding a chariot in the shape of a shell, pulled by two sea horses. Each sea horse is guided by a Triton. One of the horses is calm and obedient, the other one restive. They symbolize the fluctuating moods of the sea. On the left hand side of Neptune is a statue representing Abundance, the statue on the right represents Salubrity. Above the sculptures are bas-reliefs, one of them shows Agrippa, the girl after whom the aqueduct was named.
Legend has it that if you toss a coin into the water of the Trevi Fountain,you will return to Rome. You are supposed to toss it over your shoulder with your back to the fountain…we shall see if that legend is true…
We continued walking and worked our way toward Ancient Rome. The great thing is everything is within walking distance, so we just kept moving. By now we had bought ourselves Japenese prisols to try to ease the intense hot sun and I will tell you they really did help! We saw Trajan’s Column and Trojan’s marketplace. We took a tour of the Colosseum and of Capitoline hill. The tours were really the way to go. We learned so much.
Trajan’s Markets is Rome’s ancient “shopping center” is a large complex of warehouses, shops and offices where the Romans would gather to purchase goods and conduct business. It was built between 107 and 110 AD by the Emperor Trajan’s favorite architect, Apollodorus of Damascus. Apollodorus was integral in designing the famous Forum which bears the emperor’s name and borders the market.
The Colosseum is probably the most impressive building of the Roman empire. Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater, it was the largest building of the era. The monumental structure has fallen into ruins, but even today it is an imposing and beautiful sight. The elliptical building is immense and could accommodate some 55,000 spectators who could enter the building through no less than 80 entrances. Emperors used the Colosseum to entertain the public with free games. Those games were a symbol of prestige and power and they were a way for an emperor to increase his popularity.
The southern side of the Colosseum (the Ruins) was felled by an earthquake in 847. Parts of the building – including the marble facade – were used for the construction of later monuments, including the St. Peter’s Basilica.
Of Rome’s seven hills, the Capitoline Hill (Campidoglio) is the most sacred. The Capitoline Hill is where the city’s first and holiest temples stood, including its most sacred, the Temple to Jupiter and the Capitoline Triad (Jupiter, Juno, and their daughter Minerva). Today, Capitoline Hill is home to the Capitoline Museum, a world-class museum of Roman artifacts.
But most of the buildings on the Capitoline Hill that survive today date from the Renaissance. Climbing Michelangelo’s long, sloping steps makes for a dramatic approach, and at the top is a perfectly proportioned square, Piazza del Campidoglio, also laid out by the Florentine artist. As Michelangelo’s preeminent urban set piece, the piazza sums up all the majesty of High Renaissance Rome.
What a day! So many incredible things to see. We were so hot, but we didn’t care – this was exciting history and we were soaking it up. Great tour guides are worth every penny!
We ended the day sitting in the courtyard of the Locarno hotel with a few cold drinks. There was a very groovy feel to it and it was a great way to unwind and relax after our very full day.