A few months before I went to Rome I had just finished watching the HBO miniseries and finished reading a great book about the ancient Roman Republic. I had never given much credit to the Romans until I read Rubicon (see why).
But Rome, and the Roman domination of the world for over 500 years cannot be denied as one of the three most important civilizations in the history of the world (the other two being ancient Egypt and Greece). So I was psyched to see for myself the place where so much of history was commanded.
The thing that amazed me the most was the utter desolation of the Forum () and the Palatine. The Forum was the main market place, and site of the Senate house, of the most important empire in the world, for hundreds of years. But now all that remains is rubble (). Hundreds of years of neglect after the fall of the empire, and then hundreds more of looting by the Christian heirs to the empire leaves precious little visible to give you an idea of the grandeur that must have been.
I had a really hard time accepting the fact that the place was abandoned after the fall of the Roman empire. I mean, how could such a large, important part of the world just be… abandoned. How could homeless vagrants sleep under the arches of the Coliseum for centuries, blackening it with their fires and pissing on the benches upon which the Senators of Rome once sat? History is as cruel as Nature.
In any case, the Forum, and the trip up the Palatine hill, where legend has it that Rome was founded by Romulus, really made my entire trip. Althought it’s not much to see, mainly bits () of toppled columns and outlines of where things used to be, it’s still imbued with a powerful sense of purpose. It was the heart of an empire, and the earth still recognizes it.
Standing on the Palatine hill, where the palace of the emperors looked out over the entire city, you can still feel a bit of that immense pride in what was, at that time, the most vibrant and important city on Earth. Being there, walking where Ceasar and Augustus and Cicero and Cato and Marius strode around in their white robes, it completed my trip in a way that the Vatican never could. From the Palatine you get a fantastic view of the Forum, where you can see two of the three remaining triumphal arches (), the temple to Romulus () with its red columns and original door (), and the facade of the old Senate ()which was (predictably) appropriated by the Christians and turned into a church. The Forum proves quite poetically, all things end.
Rome is sexy because of the glory of what it once was, much more than for what it has become. Big sunglasses and designer clothes can’t compete with red capes and steel swords.
If you go to Rome, you have to go to the Forum. It connects you with one of the most glamorous times in history.