Rome, as it is for many, has long been high on my bucket-list destinations. The Eternal City may call to us for different reasons, and I was most looking forward to seeing the ruins of the Roman Empire. While I’m excited to share a few images and historical side bars from this trip, actually doing so feels a bit overwhelming. Given my love of history, writing concisely about Rome is a near impossible task. Everything related to the Roman Republic/Empire spans a thousand years (plus another 1,000 years for Byzantine). Beyond this,  there is an additional 1,500 years of rich history flowing across the Italian peninsula after the fall of Rome and the Western Roman Empire.

To make this more manageable, I’ll simply share a few photos and with historical callouts. Over time, I’ll share more from Rome with a focus on particular sites.

The Colosseum

The first site I wanted to visit in Rome was the Colosseum and it probably doesn’t need much of introduction. It gave me goosebumps to finally stand before its walls while thinking about everything that transpired within it and the empire that built it. Why it was built, how it looked in all its glory in 82 AD, and how it came to look like what we see today are questions I will explore in a separate post dedicated to the Colosseum.

Arch of Constantine

Located beside the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine. It is a triumphal arch built in 315 AD to commemorate Emperor Constantine’s victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312AD. This is one of three surviving triumphal arches from the Roman era. The city of Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) was named after Emperor Constantine. Constantinople was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (the Roman Empire split into Western and Eastern in 286 AD). The Western Roman Empire, which contained Rome, would fall to the “Barbarians ” (Germanic tribes) in 486 AD. The Eastern Roman Empire came to be known as the Byzantine Empire (predominantly Greek language and culture) and lasted until 1453.

The Pantheon

In terms of Roman historical sites, the Pantheon was a close second to the Colosseum as a must-see site. The Pantheon was dedicated around 125 AD and is the best preserved building from the Roman Empire. Like the Colosseum, I will dive a little deeper into this architectural marvel of the ancient world and its influence on western architecture in a future post.

The Jefferson Memorial in D.C. and University of Virginia’s Rotunda are inspired by the Pantheon.

Trevi Fountain

Stepping away from the Pantheon, I traveled a few blocks to a popular site completed 1,600 years later, the Trevi Fountain. It is a baroque style fountain on the Piazza di Trevi square and was completed in 1762. Neptune, the Roman god of seas, stands in the center arch and is being pulled to the sea on his shell-shaped chariot. Two tritons, young gods of the sea, are with the winged horses. The contrasting disposition of the horses reflect the ever changing nature of sea. The statues of women to the viewers left and right of Neptune represent Abundance and Health, respectively.

Looking at this work of art, I can’t help but think about the Romans. Trevi Fountain was built on the location where Roman citizens drank from an aqueduct as far back as 19 BC. The fountain itself was completed 1,300 years after the Roman Empire vanished. Yet, the gods of Rome are celebrated in art. I’m not much on art history but believe the fountain was created near the end of the Renaissance period. The Renaissance lasted for several centuries and saw a revival in classical Roman and Greek design. Our earliest government building in the U.S. took similar inspiration from Roman and Greek design.

There is a coin toss tradition (movie inspired) that suggests that one coin toss into the fountain will ensure you return to Rome. Tossing two coins means you will fall in love, and tossing three coins means you will marry that person. Coin tosses generate over one million dollars a year for charity.

Trajan’s Forum

Returning to my historic Roman pursuits, I walk to an archeological site called the Roman Forum. Part of this area contains Trajan’s Forum. In the image below, I am looking over the ruins of Trajan’s Forum which features Trajan’s Column – a triumphal tower with intricate carvings (2600 figures and 155 scenes). It was completed in 113 AD. Trajan was one of Rome’s great emperors and very popular among the Romans. Looking beyond Trajan’s Column, the church to the right is Chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Maria al Foro Traiano which was completed in 1741 (commissioned in 1683). The church to the left is Santa Maria di Loreto built in the early 1500s.

To the right of Trajan’s Forum is Trajan’s Market, opened in 113 AD. This was a mercantile center with 170 rooms for commerce and administration.

Trajan’s Market

The image below is another shot of the two churches and Trajan’s Column from high atop the Monument to Victor Emmanuel II.

Monument to Victor Emmanuel II

After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, Italy didn’t become a unified nation until 1861. Prior to this, for almost 1400 years, the Italian peninsula consisted of city states and regional power centers. City-States like Siena, Florence, Pisa, and Venice all operated as independent nations which included waging war on one another. It was Victor Emmanuel II that finally united Italy and this massive monument honors that unification.

Work began on the monument in 1878 and was completed in 1911. A statue of the king on his horse is front and center. The tomb of the unknown soldier is also present – Altare della Patria. The soldier was killed in World War I and is a symbol for all if Italy’s unknown fallen soldiers.

Roman Forum

Located between Trajan’s Forum and Victor Emmanuel II monument is the Roman Forum archeological site. I can’t wait to dig into this site a bit more myself in a separate post devoted to it. The Roman Forum was located at the center of the ancient Rome. Important religious, political and social activities began taking place in this area as far back as 500 B.C. and would be the eventual location for many of Rome’s greatest temples and monuments.

Roman Forum, Stock Image

Today, the Roman Forum ranks among the most popular tourist sites in the world.

Castel Sant’Angelo

Moving away from the Forum, my journey to locate Castel Sant’Angelo came from an unusual source of inspiration. There was a book of Italian art in my hotel room that featured this building on the cover (just the image on the right). I had never heard of this building, but it appeared impressive. I was also curious to see how the area around it had changed since this painting, and if it would be possible to take a photo from the same location the artist had painted it.

I was able to get pretty close but needed to move more towards my right. Getting down to the waterline was a challenge though.

Emperor Hadrian (same emperor named on Hadrian’s Wall in northern England) ordered construction of this building 135 AD. It was intended to be a mausoleum for himself and his family. Emperor Hadrian and a succession of Roman emperors had their remains placed here. The eventual conversion of this building into a fort and its subsequent defense and fall at the hands of the invading Visigoths resulted in many of the emperors’ remains being lost or destroyed. Castel Sant’Angelo would would go on to be used as a castle by the Holy Roman Empire, a prison, and is now a museum.

Vatican City

Located a few down the road is Vatican City. The Vatican is an independent nation and, covering and area of 100 acres, is the smallest nation in the world. However, as the seat of the Catholic church, the Vatican’s influence is far greater than its land mass. The History website shares some interesting facts about the Vatican – 10 Things You May Not Know About the Vatican. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site – Vatican City.

Piazza Navona

On my walk back from Castel Sant’Angelo and Vatican City, I came across Piazza Navano. Emperor Domitian commissioned this square in 86 AD as a stadium for athletic events with seating for 20,000. The large open area remains but the stadium seating now contains buildings.

The image below captures a few notable sights in the piazza. In the forefront is the Fountain of Neptune by Giacomo della Porta, an apprentice of Michelangelo. The fountain to the left is the Fountain of the Four Rivers. Collectively, they represent four major rivers of the four continents through which papal authority had spread: the Nile representing Africa, the Danube representing Europe, the Ganges representing Asia, and the Río de la Plata representing the Americas. Church Sant’Agnese in Agone is center, behind the fountains.

A closer look at the Fountain of the Four Rivers.

The image below is the view from the rooftop bar of my hotel looking down Via Nazionale. At the far end of the street, you can see the horses on top of the Victor Emmanuel II monument. The Roman Forum and Trajan’s Forum are just before that monument. The Colosseum is a few blocks to the left of the monument. To the right within 1-2 miles are the Vatican, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Novano, and so much more.

I tossed one coin in the Trevi Fountain and can’t wait for my next trip to Rome. There is so much more to explore.

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