With the singing all done, today was about sightseeing on our own. The hotel required an early checkout for groups (10am!?) so we took our luggage along to the hotel we had booked nearer the centre of town and walked from there down to the Colosseum. A little bit of internet research had revealed that the ticket for the Colosseum included entrance to the Forum and the Palatine Hill – and could be bought from any of their ticket offices. So we skipped the massive queue at the Colosseum itself and headed down the road to the entrance for the Palatine Hill where, sure enough, there was no queue at all.
They did not, however, have the promised audio guides in stock and suggested we try walking to the Forum entrance to get them there. It sounded simple enough, but… Once inside the Forum/Palatine area (which is one large site) there are very few maps or signs to help you find your way around. We got lost several times and ended up asking a tour group’s guide for directions.
When we found the Forum ticket office, they didn’t have audio guides either – or maps of the site. I grumped a little, but then used my phone to take a photo of the map plaque they had at the entrance and we got on with it.
I wondered whether there might be some collusion with the tourist guides who work the city. As mentioned, the internal wayfinding is dismal and there are only informational plaques on some of the ruins. You definitely need to have either brought a good guidebook – or a tour guide – if you want to get much out of this site, redolent with history. As a result of us not having done these things, our tour of the Forum areas was necessarily cursory; using the map on my phone to identify where we were, taking a few pictures and absorbing what we could from the explanatory plaques.
Even without detailed information though, I found I was able to visualise something of what this area must once have looked like. Having seen the Pantheon and the shining, colourful marble finishes of the Vatican – and knowing that some of that marble was pillaged from these structures – helps you visualise the temples and public buildings as the bright, colourful edifices they must once have been, rather than the tumbled, dusty piles they are today. And it’s easy to forget that the Romans built big. At an intellectual level, I know that the Roman Empire was a complex and skilled culture that achieved great feats of engineering and, yet, subconsciously, when I imagine “Ancient Rome” I see single- or two-storey buildings around a courtyard in some idyllic agrarian setting – not the multi-storey warehouses and tenements that crowded the city of Rome. Hadrian’s Market had five floors: it can’t have been that different from the shopping centres of today. It’s a sobering thought that we lost a lot of that in the Dark Ages.
After completing a circuit of the Forum areas, we climbed the side of the Palatine Hill itself and found a much more tranquil (and delightfully shaded) space on top. One side of the hill was the site of the Imperial Palace, the other side seems to have been largely gardens and remains so today. Although you can stand on the terraces and look down on the ruins of central Rome below, you can also step back and relax on the grass under the shade of the trees to avoid the heat of the midday sun.
One thing I did learn today; because it was the site of the Imperial residence, the Palatine Hill, Mons Palatinus, is the source of our modern word palace, via the Medieval Latin, palacium.
The ruins of the Imperial Palace are extensive; another multi-storey complex built up the side of a hill. You can stand where the Emperor Augustus might once have stood and look down to the Circus Maximus or in the gardens and look out to the Colosseum. Anyone who has seen Ben Hur or Gladiator, can’t help but get a little frisson out of doing that! If you are a fan of I, Claudius, there’s something for you too; you can visit the Domus Livia, the ruins of Livia’s Palace…
After all that, though, it was getting on for 2pm and time for lunch. We dropped down from the Palatine and headed away from the crowds, finding a small restaurant near Circo Massimo. The heat seemed to have taken its toll on Brett though and, although I ate heartily, he hardly ate at all. We took a taxi back to the hotel. A nap and a shower didn’t improve things, so we had a quiet evening and an early night.