Europe Photoblogging, Part 19: Rome, Part 1
By Dwip September 26, 2014, 12:15 pm Comments (1) RSS Feed for this post

SPQR stands for Senatus Populusque Romanus – The Senate and People of Rome. Once upon a time it was a symbol of the power and authority of Rome. These days, manhole covers.

This is it, folks. Rome, the Eternal City. This was my last major stop, and as we’ll discuss shortly, one of my major reasons for coming on this trip in the first place. I was there from 6/24 to 6/29/04, longer than anywhere else except London, and I still only scratched the surface.

There are two posts for this part of the trip, The Power and the Glory and Sleep Now in the Fire. Biblical references, Rage Against the Machine references, it’s all the same thing, right?

This one was another jaunt on the Italian train system, which was…interesting given language and cultural barriers, but not quite as exciting as my arriving in Rome with no hotel room booked. Do not do this. The neighborhood around Termini station is kind of strange.

This is the Arch of Constantine, erected by Constantine the Great in 315 to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge three years earlier. In addition to being one of the great examples of Roman monument building, this is a symbol of some of the great legends of world history – Constantine the Great is the guy who is famous for supposedly seeing the Chi Rho in the sky and the words “Under this sign, conquer.” In hoc signo vinces in the Latin. In the legend he throws the Chi Rho on the shields of all his men and goes on to win the Battle of Milvian Bridge, taking control of the whole Roman Empire and making it safe for democracyChristianity. Later, Constantine the Great will go on to host the Council of Nicea and have an important if indirect role in early Christianity.

Of course, the legend isn’t wholly true, and Constantine himself spent a lot of time flirting around with Sol Invictus and Mithras and not always so much Christ, but it makes a good story anyway.

Despite its somewhat isolated appearance in this picture, the Arch is in the center of Rome, with the Colosseum to one side and the Forum Romanum to the other. We’ll be seeing both soon.

This is the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine in the Forum. This is half of what was once a massive civic basilica finished off by our man Constantine. It’s enormous, once one of the largest buildings in Rome. To get an idea of how massive it is, those fences in front are about waist high. Each of those coffers in the arches can comfortably hold a person, and the whole structure is about 130 feet high. It’s cavernous.

This is what’s left of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina in the Forum. It was originally built in the classic Greek temple style by Antoninus Pius, and has since been heavily remodeled into a church, which acounts for the cross on top and that little horned facade thing on the top.

We’re going to see a lot of this sort of thing in Rome – the Popes in particular had a huge fetish for slapping crosses on damn near everything that might once have been pagan, imperial, or both as a means of co-opting Roman authority into Church authority.

Yes, I’m cynical about it. It’s hard not to be.

This is what’s left, or rather what Mussolini reconstructed in the 1930s of the Temple of Vesta in the Forum, center of one of the most major Roman civic cults. Vestal Virgins, all that. If you’ve read anything on Rome, the Vestals will feature prominantly.

This is some of what’s left of the Forum Romanum, at one time the center of the world. As you can see, there’s not a lot left standing today after 1,500 years of looting, but you can still pick out a few things.

To the left, you can see a series of arches that’s what’s left of the Basilica Julia built by Caesar, and above it the Tabularium constructed by Sulla to house the civic records of Rome. The bit with the tall column and gated brick archway is what’s left of the Temple of Divus Julius (ie, the divine Julius Caesar), with the Column of Phocas (the white column) behind, and a bit of the Arch of Septimus Severus at far right.

I need to impress upon you that the entire Forum is like this. Every shattered brick, column, and chunk of marble is a fifteen hundred or two thousand year old symbol of one of the greatest civilizations ever known to man. The weight of the history here is staggering.

This is the Arch of Septimus Severus at the far end of the Forum leading to the Capitoline Hill. It was built to commemorate Roman victories against the Parthians in the 190s AD.

This is a closeup shot of some of the detail of the Arch. One notes the various carved panels, coffered arches, and generally high level of detail that went into something like this. And this isn’t even the best one in Rome.

This is the reconstructed Curia Julia, built by Julius Caesar to replace the two older houses where the Roman Senate met. You can tell by the various patchwork bits and holes, this building, big as it was, used to be part of a larger structure – there was once a columned porch where the steps are now, and about where the girl in the blue shirt is is where the Comitium used to be until Caesar leveled it. This bit of the Forum saw a lot of remodeling.

I’m standing on the steps of the Curia Julia now, looking at the Arch of Septimus Severus, with the portico of the Temple of Saturn behind it. In front where all the people are is the shrine of the Lapis Niger, dating from the mid 6th century BC and one of the most sacred spots of ancient Rome.

This is from in front of the Temple of Saturn looking back over the Forum. You can see the Temple of Vesta towards the background, with some of the ruins on the Palatine Hill behind it. The street where all the people are walking is the Via Sacra, maybe the most important street in Rome. They used to march triumphs down this.

This is shot from the Capitoline Hill, looking back over the Forum. The Temple of Saturn occupies the foreground, with the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina well behind, and the top of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine peeking above it. To the right side you can see the layout of the ruins of the Basilica Julia, with the Temple of Vesta behind it.

This is still another shot of the Forum from the Capitoline, with the Arch of Septimus Severus to the fore, the Column of Phocas center, and the Temple of Vesta and Basilica Julia right, with the Palatine ruins behind.

That squarish thing in between the Arch of Septimus Severus and the Column of Phocas is the Rostra built by Augustus to replace the earlier Republican version where all the great figures of Rome stood to give speeches.

And this is me on the Capitoline Hill overlooking the Forum.

I’ve talked about this before some, but I think it’s time to be explicit about it: for somebody like me, who was raised on and who studied the Romans for years and years, being physically present in the Forum Romanum is about the closest I will ever come to a religious experience, walking where some of the greatest people who have ever lived walked for a thousand years in the center of one of the greatest civilizations of all time.

As I said earlier, the effect of this is awe inspiring. The mind boggles as you approach something like the Curia or the Temple of Vesta, and…Jesus Christ, man, do you even understand all the things that went on here? You ever see the edition of The Onion that got published after the moon landing? The one where it’s all like this?

TRANQUILITY: I’m on the bottom rung of the ladder. Just one more step, and I’m… (long pause.)

HOUSTON: Tranquility?

TRANQUILITY: Holy (pause) living (long pause) fuck. (Long pause) Fuck!

HOUSTON: Tranquility, do you copy?

TRANQUILITY: Are you fucking believing this? Over.

HOUSTON: We read you. Over.

TRANQUILITY: I abso-fucking-lutely am standing on the surface of the fucking moon. I am talking to you from the god damned fucking moon. Jesus H. Christ in a chicken basket.

HOUSTON: Holy shit.

TRANQUILITY: Holy mother of fuck. The fucking moon. Over.

That’s kind of like what me being in the Forum was. There are certain moments in your life when you can connect with the whole weight and the whole length of human history, the rise and the fall and the faded memory of civilizations, when you can see for a moment that whole world you have spent your life trying to imagine, when that whole sense of things so much larger than you comes crashing over you like a terrifying and beautiful wave, greater than my poor powers over words can describe.

That maybe gets you towards a little of what this place was like for me. The Romans are the Romans and I’m just some kid from a small town in Oregon, you know?

This is Trajan’s Column, erected in 113 AD to commemorate the victories of the emperor Trajan over the Dacians. The statue on top used to be Trajan himself but was replaced by a statue of St. Peter, because that’s how the Popes rolled in this city.

As you can see, this is kind of an awkward spot. I’m standing across what is essentially a four lane street with a parking lot seamlessly attached to it. You kind of risk your life getting over there, because Roman scooter drivers are no joke, and they do not care much about you.

This is detail from Trajan’s Column. Scene after scene of Trajan beating ass on the Dacians.

If all of this sounds familiar, you remember the column I showed you from Paris that is essentially the Napoleonic version of this. Because everybody wants to be like the Romans.

This is the Pantheon, Marcus Agrippa’s gift to the world in the first few years AD and reconstructed by Trajan and Hadrian a hundred years later. It’s been a temple, it’s been a church, it’s one of the most famous buildings in all of Rome.

This is the interior of the Pantheon. Every picture ever taken of the inside shows that strangely mottled dome with its coffers as well as the ray of light from the oculus. I’ll be honest with you, for a long time I kind of thought that ray of light was just artistic license, but no, there is really a ray of light that comes down like that.

And this is the dome of the Pantheon again showing the oculus and the ray of light. Like everything else here, I’ve seen this picture or ones like it in so many books over my life, and here I am making the exact same picture. A bit cliche, perhaps, but sometimes the cliche exists for a reason.


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Comments on Europe Photoblogging, Part 19: Rome, Part 1
avatar Comment by Lorelai #1
September 26, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Just… <3

An amazing blog entry! I enjoyed reading it and looking at the pics.

I hope that one day, I'll too get to go there and feel small amid the vestiges of this great civilization.
Despite the "Scene after scene of Trajan beating ass on the Dacians." :P

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