Colosseum – Forum Romanum – Pantheon
Where else should an enthusiastic tourist start discovering the city than in the Colosseum, the Amphitheatrum Flavium? It received its name after Nero’s more than 35 metre high bronze statue that was called Colossus due to its size. Although Nero’s successors tried to abolish the memories of his ruling, his statue was reused after all. The Caesar’s head depicted as the god of the sun was exchanged for the currently ruling emperor’s image. The Forum Romanum that can be found close to the amphitheatre is the paradise of amateur and enthusiastic archaeologists. First, there is Titus’s triumphal arch, the building of the Curia, or the house of the Vestal Virgins and almost fifty ruins that are hard to list and even harder to stroll all over.
We know many things about the lives of the Vestals. Their task was to feed the holy fire and guard the Palladium – probably the Minerva statue. Only the children of families with impeccable morals were selected to this task, from 6 to 10 year-old young girls. They served for thirty years, and then they could even get married. Their figure was respected and appreciated uniquely, until they remained spotless, because the sinners were buried alive. I do not recommend you to visit the ruins on an empty stomach, but visitors will not suffer from thirst, as the city is full of public drinking-fountains that give good-quality water.
And what else these ruins attest? That the medieval people did not care about these buildings and used their stones as construction material. Today, only the eyesore holes tell about the former temples and public buildings decorated with marble and brass.
If you start from the Forum, the back tract of the Pantheon appears first, thus when it reveals itself finally, you can feel that it dominates the tiny square in front of it with its huge size. This area was the edge of the Field of Mars previously. Agrippa, the builder, who was Caesar Augustus’s friend and relative, was not only an excellent strategist, but he also made large-scale developments during his consulship. The building was constructed in the honour of all gods presumably. Others think it was a sundial and the seven interior chambers symbolise the seven planets. Indeed, we know very little about its function. Its present form was created during Hadrian. The portico in front of the cylindrical dome is also breathtaking with its Corinthian column-caps, but the oculus makes it really gripping when you enter. Its boarded ceiling is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete cupola.
From the Mouth of Truth to the Basilica of Saint Paul
There are few persons, buildings or locations in Rome, which are not related to a bloody, astounding or amusing legend, and it is true for the sacral places as well. The Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin stands on the place of a former marketplace; it was built by the 12th century. Its interior and Greek mosaics are fascinating, but its speciality is the Bocca della Verita (the Mouth of Truth) posted in its forefront. Actually, the Mouth of Truth could be a cover of the Cloaca Maxima. According to the legend, its dreadful jaws bite off liars’ hands.
The story says that a rich man suspected that his wife cheated on him, so he decided to clear the case up and to take her to the Mouth of Truth. The woman had asked her lover to imitate a fool, to hug and kiss her in the street on the way. When it happened, the wife pretended that she did not know the madman. When she put her hand in the mouth of the stone mask, she could say without any scruples that only her husband and the madman had embraced her. The Mouth of Truth did not bite her hand off, but it got angry and was not willing to bite anymore since then.
The Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest Roman Catholic church named after the Virgin Mary. The basilica was built in the 5th century, and the legend related to its construction originated in the 13th century. Allegedly, Mary called upon Pope Liberius in his dream to build a church on the place where he would find fresh snow next morning (in August). Indeed, snow covered this place on the Esquiline Hill next morning, and the pope drew the plan of the church in it with his stick. Actually, its construction can be related to Christological debates. In the 5th century, the persona of the Virgin Mary was still controversial. According to some people, Mary could be the mother of Jesus’s human part exclusively. She received the Greek attribute “Theotokos” later, which means Mother of God, and thus they recognised Mary’s motherhood, both humanly and divinely.
The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls (San Paolo fuori le mura) is the second largest cathedral of Rome. According to the tradition, it stands on the place where Apostle Paul was buried. It was situated outside the walls of the city when he died, that is why it was named this way. The monastery was built between 1220 and 1241. In 1823, it burnt down in a couple of hours. In 1832, Pope Leo XII started its restoration. As it was the only Roman temple that preserved its one and a half millennial characteristic the cooperation in its reconstruction was unexampled. The Egyptian viceroy sent alabaster pillars, the Russian tsar sent malachite for the sanctuary. The round medallion mosaics above the pillars illustrate the popes in chronological order from Peter to Francis. The legend says that the world will end, when there is no more place for another pope. But you needn’t worry, there are seven more places. So if you did not have time for everything, you can go back again. Even if you did not throw your remained coins in the Trevi Fountain.
Translated by Zita Aknai