Wednesday, November 05, 2014

 photo forum1_zps9318472f.jpgThe Forum

The Forum was the centre of political and public life in Imperial Rome; a grandiose district of temples and monuments epitomising the decadence of the Roman Empire.

Situated in a valley between the Palatine and Capitol hills, the Forum today is a sprawling mass of ruins.

Jumbled blocks of ancient marble lie strewn across the site. Temples where the rich and powerful of Rome’s elite once congregated have decayed and crumbled.

The Forum was built on inhospitable marshland and first developed in the 7th century BC. Beginning as a market place, during its peak the Forum was the economic, political, and religious centre of Rome and a majority of the structures were built during the reign of Julius Caesar and his successor Augustus.

Its importance declined in the 4th century AD and as time passed it was abandoned. During the Middle Ages it became a pasture for sheep and cattle, which gave it the nickname "Campo Vaccino" – "the cattle field". Excavations began in the 18th century, but it was not until the early 20th century that the area was excavated fully.

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Entering from the east, you first pass the Arch of Titus. Erected in AD 81 by the Emperor Domitian in honour of the victories of his brother, Titus and his father, Vespasian, in Jerusalem in AD 70.

The eastern side of the Forum is dominated by the ruins of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine, the largest building of the Forum.

Construction of the basilica was started by Emperor Maxentius in AD 308. Following his defeat by Constantine during the battle at the Milvian Bridge in AD 312, the basilica was completed by the new regime in AD 315.

The basilica measured 100 metres by 65 metres and was 35 metres high. The building consisted of a large central nave covered by three concrete barrel vaults, which were used as law courts. It also contained a colossal 12 metre tall statue of Constantine, parts of which can now be found at the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, part of the Capitoline Museums.

Further along the Via Sacra, which was once the main street, is the Temple of Romulus, a domed building from the 4th century. One of its most striking features is its green bronze door, which at around 1700 years old has survived numerous disasters and the sacking of Rome by the Visigoths. It was probably dedicated Romulus, the son of emperor Maxentius, and was converted to a Christian church in the middle ages.

Next to it is the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, built by emperor Antoninus Pius in honour of his late wife Faustina in AD 141. On the emperor’s death, the temple was then rededicated to the two of them.

In the 11th century it was converted to a Roman Catholic church known as San Lorenzo in Miranda, as it was believed that St Lawrence had been sentenced to death here.

On the south side of the Via Sacra is the Temple of Vesta. One of the most elegant temples in the Forum and also one of the oldest in Rome, it has been rebuilt many times and today’s ruins date from AD 191.

It was here that the fire sacred to Vesta, the goddess of the household hearth, had to be kept perennially burning, the responsibility of which was given to six Vestal Virgins.

As soon as a girl became a Vestal, she would live in the House of the Vestal Virgins. Once an enormous complex with around 50 rooms, all that remains now are a few rooms around a courtyard. Overlooking a pond, are weathered statues, many of which are now headless, dating from the 3rd and 4th centuries.

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The Vestals were the only group of women priests in Rome and keeping the flame alight was no easy task. If any one of them allowed it to go out they would be flogged by the high priest and then dismissed.

The cult of Vesta is one of the oldest in Rome. Chosen between the ages of six and ten-years-old from patrician families, they were required to stay in the order for 30 years, respecting a vow of chastity. The penalty for ignoring this was to be buried alive, while the penalty for the offender was to be flogged to death.

When Vestals retired they were allowed to live their life as they wished and even marry, although few ever did.

At the north west end of the Forum is the 23 metre tall Arch of Septimius Severus. It was dedicated in AD 203 to commemorate the victories of Emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta, against the Parthiana in AD 195 and AD 199. After the death of their father, Caracalla and Geta were initially joint emperors. However, Caracalla had Geta assassinated in AD 212 and all images and mention of Geta on public buildings and monuments were removed, including the arch.

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Next to it is the Temple of Saturn, the eight surviving columns of which stand next to the three columns of the Temple of Vespasian.

One of the most prominent ruins in the whole Forum, the Temple of Saturn was originally erected in 497 BC and was completely rebuilt in 42 BC. It was also the site of the Republican Roman treasury.

Titus began building of the Temple of Vespasian in AD 79 following his succession after the death of his father Vespasian. After Titus died, his brother Domitian completed the temple and dedicated it to Titus and Vespasian in AD 87.

Just in front of this is the Rostrum, a public speaker's platform, originally built in the fourth century BC and is famous for being the place where Shakespeare had Mark Anthony make his "friends, Romans, countrymen…" speech.

In front of this sitting in the main square is the Column of Phocas, which is one of the last monuments to be erected in the Forum in AD 608.

Located at the edge of the main square of the Forum are the remains of the Basilica Jiulia, which was begun by Julius Caesar and finished by Augustus. At the end of the basilica are the three Corinthian columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux.

Monday, November 03, 2014

 photo thecolosseum2_zpsc511d7ba.jpgThe Colosseum  

Having stood the test of time for nearly 2000 years, Rome’s Colloseum is the most spectacular of the city’s ancient sites.

Eliptical in shape, it was originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre and was commissioned around AD 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian as a gift to the Roman people.

However, before its completion, Vespasian died, and it was his eldest son, Titus, who officially opened the Colosseum in AD 80 with 100 days of festivities, including gladiatorial combat and public feasts to mark the inauguration. It was eventually completed in the reign of his other son, Domitian.

At the time, it was the largest structure in Rome. It measures 189 metres in length by 156 metres wide. The height of the outer wall is 48 metres, while the perimeter originally measured 545 metres.

Walking around this amphitheatre of death, where slaves and gladiators fought for their very lives against all odds, it is easy to imagine the brutality of what once went on here.

The different events included battles between gladiators, also known as the munera, and hunts for wild animals.

Gladitorial combat took the form of a duel between two fighters, generally until the death of one or the other. Venationes in ancient Rome involved condemned criminals fighting wild animals for the entertainment of the baying crowd or animals pitted against each other.

They were immensely popular and included lions, bears, bulls, panthers wild goats and dogs. Thousands of animals could be slaughtered in a day and over 9,000 were killed in the inauguration of the Colosseum. Popularised in the film Gladiator, representations of venationes can be seen on coins, mosaics, and tombs of the period.

The central arena is an oval measuring 76 by 44 metres, surrounded by a wall 5 metres high.

The public found their way to the auditorium through the 76 entrance gate arches, while the Emperor and the upper classes used the four special un-numbered gates, known as the Grand Entrances.

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The five sections of the auditorium, from bottom to top, would have accommodated around 50,000 spectators who were seated according to their gender and social status. On the lower levels were the more prominent citizens and nobility; while on the upper levels were the lower classes and women.

The first tier was known as the podium. Providing the best views of the arena, the seats here were reserved for the higher echelons of Roman society, including the emperor and royal family, nobles, senators, visiting dignitaries and religious figures.

The emperor took up position located on the podium at the centre of the narrower side of the arena on the north side. Today there is a cross where the emperors would have sat.

The floor of the arena was made with wooden planks and covered with yellow sand, sometimes dyed red to hide the blood during the shows.

Little remains of the original arena floor now. Underneath the Colosseum is the hypogeum, a labyrinth of underground passages. It consisted of two-level subterranean network of tunnels and 32 animal pens, providing instant access to the arena for animals and gladiators.

The Colosseum remained in service for 450 years and now all that is left is the skeleton. Nearly two-thirds of the original building has been destroyed by fires, earthquakes or theft. The southern side fell during an earthquake in 847, while material from it has also been used in monuments such as St. Peter’s Basilica.

As a result of opposition due to the growth of Christianity, gladiatorial games began to disappear from public life during the third century. Stone was looted from the Colosseum and it was even leased out by Pope Alexander VI as a quarry.

In 1749 that Pope Benedict XIV forbade the removal of stone from the structure and erected a cross in remembrance of the Christians who had been martyred there. However, there is no historical evidence to support Benedict’s claim.

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Today, the Colosseum is one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions, with millions of visitors flocking there every year.

In recent years, it has become a symbol against the death penalty, which was abolished in Italy in 1948. Since 2000, following a number of demonstrations against capital punishment, the local authorities of Rome have changed the colour of the Colosseum's night time illumination from white to gold whenever someone condemned to the death penalty anywhere in the world has their sentence commuted or is released.