I just learned that one reason the Forum’s layout is such a hodgepodge is that the ground has been rising since the time of the early Republic. Resting in a former marsh surrounded by hills, erosion and sediment from the flooding Tiber have poured into the area for centuries. This led the Romans to pave right over old infrastructure.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, the Forum too fell into disuse. Largely covered by erosion, what was once the center of Roman politics and military pomp was now referred to as “the cattle field.” In the 8th century, the above-ground ruins were disassembled to build castles and feudal towers. These too were dismantled in the 13th century, and the area basically became a landfill, contributing to the rising ground level. What a treat for anthropologists starting around 1800–an archeological lasagna! It would take over 100 years to completely excavate the Forum.
I like this unimposing view of the Colosseum. Beside it is the Arch of Constantine, which the Roman Emperors would parade through when returning to the city after military victory.
Construction of the Colosseum was conceived under Emperor Vespasian circa 70 AD. The project was funded by temple spoils in the Siege of Jerusalem, to give you a sense of the times. The world’s largest amphitheater was home to the famed gladiator contests and other often gruesome public spectacles through the 6th century.
What I find more interesting is the Colosseum’s mixed use in Medieval times, emphasizing its immensity. The arena floor served as a cemetery (quite metaphoric), and the vaulted arcades under the seating rows sheltered housing and workshops into the 12th century. Around 1200, the powerful Frangipani family fortified the Colosseum, using it as a castle. In the mid-14th century, a religious order moved into the northern end, where they remained till the early 1800s!
Today, the Colosseum is used as a symbol against capital punishment. While Italy in many ways is not the most progressive country, it should be noted that the death penalty was abolished there in 1948. (For comparison, it was right behind Switzerland, which banned it in 1938. France, Germany, Spain, and the UK didn’t until the 1970s-90s. All these dates refer to abolition in the case of crimes not having to do with wartime or the military.) Since the year 2000, the Colosseum’s nighttime lights have been changed from white to gold whenever someone on death row anywhere in the world is released or receives a stay of sentence, or if a jurisdiction anywhere in the world abolishes the death penalty. This last occurred in 2009 when capital punishment was banned in the U.S. state of New Mexico. View of St. Peter’s Basilica and Ponte Sant’Angelo from the Tiber River
In the tradition of basilicas (I just learned), St. Peter’s is said to be its namesake’s burial site. Most of us think of St. Peter as an apostle, but he is also claimed as the first pope and bishop of Rome. After over 100 years of work and contributions from a succession of architects including Michelangelo, St. Peter’s Basilica was completed in 1626 and is probably the most renowned marvel of Renaissance architecture.
As for the river, it just keeps on flowing…