How Old Is Old? A Look At Ancient Rome

Rome Is Ancient

Coming from a relatively ”young” country, I have long been awed and amazed by old architecture. I was born in a country where descriptions of old refer to the geology of the nation — the Rocky Mountains or the Pre-Cambrian Shield / Canadian Shield. But architecture? Nah. Quebec City and area does have a few centuries old buildings (and is a marvellous city to visit by the way) but the majority of buildings in Canada are usually a bit over a century old. Now Rome, on the other hand, has some very old constructions. When touring the Colosseum I learned that anything after the 17th century is considered ”modern ” or “new”. Well, when a city is 3000+ years old I guess ancient and modern are relative terms.

This was my second visit to Rome and despite having previously encountered the Eternal City I was still amazed at all the wonderful ancient sites at most every turn. A piece of an old Roman wall at the train station? Sure. Hotels and apartments in centuries old buildings? Why not! Walking past ruins seems a casual affair for Romans yet all these structures add such beauty to the city. It is not a wonder that so many people flock to Rome as well as it being beloved by its inhabitants.

So How Old Are You Rome?

Unlike people, Rome proudly states her age for all who want to know. As the lore goes, Rome was founded by brothers Romulus and Remus in 753 BCE. The twins quarrelled about where the city should be located and a fight ensued. Romulus killed his brother and founded the city that bears his name. An interesting story as far as myths go yet the area has actually been inhabited long before this tale took place. In fact, it is one of the older continuously inhabited cities on the globe. No only that, Rome’s historic city centre (along with the Holy See) are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A stroll around Rome is a treat for the eyes and shows the ingenuity of ages past with a peek into ancient life through antiquity. With thousands of years of history, uncovering the past appears to be a continual task. Rome of old was not without it share of natural disasters (mainly in the form of earthquakes) or the ravages of time. Much of the old city was covered in rubble while other aspects saw the effects of neglect and old-school looting (did you know that some parts of the Colosseum were used for St Peter’s Basilica?). Over the centuries the Italian capital has been built on top of itself and now those ancient ruins are continually being unearthed. I suppose that is what happens with these long enduring cities. I think it safe to say that archaeologists are always needed in a city as old as Rome.

Of Years Gone By — Ancient Places I Visited

The Pantheon

By and large, Rome’s Pantheon is my favourite building in the city. Walking past I always feel dwarfed by it’s stately style, a building that emits an air of strength and longevity. This building with its domed roof was initially a Roman temple and then became a church in the seventh century CE and has been in continual use since. As a result, it is one of the best preserved ancient buildings in the world. The second temple to be built upon this site, it is estimated that Emperor Hadrian had it constructed around 129 CE. The date is uncertain as he did not have the date inscribed anywhere. He chose to highlight the original temple inscription, built by Marcus Agrippa, which later burned to the ground.

Castel Sant’Angelo

Approaching from Ponte Sant’Angelo (St Angelo Bridge) the majestic circular Castel Sant’Angelo is a sight to behold, demanding attention. Another buidling commissioned by Emporor Hadrian (134-139 CE), it was to be his mausoleum. Years later, future popes used it as both a castle and a fortress. Today it acts as a museum with some wonderful views of Rome and Vatican City. I definately recommend visiting this ancient monument.

The Colossuem

Undoubtedly the most recognized of all of Rome’s buildings is the Colosseum, which was completed in the year 80 CE (construction began in 72 CE). An oval amphitheatre; it is the largest ancient building of its kind ever built. It was the site of many gladiator and animal fights and specticals; public executions; presentations of drama; and more. It was the entertainment centre of ancient Rome. Centuries later it was more or less abandoned and left neglected until the late 1800s when it saw some restoration. Today it is Rome’s most visited site with tours to each level available.

Circus Maximus

You can imagine the cheers of the crowds and the thunder of galloping hoofs as you wander about this ages old chariot racetrack that spans 621 m / 2037 feet in length and 118 m / 387 ft in width. Built in the sixth century BCE, it became the model for chariot race tracks throughout the Roman Empire and hosted both chariot races and the Roman Games (Ludi Romani). Today the stands, track, and ancient splendour are mostly gone yet it still remains in use as a public park, often hosting outdoor concerts.

Theatre of Marcellus / Teatro di Marcello

In the heart of the Jewish Ghetto (where I had a delicious lunch) are the remains of the Teatro di Marcello. This open-air amphitheatre, finished in 13 BCE, hosted dramatic and musical theatre productions of the day. It could hold up to 20,500 people and its circular style impacted future theatres including the Colosseum. It can not be visited but is easily viewed while wandering along this area of Rome.

Roman Forum

The Forum was the hub of ancient cities. Daily life happened here. Like today’s downtown cores, they were filled with business, legal, administrative, and government activity. Located between Palatine and Capitoline Hills, this grand plaza was adorned with grand temples, proud statutes, stunning colonnades, and other ancient structures to show off Rome’s great influence. It seems the Romans of the age wanted to shout “here we are!” and the Forum was the place to do so. I highly recommend visiting here with a tour guide to learn some of the history of this grand part of old Rome.

Arch of Constantine

Placed between the Colosseum and Palatine Hill is the 21 m / 68 ft Arch of Constantine, a structured completed around 315 CE to memorialize the Emperor Constantine and his victory in a significant battle. Along with a tribute to the ruler, the arch crosses the Via Triumphalis, a popular processional route take by military when returning to the city after victory. The arch would be one of the final passes where celebrations would begin. The ornately designed arch can be seen when exiting the Colosseum and onto Palatine Hill and the Forum.

Ancient Rome (and Italy) is not lacking in historic treasures to show you. These are but a handful and the ones that I did see myself. A few others I would like to see include the Vatican Necropolis (first – third century CE), the Baths of Caracalla (second century CE), and various catacombs dating back to early centuries of the second millennia. There truly is so much to see and learn about in the Eternal City.

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Unless otherwise stated, all photos taken by Eeva Valiharju / Wanders the World

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