Tour Day 9
It is hard to believe, but we have come to the last full day of our tour. Today we explore ancient Rome. We travel as a group on the Metro, and head toward the Capitoline Hill area of Rome, where the major ancient sites are located. We meet our local guide outside the Basilica of San Clemente. Before we go in, we have time for a cappuccino and yummy pastry from the nearby café. We admire the street market of fresh foods and flowers. We are startled to see the Colosseum as we look down the street through a tangle of poles and wires.
We gather around our local guide as we prepare to enter the church. She asks us to think of Rome as a city built in layers. This is evident at the Basilica of San Clemente, which is a 12th century church, built on top of a 4th century church, built on top of a 1st century temple, built on top of even older Roman structures. We enter in silence. A group of monks is praying and singing near the altar. Their haunting chants fill the cavernous space. We see that this is more than an ancient relic, it is a living place for worship and contemplation. The Byzantine church is exquisite, with gold mosaics behind the altar, and an ornate ceiling. We are not permitted to take photographs here.
We walk across the beautiful mosaic tile floor, and learn how the investigation of a loose tile led to the discovery of the church underneath. We go down under the current church, down lower, and even lower. We walk on floors that ancient Romans walked on. Our local guide helps us to understand time gone by, and how fire, flood, and decay had buried the old city. The new city rises on top. Before we leave, I light a candle in the sanctuary.
Now we come to the very center of Rome: the iconic Colosseum. The clear blue-sky day makes for a perfect photo opportunity. Even partially damaged and scavenged for building materials, the giant amphitheater is impressive from the outside, with three tiers of columns rising as high as a twelve-story building. Equally impressive are the long lines waiting to enter the site. Here is another instance where we are happy to be part of a tour group—we enter the structure without waiting in line.
Our local tour guide helps us to fill in the missing pieces of the Colosseum, to imagine the sounds and the scents of 80,000 spectators crammed into the space, of the animal hunts, sea battles, or dramatic performances that took place there. And of course, the gladiators, armed in combat to entertain Roman audiences. We look in silence upon the space where they fought and died. We admire the engineering of the Colosseum, the awe-inspiring symbol of the power and strength of Imperial Rome.
Even more impressive, although more in ruins, is the Roman Forum. Here we find the center of Roman life, and the center of ancient Roman government. The sprawling remnants of a once vibrant culture remain: shrines, temples, government offices. We are amazed to learn the area was buried under sediment from the Tiber, and from erosion of the surrounding hills, and is still being excavated. We shiver to think that right before us, Marc Anthony gave a funeral oration for Caesar’s death, and that Caesar’s body was publicly burned here. The long view of history is on display. Centuries pass, yet the might of the Roman Empire endures.
See more Ancient Ruins
Ancient Rome tour over, my traveling companion and I break away from the group in search of lunch. We walk through the Campidoglio, Michelangelo’s grand plaza in front of the Capitoline Museums. We cross in front of the 20th century Victor Emmanuel Monument, and enter the Jewish Ghetto. The streets are lined with pleasant cafes and shops, filled with tourists and locals alike. We have a delicious lunch of spaghetti with clams, fried artichokes, and glasses of Prosecco at Il Giardino Romano. A man plays an accordion on the sidewalk. It is hard for us to imagine the history of the area, of Jews being rounded up by Nazis during World War II. Another layer of the city of Rome.
After lunch, we walk to the Museo di Roma, an art museum located in the gorgeous Palazzo Braschi. We view a major show of works by the artist Artemisia Gentileschi, a rare female Renaissance painter, and one of great talent. We are grateful that our next-door neighbor in Cleveland, a frequent traveler to Italy, has recommended the show.
We negotiate the busy streets and crowds of shoppers as we near our hotel. We pass the Basilica of Sant’Agostino, and I stop in my tracks. We have been searching for a souvenir for our son, and here is a church dedicated to St. Augustine, his namesake. The church is not open, but at the religious gift store across the street, we purchase a small wooden icon of the saint.
In the evening we meet for our last dinner together with the tour group. We take the metro to Ristorante Target, near the Termini Station. We are seated all together at one long table. Wine flows. We toast. One from our group makes a gracious and eloquent speech, summarizing the experience, and thanking Patricia for being the ultimate tour guide. We enjoy a lovely meal of fish, pear salad, and gelato.
Out on the sidewalk, we hug and start our goodbyes—some people are leaving early in the morning. Most of us follow Patricia back to the hotel. We discuss our plans for further travel, or for going home. We exchange contact information. More hugs and goodbyes at the hotel. The tour is coming to the end. I am surprised to feel sad that our time together is already over. In the end, we find that our group of fellow travelers was well matched and compatible, interesting and fun.
Tour Day 10
The tour is officially over after breakfast the next morning, but people have already scattered.
My traveling companion and I have booked three more nights at the Hotel San Carlo, and plan to see more of Rome. We wave goodbye to a van full of our tour mates leaving for the airport as we set off for Vatican City, and Palm Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Square. We are on our own in Rome!