The sites less traveled.
21.05.2013 - 21.05.2013 68 °F
It's Tuesday, May 21st, and today we're planning on catching up on some more of the sites we missed on our first visit, 2 years ago. The main item on our agenda today is the Palatine Hill, the area of ruins adjoining and overlooking the ancient Roman Forum.
We head out of our apartment, and decide to walk up to Via Arenula to Via Florida, and from there to the entrance to the Palatine. Along the way, we get some excellent views of the massive Vittoriano monument from Piazza Venezia.
As we walk along Via dei Fori Imperiali, we start to see the familiar street hustlers. There are the ubiquitous vendors of fake Fendi purses, and this year's trend, "jelly monster" vendors. These guys have a blob of colored material that looks vaguely like a bulbous monster, that they fling to a board on the pavement with great gusto. The "monster" is instantly flattened into a puddle of goo, then slowly reconstitutes itself into its original form. I can't believe anyone buys these things, but there must be money to be made, because vendors selling them are found literally every 20 feet from Venice to Naples.
Another fixture are the living statues. Some of these "street performers" take their job very seriously, covered from head to toe in bronze paint, standing or sprawling, still and unmoving. Others are less formal, wrapping themselves in layers of gold mylar in an impression of King Tut's mummy (not very Roman, I know). Then, there was this guy:
We pass by some of the classic sights of Rome, including the Arch of Constantine, and the Colosseum.
At last, we reach the entrance to the Palatine Hill. Since we're holding Roma Passes, we are able to bypass the enormous line and enter the site. We decide that we should spend a few euros on an audio guide rental, since we don't have a map for the site. For the first time, we realize the single drawback of the Roma Pass...since we didn't pass through the normal ticket booth, we weren't presented the opportunity to obtain either a site map or an audio guide. In order to get one, I have to exit the site, and stand on that enormous line we had just bypassed.
An hour later, audio guide in hand (or in ear, as the case may be), we begin touring the Palatine Hill. At first, we're enchanted by the views of the Forum from up here, but then, as we approach the Teatro, things start to go awry.
The Teatro is covered with scaffolding and green tarps, and is under construction. The pathways that the audio guide is instructing us to take are blocked off. We wind up wandering in the gardens behind the Teatro.
As we try to get oriented, the audio guide is prattling on about sights that we can't pinpoint. Each time we attempt to bet back on track, we're confounded by blocked areas. There are no placards indicating where you are, or what you're looking at. Even the usual numbered cards to coordinate with the audio guide are nowhere to be found. We take photos, but we have no idea what they're photos of. "From here, you can yourself witness the majestic view of the Forum that greeted the senators each day, " says the disembodied voice of our guide. Where?? WHERE ARE WE SUPPOSED TO BE STANDING???
At last, we reach the Domus Flavia. There's supposed to be an octagonal fountain here, surely a sound landmark to orient ourselves upon. We search, but can't find it, despite signs saying that we're right on top of it. Finally, taking a few steps up, we realize why we're having so much trouble....the weeds surrounding it are so high, it's nearly impossible to spot from the pathway.
Our final stop is the Stadium of Domitian, which, at least, is identifiable, even if one end of it is scattered with statues wrapped in white plastic.
It's a shame that the Palatine is so poorly marked, and so poorly maintained. Granted, Italy is experiencing some serious fiscal difficulties at the moment, but the admissions to the sites are not cheap and yet, as we've also seen in Pompeii, the money doesn't seem to be going toward upkeep and maintenance of the sites.
Because we have the audio guide, we have to trudge back to the entry point to return the (worthless) equipment we rented. Since we had to backtrack, it's a long uphill walk to our next stop, the Piazza Campidoglio at the summit of the Capitoline Hill. On our way up, past the Mamartine Prison, we get a beautiful view of the Roman Forum.
The Piazza Campidoglio was designed by Michelangelo, and it shows. Broad steps lead up to an expansive piazza with a distinctive inlaid design, facing the Palazzo del Senatorio. A replica of the famous equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius occupies the spot once held by the original (now indoors in the Capitoline museum).
Continuing our journey, we wander down toward the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, and catch a look at the sculpture "Elephant and Obelisk". This 17th century sculpture incorporates an authentic ancient Egyptian obelisk. Why is the obelisk being carried by an elephant? Well, why not?
Speaking of obelisks, we also stop by the Pantheon, and get a photo of another ancient obelisk erected there, in the Piazza della Rotunda. The Romans sure enjoyed plundering those obelisks from Egypt, didn't they?
With the afternoon wearing away, and admission to another free site still available on our Roma Pass, we stop by the Crypta Balbi. We have no idea what this actually is, but it's got "Crypta" in the name, so we anticipate it will be interesting, right?
The site is actually a museum. It's built on top of the long-buried portico of an annex to the Theater of Balbus, fairly recently discovered and excavated in 1981. The museum has a nice collection of artifacts, but the main attraction is a tour of the excavated areas below. Tours are given at specific times, and language is not an issue, as your guide is utterly silent, descending into the crypt with you, and pointing to placards on the walls without uttering a sound. I am reminded of the Ghost of Christmas Future, pointing to the inscription on Ebeneezer's tombstone.
The area is atmospheric, but photos (as usual) are not permitted in the underground areas, and the descriptive placards are pretty dry. It's hard to visualize what you're really looking at and how it relates to the original structure. We do snap one photo, before we descend into the crypt, but, honestly, since there was no placard, I have no idea what it is or what its function was.
As we head back toward the apartment, we pass through Largo Torre Argentina, a square that serves as a main bus hub. In the center of the square is an area described as the "Area Sacra". This area houses four temples, and the ruins of the Theater of Pompey. It was nearly paved over in 1927, but then historians realized that this was the spot where Julius Caesar was assassinated. E tu, Brute?
Tonight, we head over into the Trastevere district for dinner at Al Fontanone. This small place is not very touristy, and we have some wonderful bruschetta misti, our first taste of cacio e' pepe ( a deceptively simple dish of rigatoni with black pepper and romano cheese), and roast pork and veal.
Tomorrow, we'll be taking day trip to the Umbrian hill town of Orvieto. It should be interesting, so stay tuned!