Rome - Sightseeing - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

As far as sightseeing, Rome is one hell of a place to be a tourist. We can’t imagine being in Rome during prime tourist season in the summer. Even now, some of the most famous sights – the Colosseum, Pantheon, Forum, Trevi Fountain, and Spanish Steps – were jam packed with tour groups. Touring these sights was pretty overwhelming for two reasons:

The hundreds of buildings, monuments, and fountains were in decent enough shape to paint a picture in our minds of the sheer magnitude, extravagance, and rich history of the Roman Empire. It really brought to life what we learned in school and stuff that we had no clue about!
The stifling crowds made it difficult to stay at any one place for too long. Our fight or flight instinct kicked in during our trip to Vatican Museum(~ 4 miles of museum!) during a particularly rainy and steamy day. Flight won out for a few reasons: No air flow, bad ventilation, bodies packed into each room like sardines, and people throwing elbows!

Overall, the sightseeing was pretty cool. The good news is that we didn’t get robbed as all of our guidebooks warned. Maybe we have just learned how to not look so touristy. Nah, our quick-dry pants and backpacks give us away!

We spent quite a bit of time in the Sistine Chapel (the personal chapel of the Pope) with a great book to help us decipher Michael Angelo’s fine artwork. The guy was a sculptor, not a painter and was resistant to actually working on the project. After negotiating the condition that he could paint the chapel his own way (except for the inclusion of the 12 Apostles), Michael Angelo spent four years lying on scaffolding with paint dripping in his eyes painting the 600 sq. meter ceiling in its entirety. The Sistine Chapel, which depicts the story of creation, is considered the single greatest work of art completed by any one human being.

The 2,000 year old Colosseum, which could hold over 50,000 people, was even more interesting at night because there weren’t as many tourists around.

The Forum was the heart of the Roman Empire. The size of a few modern city blocks, the Forum was the center of the Western civilized world in its time filled with the most important temples and halls of justice. Speeches, parades, and religious processions were commonplace. Much of the Forum is now rubble but we could really imagine the chariots, white marble-faced buildings, columns, and fountains.

The Arch of Titus located in the Forum commemorates the Roman victory over the province of Judea (Israel) in C.E. 70. This was quite a significant battle for both Jews and Romans. The Romans were known as tolerant of local customs of the territories it conquered, as long as the these peoples pledged allegiance to the Empire by worshipping the current emperor as a god. Most conquered territories worshipping many different gods, so adding the Roman emperor to the list was no big deal. Alternatively, the Israelites revolted against this Roman requirement since Jews are monotheistic. The revolt was crushed; the Romans sacked the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and conquered Judea. Without a center of center of religion, the Jews scattered throughout the world. One of the reliefs on the Arch depicts the sacking of the temple – soldiers carrying a Jewish candelabrum and other plunder.

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