It had only been a couple of days since I had arrived in Rome and fulfilled a childhood dream, and even though I had been in the city for a relatively short period of time, I had already managed to get hopelessly lost in the Eternal City. After taking it easy that night, and doing some light exploring the next day, I figured it was time to get to know the history and the city a bit better.
I very rarely take tours in cities.
Wandering a city with no predetermined destination or sight is my typical method of discovery, but with a city like Rome packed with rich history dating back 2,000+ years, I thought it best to experience some of it by the deep knowledge of a guide. Now, if you have been one to take a guided tour of anything in the past, you may agree with me that some tours are either way too boring, way too detailed, or that the guide straight up knows nothing.
Back in 2013 when I attended the Travel Blog Exchange in Toronto I met some representatives of a tour company called Walks of Italy, and promised I’d check them out when I finally reached Italy. Travelers and bloggers I knew had already heaped praises upon their tours, so I reached out to them before arriving and they were excited to help me get to know Rome a bit better.
The first couple of days in Rome I had passed by the Roman Forum numerous times — a sprawling complex of ruins in the center of the city about 2-3 stories beneath the modern-day Roman roads. Each time I couldn’t help but pause and scan across the ancient square at the tall chipped pillars, the old and crumbling brick walls, the carved marble blocks scattered about — and I was trying to re-imagine what everything was and how it may have looked in Ancient Roman times.
This tour helped me do just that.
We met up across the Via dei Fori Imperiali, the main road the runs past the Colosseum and to the Forum complex. After brief introductions and linking us all up with headsets so we can always hear him (something I hadn’t seen on other tours), we were on our way. Descending down a ramp into the Forum brought us to the street level which ancient Rome had been built upon, and over the couple of thousands of years had been buried.
“The most celebrated meeting place in history” — The Forum Romanum, or Roman Forum, stretched out before us — littered with broken pieces of a time long past, and at times forgotten. This was the heart of ancient Rome; where a bustling marketplace met politics, triumphant processions paraded and news from around the empire was announced. It was a beautiful and chaotic square where the heartbeat of the empire was felt, where monuments of great men stood, and where great temples stood reflecting the awe of the gods.
Long grass swayed in an otherwise barren patch of land with the Capitoline Hill (City Hall) towering over the Forum. On the right, the Arcus Severi, or Arch of Septimus Severus still stand proud in triumphant marble, with the pillar remains of the ancient Temple of Saturn on the left.
A closer up look at the Temple of Saturn, the god of the Capitol, of wealth, and of time — yet as the empire faltered and crumbled, so too did Saturn’s reign of time end. Originally build in 497BC, this is the remains of the third incarnation of the temple that had once held the statue of the god in the interior which was veiled and equipped with a scythe, almost as if the Reaper. It would also become the treasury for Rome.
Our guide walking us through historical stories and showing us recreations of the Roman Forum itself, while we sat on the ancient stones that once were apart of that period.
In the forum the Roman Cyprus Trees climbed into the sky.
Stone walls of the buildings which once populated the square, remnants of the beautiful white plaster swathed in colors, still standing as if it had never known the rest of Rome had fallen.
The brick skeleton of the Imperial Palace overlooking the Roman Forum.
The Imperial Palace stands atop Palatine Hill, the supposed birthplace of Rome where Romulus and Remus had come upon the she-wold Lupa who kept the babes alive after they were sent to their deaths down a river from a fearful and superstitious King.
Views of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, built in 495BC and named for the twin sons of Zeus.
The Temple of Antonius and Faustina, built for Emperor Antonius’s deceased wife and later turned into a Catholic Church. Probably the only reason it had survived so intact throughout history
As we walked past the temple, our guide explained that the big scars seen towards the top of the pillars were made from an apparent attempt to pull the pillars down. One which failed.
Large marble blocks populate the path traveling up toward the Palatine Hill, carved with various animals like bulls and horses.
The Triumphant Arch of Augustus, the model for the two other remaining arches in Rome built in 29BC originally for Octavian and later changed to commemorate the battle of Actium against Mark Anthony and Cleopatra.
Fierce war-horses pull a chariot forth in one of the carved scenes in the arch.
After passing by the Arch of Augustus we snaked up toward Palatine Hill and the Imperial Palace. Olive trees lined the old stone Roman road, with flowers bursting from cracks in the stone walls lining, and the Roman cyprus and umbrella pines towering above. It was shaded and cool, a nice contrast from the hot sun of the day, and made for a beautiful fit for a palace.
A regal seagull rests atop a crumbling pillar in the Imperial Palace, almost as if to greet our procession once we reached the remains.
The thin bricks stacked perfectly and once formed the high and astonishing walls of the Imperial Palace, where Emperors such as Augustus and Flavian called home. It had been plastered neatly and painted ornately, and was a place where Roman rulers would meet representatives from other countries to entertain and awe them with the grandiose dwellings fit for a god.
Our guide had painted a picture of the palace for us as it once stood. It had been covered in marble, cold to the touch and perfect for the hot days of summer, with rare marbles like the yellow marble from Africa above. As history wore on, and the empire fell, Palaces like this were stripped of its beauty by raiders, and also Popes whom wanted to decorate their own churches and homes with such rarities.
The open Stadium of Domitian, gardens of the Imperial Palace and private sporting events which were held in the Palace.
In the distance from Palatine hill, the Flavian Amphitheater, or better known as the Colosseum, was our next destination on the tour. At this point my allergies were destroying me, with Mother Nature attacking my face. Though I was miserable, the thought of exploring the Colosseum in parts most don’t get to see drove me to fight on.
The tour so far had already beaten my expectations, with our guide filling each ruin with history and bringing us into the time period, without causing us to age from boredom in the process. I was shocked to have the thought cross my mind that I was enjoying a guided tour, and extremely excited for the next half.
Exploring the Colosseum, something I couldn’t have even imagined doing as a young boy, is going to be a completely different article because the experience was just that damn gnarly.
Have you ever been around the Roman Forum? What guided city tour surprised you?
*Disclaimer* This tour was provided by Walks of Italy to review, but in no way influences the opinions, descriptions, experiences, and use of the word “gnarly” on this blog.