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The Silk Route - World Travel: Trajan's Column,  Rome, Italy
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Italy: Imperial Rome - Pyramid of Cestius, Forums, Colosseum, Baths of Caracalla
2006, 2019

Pyramid of Cestius Roman Forum Imperial Forums Colosseum
Campus MartiusBaths of Caracalla
Colosseum

The glories of Rome take many days to explore but no-one could fail to be impressed by what remains throughout the modern city.
Related pages:
Italy: Foundation of Imperial Rome
Italy: Imperial Rome - Palatine Hill & Domus Aurea
Italy: Post-Imperial Rome

Pyramid of Cestius

Pyramid of Cestius
Initially the pyramid, as with all tombs, lay outside the city walls.

One of the oldest monuments in Rome this pyramid tomb was built in 18-12 BC for Caius Cestius, a magistrate and member of a college of priests. It stands close to the Porta Ostiensis (now Porta San Paolo) on the Via Ostiensis, the major road from Rome to its port at Ostia.

Pyramid of Cestius
Porta Ostiensis
Pyramid of Cestius
Pyramid of Cestius
Porta Ostiensis has two semi-circular towers flanking the entrance gates.

 

The pyramid reflects the Roman taste for all things Egyptian after the country was conquered by Rome in 30 BC. The Emperor Aurelian incorporated the pyramid in his defensive walls in 272-279 AD so saving it from the decay which befell so many Roman monuments.

The base of the pyramid is 100 Roman feet square - 29.5 m - and 125 Roman feet (36.81 m) high.

The urn containing the ashes of Cestius has never been found, with speculation that there is a further, as yet undiscovered, chamber.

Grave of John Keats
On the left is the grave of John Keats, who died in 1821. The stone does not bear his name, simply "Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water" in accordance with his wishes.
On the right is the grave of his friend Joseph Severn, who nursed him through the final fatal stages of tuberculosis.

The pyramid backs onto the Protestant Cemetery where the English poets Keats and Shelley are both buried. As with many green spaces in Rome there are many cats lying around!



Pyramid of Cestius cats

 

Roman Forum

Roman Forum
West end of the Roman Forum from the Palatine Hill looking to the Capitoline Hill.
The Arch of Septimius Severus with the Column of Phocas to its left, The three columns of the Temple of Castor.

The Centre of Roman Life in the Republican era was the Roman Forum, though the origins of the Forum lie back with the Etruscans, native people of the area whose influence eventually spread far into the south of Italy. In Republican times the Forum was not just a political centre but also a centre for commerce and religion. Many temples, the House of the Vestal Virgins, the Senate House (Curia), basilicas, triumphal arches - all could be found here.

The length of the original Forum stretched from the Capitoline Hill to the Palatine Hill,1 though the area defined as the Forum which can be visited today stretches further, on to the Colosseum in the south east. Good vantage points are the Palatine Hill and platforms on the staircase leading down from the back of the Capitoline Museums.

Roman Forum
The complete brown building is the third century Curia, on the right is the Temple of Deified Antoninus and Faustina with a colonnaded porch.
Roman Forum

Dating from 8th century BC it was originally an open space with a stream running through it at the head of a marshy inlet from the Tiber. By the 5th century BC the stream had been diverted underground in the Great Drain (Cloaca Maxima) and the area had became the centre of the Republican city-state, a place for political meetings, rallies and riots, public feast and funerals and the dispensing of justice. Though surrounded by fine aristocratic houses it was not until the Romans came into contact with Greek civilisation, in the 200 years BC when Rome was conquering all before it, that classical monumental buildings began to be built.

It became a matter of prestige for returning victorious generals to rebuild, as impressively as possible, monuments and temples, new styles were incorporated such as colonnaded porticoes and basilicas.

The CuriaThe Curia 2006

Trajan's Column
The Arch of Septimius Severus and Column of Phocas. The 13m column was dedicated in 608 AD, the last monument erected in the Roman Forum. Phocus was a brutal centurion who became the eastern emperor after having emperor Maurice and his five sons killed. 2006

What we see today is a Forum begun by Julius Caesar and extensively remodelled, especially after mayor fires in 14 and 9 BC.

The Forum buildings provided 'offices' for many branches of Imperial administration, but the Forum's principal ceremonial function was state funerals and new buildings were mostly temples for deified emperors.

In A D 283 Diocletian was able to make huge alterations to the Forum as the result of a massive fire, including rebuilding the Senate House.

Trajan's Column
The Curia or Senate House.
Also Column of Phocas and Arch of Septimius Severus

The Curia or Senate House is the most important of the political buildings. First built on the orders of Julius Caesar, this was the seat of highest political power, where up to 300 senators, appointed for life, debated and decided policies and directed military operations.

Roman Forum
Basilica Paulli east of the Curia.
On the left is the solid wall of tufa which separated the basilica from the long Porticus of Gaius and Lucius. The basilica originally dates from 55BC, built by Aemilius Paullus and his sons - hence the name, but was completely burned down in the great fire of 14 BC. It was then rebuilt with the magnificent portico on its west side. At the time it was regarded as one of the most beautiful buildings in the Roman world, paved with fine marble with coloured marble columns.1
Roman Forum
Arch of Septimius Severus from steps leading down from the Capitoline Hill.
On the right is the Column of Phocas and between the two the reconstructed wall of the ancient rostra.

 

Monuments continued to be added throughout the Imperial period.

The arch of Septimius Severus was erected by his sons, Caracalla and Geta, in 203 AD to celebrate their father's victories in Persia. The inscription on both sides on the topmost level tells us that the arch was awarded to the emperor Septimius Severus and his sons Caracalla and Geta for having "restored the Republic and expanded the dominion of the Roman people". Geta's name was erased after Caracalla had him executed.

Roman Forum
Detail of Arch of Septimius Severus.

The triumphal road passed under the central arch before turning hard left then ascending the Capitoline Hill to the Temple of Jupiter.1

Roman Forum
The long green rectangle stretching from the centre back to the Arch of Septimius Severus is the forum square.
On the west (far) side, behind the Column of Phocas, is the reconstructed wall of the ancient Rostra. On the east (near) side the almost clear area of grass is where Diocletian erected his new Rostra, cutting off the Temple of Deified Julius from the forum square (substantial brick foundations of the temple remain, in the lower right corner of the photograph).

Little remains of the ancient Rostra (orators' platform) near the arch of Septimius Severus - this was the place where important speeches were made and probably where Mark Anthony gave his moving speech at Julius Caesar's funeral after his assassination in 44BC. The crowd took over the funeral rites and cremated the body at the other end of the forum square instead of on the Campus Martius where the pyre had been built.1 The spot became revered in the cult of the dead emperor and the triumvirate of Mark Anthony, Octavian (Augustus) and Lepidus ordered a temple to be built here - The Temple of Deified Julius, with its own rostra Julia.

The actual forum square lies between this ancient Rostra and a much later Rostra, built by Diocletian after the fire of 283AD, which cut off the Temple of Deified Julius (Caesar) from the forum square. This area of the forum square, the Basilica Julia and Curia, both also rebuilt, now became the focal point of the Roman Forum.1

Roman Forum
Two reconstructed honorary columns in the Roman Forum. The red brick bases were originally clad in marble and supported columns dedicated to illustrious individuals. The columns here were found in the vicinity and may or may not have belonged on honorary bases.

 

Roman Forum
Cast of marble relief of Curtius throwing himself into the swamp.

Diocletian erected seven honorary columns on the south side of the forum in front of the Basilica Julia and five on the ancient Rostra.

There is a very curious structure near the centre of the southern edge of the open area of the forum square called the Lacus of Curtius. A lacus refers to a pool or swampy area which would describe the ancient site of the forum well. There is a circular altar here as well as a cast of a marble relief from the 1st century BC which is said to depict a noble Roman by the name of Marcus Curtius throwing himself into the swamp on the orders of an oracle.

Trajan's Column
The forum square with steps leading up to the Basilica Julia and the three distinctive columns of the Temple of Castor. 2006
Roman Forum
West End of the Roman Forum

The restored brick wall in the middle left of the photo, this side of the Column of Phocas, is all that remains of the ancient Rostra, probably where Mark Anthony gave his moving speech at Julius Caesar's funeral.

At the front of the photograph is the site of the Temple of Concordia Augusta (Harmony in the Imperial House1), of which very little remains, dedicated by Tiberius in 10 AD. The three columns on a corner belong to the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, and the line of columns behind to the north-facing facade of the Temple of Saturn.

The cult of Saturn is very old but this temple dates from a restoration in the late 4th century AD when paganism was enjoying a revival. In the middle background are the remains of the Basilica Julia with the stumps of many columns.
Roman Forum

The Basilica Julia with the three columns of the Temple of Castor in front. These columns are actually on the side of the temple - it faced north as did the Temple of Saturn on the far side of the Basilica Julia.

The Basilica Julia on the south side of the forum square was vast - 107m long by over 61m wide.

"Julia" comes from Julius Caesar who began the first basilica on this site. The basilica was the seat of the Court of the Hundred which dealt with matters of inheritance and anything up to 180 judges could sit on a trial depending on its importance.

On its east side was the Temple of Castor with its distinctive three remaining columns.

Roman Forum
The Temple of Castor dwarfs the people, demonstrating the monumental scale of ancient Roman buildings.

Castor and Pollux were twin brothers and demi-gods, semi-mythical cavalry heroes.1 Even in Roman times their cult was very old, originating with the Greeks. It was adopted by the Romans when the twins were said to have appeared on their horses amid the Roman army at the height of the Battle of Lake Regillus on 15th July 499 or 496BC and then later the same day in the Forum telling of Roman victory,marking Rome's defeat of the Latins.1

The latest manifestation of the temple is due to Augustus's rebuild and was dedicated by his adopted son and heir Tiberius in 6AD. It was massive, the podium alone was 32m x 50m and rose to almost 7m high. As with the Temple of the Julius, the front of the podium was designed to act as a rostra.The temple itself rose another 18m above the podium, as high as the Basilica Julia.1

Many small chambers within the basilica acted as offices for business connected to the office of weights and measures which was located here, as well as a banking centre and apparently a dentist.

Roman Forum
Roman Forum - Upper Via Sacra - from the Palatine Hill
This view is of the south east half of the forum site, as it is defined when visiting. Amanda Claridge says that, strictly, the Roman Forum is west of the Temple of Romulus, the circular building on the left (west) of the photo. This is the upper Via Sacra.
Roman Forum
The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina - the Church of San Lorenzo in Miranda was installed in its cella in the 7th or 8th century AD.
In the lower half of the photograph is the Temple of Vesta (circular with a reconstructed portion of the white marble wall and columns), and the west end of the House of the Vestal Virgins.
Between the Temple of Antoninus and the Vestal area is a wedge-shaped space, the site of the Regia "Royal Palace" and one of the earliest settlements.

East of the Temple of Castor we are in the region of the Upper Via Sacra. The western edge is marked by the Temple of Deified Antoninus and Faustina, the Regia and Temple of Vesta and House of the Vestal Virgins.

The Temple of Deified Antoninus and Faustina was originally built by Antoninus for his wife who was deified by the senate when she died an 140AD. When Antoninus died and was deified in his turn twenty years later he was added to the dedicatory inscription.

House of the Vestal Virgins
The Temple of Vesta 2006

Though Regia means Royal Palace it is thought that this was rather yet another sacred place as excavations have uncovered a shrine of Mars. Further investigation has revealed that an aristocratic house once occupied this site in Etruscan times, by the seventh century BC.

The circular Temple of Vesta stands at one end of the House of the Vestal Virgins. Both date from around the second century AD.

Vesta was goddess of the household hearth and greatly revered in Roman society. Inside the temple the flame of Vesta was kept burning by the Vestal Virgins as a sacred duty.

House of the Vestal Virgins
House of the Vestal Virgins 2006
The statues line the north edge of what was the vast central atrium.

There were six Vestals at any one time, each serving for at least thirty years, from the age of six to ten. They were required to remain chaste as the embodiment of Rome and The Roman State.

Though they enjoyed special privileges they could also be sacrificed to save the state in times of dire need. If they broke the vow of chastity - and an accusation would be enough - they would be buried alive outside the Colline Gate.1

On the east side of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina on the Via Sacra stands the Temple of Deified Romulus. Between these two is an ancient burial area where forty burial urns containing the ashes of the deceased have been unearthed. These burials from the ninth to the sixth century BC are evidence of the oldest settlement.

The circular Temple of Deified Romulus dating from the fourth century AD still retains its original bronze doors.

Roman Forum
Temple of Deified Romulus
In the lower area of the photograph is the House of the Vestal Virgins with statues lining the north edge of the atrium.

 

Roman Forum
Temple of Deified Romulus interior.
Mid 13th century fresco of canopies.

Originally the central circular chamber was flanked by two long halls which extended forward to the Via Sacra - the two columns of the porch of the eastern hall still survive. The Romulus in question is not the legendary founder of Rome but the deified son of the emperor Maxentius who died at the age of 4 in 309AD.1

Roman Forum
Late 13th century frescoes in the Temple of Deified Romulus.

 

 

The building connects with a large offset rectangular hall behind, which in turn opened onto the Temple or Forum of Peace which stood just outside an entrance to the Roman Forum. Thus the building probably acted as the entrance to the Temple of Peace from the Via Sacra.

The interior is painted with Christian frescoes from when the hall of the Temple of Peace was converted into the Christian Basilica of Sts Cosmas and Damian in the early fifth century AD and the circular building continued to act as an entrance.

Roman Forum
Basilica Nova

The east end of the Via Sacra is dominated by the vast halls of the Basilica Nova - also called Basilica of Maxentius or of Constantine - construction was begun under Maxentius (306-312 AD) and finished under Constantine (306-337 AD).

Roman Forum
Basilica Nova - also called Basilica of Maxentius or of Constantine

 

Roman Forum
The Arch of Titus (81-82 AD) at the east end of the Forum with the Colosseum beyond.

Arch of Constantine
Arch of Constantine 2006

Diocletian had split the empire in two, east and west, and introduced a tetrarchy to ease the burden on a single emperor. Thus there was an emperor for east and west, each choosing a deputy, called a caesar, who would follow as emperor when the incumbent died or abdicated after 20 years. This quickly led to confusion and dispute when sons desired to succeed their fathers as emperor, despite not being caesar.

In 306 AD Maxentius and Constantine, both sons of previous emperors, both claimed the western Imperial throne. There followed years of war between the pair until the Battle of Milvan Bridge in 312 AD when Constantine finally defeated Maxentius to become emperor in the west.

Arch of Constantine
Arch of Constantine

Constantine, the first Christian emperor, moved the capital to Byzantium, developing the Greek city and renaming it Constantinople. Just outside the Forum, close to the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine which commemorates Constantine's victory over Maxentius.

In its time the Roman Forum would have been one of the busiest places on the planet, crowded with people from all walks of life and professions, and ringing to the sound of commerce, business, debate and speeches.

 

Imperial Forums

Fourm of Augustus Rome
Temple of Mars the Avenger in the Forum of Augustus
Augustus erected the temple to honour his uncle and adoptive father Julius Caesar. High walls were built behind it as a protection against fire spreading from the densely populated area of Subura behind.

From the time of Caesar, new forums were built north east of the original Roman Forum, complete with temples, commercial premises, law courts, etc.

The modern day Via dei Fori Imperiali, created for Mussolini's Fascist parades, slices right through the area.

Julius Cesar began his in 54 BC, though it had been planned before that.1 It lies just behind the Curia stretching north west, easily visible from street level along the Via dei Fori Imperiali. Rectangular in shape roughly 11545 m, each long side was a double-aisled porticus 16 m wide. Tabernae, barrel-roofed shops, were built outside the south west porticus. They supported a second level which opened onto the street (clivus Argentarius -'the Bankers' Rise") behind. There was also a luxury latrine here! The north west end of the forum was dominated by the Temple of Venus Genetrix - 'universal mother' from whom Caesar's family claimed descent. An orators platform was incorporated at the front of the temple as in large temples within the Roman Forum.

At right angles to Caesar's Forum, lying across what is now the Via dei Fori, was Augustus's Forum, built towards the end of the1st century AD.

Again a large temple dominates, this one dedicated to the war-god Mars Ultor - 'the Avenger'. It had been pledged by Octavian at the Battle of Philippi in which the assassins of Caesar were defeated. Like the Venus temple in Caesar's forum, the steps leading up to the temple were flanked by fountains. It was decreed by Augustus that the Senate should meet here when discussing wars and the award of triumphs. The porticoes on the long sides of the forum were intended as venues courts of justice. How marvellous it must have looked: coloured marble pavements and columns, statues of Aeneas,ancestor of the Julians, Romulus, Julio-Cludians and great Republicans as well as personifications of people conquered by Augustus. In the north west corner stood a colossal statue. over 10m High, either of the deified Julius Caesar, or of Augustus himself.

forum of peace, rome
Part of the Temple or Forum of Peace.
In the background is the Curia in the Roman Forum.

East of Caesar's Forum lay the Forum of Nerva, actually built by Domitian to commemorate the Dacian wars in 89 AD and east again the massive Temple or Forum of Peace, dedicated by Vespasian in 75AD. The temple was actually a complex which included a cult chamber dedicated to peace within a huge courtyard and garden. It was built by the Emperor Vespasian with spoils from the Jewish wars and rebuilt by Septimius Severus after a fire in 192AD.

forum of peace, rome
Representation of the cult chamber in the Temple of Peace on the site information board. The chamber held precious artefacts taken from the destroyed Temple of Jerusalem.

Twice the size of the Forum of Augustus and lying west of it, the Forum of Trajan was dedicated over a century later, and was paid for by spoils of the conquest of Dacia. These wars had resurfaced under Trajan.

Roman Forum
12th century statue of the Emperor Trajan on the Via dei Fori Imperiali.
Roman Forum
Trajan's Forum
Lower right was a sunken colonnaded courtyard which lay between Trajan's Forum and the Forum of Augustus to the right (south east). At upper right is the 12th century House of the Knights of St John with a delicately colonnaded loggia; middle left in the background is the curved red brick facade of Trajan's Market.
Roman Forum
Columns of the Basilica Ulpia, Trajan's Column and the Church of the Most Holy Name of Mary.

Trajan's Forum was unashamedly triumphal, celebrating his successes against the Dacians: carved marble barbarian captives, representations of standards of the legions which had fought in the war and a colossal equestrian statue of Trajan himself in military dress. A high perimeter wall rose behind the forum to protect its precious marbles and statues from fire. The curved building of Trajan's markets was home to around 150 terraced shops on three levels on the flank of the Quirinal Hill, a centre for the distribution of supplies.

Roman Forum
Trajan's Forum was extensively built on in medieval times, here can be seen the remains. In the distance are the columns of the Basilica Ulpia and Trajan's Column.
Trajan's ColumnTrajan's Column

 

Trajan's Column - detail
Trajan's Column

The vast Basilica Ulpia lay to the north west of the forum and was also built by Trajan but using his own money. It was inaugurated on the same day as the forum in January 112, the largest basilica built in Rome at the time. Here were law courts and the venue for displays of public generosity such as the cancelling of debts.

Trajan's Column - detail

A small colonnaded courtyard could be reached from the centre of the upper level of the north west lay side of the basilica. Within the courtyard stood the Column of Trajan, 38 m high and wider at the top than at the base to avoid the illusion of narrowing with height. This beautiful column depicts Trajan's wars against the Dacians in a series of finely sculpted scenes completely covering the exterior, winding up from the base. Originally a statue of Trajan was placed on the top but this was replaced by  the current statue of St Peter by Pope Sixtus V.

Inside there is a spiral staircase, carved directly into the solid stone. It leads to a platform around the statue from where there must be very fine views.

Trajan's Column - detail

 

 

Colosseum

The Colosseum
Andrew at the Colosseum. 2006
The Colosseum
2006
The Colosseum
2006

 

The emperor Nero, infamous for his debauchery and extravagance, committed suicide in 68 AD when the senate had finally had enough of him and switched allegiance to Galba. The very short reigns of Galba, Otho and Vitellius - all of the order of months - followed and then the first of the Flavians: Vespasian.

 

The Colosseum
The Colosseum seen from the Palatine Hill above the Forum.

Vespasian built the Colosseum on the site of the vast ornamental lake of Nero's Domus Aurea. It is the largest Roman amphitheatre in the world, an oval 189m long and 156m wide, the arena itself 83m long and 48m wide. Here were played out impressively extravagant spectacles - extravagant as much in human and animal life as in their expense.

The Colosseum
In 2019 much of the arena was covered.

The Colosseum was in use for hundreds of years and over time a system was developed to raise performers, animals and elaborate sets from the underground levels to the arena via shafts, ramps and trap doors. It is said that Titus, Vespasian's son who completed the Colosseum, had a sea battle performed here by flooding the arena with water.

The Colosseum
Part of the senatorial seating area.

In 2006 there was no decking covering the floor of the Colosseum and it was possible to see right into the lower levels where animals and gladiators waited before entering the arena.

Ludus Magnus
Ludus Magnus
Rectangular foundations of the barracks lower left to mid right. Mid left is the curved wall of the east end of the oval arena.

The best seating,apart from that of the emperor, was reserved for the senators, closest to the arena - they brought their own chairs!1 Above them were ranged all the other spectators in decreasing order of rank until, right at the top were women and slaves!

 

The Colosseum
The Colosseum seen from the Temple of Roma & Venus in the Forum. 2006

East of the Colosseum is the Ludus Magnus the foremost of the four gladiatorial training schools set up by Domitian (81-96AD). Building works in 1937 uncovered about half of the practice arena and barracks which rose to three levels. The courtyard within the barracks was surrounded by columns and had fountains at each corner but the internal space was almost totally covered by the practice arena, which was 63m long by 42m wide, with tiered seating - watching gladiatorial practice was a popular pastime. A tunnel connected the Ludus Maximus with the Colosseum.

 

Campus Martius

Largo della Torre Argentina
Largo di Torre Argentina. 2006
Temple A and behind was the Theatre of Pompey.

 

A large open area north of the Capitoline Hill, enclosed by a loop of the Tiber was consecrated to Mars, the god of war. In Republican times it was used for military training and exercises, with specific areas set aside for horse and chariot races.1 Every five years the census was taken here, and the space was also used for public meetings and voting. In the third and second centuries BC many victory temples were built in the southern area including those whose remains can be seen in the Largo di Torre Argentina.

Largo della Torre Argentina
Largo di Torre Argentina
Looking south west, the columns are of the circular Temple B.

Shipyards lined the riverbank and housing was built on the higher ground to the east where it was less marshy.

During Imperial times even the lower flood plain was built on. Theatres had already begun to appear in association with temples, that of Pompey, 55 BC, had no less than five temples. Even an amphitheatre was built, the first stone amphitheatre in the city.

Agrippa, Octavian/Augustus's General who defeated Anthony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. built the first version of the Pantheon around 26 BC.

Baths were developed with gardens and a lake, altars and elite family tombs were erected, until the Campus had completely lost its original function.

The Pantheon
The Pantheon on Piazza della Rotunda, few tourists in 2006.

Under Hadrian (117-138) the empire reached its greatest extent with the conquest of Britain as far north as the Roman Wall marking the boundary with Scotland. Hadrian completed the Pantheon we see today, after the first version was destroyed by the great fire of 80 AD and its replacement, built by Domitian, was struck by lightning and again burned down in 110 AD.

The Pantheon
Pantheon 2006

 

Pantheon Inside the Pantheon. 2006
Pantheon
Column of Marcus Aurelius and Faustina
Piazza Colonna
Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona

 

The inscription on the building reads: M.AGRIPPA.L.F.COS.TERTIUM.FECIT - M(arcus) Agrippa L(ucius) F(ilius) Tertium, fecit - "Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, on his third consulship, built this", added by Hadrian.

One of my favourite Roman buildings, but extremely crowded at popular times now. Its dome is a perfect hemisphere, 44.4m in diameter.

The Temple of Deified Hadrian was built by Hadrian's son Antoninus Pius in the second century. Today 11 columns and a wall of the cella still stand, incorporated into a modern building.

Temple of Deified Hadrian
Temple of Deified Hadrian on Piazza di Pietra.
Piazza Colonna
Column of Marcus Aurelius and Faustina
Piazza Colonna

 

His son Marcus Aurelius erected a column and altar dedicated to his father. Not to be outdone Marcus Aurelius' son Commodus erected a column, altar and temple to his parents, Deified Marcus Aurelius and Faustina. The site of the column is now Piazza Colonna. Like Trajan's Column this had a spiral staircase inside. The carving on the outside is even more deeply incised. Pope Sixtus the Fifth placed the bronze statue of St. Paul on the top, presumably a statue of Marcus Aurelius stood there originally.

fatamorgana gelateria

The Stadium of Domitian built in 86 AD lay right in the middle of the old Campius Martius. A long narrow space which is almost perfectly occupied now by Piazza Navona. The stadium was designed for athletic contests and had a running track and seating for up to 30,000 spectators.

The obelisk on one of the fountains of the piazza did not originally stand in the stadium, though it does bear a script eulogising Domitian, his father Titus and grandfather Vespasian.

There is a terrific gelateria, Fatamorgana, tucked away in the back streets on Via dei Chiavari at the junction with Vicolo dei Chiodaroli. Superb range of flavours: pineapple/ginger, chocolate/orange and truly excellent licorice and a Kentucky chocolate - chocolate/tobacco! Basil, walnuts and honey anyone? There's a caffeteria on the corner there too if you need further refreshment!

fatamorgana gelateria
Fatamorgana Gelateria

 

Baths of Caracalla

One of my favourite places in Rome.

Baths of Caracalla
Baths of Caracalla from a site information board.

Caracalla, son of Septimius Severus, was emperor from 198 to 217 AD and has left to posterity, amongst other building projects, his Baths, which give a good impression of the sheer size of buildings in the Imperial era.

Baths of Caracalla
Looking from the natatio across the frigidarium to the remains of the caldarium.

South east of the main city, the walls rise almost to their full height, about 30m. The Baths are some of the largest ever created with facilities for 1600 people and extending over 25 acres. Anyone was allowed to use them, though the poorest would have had fewer slaves to help. The interior was rich with marble paving and mosaic, gilded stucco and multi-coloured marble, porphyry and granite columns. The baths were in use until 537AD when the Goths damaged the aqueducts supplying Rome with water.

Baths of Caracalla
Plan of the Baths from a site information board.
North-west to the right where the entrance is located.

The rectangular complex has a palaestrum at each short side and a Natatio, Frigidarium, Tepidarium and Calidarium running through the centre between them.

Baths of Caracalla
North-west palaestrum.
Baths of Caracalla
Baths of Caracalla
North-west palaestrum.
Baths of Caracalla
South-east palaestrum.

 

 

The palaestra were spaces used for training and practice of boxing and wrestling. In these Baths the floors of the palaestrume were covered with beautiful mosaics. On the lower level curvilinear designs with panels of athletes and judges. On the floor above the palaestra the mosaics had marine motifs such as dolphins which have collapsed onto the lower level.

 

Baths of Caracalla
Marine mosaic from an upper floor.
Baths of Caracalla
Marine mosaic from an upper floor.

In the south-east palaestrum some of the original cornice has survived but otherwise there is very little decorative detail left in place on the walls.

Baths of Caracalla
Baths of Caracalla
Entrance from the frigidarium to the south-east palaestrum.
Baths of Caracalla
Decorative cornice in the south-east palaestrum.
naples
Farnese Bull
3rd c A.D. copy of a Greek original.
Originally excavated from the Baths of Caracalla, now part of the Farnese Collection in the Archaeological Museum, Naples.

 

 

 

A magnificent sculpture, the Farnese Bull, once stood probably in the south-east palaestrum. Sculpted from a single block of marble it represents the killing of Dirce by Amphion and Zethus, by tying her to the horns of a bull, in revenge for her cruelty to their mother Antiope.

Baths of Caracalla
Natatio
This was a vast swimming pool, the walls lined with niches containing statues of athletes.
Baths of Caracalla
Cross-section through the natatio and frigidarium looking to the entrance to the south-east palaestrum. From site information board.

 

Baths of Caracalla
Baths of Caracalla
Eastern apodyterium with staircase leading to the upper level.
2006
Baths of Caracalla
Romans loved to play board games like this one carved into the edge of the pool of the Natatio - played while lounging in the water. It is known as "tropa" or "hole game" played with marbles, walnuts or knucklebones. The aim was to get a walnut into the holes in a specific order and then across the line.

Baths of Caracalla
Western apodyterium.
Baths of Caracalla
The pool could be entered from the frigidarium through the arches.

The Natatio was an unroofed olympic-size swimming pool with apodyteria (changing rooms) at both ends. The pool could also be entered directly from the frigidarium.

naples
Hercules at Rest
3rd c A.D
Originally in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome,
now part of the Farnese Collection in the Archaeological Museum, Naples.
Baths of Caracalla
Baths of Caracalla
Figured capitals from the frigidarium now in the underground museum. The left shows Hercules at rest.

 

 

 

The frigidarium was a monumental hall with four cold water pools.

A famous statue of Hercules once stood in the frigidarium. Hercules was a great favourite of the Severus family and was depicted in many places in the Baths. One of the most famous capitals of ancient Rome, showing Hercules leaning on his club, was also found in the frigidarium.

The tepidarium, warm water baths, lay between the frigidarium and the circular caldarium where the water was typically heated to around 40°C.

 

Baths of Caracalla
The long south-west side of the baths where the caldarium occupied a central position.

In 2006 it was very atmospheric, as no-one else was here. We went back in 2019 and though there were a good number of people visiting it was still not too crowded. There are two wide paths through the ruins, and you can hire a VR headset to see how the baths once looked, also depicted on the information boards now dotted around the ruins.

 

 

References

  1. Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide By Amanda Claridge; Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 2010