Caput Mundi

162 Caput MundiTutte le strade conducono a Roma, cioé alla Cittá Eterna (All roads lead to Rome, i.e. to the Eternal City)…. Do you agree with that? For sure, yes, because the city is supposed to have been the Caput Mundi (the capital of the world) in Ancient Roman times. I might say that this has still been true because there is no other place where one can make a jump from the ancient times to present passing through the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Wait, wait … I lied 🙂 …. Rome’s competitors are Athens and Lisbon in terms of the concentration of ancient ruins and rich cross-period history. Another thing the three ancient cities have in common is the fact that the three of them were built on seven hills, Rome having become almost a synonym of the “City of the seven hills”.

R   O   M   A     A   N   T   I   C   A

The establishment of the city of Rome is connected with the famous legend of the two twin brothers – Romulus and Remus, who were abandoned at the banks of the Tiber soon after their birth. They were brought up by a she-wolf that took and fed them.  When they grew up, the two boys wanted to found a new city but there was a disagreement between them on which hill to establish it. Romulus preferred the Palatine Hill while his brother wanted to establish the town on the Aventine Hill. Thus their constant quarrels led to the murder of Remus by his brother who finally founded the new city in 753 BC and named it after himself, i.e. Rome. Connected to this myth, the modern city of Rome is always related to city’s mascot and the original bronze statue of the she-wolf suckling the two brothers, which is to be on display inside the Capitoline Museums on the hill of the same name.

162 Caput Mundi_10Capitolinus was the hill of Gods and temples, and later of the Ancient Roman government. That’s why it lent its name to the term “capitol” (capital) and the Latin nickname of the city – Caput Mundi. Being the “kingdom” of Gods, the Capitoline Hill and Foro Romano (the Roman Forum) have still housed the ruins of the temples of the Gods and Goddesses worshipped by the Ancient  Romans. And yes, the Romans had plenty of Gods and Goddesses for “any occasion”. They were mainly “imported” from Ancient Greece but with Roman names. On the other hand, Roman emperors themselves became Gods and were worshipped as such.  Last but not least, the Roman Forum is the place where you might visit the Temple of the Vestal Virgins. These small 10-year old girls were brought to the temple and played the role of priestesses in Ancient Roman times, who took care that the eternal sacred flame of Rome never went out (if it did, that brought bad luck to the city) as well as they presided over various religious rituals dedicated to the great number of Gods and Goddesses worshipped at that time. Nowadays the ruins of il Foro Romano is resided by other “Gods”, a community of wild cats which sleep among them. This is strange to you, isn’t it? But it is not to locals as there is a law in today’s Rome that protects and allows street cats to live freely at the place where they were born. Because of that the Roman Forum is a nice dwelling for them; their “cat sanctuary” is also the ruins of the four Republican Temples and of Pompey’s Theatre at the Largo di Torre Argentina Square; and you might see them climb the walls of the Colosseum.

162 Caput Mundi_11Yes, just imagine a wild cat climbing up and down the walls of l’Anfiteatro Flavio (the Flavian Amphitheatre). I myself cannot imagine it because I have always related Il Colosseo to fearful gladiators, much bigger wild animals like lions, tigers, etc. (not street cats), and mock boat and sea battles. The Coliseum was built by the three emperors of the Flavian dynasty (Vespasian, Titus and Domitian) and that’s why it is also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre. As to its more popular name – the Coliseum or Colosseum, it’s thought to have derived from a colossal statue of Nero that used to be situated nearby (unfortunately, today we could only see its base somewhere there between the Flavian Amphitheatre and the Temple of Venus and Roma). The statue itself owed its name to the Colossus of Rhodes, actually, and even Nero’s successors remodelled it by adding a solar crown and dedicated it to the Sun God Helios and Roman Apollo. Thus the name Colosseum was coined and nowadays it’s widely used as a name of the glamorous and splendid arena that managed to hold between 50-80 000 spectators during gladiatorial contests and other public spectacles (about 500 000 people are supposed to have lost their lives and around one million wild animals were killed during the battles at il Colosseo till the last gladiatorial fight in 435 AD). I will open a bracket. Both the Coliseum and il Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus) were often filled with water from the nearby Tiber and naval battles were staged there when Ancient Roman emperors needed bloodier mass entertainment and naumachia shows. The bracket closed.

162 Caput Mundi_12If you haven’t still headed for the Palatine Hill, take a few moments to admire the triumphal arch of Rome, i.e. Arco di Costantino (Arch of Constantine). The idea of erecting it was given by the Roman Senate and the aim was to commemorate Constantine I’s feat and victory over Maxentius. The Arch stood on Via Triumphalis which was Roman emperors’ parade way which they went along when they entered the city in triumph.

162 Caput Mundi_13Step-by-step you are moving to the other famous hill on which Augustus laid the foundations of the long-lasting emperors’ tradition of building their palaces. That’s why the Palantine Hill lent its name to the word “palace” (English), “palazzo” (Italian), “palacio” (Spanish), “palais” (French) and so on. It’s a curious fact that concrete is the Ancient Romans’ invention dating back to some 2100 years ago. Their concrete-cement techniques were widely used in the construction of aqueducts and bridges, palaces, buildings and monuments not only in Rome but also throughout the Mediterranean basin.

162 Caput Mundi_14Apart from this, the Ancient Romans were great builders of roads which we’ve still been using like Via Appia (connecting Rome with Brindisi) or Via Egnatia (running through Albania, FYR Macedonia, Hellas and European Turkey) and many others (the examples are too many). Their road network was about 53 000 miles long and it connected all sides of the empire that spanned at a territory of 2.5 million km2 in its peak period, i.e. in 117 AD. Each Roman mile was equal to 1 000 paces and was marked by a milestone. That’s why the proverb that “All roads lead to Rome” has still been true. 🙂

162 Caput Mundi_15Being still in Caput Mundi, a must-visit is Fori Imperiali (Imperial Fora). Briefly said, the term fora stands for certain emperors’ public squares or forums (i.e. smaller public political, religious and economic centres) built separately from the Roman Forum but very close to it. They were several in number and were built in only century and a half from 46 BC to 113 AD. That Imperial Fora initiative was started by Julius Caesar when The Forum of Caesar was inaugurated in 46 BC while Il Forum Traiani (Trajan’s Forum) was the last one in the Imeprial Fora series. Integral parts of Trajan’s Forum (inaugurated in 112) are the famous Colonna Trainna (Trajan’s Column) that was erected one year later and in whose square base Trajan’s ashes were put in a golden urn and buried. The second emblematic landmark of this forum is Mercati di Traiano (Trajan’s Market) that is the first-ever shopping mall. It was constructed on multi levels where shops and apartments were placed. A great variety of goods and grocery items was sold at that market including dormice and weird and exotic food like flamingo, for example, for the rich.

162 Caput Mundi_16Being on the topic of the nutrition habits of the Ancient Romans, we should say that wealthy people didn’t respect tables and chairs and they always had dinner and lunch lying down on couches. They brought food to the mouth with their right hand while propping themselves on the left hand. Moreover, it might sound disgusting to you but it was common for them to vomit between the meals so that they could mandare giù (eat) more. As for drinking, wine was a common drink in Ancient Rome. Ancient Roman ladies weren’t angels and most of them spent their day sitting around and drinking wine. That’s why their husbands checked their breath by kissing them on the mouth at the end of the day. Romantic, a? 😉

162 Caput Mundi_17After a splendid Ancient Roman-style meal people took time to go to the forerunner of all modern places of worship – the Pantheon. Before that men dressed up in togas and women – in stolas (female togas). Their clothes were carefully cleaned in urine (don’t make such faces and don’t frown … urine contains ammonia which is a strong bleaching agent) at the public laundries. On the other hand, women took much care of their hair, red and blond being the most spread-out colours, by dying it with goat fat and beech wood ashes.

162 Caput Mundi_18So, these wealthy people headed to the small temple dedicated to all Roman Gods. The Pantheon (the word derives from the two Greek words pan “everything” and teon “divine”) was built in the course of two years (27 – 25 BC) by Marcus Agrippa. The place chosen for erecting it was not random. It was where Romulus died and was captured by an eagle and brought to the skies near the Gods. After it had been built, it was restored twice and the reason was always fire. First, Domitian got it restored in 80 AD and thirty years later Emperor Hadrian got it rebuilt for the second time. Compared to the original, the newly re-built temple was quite different. It had the typical Roman cylindrical structure with a portico and an oculus (a central opening to the sky) mixed with clearly Greek granite colonnade. The 43-metre dome of the Pantheon that is almost 2000 years old has still been holding several world records. It’s the largest and biggest as well as best-preserved unreinforced concrete dome in the world and architecture history (it’s larger even that that of San Pietro).

So, let us stop our Ancient Roman journey at this point. Of course, there are loads of other ancient sites to be visited in Rome but I will leave you to discover them by yourselves when you visit La Cittá Eterna…..  🙂 E adesso? Attraversiamo?! 😀 …… click-click

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