Untitled Page 84
1 Feb. 1960
Dear Anne and Folks,
Golly but today was really fantastic, from beginning to end. It's now 11:15pm and I'm lying in bed trying to collect my impressions. One good thing - took many pictures, especially this morning which may help to reproduce what we saw.
This morning (9:30-1:30) we had our guided tour of ancient Rome, as I mentioned in yesterday's letter. We spent the whole morning walking among the remains of ancient life, especially the Republican Forum, which for some 500 years was the center of market, religious and civic life. This forum has been excavated quite completely, and though the remains of columns, foundations, etc. are very partial and incomplete, you can get a very clear idea of the size and position of the old basilicas (huge halls for markets and civic functions (local govt.) and even a feeling for the activity and life that existed in the old Forum. The second feeling was one I've already mentioned - sheer awe at the scale of things. You stand at the base of a huge triumphal arch (e.g. those of Septimius Severis or Constantine) and look at its massive beauty; then you walk through the Forum (now sort of like a huge cemetery in basic appearance - many pillar bases, a few standing columns) and look back on the arch at a distance and its just one ordinary looking building in this huge area. From the forum floor we climbed the steps up the Palantine hill, one side of which looks down over the forum, the other on the Circus Maximus, the old chariot racing course. On this hill many of the emperors built their mansions, often several stories in the steep (almost vertical) side of the hill. (Tuesday morning, after falling asleep last night) One of the largest, on the crest of the hill, even had an indoor hippodrome (sports arena) about the size of a football stadium. The largest of all the emperor's residences was Nero's "Golden House", a sprawling thing almost beyond comprehension. The Coloseum was originally built as a fish pond in his gardens!, and his house probably covered several hundred acres, spreading out in several directions from the old forum. The Romans said that if Nero didn't quit building pretty soon, Rome was going to have to move out of town, and it almost seems true.
From the Palantine hill we went down to the Arch of Constantine (about 300 A.D.) and then into the Coloseum. The dimensions here are not as I had imagined them - the size of the arena is less (perhaps 60 yards in diameter), but the height of the surrounding seating area is much greater. It rises quite steeply, probably is a good 4 stories high. The floor of the arena is gone, so that we can see the rooms underneath where animals and performers stayed, from which pulleys and elevators raised them to the stone floor above.
From the Coloseum we walk briefly through the area of the more recent forums of the Roman empire, those of Augustus, Caesar, Tragian, built because Rome had out grown the space in the Republican forum. Then we left our guide - Miss Taylor, an assistant at the Academy of Arts here in Rome, a scholar in ancient archaeology, who tied together and reconstructed life in ancient Rome from every stone or column we passed - and found a small cafe for lunch.
During the afternoon we decided to take advantage of the glorious warm sunny spring weather which we're having here in Rome (for all previous groups it has rained) and so we rented bicycles (4 of us) and rode out to the catacombs specifically those of Saint Sebastian. Took about a half hour tour through the passages, saw old tombs and coffins, and supposedly the place where the apostles Peter and Paul were buried from about 280-340 A.D. (I'm not sure of dates or of the historical sureness of these facts however). Then we rode some 4 miles further into the country along the old Appian Way trying to find the ruins of the aqueducts, but without luck. But we saw a lot of country and had a beautiful ride. Then after dinner we went back to the Forum and Coloseum to see them by night - sort of eerie and very still in the semi darkness. Quite a full and pleasant day. This morning our group (of 22, same as yesterday) tours the Vatican Museum, and this afternoon I don't know what we'll look up. Till, tomorrow
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