Untitled Page 84




Status: Indexed

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 - I 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 yester-
day'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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