Tag Archives: Rome

Weekly Photo Challenge: Alphabet – SPQR

I liked everything about Rome and all of these sights but I was intrigued by something much more mundane.

All of the manhole covers displayed the Roman symbol SPQR which, I learned later, is the motto of the city and appears in the city’s coat of arms, as well as on many of the civic buildings.  SPQR comes from the Latin phrase, Senātus Populusque Rōmānus (The Senate and the People of Rome), referring to the government of the ancient Republic. It appeared on coins, at the end of public documents, in dedications of monuments and public works, and was the symbol on the standards of the Roman legions.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Orange, The Italian Town of Marino

Marino Italy

Marino is clearly not a tourist place but instead a traditional Italian living and working town with shabby narrow streets, care worn but brightly colour-washed buildings with ancient coats of paint which have blotched and blurred by successive harsh summers and the result is a glorious wash like water colours leaking in the rain, everything running, flaking and fusing.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Converge – St Peter’s Rome

St Peter's Square, Rome

“From the dome of St. Peter’s one can see every notable object in Rome… a panorama that is varied, extensive, beautiful to the eye, and more illustrious in history than any other in Europe.”                                                                                     Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad

On the way to the Vatican we walked past the Castel Sant’Angelo and into the busy square outside the Basilica where a long queue of people snaked forever around the perimeter waiting for their turn to go inside.  We joined the back of it and were pleased to find that it moved quite quickly towards the main doors and soon we were inside the biggest and the tallest church in the World that has room for sixty-thousand worshippers at one kneeling.

It was busy inside but not uncomfortable and we soaked up the information from the guide’s commentary as we passed by chapels with precious holy relics, the tombs of dead Popes and rooms with glass cases full of religious artefacts.

After the tour was finished we paid for an optional extra and took the five hundred and fifty-one steps to the top of the dome which involved an awful lot of stairs and a tight squeeze at the very top but we were rewarded with wonderful views across the city all the way back to the Colosseum.

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A Virtual Ancient City

Aqueduct of Segovia

It was a long tedious drive from Ephesus to Pamukkale and thinking about the Ephesus experience I thought it would be fun to recall all of the other ancient sites that I have visited and assemble a near perfect virtual ancient city.

Approaching the city the first thing to be seen would be the aqueduct bringing fresh water to the citizens.  The finest aqueduct must surely be that in Segovia in central Spain.  It was built at the end of first to early second century AD by the Romans to bring water from the Río Frío about eighteen kilometres away and requiring an elevated section in its final kilometre from the Sierra de Guadarrama to the walls of the old town.

This is supported by an engineering achievement of one hundred and sixty-six arches and one hundred and twenty pillars constructed on two levels. It is twenty eight metres high and constructed with over twenty thousand large granite blocks, which are joined without mortar or clamps and have remained in place for two thousand years.

Split, Diocletian's Palace

After passing through the arches of the aqueduct the road would lead to a Palace – Diocletian’s Palace from Split in Croatia.  The palace was built as a Roman military fortress with walls two hundred metres long and twenty metres high, enclosing an area of thirty-eight thousand square metres and it is one of the best preserved Roman palaces in existence because after the fall of the Romans within the defensive walls it effectively became the city of Spalatum which eventually evolved and became the modern city of Split.


Inside the city walls there would be the houses of the people who lived in the city, the houses of Herculaneum  near Pompeii in Italy that was destroyed in the same Vesuvius eruption.  But in a different way because where Pompeii was buried in ash, Herculaneum was destroyed by a pyroclastic flow which is  a ground-hugging avalanche of hot ash, pumice, rock fragments, and volcanic gas that rushes down the side of a volcano.  Although it killed all of the inhabitants this flow did little damage to the structures, instead slowly filling them from the bottom up and preserving them perfectly without destroying them altogether.

Volubilis Morocco

After passing through the residential area there would be a magnificent triumphal arch marking the entrance to the civic and public areas.  I think it would be very much like the arch at Voloubilis in Morocco.

Volubilis  was the Roman capital of the Province of Mauritania and was founded in the third century B.C., it became an important outpost of the Roman Empire and was graced with many fine buildings.  Extensive remains of these survive in the archaeological site, located in the middle of this fertile agricultural area.  The city continued to be occupied long after the Romans had gone and at some point converted to Islam and Volubilis was later briefly to become the capital of Idris I, founder of the Idrisid dynasty, who is buried at nearby Moulay Idris.   It is now of course a UNESCO World Heritage Site, admitted to the list in 1997.

Rome The Forum

Once through the Arch into the Forum which for the Romans was the centre of political, commercial and judicial life. This has to be the Forum in Rome.

According to the playwright Plautus the area ‘teemed with lawyers and litigants, bankers and brokers, shopkeepers and strumpets’.  As the city grew  successive Emperors increasingly extended the Forum and in turn built bigger temples, larger basilicas, higher triumphal columns and more lavish commemorative arches.  Here is the Temple of Romulus and the house of the Vestal Virgins and then the Temple of Julius Caesar erected on the very spot that he was cremated following his assassination in 44 BC.

Hierapolis Pamukkale Turkey

Every ancient city needs a theatre and at the end of the forum in this virtual city is the theatre of  Hierapolis at Pamukkale in Turkey, a restored ancient theatre that surely has to be amongst the best that I have ever seen and that includes Segesta in Sicily and Merida in Spain and also (again in my opinion) the ruins that we had visited yesterday at Ephesus.

Temple of Apollo Didyma

Next to the Theatre is the Temple and I am happy to include in this virtual city the Temple of Apollo in Didyma just down the road from Ephesus.  This place would have been huge, one hundred and twenty columns, fifteen metres high and each taking an estimated twenty thousand man days to cut and erect.  It was never completely finished because during the construction process the money kept running out but if it had been then it is said that this would have been one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World in precedence over the Temple of Artemis at nearby Ephesus.

Arles France Amphitheatre

Finally there would be an Amphitheatre and whilst it may seem like madness not to include the Colosseum in Rome I am going to overlook it and include instead the Amphitheatre at Arles in Southern France.  It could also have been the the Amphitheatre in  Pula in Croatia or,Mérida in Spain but there is something majestic about about Arles which just fascinates me.  No one can be absolutely sure about which was the largest in terms of capacity and it is generally agreed that this was the Colosseum but we can be more certain about physical size and there was a plaque nearby that claimed that this was the twelfth largest in the Roman Empire.  Interestingly using this criteria the plaque only listed the Colosseum as second largest but it’s like I have always said size isn’t the most important thing!

So there it is, my virtual Ancient City, just my personal choices and I would be more than happy to consider any alternative suggestions for inclusion.

Ancient Rome


Related Posts:

Spartacus the Gladiator


The Roman City of Pompeii

The Roman City of Herculaneum

The Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

The Aqueduct of Segovia

The Roman Buildings at Mérida

The Roman Ruins at Segóbriga

Diocletian’s Palace at Split

The Roman Buildings at Arles


The Greek and Roman Ruins at Empuria, Catalonia

The Palace of Knossos in Crete

Athens and Ancient Greece

The Acropolis Museum in Athens


Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray

Marino Italy

Marino was clearly not a tourist place but instead a traditional Italian living and working town with shabby narrow streets, care worn but brightly colour-washed buildings with ancient coats of paint which have blotched and blurred by successive harsh summers and the result is a glorious wash like water colours in the rain, everything running, leaking and fusing.

Read the full story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters

I liked all of these sights in Rome but I was intrigued by something at pavement level.  All of the manhole covers displayed the Roman symbol SPQR which, I learned later, is the motto of the city and appears in the city’s coat of arms, as well as on many of the civic buildings.

SPQR comes from the Latin phrase, Senātus Populusque Rōmānus (The Senate and the People of Rome), referring to the government of the ancient Republic. It appeared on coins, at the end of public documents, in dedications of monuments and public works, and was the symbol on the standards of the Roman legions.

Read the full story…

Italy at Mini-Europe


Mini-Europe is a theme park located near Brussels in Belgium and has reproductions of monuments in the European Union on show, at a scale of 1:25. Approximately eighty cities and three hundred and fifty buildings are represented and Italy is represented by six mini-models.

In terms of the real thing I have visited five out of the six.

Reflection in a Venice Canal

First of all, and rather inevitably, Venice the second most visited city in Italy after Rome and Mini-Europe provides a model of St Mark’s Square, the Campanile and the Doge’s Palace.

Alexander Herzen said of Venice that “To build a city where it is impossible to build a city is madness in itself, but to build there one of the most elegant and grandest of cities is the madness of genius”  but at least at Mini-Europe it is sensibly on dry land.

Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Doumo

Next is the Leaning Tower of Pisa which is probably one of the most instantly recognisable buildings in Europe and probably the whole World.  I can certainly remember it from a school encyclopaedia article and when I was a young boy I was always intrigued by the concept of a building listing so perilously to one side that it was apparently just waiting for a strong wind to topple it over.

I had secretly suspected that the pictures had exaggerated the buildings predicament so I was astounded when I actually saw it for the first time and was able to satisfy myself that this tower really does lean over a very long way indeed.

Siena piazza del campo

Nearby is the Palazzo Publico from Siena which I visited one day in pouring rain in March 2006 so didn’t see it at its very best.  I had always wanted to visit Siena ever since I saw the film star matinée idol Stewart Grainger swashbuckling to equine victory in the ‘Swordsman of Siena’ and to see the venue for the famous annual Palio horse race.

This is probably the most famous festival in Tuscany and was first recorded in the year 1273 and is a colourful medieval pageant that takes place twice a year on 2nd July and 16th August.   It is so-called because riders race each other for a Palio or winners banner and it is a competition where seventeen seriously crazy jockeys hurtle bareback around a confined square with dangerously adjacent buildings and perilously close spectators; I have concluded that they are probably taxi drivers for the rest of the year.

Vesuvius the crater

Although Mount Vesuvius doesn’t make it onto the UNESCO World Heritage List, having been edged out by Mount Etna in Sicily it does get included at Mini-Europe where it regularly erupts to the delight of the visitors.

Guests may think this amusing but if it really was to erupt again then the consequences are potentially disastrous.  It is difficult to be precise but scientists think that Vesuvius formed about twenty-five thousand years ago and today the volcano is rated as one of the most dangerous in the world – not because of its size but because of the proximity of millions of people living close by and if it was to go off again with a similar eruption to the one that destroyed Pompeii in 79 then it is estimated that it could displace up to three million people who live in and around Naples.  The volcano has a major eruption cycle of about two thousand years so the next eruption is dangerously imminent.

Trulli Houses Alberobello Puglia Italy

Next are the Trulli houses of Alberobello which I visited and stayed in on my latest Italian journey.  Although our accommodation had been restored and modernised to make it suitable for holiday accommodation it was a genuine traditional house with whitewashed walls and a stone cap roof and there was a framed photograph inside that was eighty years old to prove it.

Trulli houses are unique to this area of Italy, they are rather like an igloo with a conical roof and a single windowless room inside with shallow alcoves for bedrooms and storage.  Where they first came from is a matter of some debate. One theory is that since Trulli can be built up and pulled down in a hurry, in past centuries their owners would demolish their own buildings whenever the tax man came to town to assess property duty, and then rebuild them when he had moved on.

So that is the five of the six and the one that I haven’t visited so far is Vila Capra at Vicenza which is a shame because a couple of years ago I stayed close by in Padova and visited nearby Verona.

Six good choices but surprisingly missing anything from either Rome or Florence but if you really need to see these places in a model theme park then they can both be found at “Italia in Miniatura” at a similar tourist attraction near Rimini in Italy itself.

Ancient Rome

Italy, World Heritage Sites

Italy Postcard

Following the visit to Puglia in Southern Italy I thought it was probably time to review my performance in visiting the Country’s World Heritage Sites.

The World Heritage list has been around for over forty years as a consequence of events in 1954 when the government of Egypt announced that it was to build the Aswan Dam, a project that proposed to flood a valley containing priceless treasures of ancient civilizations.  Despite opposition from Egypt and neighbouring Sudan, UNESCO launched a worldwide safeguarding campaign, over fifty countries contributed and the Abu Simbel and Philae temples were taken apart, moved to a higher location, and put back together piece by piece.  At last the World was collectively protecting its treasures.

Ostuni White City Puglia Italy

Not surprisingly Italy is the country with the most Word Heritage Sites, it has fifty-three, seven more than Spain which has the second most sites.  I have visited half of the sites in Spain but when I reviewed the Italy list I was disappointed to find that I have been to less than a quarter and in this whole fortnight in Puglia I had added only one – the Trulli houses of Alberobello.  I was genuinely surprised to find that Lecce, the Florence of the south was missing from the list and to find it marooned on the tentative list where it has been languishing since June 2006.

Venice The Gondoliers Gilbert and Sullivan

In terms of cities on the list I have been to Rome several times but my first visit in 1976 was four years before it became the first Italian site to be added to the list.  As for other cities on the list I have been to Naples, also in 1976, Florence, Pisa and Siena in 2006, Verona and Padova in 2012 and Venice in 2002, 2003, 2005 and most recently in 2012 because you can never go to Venice too many times.

Which brings me to the final two sites that I have visited, both of them for the first time in 1976 before they were even admitted to the list and which was in actual fact was  before there was any sort of list at all! WOW, I feel suddenly old.

The first of these is the Amalfi coastline and its famous death defying drive described so accurately by John Steinbeck: “Flaming like a meteor we hit the coast, a road, high, high above the blue sea, that hooked and corkscrewed on the edge of nothing, a road carefully designed to be a little narrower than two cars side by side.”    

The second is a joint listing for the archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, two towns destroyed by the eruption in 79 A.D. of the volcano Mount Vesuvius which is surprisingly not included on the list even though Mount Etna in Sicily is.

Well, eleven out of forty-nine is not a good score so it means one of two things are needed to correct this rather poor performance, either I have to spend more time in Italy in the future or UNESCO needs to hurry up and include some of the places that I have already been.  They could start with Lecce and Lucca, both on the tentative list, and also Palermo that once applied but after rejection subsequently withdrew its nomination.

96 Rome

Weekly Photo Challenge: Colour

Marino Italy

The Washing Lines of Marino, Italy

The streets between the houses are like deep gullies made brilliant by vibrant washing lines strung outside windows like bunting as though in anticipation of a parade or a carnival, stretching across the streets dripping indiscriminately and swaying gently backwards and forwards above the secret doorways and back alleys.

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A Life in Ruins – Rome, Emperors and Gladiators

Colosseum Rome

There are lots of things that I would like to see and I imagine the thrill of seeing the Pyramids, The Kremlin or the Great Wall of China for example would be heart stopping moments but when viewed for the first time the Colosseum ranks with these and others as a genuine draw dropping, knee buckling event.  I can remember that experience in 1976 but even now, on my fourth visit to Rome, it still produced a moment of wonderment and awe as we emerged from the narrow streets into the Piazza del Colosseo.

Two thousand years previously this had been the largest amphitheatre ever built in the Roman Empire and was capable of seating sixty-thousand spectators (some estimates say eighty thousand but most agree that this is unlikely) at gladiatorial combat events.  I am always stunned by the size and magnificence of the place and even though there are substantial parts of it now missing I find the scale of the place simply breathtaking.  We were going to make this our first place to visit and we were disappointed to see a long slow moving queue but we were quickly picked out as potential easy pickings by a girl selling guided tours which promised a speedy entrance and the services of an expert guide so we agreed to this and paid up. Suckers!

We had to wait now to be assigned a tour leader and it was just our luck to get a head-case!  Silvio was a theatrical extrovert with a dramatic style and with arms flailing and occasionally getting over excited and spitting into his beard he gave us an extravagant introduction to the construction of the magnificent building and the gladiatorial combats and the shows that were staged inside.  This was all really helpful background information but it did seem to drag on longer than expected and all around people began to get fidgety as individual patience tanks one by one began to run dry.

Finally it was time to push through the lines of waiting people  and within just a few minutes we were inside the underground passages below the auditorium where we followed the designated route up a flight of steps where it was interesting to imagine that these had been used previously by thousands of Romans attending the games and we now were following in their footsteps.  We emerged into the interior of the amphitheatre where once there were seats, now long since pillaged and removed for recycling in medieval building projects, and into the bright sunshine where we circumnavigated the arena stopping frequently to admire the views and to imagine what it might have been like to be at this very place two-thousand years ago or so in a noisy and unruly crowd being entertained by bloodthirsty and barbaric games.

Inside the Colosseum it is huge but there isn’t really a lot to see, no statues, no paintings, no exhibits, just an elliptical arena surrounded by ancient brick and concrete, so once a full circuit has been completed, although it feels as though you should stay longer, there is not a lot to hang around for.  This doesn’t mean that the visit experience is in any way disappointing or less wonderful just that it seems to me that there are two types of sightseeing, the first is where we go to admire the statues, the paintings and the exhibits and the second where the experience is simply about being there, in a place that has played such a pivotal role in world history and the development of civilisation and for me the Colosseum is one of the latter.

The day was getting hotter now and it was easy to understand why inside the arena the Roman crowds were protected by giant shades made of Egyptian cotton or why even today the most expensive seats at a bullfight are those in the shade and protected from the sun. We left the amphitheatre and bought some expensive food from a street stall and competed with everyone else to find some shade while we waited for Silvio to return at two o’clock to take us on the second part of the tour up to the Palatine Hill and into the Roman Forum.

Colosseum Rome


Related Articles:

Spartacus the Gladiator


The Roman City of Pompeii

The Roman City of Herculaneum

The Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

The Aqueduct of Segovia

The Roman Buildings at Mérida

The Roman Ruins at Segóbriga

Diocletian’s Palace at Split

The Roman Buildings at Arles