The Swiss Family Carlson Takes a Roman Holiday

As we count our final weeks down here in Switzerland what could be more natural than going to Rome?

Rome is one of those cities that we all know about. We’ve read about it in books. We’ve learned about it in school. We’ve seen Roman Holiday and fallen in love with the idea of riding a Vespa by the Spanish Steps and the Colosseum.

Last year in school our oldest had an entire 7-week unit on the Romans. (The IB primary program divides the year up into 7-week units of inquiry and connects the different aspects of the curriculum into a topic.) He absolutely fell in love with ancient Rome. Last summer he asked us to go to see Hadrian’s Wall and we’ve gone to Augusta Raurica, an archaeological site next to Basel.  As we are getting ready to leave Europe we thought it would be fun to have him actually see Rome.

Rome. What can you say? It’s huge, grand, beautiful, and popular. Rome is the head cheerleader of cities. Everyone wants to be their friend and go to their house. According to CNN it’s the 14th most visited city in the world and 3rd most visited city in Europe.

OMG is it true. We were there in April – not even the high season – and Rome was giant crowds of humanity pressing in on each other. Look at this picture of the Trevi Fountain. There are people 8 rows deep there. People were jumping the metal fences and ducking under the barriers to get close to the fountain so they could throw in their penny.

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But you have to see the Trevi Fountain. It’s an amazing example of sculptural art that combines the Roman mythology with Catholicism. It’s like Neptune’s coral reef and sea are creeping up and growing over the solid marble building behind it that proudly bears the names of several Popes.IMG_4818

Trevi Fountain kind of reflects the architecture of the entire city. Rome is so proud of its ancient heritage, the founding by Romulus and Remus, having the gods favor, and at the same time is so fervent in its Catholicism. It’s an interesting dichotomy between two completely different religions into one culture.

Another building that reflects this dichotomy is The Pantheon.

The Pantheon is a Roman temple built in the first century AD. The interior is a circular chamber with an actual open circular skylight. It was drizzly the day we were there and they had blocked off the middle portion so no one would slip on the wet marble floor. It is still the largest the unreinforced concrete dome in the entire world. There are no support pillars inside of any kind.

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In the 7th century it was turned in to a Catholic church. St. Mary and the Martyrs, to be precise (which will be the name of my next punk rock band). In the 1600s the Roman statues that were in the Pantheon were replaced with thoroughly Christian statues and art.

This is one of those buildings that was so perfect people everywhere tried to copy it or take the style and model their building after it. Frankly, from the outside it looks like half of the government buildings I’ve ever been in. If only all of those buildings could be so beautiful on the inside.

And speaking of buildings that have inspired architects for hundreds of years, we visited the Colosseum.

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The Colosseum and the Forum

As we approached we were met by no less than 3 tour representatives offering us easy passage into the Colosseum and the Forum. “It would take less than 2 hours!” one young man enthused. But we didn’t want to take only 2 hours, nor did we want to be whipped through at a jogging pace, so we joined the lengthy queue.

Beware of queue jumpers. They are horrible creatures, usually found in groups of about 4 or so. If you are one of these queue jumpers you are going to get slapped. You have been warned.

We were only in line about 20 minutes before we got our tickets, Mark and H got audio guides, and we set off to wander around the Colosseum from which all other coliseums get their name.

It’s just as grand as you’ve heard. Wide pathways sweep around the perimeter with low stone railings that offer quite a view. Of course we know that gladiators would fight, animals would be showcased, and executions were had, but they used to have sea battles in there. The basement part was pumped full of water until it reached the first level of seats. It took days to get that much water in there and days to pump it out.  It is reality TV at its earliest.

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When we’d seen enough we went across the street to The Roman Forum. It was not what I was expecting at all.

IMG_4865The Forum is like a whole town in and of itself with the rest of Rome surrounding it. I thought it was a grassy hill with a few ruins around it. This was more.

This were life in ancient Rome happened. Parades, trials, speeches, celebratory banquets, business deals, and the Senate meetings all happened here. The vestal virgins lived here in their Temple of Vesta. All these buildings are from the 7th and 8th century.

The Forum is also where Julius Caesar died. It’s an underwhelming location. So underwhelming that it took us hours to convince E that this mound is indeed where Julius Caesar was stabbed by the senate, including Brutus. Flowers are placed there every day for Caesar. You can see them in the background.

IMG_4872The whole Forum is quite amazing. And you can climb up the stairs to the House of Augustus for this view of The Forum and the rest of the city.

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There is a building in the background at the very upper left corner of the photo. That is the Altare della Patria or the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II.

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Who? you might ask. And why does he get such a grand building? Let me explain.

Victor Emmanuel II was the first king of a unified Italy since the 6th century. Ever since the empire fell people had be fracture and squabbling about rights and ownership and privileges. He was born from the Austrian royal line through his mother, Maria Theresa, was handsome, and a war hero. He led the movement for unification and secured his spot as the king by being somewhat reasonable when it came to actually following the constitution and not just making up new laws to fit his needs.

The museum of unification is in the basement and the tomb of the unknown solider complete with eternal flame is right out front. There are guards, complete with machine guns, and also security present. The security have the job of preventing people from sitting on the steps or climbing the statuary. They take this incredible seriously and come complete with annoying whistles that ensures everyone in the entire plaza will turn and look at you getting yelled at for your reckless rule breaking behavior.

Right across the street is Trajan’s Forum. It’s literally about 50 meters from the Colosseum and makes seeing all this easy to accomplish in a day.

The centerpiece of Trajan’s Forum is Trajan’s Column. It was put up in 113AD, one year after Trajan’s Forum was completed.

What is left is mostly just the marketplace and the column. A lot of the marble and limestone was taken away to build other buildings at several periods of time. There used to be stone streets, but they were removed in around the 800s to be used for other prominent streets.

We ate that evening at a really cute and totally delicious restaurant called Agrodolce (address: ). It is a small, 28-seat restaurant with modern decor, extremely friendly service, and entirely homemade pastas. It was such a wonderful place. We wanted to eat there a second time, but found it closed at lunch.

E said this pizza was his favorite out of all the ones he tried – and he had pizza for lunch and dinner EVERY DAY while in Rome. I had the pappardelle with wild boar ragu and Mark had bucatini with All’Amatriciana, which is that hollow spaghetti with a tomato and bacon sauce. Food Network has a recipe that is close to what we ate.

When our youngest couldn’t find anything he wanted on the menu they made him exactly what he asked for. Grilled squid on a salad with plain homemade rigatoni. Oh, and DO NOT skip dessert. That tiramisu was out of this world. I give that restaurant experience 5 stars.

We certainly packed a lot in, but our time was limited and we were determined to make the most of it. (i.e. walk the children until they begged for gelato, which they got. Several times.) Next time we go up the Spanish Steps and I check Vatican City off on my list of countries visited!


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