We decided to prolong our lay-over in Rome on the way to our rental accommodations in Tuscany by a day. Just enough to get to the key highlights of Rome with a promise that we would come back for a few more days, later in October when the weather cools.
We were very pleased to have booked a private 4 hour tour of the city, by golf cart as we made our way through Rome off the beaten path to the famous Fountain and other well known Piazzas, and Ancient ruins.
Our guide started by giving us a very abridged history lesson of Rome, a setting for the magnificent ruins of Ancient Rome that we were about to visit. I will NOT do him justice by retelling what I remember of all he told us. At first, there were farmers and herd keepers settled along the Tiber River, nestled between two great civilisations — the Etruscans of Tuscany and the Greeks (750 BC – 450 BC). The settlement was well situated for trading (salt and wine) and eventually grew into the Roman republic and expanded through the Italian peninsula, establishing the Roman infrastructure as they went, and with a disciplined army, conquered the Etruscans and Greek, established a wide spread currency, a system of roads, and an army of half a million.
Now, enter Christianity…battling against pagan Roman Gods, adding a thick layer of history and you are left with priceless works of art honouring Christ, the Virgin Mary, and Popes alongside vestiges of ancient emperors and battles.
There were prominent rich families – in Rome the Borgheses for example, who each ruled a region of Italy, rose to great power, funded development and art.
The evidence of these contributors is Rome. We saw the ruins of the Emperors palace…and the Circus Maximus where they raced charriots much like in the famed Ben Hur movie. Majestic remnants and tribute to this ancient civilization is scattered throughout the city –The Coliseum, the Circus Maximus, The Pantheon, the Wall of Rome, the Bath houses, the Aqueduc – engineering marvels of the period…
Like every empire, there is eventually a decline, and a collapse. For the romans, it came in the year 500 (ish), and Italy would suffer invasions, and chaos. It’s history preserved by Strong popes of the great Christian Church who ruled like small-time emperors, governing territories called Papal States. Hence why the presence of Catholicism is so prominent and the Vatican a state.
We visited the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel and St-Peter’s Basilica and gained a new appreciation for the role of the Vatican, its popes and contribution, not only as documentalists of all that was going on in the world, but also as creators of Society, laws, exploration of new worlds and promoters/inspiration for great works of art. Our guide Isabella, left us in awe of how little we knew of world history, and the linkages to the great popes of history.
We thought we were coming here and would learn about people, and a new language and would just blend in with the locals while we relaxed. I realise now that we will be taking a course in World History 101, Geography, Italian Language, and Socio-Politics 101 and at the end of our stay, we will have a very different appreciation for our world, for Romans and for Italians.