After our first day in the Vatican City, we spent a couple of days looking around in Rome. We got up very early every morning to try and beat both the crowds and the heat. It was a pretty good strategy because by noon, everywhere was super crowded and the sun was melting us.
One of the first places we went was the Colosseum. I was of course excited to see it, but I wasn’t expecting it to be one of those, “Wow!” moments. Taking a tour through it was actually my favorite part of our time in Rome. As far as ancient monuments go, it’s probably not the best. (I’d say that title goes to the temples of Angkor.) What’s awesome about the Colosseum is how modern it is. Even though it is almost 2,000 years old, with one look you can just tell that it’s a sports arena. That’s probably because our modern sports complexes are based off of it, but that’s still incredible. Think of how different life was in the year 70 AD, and yet we would understand the gate number and seating system if we went back in time to watch some bloody spectacle there. This is unbelievable to me.
The Colosseum also has ancient??graffiti??on display. Looking at this was fascinating. There must be some deep-seated urge in literate humans to scribble messages on walls. However, it’s one thing to write, “Tina was here,” with a pen in a bathroom stall. Actually taking the time to carve this message into a stone bench takes a whole new level of determination. You would have to really want everyone to know that “Maximus sucks,” if you were going to spend two hours carving it onto your seat. And yet there they are, whole rows full of two-thousand-year-old sketches and stories about popular people and important events that took place in the Colosseum. Did those graffiti artists ever imagine that people would be studying their handiwork in the year 2012?
What’s also incredible about Rome is how ancient ruins are strewn all over the place. If you ride around on the bus, you’ll be looking around at a busy street with a McDonald’s and an Armani store, and then all of the sudden you’ll see a roped-off area with marble columns and crumbling walls. It would be so weird to grow up there. You could potentially have Roman aqueducts running right behind your apartment.
Speaking of the aqueducts, Rome is still very proud of its public water supply. Both decorative and metal water fountains are everywhere, and everyone seems to carry around a bottle of water and fill it up as they go. With so many countries that don’t have access to safe drinking water, and other countries that do have safe drinking water but insist on drinking bottled water, it was very refreshing to see people actually using, and even celebrating, tap water.
Besides all the impressive ruins, we also visited??Capuchin Church. It was the creepiest place I’ve ever been in my life. The beginning of the tour is just a museum, but even this freaked me out. I’m not sure why. The museum was spotless and looked very new and expensive. But they were playing this weird background music and they had really gory artistic representations of the??crucifixion on display, along with the whips for their self-flagellation. I kept expecting to run into the albino from??The Da Vinci Code.
And then we got to the crypt. There are several stories about how this place got started, but regardless of how it started, the result is that the bones of hundreds of monks have been put on display in some macabre and disturbing work of art. Femurs and tibias are arranged in crosses and designs on the ceilings. Skulls line the walls. Entire skeletons of long-departed monks are standing around in their fraying robes. Lamps made out of bones hang from the ceilings. I remember one room was dedicated to jaw bones and another featured??pelvises. It’s all incredibly ghastly and bizarre and I’m not sure what exactly the original artist was going for, but he succeeded in scaring the hell out of me!