A classics student’s guide to Ancient Rome

Despite being an undergraduate classics student fascinated with Ancient Rome, I had never been to Europe’s eternal city.

So when Ryan treated me to a New Years break in Rome as a 21st birthday present I was ecstatic and could not wait to visit the city littered with history.

Here’s a short summary of what we got up to and some of my favourite places to visit! I’ll apologise now for the historical lectures.

The Flavian Amphitheatre/ The Colosseum 

Cliched, I know, but The Flavian Amphitheatre, as it was referred to in antiquity, was incredible.

Completed in AD80 by Emperor Vespasian and his successor Titus (thus named after the family!), it is said to have seated 50-80,000 spectators who attended the various gladiatorial shows, animal fights and sea battles.

It is safe to say I could barely contain my excitement the morning we headed off to see it.

 A friend had previously advised us to purchase a €12 combination ticket at the Roman Forum first, meaning we got to skip the massive line once we arrived at the Colosseum. I would definitely recommend doing this!

Despite the place swarming with tourists, both inside and out, it was INCREDIBLE!

The sheer scale is enough to make your mouth drop open, especially when you register it was built in ancient times without the building technology we have at our disposal today.

No wonder it is classed as an UNESCO site, it is simply mind boggling.

Walking around, I wished time travel was possible just so I could attended the gladiatorial games which were usually held twice a year.

However, I would’ve been stationed at the top of the Colosseum due to the seating hierarchy laws, looking down at the action, a gut-wrenching thought!

We loved it so much so that we went twice, the second time with a professional tour guide with access to lower levels and the reconstructed arena floor.

Overall, this was my favourite tourist location, not because of its extraordinary scale but the rich, varied, and brutally bloody history of the place!

The Forum Romanum / Roman Forum 

Ancient Rome’s showpiece, the Forum Romanum was once the very centre and seat of the Roman Empire, fulfilling the day to day political, religious and commercial needs of its citizens.

It was a place where ancients citizens dreams were materialised and sometimes crushed, whilst symbolically visualising Rome’s wealth and power to both its Empire and beyond.

It was, to put it simply, the centre of the world as they knew it, and its constant rebuilding and renovation reflected the Empire’s changing political climate.

Whilst not much is left today, I marvelled over the fact that I was strolling where AUGUSTUS, Rome’s first emperor, once strolled, and delighted at the archeological remains I had learned about in my lectures, such as the Basilica of Iulia or the Temple of the Vestal Virgins.

Again, I loved this tour but probably because I was already familiar with some of the remains discussed in my lectures!

Palatine Hill 

Home to affluent Republican Romans then Imperial Emperors,  the Palatine Hill towers 40 M above the Forum whilst looking down on the Circus Maximus at the other side simultaneously.

Not only is there a fantastic view at the top to take awesome photographs of the Forum and Colosseum but is rumoured to be the location of the cave where the mythological founders of Rome, twin brothers Romulus and Remus, suckled the she-wolf and later founded Rome.

Since entry is included in the combined ticket, it is an archeological site not to be missed, even if just for the views!

Theatre of Marcellus 

A building less well known, the Theatre of Marcellus was dedicated by Augustus to his deceased nephew and pre-dates the Colosseum, opening in 13/11BC (speculated in ancient sources!).

It is the only surviving theatre from Augustan Rome so provides an insight into what the others would’ve been like.

You cannot gain entry unless there is an event open to the public, but it is one of the buildings I will be discussing in my dissertation, hence why I look so excited!

Definitely worth a flying visit when in Rome.

Pantheon 

Again, another building in impeccable condition! Commissioned by Marcus Agrippa, Augustus’ right (and left) hand man, the original Roman temple burned down but was rebuilt by Hadrian, dedicated approximately in AD126.

You can still see the original inscription from the Augustan period, walk on Hadrian’s marble floors which have never been repaired and pay respects to some important tombs of Rome’s past!

Thus, it is a place with a plethora of history and its free entry warrants a visit.

Ara Pacis 

Erected in the Campus Martius by the Roman Senate in 13BC to honour Augustus’s return to Rome after his time in Gaul and Hispania, it is an altar dedicated to Pax, Goddess of Peace and visually reflects Augustan attitudes towards civic religion.

The one I am standing in front of is the 1938 reconstructed version, since the original was submerged in mud and only part of its remains were found.

It is now preserved in a museum close to the Mausoleum of Augustus (his tomb!) a fitting touch, don’t you think?

Circus Maximus 

Due to visiting Rome during New Years, I failed to get a picture of the Circus Maximus due to preparations for the concert taking place at the weekend. It is basically a long thin ditch in-between two valleys.

It is  where Rome held its famous and popular chariot racing for centuries, with emperors constantly renovating and monitoring it to suit spectators’ needs and is another building I shall be discussing in my dissertation on Augustan spectacles!

My final two sites are not related to Ancient History you may be happy to know. 

Trevi Fountain 

Every time we visited the fountain it was jam-packed with tourists taking selfies, people tossing coins for good look or girls posing for the camera in fashionable outfits.

This made it incredibly hard to get a good picture but perseverance paid off, albeit on Ryan’s part, and we managed to get one!

It is the largest baroque fountain in Rome, and arguably one of the most famous fountains in the world, dating from 1762 and featuring in several notable films.

So swing by with an icecream, (there are plenty of great ice-cream places nearby!) and check it out!

St. Peter’s Basilica 

Located in the Vatican City, it is the most renown work of Renaissance architecture and largest church in the world!

We queued for 2 1/2 hours to gain entry and paid €8 to get to the top of the dome. But the wait (AND ADDITIONAL 500 stairs!) was worth it for this view.

Simply breathtaking, even on a slightly foggy day.

So those are my top places to visit in Rome if you love ancient history or not! I hope you have enjoyed my post and as always, let me know.

Finally, thankyou once again Ryan for an amazing present – what an experience and I’m lucky to have shared it with you!

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