The Colosseum.
Photos by JOANNE RAE RAMIREZ
Rome is where the art is
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - May 16, 2019 - 12:00am

A museum under blue skies, with more of its treasures waiting to be unearthed, Rome is where the heart of the past and the art of all time exist.

It is said that in Rome, the treasures of 3,000 years are “on display.” Not just inside museums, but on the streets, on top of the hills, on your doorstep.

The astonishing silhouette of stone edifices everywhere you go — from domes to columns, from spires to obelisks, from coliseums to ruins — may have been the Manhattan skyline of the era before Christ.

I left my heart in Rome the first time I visited it in 1988, and though I had returned two more times after (for work in 1998 and on holiday with my husband, Ed, in 2008), I had never stopped wanting to revisit, and to rekindle the awe I felt the first time I saw Rome’s face.

Ed, our son Chino and I had planned on taking a tour of Italy with Globus Tours that would start in Rome and end in Milan. But since Rome wasn’t built in a day, we decided to discover Rome on our own for five days before our tour.

We made arrangements with a Filipino driver, Carlito Senicolas (tel. no. +393384859901), who now drives his own Mercedes-Benz van, to pick us up from the airport. A Rome resident for 34 years now, he is also a licensed tour guide and knows the best shopping outlets.

Palatine Hill.

I scoured AirBnb for homes in Rome that ticked our boxes — clean, spacious, close to the sights — and found one near the Colosseum. It cost us about P50,000 for five days and four nights, including the cleaning fee (usually a hidden cost that only appears when you’re about to close the deal). Staying in an AirBnb makes possible a couple of home-prepared meals (parmigiano from a food market, salami from a deli and a good bottle of vino) resulting in some savings. But when in Rome as a tourist, eat out! The food is so good and reasonably priced you just have to eat out (On our first night we met up with my sister Val Sotto and her daughter Trish and we had bistecca and pizza, with drinks, and it cost us only 60 euros or about P3,500 for five people.).

We had decided that during our first five days in Rome, we were going to ogle the exhibits of time, so to speak, in this open-air museum of a city, on our own. We planned to take the bus, or the subway, or walk. Our home in Rome was perfectly situated — a seven-minute walk to the Colosseum, about a 20-minute  picturesque walk to the Fontana de Trevi, passing by the Roman Forum and the Vittorio Emanuele monument.

When your feet give up on you, trust that any sight in Rome is only eight to 10 euros away by taxi, and every single taxi driver we encountered on our trip was courteous and, based on the consistent meter readings,  no one took us “for a ride.”

* * *

Despite its bloody past, the Rome’s Colosseum is wondrous. It’s a sentinel that guards an architectural and engineering marvel of the past.

Measuring some 620 by 513 feet (190 by 155 meters), the Colosseum was the largest amphitheater in the Roman world and in the world today, with three stories of 80 arched entrances. Even in those ancient times, the Colosseum had drinking fountains and latrines, or “cabinets,” and it was here that the emperors had meetings. Thus, we learned the origin of “Cabinet meetings.”

During the Roman Empire and under the motto of “Bread and Circuses,” the Roman Colosseum (known then as Flavian Amphitheatre) allowed more than 50,000 people to enjoy its finest spectacles. The exhibitions of exotic animals, executions of prisoners, recreations of battles and gladiator fights kept the Roman people entertained for years.

Fontana de Trevi.

The building is a survivor. Since the 6th century, the Colosseum has suffered lootings, earthquakes and even bombings during World War II. It has been used as a storehouse, church, cemetery and even a castle for nobility. We discovered it is best to buy tickets online ahead of time if you want to tour the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Otherwise you won’t be able to gain access inside, which is half the glory of the landmark.

* * *

Past the Colosseum are the ruins of the Roman Forum, the Trajan’s Column, the Palatine Hill and other ruins that still boast symmetry in their seeming disarray. Then there is the controversial all-white Vittorio Emanuele monument, built in honor of the first king of a unified Italy, sometimes called the “wedding cake,” or the “typewriter.”

We walked past these “museum exhibits” to the Fontana de Trevi, which was crammed with tourists in the late afternoon. Crammed with tourists or not, I managed to toss a coin, because, Rome, I do want to return!

On the other direction from our AirBnb were Campo de Fiori, a daily flower, fruit and food market in a charming section of the city; the 2,000-year-old Pantheon, and Piazza Navona. It is said that when Michaelangelo saw the Pantheon for the first time, he said that it looked more like the work of angels, not humans. This architectural marvel has the world’s largest unsupported dome.

Piazza Navona, a favorite location for movies like Angels and Demons, features important sculptural creations like the famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers (1651) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

The Baths of Caracalla, where the Three Tenors once held a much-acclaimed concert, is also interesting for it shows how baths weren’t only a cleansing ritual for the Romans — they were a social activity. The Baths of Caracalla, built around 206 AD, are the best preserved ruins of Roman Baths, and they look more like a village to me, not just a bath. Then there is the old medieval neighborhood of Rome called Trastevere, whose basilica has breathtakingly beautiful interiors and an altar that looks like a mini-me of St. Peter’s Basilica.

And to think we hadn’t even visited a museum within this “open-air” museum of a city, and we were already intoxicated by its art.

Rome, the Eternal City, isn’t just a city. It’s a tribute.

* * *

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

ROME
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