With just two days to go, last night the jet lag finally hit. It was after 3 AM before the Jim Morrison-handful of Tylenol PM finally knocked me out. The 6:30 AM nudge from the wife made me weep, and nowhere in this entire city is there even a single decent cup of coffee to ease the pain.
On the bus at 7:30 AM in the pouring rain for a tour of the pride of Rome: The Roman Colosseum (real name: Flavian Ampitheatre, thank you very much).
Our tour guide was a lovely Italian woman with eternal patience and about as fetching an Italian accent as any healthy heterosexual male could ask for. Despite the cold rain, she kept us moving, informed, and in good spirits.
My wonderful mother booked the full Colosseum tour so we were allowed to explore every inch of the place — from the cheap seats to the maze of chambers beneath the arena floor. This is where the gladiators waited to die and the wild animals were stored so they could be lifted through trap doors into the games above.
In 70 AD, to appease and control the citizenry who hated his predecessor, Vespasian, the Roman Emperor who succeeded Nero, drained Nero’s man-made pond and in ten short years built in its place an arena where 50,000 or so Romans could spend the day for free watching things die. This included exotic animals (who either fought one another or mauled prisoners to death), gladiators, and maybe even those dreaded Christians.
Though Nero and other emperors most certainly martyred Christians, no one knows for sure if the legend of Christians being fed to lions in this Colosseum is true.
Regardless, in the mid-1700s, based on the belief Christians had been martyred there, Pope Benedict XIV consecrated the Colessum as sacred. Since, the Catholic Church has actually contributed to refurbish the site. Today, Christian symbols, including a large iron crucifix (placed in front of what is believed to have been the emperor’s box) are part of the Colosseum’s history. Every year the Pope performs the Stations of the Cross there.
Like any modern-day football stadium, the Colosseum was set up with food vendors, water fountains, and even bathrooms.
No one, though, could point me to the Colosseum’s most sacred spot: where Bruce Lee beat Chuck Norris like a drum before snapping his neck. So, unfortunately, my trip to Rome has been kind of a waste.
Huddled under our umbrellas, we then crossed the street to tour what was the Center of Rome. This is where the famous Roman Senate met, monuments to Julius Cesar were built, chariots raced in Circus Maximus, and the city of Rome itself began.
From here we broke away from the tour and walked a mile or so for a late lunch and a tour of the Basilica of Saint Clement.
Clement I was the second or third Catholic Pope and served in that capacity between 92 and 99 AD. Not much is known about Clement, but it is believed he knew St. Peter. Clement is also responsible for writing a letter to the church in Corinth. Though not part of the official Bible, the letter survives and is a cherished part of the Catholic canon.
The Basilica of St. Clement was built in 1100 but sits on a 4th century church that itself was converted from the home of a wealthy Roman citizen used in the 1st century as a secret church for Christians hoping to escape persecution. Below that is an even older series of chambers that included a sanctuary where pagan worship of a bull took place.
The church is absolutely gorgeous, especially the ornate ceiling. The underground levels are manmade caverns: dimly lit, damp, and filled with the sound of running water thanks to a man-made aqueduct that is probably older than Christ and still works.
Beautiful Christian frescos and crypts are everywhere on the second level.
The bottom level reminded me of Buffalo Bill’s basement.
You aren’t allowed to take pictures anywhere inside.
Tonight was the best meal of the trip when we all gathered in a small out-of-the-way spot to celebrate my mother’s 39th birthday late into the night.
It is now 6:31 in the morning in Rome. After a quick stop at the Pantheon (or is it the Parthenon?), we head to the airport for the two day, 4-stop trip home.
And so, as we sail off into the sunset, we bid one of the best vacations the wife and I have ever had and the gorgeous city and citizens (both surly and charming) of Rome farewell.
Happy birthday, mom. We love you and thank you.
P.S. I’m filing this report while enjoying my final breakfast in Rome. The fact that my orange juice is red isn’t an issue, and I’m even getting used to the coffee (the dreams of dry-humping my Keurig have finally stopped). What I don’t understand, though, is why my orange juice is as warm as a desert lizard and my little packet of butter has been frozen overnight in liquid hydrogen.
This is no way to run a country.