Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Rome Day 1: Basilica di San Clemente, Colosseum and Roman Forum

After checking into our B&B on our first day in Rome, we headed out to get out phones set up and grabbed some lunch at La Gallina Bianca, a neighborhood spot our hosts had recommended. This was our first opportunity to try something I'd read about: zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and deep fried. We didn't love them, honestly--they were OK, just not our favorite--but since we'd never eaten them before, we don't really know whether they weren't our taste or whether maybe this place just didn't make very good ones. I was taken aback by how huge they were--I guess it's been a while since I've seen zucchini flowers, since I don't garden personally, but I wasn't expecting them to be the size of my hand! Later in the week we saw zucchini for sale in a food market with the flowers still attached:

We also decided to try our first Roman pizza, and we somehow got the impression that the pizzas on the menu were a single-serving size, so we each ordered one. We were astounded at what showed up on our plates! I hated having to waste so much food but there was no way I was eating nearly all that pizza. Steve got arugula (which amusingly often gets translated "rocket salad" on English menus), proscuitto and cherry tomatoes on his; I discovered the hard way that zucchini, eggplant, and broccoli don't really belong on pizza. 

Then it was finally time for some sightseeing! We walked through a park and got our first glimpse of the Colosseum:

We continued on to Basilica di San Clemente, which seemed like a great first taste of the history of Rome.

It's a church built in the 12th century, which is amazing enough in itself. But below that, you can see the ruins of a Christian church from the 4th century, with bits of frescoes and mosaics still intact. Then you go down another level, and you see the remains of a pagan temple to the god Mithras dating back to the first century AD. The floors are tiled in this intricate herringbone pattern--photography was forbidden inside, but here's a photo of similar tile from the Colosseum:

Since I couldn't take pictures of the ruins, the only other picture I have from San Clemente is from the courtyard:
 From there we returned to the Colosseum.

Of course I'd seen a thousand pictures of the Colosseum before, but it's hard to get a sense of the scale without seeing it in person. I also had no idea what the inside looked like: 

Rather than paying for audioguides or a tour guide, we used the Rick Steves Audio Europe app to learn about what we were seeing. It was incredible to stand in such an impressive structure that has lasted for so many centuries--yet also disturbing to look around and think about the horrifyingly barbaric things that happened here.

After going through the Colosseum, we saw the Arch of Constantine:

...and then made our way into the Forum, for which we also used the Rick Steves audioguide.

You enter the Forum by walking up the Via Sacra. It was just crazy to think that Caesar walked these same cobblestones.
 The audioguide was a little hard to follow and we were extremely jetlagged by this point, but one other thing I was excited to see was the Arch of Titus. Just before we left, I had read 2 Corinthians 2, where Paul says, "But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere" (v. 14). The ESV study note explains the phrase "triumphal procession" this way:
"Most interpreters see this as a reference to the lavish victory parades celebrated in Rome after great battles. God is depicted as the sovereign victor, with Christ as the general, leading the victory procession, and Paul as “captured” by Christ but now joyfully following him. Images of such parades are still visible in some ancient works of art, such as in the reliefs on the late-first-century Arch of Titus in Rome commemorating the emperor’s victory over Jerusalem."
Having just read that, it was incredible to walk up the Via Sacra (above) with Paul's words in mind, knowing that this was the very road where such victory parades occurred:
"...the via Sacra, the principal road of the Forum, dedicated to processions celebrating war victories, the 'Triumphs.' When a Roman general had killed at least 5,000 enemies and conquered new territories, he could then enter victoriously into the city, dressed in his armor. He would pass along the Via Sacra, under the triumphal arches, until he reached the Temple of Jove on Capitoline Hill." (source:
...and then to see the Arch of Titus with its depictions of the very images Paul had in mind as he wrote 2 Corinthians!

By now the sun was starting to set...
...and we got kicked out of the Forum, which closes at 7PM. Exhausted and hungry, we walked back to the neighborhood of our B&B for dinner. A place called Vecchia Roma was already on my list, so when our hosts recommended it, we knew we needed to try it. 

I'm going to back up and post a food overview of sorts tomorrow, I think, but for now I can show you the first two classic Roman dishes we tried. Our primo was bucatini all'amatriciana, which looks like basic spaghetti but has pieces of smoked guanciale (pork cheek) in it. YUM. It was also our first time eating bucatini, which is similar to spaghetti, but fatter and hollow--making it impossible to twirl on a fork! 

This restaurant is famous for mixing their amatriciana in a pecorino cheese wheel (top right):

For our secondo, we tried coda alla vaccinara: oxtail stew. We'd actually eaten oxtail once before here at home, so we knew what to expect, but it was delicious, even if it is a lot of work to find the bits of tender meat among all the bones and gristle.

With our first dinner in Rome a delicious success, we returned to the B&B and crashed.

Tomorrow: the Vatican!

No comments: