Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rome: The Roman Forum

 Here it is - the center of Roman civilization: the Roman Forum in Rome. Arguably, one could say that the Flavian Amphitheater (aka Colosseum) was the center, but in my mind the center would not have been a stadium: it would have been their temples. A good summary of the Roman Forum is located here.

 Our tour guide disagreed and is of the opinion that the Colosseum is the center. He stated is shows the difference between the Greeks and the Romans. The Romans liked to enjoy life, thus the Flavian Amphitheater was their most important building. The Greeks, he said, were much more serious and thus the Acropolis (and the Parthenon specifically) was their most imporant building.

 I haven't fact-checked him, but he also stated that for centuries the Forum was abandoned and was actually filled with sand. It wasn't until recent centuries that it has been re-excavated.

 Here we are approaching the Roman Forum from Palatine Hill. Little did we know we would be passing Weird Al Yankovic on this pathway.

 This is the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, undergoing restoration. It was erected by Emporer Antonius Pius in 141 AD and dedicated to his wife, Faustina. It was converted to the Church of San Lorenzo in the 11th century and rebuilt in 1601.

 I was disappointed that it was covered in scaffolding, but from pics on the web it just looks like a church with Roman columns out front.

 We spent a considerable amount of time here in the House of the Vestal Virgins, probably because there were places to sit.

 The House of the Vestal Virgins was a huge complex of 50 rooms where the vestals live. The Vestals were virgins who were committed to the priesthood before puberty (age 6 to 10) and were sworn to celibacy for 30 years. They spent 10 years as students, 10 years in service, and 10 years as teachers. Their chief job was to ensure the sacred fire did not go out.
 After 30 years, they were free to marry whoever they wanted though few choseto leave their highly respected role in very luxurious surroundings. Besides, the average Roman lifespan back then was mid-40s. These women would have been about 40 by the time their commitment was complete.

 The Vestals were "volunteered" by their families and had to be between 6 and 10, free of defects, born to two free-born Roman residents.

 The penalty for breaking the rules during those 30 years was severe: any Vestal found to no longer be a virgin was buried alive.

 As one would imagine, it became progressively more difficult to find families who would volunteer their daughters. Therefore, eventually plebian girls were admitted, and finally daughters of freed men.
The College of the Vestals was disbanded in 394 AD, and the sacred fire extinguished by order of Emporer Theodosius Zosimus. Zosimus was a Christian and there were many rumours that the fall of the Roman Empire was caused by the disintegrating respect for the traditional Roman gods. Sounds a lot like the rumours in modern US about the disintegration of Christian values (gay marriage, etc) causing the decline of the US, doesn't it?

Hair caught mid-flip.
 At long last, we caught our breath...
 ...and carried on
 The original Via Sacra, complete with Roman cart wheel paths in the stone.

The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina from a different angle.

 Red poppies!

 By this point, it was around 12:30 and we were all beat and exhausted. Lucky for us, our hotel was virtually across the street.
 More cart wheel ruts.

 As the other tourists were rolling in from their late sleep, we were wrapping up and heading back to our room.

 With a much deeper understanding of all that was very good and very bad in Roman society.

And a sense that the world indeed is still heading in the right direction.

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