A Special Tour of Ancient Rome

Photo by M. Vitelli

On Saturday our Italian professor, Rossella, led the class on a walking tour of ancient Rome. We met at the Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus) metro station and made a big circle for four hours to the Colosseo (Colosseum), stopping for coffee at a bar near Piazza Venezia and ending with lunch at a trattoria near the Colosseo. So I could be part of the party, Rossella borrowed a wheelchair from her father-in-law. Michael and Rossella’s husband, Marco, traded turns pushing me along the streets—and up some wicked hills—of ancient Rome. They did a fabulous job, although traversing the sampietrini was jarring—I had to keep my mouth open to keep my teeth from crashing together. Only once did I fear for my life, when the wheelchair drifted past the edge of the sidewalk and nearly dumped me under the wheels of a parked bus! All of the men in our group raced to the rescue, and I was back on the sidewalk before I knew what happened.

Rossella and her “water” (photo by M. Vitelli)

This was a perfect day. It was sunny but chilly when we left—high 30s to low 40s—but as long as we were in the sun, it wasn’t bad. I’ve been trapped in our apartment since December, so I especially enjoyed being out in the fresh air and learning about old Rome. Rossella gathered lots of pictures and information and gave a wonderful tour. At one point she pulled a grappa bottle out of her pocket and took a big swig. She assured us it was water, but with Rossella, you never know!

Circo Massimo (494 BC) today

Circo Massimo was the site of chariot races (remember Ben Hur?) and games in ancient Rome. The arena was 650 yards long and seated some 300,000 spectators. Today Circo Massimo is a serene grassy field with two of the Seven Hills of Rome on either side: Palatine Hill, where wealthy ancient Romans had their homes (excavations have uncovered remains dating back to the 9th century BC), and Aventino Hill, which boasts beautiful and expensive homes, lots of trees, and lush gardens. We had an apartment on Aventino Hill for a week when we were looking for a place to live last June, and I loved it there.


I was thrilled to finally return to Capitoline Hill, another of Rome’s Seven Hills, and the Campidoglio for the first time since my first trip to Rome in 1970. I’d been wanting to go for ages, but I couldn’t get up the steps! I can’t wait to go back and explore the museums there. The glorious Campidoglio has always been the seat of Rome’s government and, thus, the center of the Roman Empire. In the 1500s the pope ordered Michelangelo to restore the Campidoglio, and Michelangelo redesigned the piazza, added a new palace, and finished the site with Renaissance-style facades. Stunning! The statue in the middle is a replica of a statue of Marcus Aurelius completed in 175 AD. Michelangelo’s staircase, the Cordonata, on the western side of the Campidoglio, is elegant, with long sloping stairs (which horses and donkeys could also climb and descend). My drivers (pushers?) snaked up an adjoining street with a few switchbacks so they could avoid the steep Cordonata.

We stopped at a lookout above the Forum to see the ruins of this political, religious, administrative, and representative heart of Rome from 500 BC to 900 AD. We then made our way through the five Imperial Forums that were added as the need for more  space arose: the Forum of Caesar (46 BC), the Forum of Augustus (2 BC), the enormous Forum of Trajan (107-112 AD), the Forum of Nerva (98 AD), and the Forum of Peace (75 AD).


We ended at the Colosseo, which was once the site of a lake in front of Domus Aurea, Nero’s gigantic and extravagant palace that had 150 or so rooms. The arena is named after the Colossus of Nero, a 115-foot gilded bronze statue of the emperor that once stood on the site. The Colosseo was inaugurated in 80 AD and has become the iconic symbol of Rome. A gorgeous site at any time of the day, the Colosseo is particularly beautiful at night, when it is bathed in spotlights.

It was a splendid walk and a wonderful day. Grazie, Professoressa. Brava! And thank you to my pushers, too.


Photo by M. Vitelli

Circo Massimo with Palatine Hill in the background

Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin – Legend says that if a liar puts his hand into the mouth of the mask, he will have it bitten off

Temple of Apollo (36 BC – near the Jewish Ghetto)

Theater of Marcellus (11 BC – near the Jewish Ghetto)

Replica of the bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius (175 AD)

Original Forum

Original Forum – Arch of Septimius Severus (203 AD)

Original Forum with the Colosseo in the far background

Romulus and Remus being fed by Lupa, the she-wolf

Forum of Trajan (112 AD) – everything you see in the photo is part of this huge forum

Forum of Peace (71 AD)

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2 Responses to A Special Tour of Ancient Rome

  1. Meredith Prock says:

    What wonderful memories this brought back of my trip to Rome with Jenni in 2003. We were in a small group with a young American guide who had lived in Rome for a number of years. It was a wonderful day.

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