Colosseum - Forum
Colosseum (Colosseo) - Just the biggest and best attraction in Rome, and its gory history is part of its charm. Kids will love the idea of gladiators slugging it out in the Colosseum, spectacles of hungry lions ready to pounce, mock sea battles. It does not disappoint for sheer monumental scale, and excellent state of preservation. (Use your Archaeologica Card to avoid waiting in the long lines to buy tickets.)
The structure of the Colosseum is familiar, with bleacher seating around the arena (seats had numbers too). What's boggling is that it was built nearly 2,000 years ago, using concrete. Because the floor of the arena is gone (a small section has been restored), you can see the labyrinth of tunnels, where the gladiators and animals waited for their entrance. An ingenious system of ramps and trap doors provided access to the arena.
Playgrounds and parks - After you've visited the Colosseum, if you have a toddler in tow, or the kids just need a shady place to picnic or run around, here are three tips. At Piazza Celimontana (walk south on Via Claudia), there's a large playground with swings and climbing structures. Continue futher up the hill, on Via della Navicella, and turn right (at the church) and follow the paths into Parco Giochi (Parco Monte Celio). It's a nice green park with another playground for toddlers and miniature pony rides. This park is perfect for strollers and you'll see lots of other little kids in the park. Kitty corner to the Colosseum, north of Via Labicana, on Via Domus Aurea, there's plenty of shade trees, fountains and benches, and great picnic spots.
Basilica di San Clemente (Via Labicana) – Stop into the Basilica of San Clemente, one of the oldest in Rome, to see gorgeous 12th century mosaics in the apse (the sheep symbolize the Old and New Testament, the doves the twelve Apostles), and colorful marble floors.
Underneath the lower basilica, visit the 3rd century temple to the sun god Mithras, the mithraeum. In center of the mithraeum is an altar with the sun god sacrificing a bull, stone benches on either side. Open daily, but closed at lunchtime.
Roman Forum (Fora Romano) - From the Colosseum, circle round the Arch of Constantine and wade into the Forum. Today the Roman Forum a very crumbly ruin (you have to use your imagination), but in the Roman Republic, it was a busy spot where people came to shop, to hang out, to haggle about politics.
The biggest building in the forum is still the biggest ruin, the Basilica of Maxentius, ten stories high. Continuing up the Via Sacra, check out the great green bronze door (1700 years old) on the Temple of Romulus and the beautiful swirly columns of the Temple of Antonius and Faustina. Kitty corner is the Temple of Divus Julius - the temple and altar were built on the spot where Julius Caesar's body was cremated.
The Curia, the brick building, is a replica of the Roman senate (rebuilt in the 3rd century AD). Step inside, close your eyes, and imagine the Curia packed with a hundreds of senators (senior senators got seats, younger senators had to stand), listening to the orations.
Near to the Curia is a little fenced-in area with some black paving stones. Underneath the paving stones is an underground room where the Lapis Niger was found, a stone slab thought to mark the Tomb of Romulus, the founder of Rome. The writing on the Lapis Niger is the oldest Latin inscription, from the 6th century BC.
Tip: The Roman Forum has a lot of bits and pieces from different centuries, and most of the ruins are fenced off so you really can't walk through them. There's no shade to speak of, so go early in the day (and bring water, suntan lotion, sun hats). To get the best view of the ruins overall, climb up to the Farnese Gardens, and look down over the Forum.
Trajan's Forum - When the Roman Forum was too small to handle the big crowds, each emperor built his own forum. Trajan's Forum has the incomparable Trajan's Column. The marble column, 125 ft high, is carved with scene after scene of Trajan's armies clobbering the Dacians.
Palatine Hill - The Palatine, the hill above the Roman Forum, is one of our favorite spots in Rome. According to legend and the historian Livy, it was here that Romulus founded Rome in the 8th century BC (archeological evidence of a village supports this tradition). Bigwigs and emperors built their fancy palazzos on the Palatine over the centuries, and the ruins are in great shape.
Farnese Gardens(Orti Farnesiani) - If you climb up the Palatine from the Forum, you'll pass by an underground grotto and a couple of little sparkling pools and fern covered rocks in the gardens. The greenery and shade of the gardens is a relief from the straight sun in the Forum below, and the views are stunning.
The southern section of the Palatine has three big ruins, built by Domitian over previous palaces, which are open to explore and run around. The Domus Flavia was a public palace where the emperor conducted business of state - a large domed auditorium on one side, a banquet room on the other. Next door was the private palazzo, the Domus Augustana (House of Augustus, i.e. the emperor). This was a grand palace, a multi-story building overlooking the Circus Maximus. Beside the House of Augustus was the Stadium, where the emperor could watch the horse races in comfort.
Capitoline Museums and Piazza del Campidoglio - In the center of the Piazza del Campidoglio is a stunning bronze statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius seated on a horse.
The Capitoline Museums, the Palazzo Nuovo and Palazzo dei Conservatori, display extraordinary collections of Greek and Roman sculpture. Here's where you can see portrait heads of Homer, Socrates Roman emperors, and Helen, mother of Constantine (she looks pretty relaxed). In the Palazzo dei Conservatori, you can't miss the mega-sized foot and head of Constantine, but be sure to see the famous bronze sculpture of Romulus and Remus, and the Spinario, statue of a boy taking a thorn out of his foot, and fabulous portrait statue of Michelangelo.
Circus Maximus - The beauty of the Circus Maximus is there's nothing there. It's just a very large field to run the mile or scratch in the dirt. You'll have to pretend there are bleachers on either side of the arena where huge crowds watched chariot races, staged hunts for wild animals, and athletic games. (It's easy to stop by the Circus on your way to the Baths of Caracella.)
Baths of Caracella -The Baths of Caracella were once a sumptuous place to bathe and relax - marble columns and floors, mosaics and sculptures, hot baths (caldarium), warm baths (tepidarium), cold baths (frigidarium), exercise rooms, sauna. Today, although birds roost in the upper parts of the ruins, and the black and white mosaics are in chunks, the baths are worth a visit. And it sure doesn't feel like the gym at home.
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