“What a city is for its own limits and territory, today Rome is for the inhabited Earth, as though it had proclaimed the common homeland of the whole world.” –from Eulogy of Rome by the Greek orator Aelius Aristides
Take a moment to imagine what it must have been like to live in a context in which one city dominated the world, as Aristides says, “under the rule of a single man . . . and everyone united as if in a common forum, with each man receiving that which suits him.” The sheer scope of such an existence is mind-boggling. Nothing comes close to it in modern-day terms. The Roman Empire stands alone in its depth and breadth.
And so begins “Caput Mundi: a city between domination and integration,” exhibition at Rome’s Colosseum. Caput Mundi elucidates the balancing act that the Empire faced by both conquering and eventually integrating those it came to dominate. A precarious endeavor where the aggressive actions of the Empire perhaps produced civilization’s first and quintessential “melting pot.” The Roman Empire mixed and matched various peoples (Latins, Samnites, Etruscans, Ligurians, Greeks) while also offering up a unique Roman culture, one that the Romans viewed as both encompassing, yet superior, to all others.
The exhibition boasts an impressive and carefully chosen selection of works from various museums both in Italy and abroad. The artifacts on display, like the bronze sentatoconsultum on the Bacchanalia, (an inscription of a law passed by the Roman senate that outlawed the Bacchanalia), serve to highlight the stark contrasts among opposing influences during the time of the Roman Empire: the intensity of its wars and conquests, the difficulties inherent in its diversity and wide-ranging geographic/cultural scope, and the complexity of its political and social make-up.
Though my academic background may not be strictly classics, I appreciated this exhibit for how it plainly revealed, both in words and artifacts, the complexities inherent both in governing and managing day-to-day affairs in such a unique political and social environment. As I read through the historical descriptions and admired the works of art dating back thousands of years, I continually found myself making ties and connections with modern-day Rome.
So much of ancient Rome continues on in today’s chaotic city. The tenacious, aggressive personality is equally complemented by the creative and light-hearted spirit of the Romans and their approach to daily life in Rome. The arrogance and superiority shown by a culture with such history – clearly revealed in this exhibition- were felt even at the time it was being made. While Rome continues to embrace people from all parts of the globe, it is still facing the internal conflict of acceptance versus dominance.
Caput Mundi runs through March 10, 2013- perfect timing.
~Shelley Ruelle, is AIRC Director of Programming. When we want to know what’s going on in Rome, we ask her. shelley.ruelle[at]romanculture.org
Photo above by Shelley Ruelle: Maximinus Thrax, the “Thracian” AD 235-238, 27th emperor of the Roman Empire and the first to have never actually set foot in Rome
In its approximately 1980 years the Colosseum has seen a lot of action: gladiatorial spectacles (through the 5th century AD), wild animal hunts (through the 6th century AD), skirmishes and sieges for control of central Rome (11th-14th centuries AD). After several centuries of comparative leisure, the Colosseum is once again the scene of epic and historic events, although this time it’s not just the scene of the action – it’s the protagonist. And it faces the fight of its life.
The new third (C) metro line, crossing Rome and its periphery roughly from east to west and due to become fully operational in 2017, will have a stop at the Colosseum. Preliminary work on the station – an extension of the existing B line station – has been going on for a couple of years already, with modest results in terms of archaeological finds. In the next few months construction of the station will commence; the work area will extend into Via dei Fori Imperiali, the broad parade street built by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in the 1930s, causing local authorities to close half of the street and force both directions of traffic (reduced to one lane each way) onto the other half, right against the Colosseum. Conservation experts are concerned about the vibrations caused by the extra traffic in close proximity, augmented by the rumbling of heavy machinery in the Metro C work area.
At more or less the same time, the three-year, 25-million euro restoration project financed by luxury accessories brand Tod’s is supposed to begin – a starting date in December (the latest in a seemingly infinite series) was announced just last month by mayor Gianni Alemanno. The restoration will have three phases: (1) consolidation of the north and south faces and replacement of the fencing in the arches; (2) construction of a new visitors’ center with bathrooms, café, bookshop, and ticket office in the surrounding piazza near the Arch of Constantine; and (3) conservation and cleaning of the main structure, from the hypogeum (underground) up to the crown. The Colosseum will remain open to the public continuously.
The Colosseum’s imminent makeover has caused a lot of collateral controversy: there is increasing awareness of not only the monument’s precarious condition, but also its image around the world. In the spring, under heavy pressure from the Special Archaeological Superintendency for Rome, an agency of the national Ministry of Culture, the municipal authorities created a “zone of respect” around the Colosseum where the quaintly dressed “gladiators” and “centurions” who pose for photographs with tourists can no longer ply their trade. The city is also under pressure to remove the numerous trinket stands and mobile snack bars that dot the entire length of Via dei Fori Imperiali; these businesses are viewed with great suspicion by Romans because the vast majority of them are owned and operated by a single family, named Tredicine, which has amassed a fortune over the decades more from a laissez-faire attitude than from any legal authorization to occupy public soil. The Tredicine family has gone so far as to file suit against the authorities over the construction of the new café, branding it state-sponsored competition to their questionable “business.”
As if these tussles were not enough, a troubling discovery was made in the past year during a detailed study of the Colosseum’s physical fabric ahead of the restoration: the entire structure has tilted about 40 cm out of horizontal, with the north side rising and the south side dipping down, perhaps the consequence of a fissure in the 40-ft deep cement foundation. The experts put most of the blame on the constant vibrations caused by the traffic that whizzes around the monument’s perimeter, although a fair share of the blame must also go to the metro (B) line that runs just a few feet beneath the surface of the piazza, between the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine. (To judge for yourself, you can stand at the edge of the earth embankment between these two monuments and wait for a train to pass.) The tilt is aggravated by the fact that the foundations of the south side rest on relatively unstable alluvial sediments, whereas the north side is founded on volcanic stone. Comparisons of the Colosseum’s situation to that of the leaning tower of Pisa are amusing but exaggerated.
Thankfully, not all the news about the Colosseum is gloomy. Legambiente, a leading Italian conservation organization, has submitted to the municipal authorities a proposal to close the entire length of Via dei Fori Imperiali to vehicle traffic in stages, starting with weekends (at the moment, the street is closed only on Sundays during the daylight hours), extending to weekdays within certain blocks of time, and culminating in complete closure of the street and removal of the asphalt around the Colosseum. Legambiente has begun to collect the 5000 citizen signatures necessary to have the proposal inserted into the city council’s agenda for formal consideration. With so many wild beasts encircling it, the Colosseum needs allies like Legambiente to watch its back.
– by Albert Prieto, AIRC Associate Director of Archaeology, albert[at]romanculture.org
It’s hard to enjoy Rome when the mercury hits 40 and your flip flops are melting into the sampietrini. To be honest, walking around the Coliseum, Forum or any site under the Roman sun can be infernal. However, Rome is used to a little complaining and a lot of city flight. In the summer months, the city doesn’t want us to sweat it out. Lungo il Tevere and Estate Romana light up the evenings with social events once the sun goes down. And many of Rome’s sites are collaborating as cultural stages.
Sure you can catch a bit of Caracalla with your opera ticket, enjoy the Teatro di Marcello as backdrop to a musical series, and even browse Ostia Antica in a summer performance series but we’re always on the look out for an evening history adventure. This summer, Rome is extraordinary in the evenings with extended hours and special openings for several museums and cultural sites. Our top favorite history lessons to be held when the sun goes down are:Moon over the Coliseum: Thursdays and Saturday evenings you can catch an Italian or English language group tour to the hypogeum (underground) and second tier. Quiet and informative, our favorite way to experience the Coliseum.
- Nights at Castel Sant’Angelo: Hadrian’s tomb is always something we look forward to once we’ve past the solstice. (And you know we love Following Hadrian!) Walking through the labyrinth at night is amazing, but even better is a stroll along the Passetto. Tuesdays through Sundays.
- Ara Pacis: There is nothing quite like admiring the Ara Pacis in front of a dark, cerulean blue sky. But we’ve been limited to window shopping only. Now, Saturday evenings, the Ara Pacis museum is open until midnight.
- Vatican Night Openings: A no brainer. The Vatican Museums in the evening are quiet, calm and cool. It’s like being a Borgia. [UPDATE: Vatican evenings are on break until September]
- Astrosummer: Another no brainer. evening hours at the Planetarium in EUR.
“I can be moving or I can be still
But still is still moving to me”.
-Willie Nelson, The Tao of Willie
The upside of having to take the bus is that you have plenty of time, every day, to retreat to the sanctuary of your mind. Of course, it’s really great to have a car to drive because you have much more control over your schedule and movements around town. It’s fun to blast whatever music you want to hear—a different listening experience than when you’re using headphones. The downside to having that control, however, is the acceptance of responsibility that driving entails, whereas you could just climb on the bus and drift into the wonderful world of your imaginings. Leave the driving to Mr. or Ms. Driver, and enjoy your responsibility-free transportation experience! (As long as you have a validated ticket.)
Many people read on the bus but I can only read on trains or the metro without getting seasick. Whatever! You can read later. Use bus time as ZEN time. Countless societies value the practice of meditation, prayer, contemplation, the emptying of oneself, etc. Call it what you will, but it is GREAT to space out and it is GREAT to really give your life and relationships a good ponder. The bus is the perfect place for this, especially if you snagged a seat. Autobus zen is excellent because you are profoundly multitasking…you are physically getting where you need to go. You are doing your part to reduce Rome’s street congestion and carbon emissions. You are ALSO advancing yourself mentally by contemplating your life-path, daydreaming to give your brain a break, thinking positive thoughts about your friends and family, listening to music, inventing plausible business ventures, listing what you need from the grocery store, and admiring the beauty of what you’re seeing outside the window. As the wise and beloved Willie wrote in reference to making the most of bus-travelin’ time, don’t forget the options of contemplation and meditation as you are racking up the miles.
Bus-taking will indeed strengthen you as a person, if you so let it. As a pedestrian in Rome, you cannot depend on a system of efficiency and reliability. No, ATAC (Rome’s public trans) will bestow upon you a gift far greater: that of learning to accept and even embrace chaos. One you’re accustomed to transportation mishaps, you will find yourself taking a more serene approach to addressing unanticipated annoyances and problems. Slogging along on the bus in heavy traffic after waiting 30 minutes for it to arrive will help you recognize when it is worthwhile to fret, and when you just need to throw your hands up to the heavens and let it all go. Imagine that you’ve put all your anger and frustration into a red balloon, and release it into the sky. Spin in a circle and toss imaginary stardust over your right shoulder. It’s all good.
(Just don’t be late for class, or they’ll cane you.)
~Julia Elsey, three-peat field school participant, former AIRC intern and programs assistant, voice of Saverome blog in Spring and Summer 2011, and transport philosopher.
Good morning, Rome! Set your alarms early for Saturday April 14th because you’re about to play Culture Week, 8 interactive days of free cultural sites, monuments and museums through out the Italian peninsula and islands. Okay, it’s not really a game, more an incentive by the Ministry of Culture to get people– whether locals or tourists– off the caffe chair and into a museum. However, a few years back, I invented a little healthy competition with some culturally enhanced friends where Culture Week meant we would voraciously visit every museum we’ve ever desired, yet not necessarily had the wallet to finance. At the end of the week, we’d throw down our free entry tickets much as much intensity as Patrick Bateman in the infamous business card scene (at 1:29), and winner literally took all.
So as not to confuse, Culture Week is primarily for state-run cultural sites and also includes events such as organized concerts and performances. Yes, there is a bit of a groan because the Colosseum/Roman Forum ticket is deliberately excluded from the free entrances this year. However, that double-header ticket seems a reasonable price to pay if everything else is free and Italy is trying to save some pennies culturally. For Lazio and Rome Culture Week info: take a look at this list of free sites/events in the Region of Lazio . In addition, Comune di Roma (City of Rome) organizes events (other local governments do as well). For information about civic museums participating in Culture Week, visit Musei In Comune, and also click here for event listings.
Are you ready to play the Culture Week game? Though the only rule is to get yourself into as many museums as possible, here are some guidelines to racking up as many points as possible:
- Accumulate points by . . . Visiting as many sites as possible and document– photos, instagram, twitter, who cares
- Get Bonus lives by . . . visiting off-beat, unknown and out-of-zone sites like a trip changing visit to Caserta, or listening to a concert at the Casa del Jazz.
- Lose a Life by . . . not paying attention. Some cultural attractions are privately financed and not subject to the free entrances as deigned by the Ministry of Culture.
My plans? Well, life isn’t always about the ancient so expect to find me traipsing about the Museo Napoleonico, enjoying some modern sculpture at the Museo Manzu, investigating Teatro Argentina, or finally figuring out what the Museo Pietro Canonica is all about.
The Colosseum, the quintessential symbol of Rome and Roman culture, has been a fixture in the international news for the past several months, mostly because of a series of incidents involving small pieces of stone, cement, and plaster that have detached and fallen, usually without causing injury. Is the Colosseum falling down? Yes and no.
In its 1930 years the Flavian Amphitheater (to use its formal name) has endured every conceivable form of structural stress and degradation: floods, fires, lightning strikes, earthquakes, invasive occupation by animals and humans (for settlement, commerce, and burial), deliberate attack (to remove the metal clamps holding together the blocks, creating the current Swiss-cheese appearance), and the slow, steady decay that every structure experiences due to seasonal changes in temperature and atmospheric moisture and pressure.
The most spectacular event in its history was undoubtedly the collapse of the southern section of the outer ring in the mid-14th century after a particularly violent earthquake shook the loose sediments underpinning the south side, where the lake of Nero’s Golden House had been (and, before that, a swampy basin fed by a small stream). The Colosseum was left in a particularly vulnerable state until the early 19th century, when an enlightened papal government sealed the exposed and buckling edges of the outer ring with the enormous brick buttresses visible today.
Fast-forward 200 years. What has changed in the Colosseum’s condition since then? Very little, if anything: fragments small and large have continued to detach, mostly because of the weather and age, and the general wear has accelerated due to tourist activity. But there is more awareness of the problems, mostly because of their economic effects. The Colosseum alone rakes in 35 million euros in ticket sales per year. Closing it to the public, as happened twice this month because of the extraordinary snow events in Rome, costs Italy hundreds of thousands of euros.
What is being done to conserve the Colosseum?
– by Albert Prieto, AIRC Associate Director of Archaeology
Snowboarding the Circus Maximus? Skiing the via dei Fori Imperiali? Yesterday, the rare snowstorm covered Rome with a beautiful white blanket of fun. Our own Darius Arya set out in search of snow and snowmen. Last time Rome had such a snowfall, everyone had big hair and shoulder pads… February 1985 and 1986.
Want to know how we ring in a Happy New Year 2012? We get our hands dirty in history and want you to help! For the first time ever, AIRC is offering a second Summer Archaeological Field School to complement its new project at Ostia Antica. We will be teaming up with Rome’s oldest and most prestigious university La Sapienza to offer the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dig in one of the most historic spots in the city, the Palatine Hill.
Location: NE Corner overlooking the Colosseum, along via Sacra between the arches of Titus and Constantine.
History soundbite: The Palatine is where the Romans thought their city was founded, way back in 753 BC. (more…)