Yet Another Serendipitous Moment!
We arrived the day before Chris’ parents arrived and stayed at a little B&B in the Prati neighborhood called St. Peter’s Guesthouse. We cannot recommend this B&B highly enough. It’s in a great location near the Vatican and the Metro, the rooms are modern and clean, and the bed was very comfortable (a rare find in Italy). They give you complimentary treats like fresh almonds, chocolate and red wine, and you can also take free snacks from the common kitchen (coffee, yogurt, fruit, cookies, beverages). I felt like I was back at Google!
That evening, we discovered that our friend Rosemary was in Rome taking a 2-week class. We were lucky to cross paths with her since she'd be returning to Boston just two days later. We met for dinner at a little osteria in the Prati neighborhood where we sat outside and spent the evening catching up and laughing.
The next morning, two more Barbiers joined our team. We picked up Mom and Dad Barbier at the airport in the morning and then ventured back to find the apartment we had rented for the next few nights. Our apartment was also located in the Prati area, about a ten-minute walk from the Vatican. The apartment was great – newly renovated, spacious, quiet and it had a fantastic A/C – very important for summer in Rome. The unit had 3 large bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and living room – all connected by one giant hallway. My two favorite parts of the apartment were the SUPER tall ceilings and this poster hanging on the kitchen wall:
A man named Roberto greeted us and showed us around the place. He spent a half hour outlining places to see & eat on a map – very helpful! I’d recommend staying at this apartment, especially if you are traveling with a group.
Another Rome tip: If you find yourself here with a car, the Prati neighborhood is a great place to stay, because you can easily find street parking for just 8 Euros per day. The rest of the city is either off-limits to cars, or it is very expensive/impossible to find parking.
That afternoon we explored the Prati neighborhood, walking down to the river and seeing the Castel Sant’Angleo. A couple of fun facts about Castel Sant’Angelo:
- The Roman Emperor Hadrian commissioned it as a mosoleum for himself and his family
- It was later used as a fortress for the popes. There is a tunnel called the Passetto di Borgo that connects St. Peter’s to Castel Sant’Angelo. Pope Clement VII used this tunnel to flee St. Peter’s during the famous Sack of Rome in 1527!
The next morning, we had a tour set up for the Colosseum. We were so happy we reserved our tickets & tour in advance because the line was incredibly long and the heat was oppressive. We walked right past the line to pick up our tickets and waited about 5 minutes for our tour to begin. Our guide was a tiny woman named Anna Maria and she walked us through the Colosseum in about 45 minutes. You are probably familiar with the blood, gore and debauchery that took place here. However, here are a few things you may not know:
- The Colossuem is made of travertine and used to be completely white. They are currently trying to restore it to its original color.
- The structure was held together by giant iron clasps, which are no longer there because they were removed and used in the construction of the Vatican. In fact, most of the Roman Forum and Colosseum were torn down/stripped in order to provide materials for other buildings in Rome. Amazingly, the Colosseum still stands, sans clasps.
- The official name of the Colosseum is the Flavian Amphitheater. It became commonly known as the Colosseum because of the colossal statute of Constantine that stood in front of it during Roman times.
- Gladiators could be slaves, enemies conquered in war, or regular free people who signed up to fight. A gladiator rarely lived past the age of 30. However, the average Roman citizen of the time also did not long past age 30, so a gladiator's life expectancy wasn't as short as I initially thought it would be.
- All of the events held at the Colosseum were totally free to the public. Events could either be sponsored by the emperor, or very wealthy Romans, as 'gifts' to the Roman citizens.
This was one of the highlights in Rome. While we didn’t have a guide, we did download an app onto the iPad that helped provide context. A guide would probably have been best, but you need to secure them OUTSIDE the entrance gate. We thought we could secure one inside the gate. We did learn some interesting things:
1. Another Use for Vinegar
Vinegar has los of uses - salad dressing, cleaning agent and some people even put it on sunburned skin. Well, here is another use to add to the list - vinegar dissolves marble. Since most of the ancient Roman buildings were made of marble, barbarians used ropes soaked in vinegar to try to destroy the buildings, by entwining their marble columns in the rope. That is why you see those deep cuts on the columns in the picture below. This strategy didn't work very well since the vinegar also ate away at the ropes!
Saint Lorenzo, originally from Spain, was an archdeacon in Rome who was responsible for the church's treasury. When the Roman emperor Valerian commanded that all Christian bishops, priests and deacons be put to death, he also demanded the church's treasury to turned over to him. Lorenzo rushed to distribute all the church's money to the poor and needy. When Valerian's men came for the treasury, Lorenzo presented them with the poor people of the city, saying they were the true treasures of the church.
Needless to say, Valerian was not happy. His men laid Lorenzo down on a piping hot gridiron in an effort to torture him so he'd tell them where the church's treasures were hidden. He would not give in and after 8 hours of cooking on the iron Lorenzo exclaimed "This side is well done. Turn me over". He eventually died on the gridiron and he is now known as the patron saint of cooks and chefs.
Being selected as a Vestal Virgin was one of the greatest honors in ancient Rome. The six vestals had one main task - to keep the eternal flame lit at all times. They were also required to stay chaste during their 30-year term. There were severe punishments if they failed in these two areas:
- If the flame went out, the emperor would publicly beat the virgin in charge.
- If one broke her vow of chastity, she was sentenced to death by being buried alive.
Technically, they didn't have to adhere to these rules their entire lives. They were selected when they were young (6-10 years old) and served a 30-year term: 10 years of training, 10 years keeping the flame lit, 10 years teaching new recruits how to manage the flame. Back then, 40 was considered pretty old so most of their lives revolved around this one task. After 30 years of service they were usually married to Roman royalty. Marrying a former vestal virgin was considered a high honor and came with a sizable dowry.
The girls had no choice in the matter. In ancient Rome, it was a big deal if your daughter was chosen to be a Vestal Virgin. It was the parental trump card.
At first, I thought Vestal Virgins led a dull life, attending to a flame all day for 30 years. But upon learning more about them, it was a pretty good gig in ancient Rome. Firstly, the Romans considered them lucky because they got to escape the obligations of marriage and children (which leads me to believe that being a wife in ancient Rome must have been difficult). They were considered high priestesses and had the opportunity to study state rituals off limits to male priests. They could own property, make a will, vote, and condemn prisoners. Their word was trusted above all and emperors often sought their advice so they had a lot of political influence. They were also entrusted with the state's most important documents and relics.