3rd time lucky, right?
Well, I dunno.
We tried to jump on this tour the first day we were here, and couldn’t find them.
Then this morning, we tried to get on board, and couldn’t find anything.
So, this is our last chance. If we can’t find this damn tour, then I’m giving up.
I mean, the Spanish Steps are cool and all, but not for 3 visits just because you wanna have a lol. We stand around. This time we are 10 minutes early, and wait till 5 past, and then we start asking questions. There is nothing else on the website to suggest that we have to do anything other than be at the Spanish Steps at 4pm.
After asking a few more high school groups, and ruling out the group that was pretty much exclusively walking frames and granny-scooters, our last resort is the copper.
“Hi. Ahh. English?”
“Perfect. We look for tour?” – *makes the motion of walking with my index and middle finger*
“Yes.. I understand”
“Oh ok…”, well, that got awkward quick… Her accent was thick, but she was pretty much fluent.
“The walking tours usually leave over near the Spanish Square”
“Oh awesome! Thanks heaps”
Turns out that I didn’t need to skip the fill-in words when talking with this chick, and coulda just spoken normally to her from the outset. But! the perk is that we actually found the tour!! After the third try, we were ready to give up, so we are glad that we got to finally find the tour.
We hang around, and the only guy there is leading the spanish tour. Our guide, Alexandra, was a bit under the weather, but being the legend that she is, is on her way to show us around the city. We all kinda just hang around like the disjointed, mix-cultured group of travellers that we are until she arrives. You can usually tell who is there for the tour, but nobody wants to be the one who walks up to another stranger to start conversation, for them to not even be in the same group, so every body just does their own thing for a bit.
Alexandra rocks up, and pulls everything together, and the tour gets underway.
She introduces herself, and she is all smiles. Genuinely one of the nicest tour guides we’ve had since we have been doing these walking tours of the city. Naturally, since we are at the Spanish Square, this is where the tour begins. Alexandra tells us that in Rome, the squares in the city are usually named after the embassy buildings throughout the place. So, being that the Spanish Embassy is right next to us, we are in the Spanish Square.
The Spaniards can have the square right?
Well get a load of this… The Spanish Steps were actually a gift to Rome by none other than the French. Well, why would they be called the Spanish Steps? Cos of the Embassy.
Before the steps, there was just a big dirt hill, and at the top was a French churhc, where the French would go and pray. So, the French killed two birds with one stone, and they built these massive steps (which are still the widest in Europe), except they didn’t get any of the credit. A bit rough, I reckon.
Alexandra then starts telling us all about this fountain at the bottom of the steps. It is this baroque style fountain, and it jokingly called it the “Fountain of the old Boat”, not because of the nostalgia of it, but because it looks like it is sinking (intentionally). So, I didn’t know this, but Baroque is meant to be almost imperfect. It is meant to be this off-perfect style, and I have to admit that I really love it. I mean, the renaissance style is really nice too, but it is meant to be a really nice and completed really nice, and not so raw. From what I can gather, baroque depicts human emotion more (generally speaking).
Alexandra tells us that the water is ok to drink, so being the person Bec is, she wants to give it a whirl, so she walks over to the platform that juts out over the pool, and leans in for a taste. With our new found knowledge, we know that this is more than acceptable, and don’t think twice about it, but we forget that there are other people that don’t know that this is all good. So, I am taking a photo of Bec drinking from what looks like a fancy ancient mini public pool, and I hear this lady behind me just say “Oh Yuk!”.
I start laughing, while I spin around to see who said what, and this elderly lady, about as tall as my bellybutton has her face all scrunched up in ways I didn’t know possible, eyes wide and staring directly at Bec. She realises that I am staring at her, and she slowly pans to look at me. I’m looking at her like this is hilarious, and she is looking at me like she is genuinely concerned for our physical and mental wellbeing.
By the time I look back, Bec is standing back on the cobble stone, so I run off to fill her in on the outrage she caused.
We meet up with the rest of the group,
We follow the winding roads all the way through to the Trevi Fountain. Just as we round the corner, you can head the water flowing. I’d seen the pictures, but I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect it to be as bit as it is. Alexandra gathers us all together in the throngs of other visitors and starts to fill us in.
The god at the centre of the fountain is Neptune, so being that he is the god of the seas, and back in the day, the seas were how most people would reach Italy from abroad, visitors would toss a coin into the fountain as a means of ensuring their safe passage back to Rome one day. In the height of tourist season, they will collect unto 3,000 euro each day from people tossing coins into the fountain. Thats mental hey? Where does it go, you might ask? Fortunately, it goes to the Red Cross.
But seriously, this fountain is actually massive. It is over 20m wide.
We get a few minutes to get the photos we want and regroup. Its funny because the Trevi Fountain is the most popular fountain in the world, but it technically isn’t even a fountain. Being that none of the water actually spouts out anywhere, and only trickles down the ledges, its doesn’t actually fall under the classification of a fountain.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing…
We get on our way again, and Alexandra takes us to this random spot and tells us about the fountains around the city. These things are literally everywhere, and they do not stop running. It is mental. Its designed so that people can fill up their water bottles and get a drink when they want. It is a brilliant idea, and I love that it is so easily accessed by the public. The water comes down from the mountains. Back in the day, before Rome was invaded by the Barbarians, all the water was transported via the aqueducts.
They would build these aqueducts all the way from the mountains, into Rome. The smallest of the aqueducts was a mere 17km long, where as others had spanned up to 100km. That is utterly ridiculous. What is more ridiculous was the fact that the romans found out that the best decline to have the aqueducts on is 1cm/km.
That is 1mm/100m.
Wtf? You might ask.
I asked the same thing.
Romans were actually amazingly phenomenal engineers. Seriously mind blowing that they were able to achieve everything they did so long ago. Anyways, Alexandra shows us that when you wanna drink from the fountain, that you have to block where the water comes out of, because there is another hole at the top, where the water shoot out of, in a really fine jet, and you kinda just gotta wrap your gob around it.
Kinda funny to watch everyone give it a crack. I nearly got nailed, and I was still a good few meters away.
We continue to where Michaelangelo lived, and Alexandra tells us that when he died, he was buried in the church, but being that there were a few blokes from Florence who were overly proud of Michaelangelo also being from Florence, they broke through the back wall of the church and stole the body of Michaelangelo and buried him in Florence. By the time the Priest found out, it was too late, and they already had the body in the sister city.
Alexandra wanders with us through to this place called the King’s monument. Its kind of a useless monument. A cool monument, yes, but a little bit of a useless one. Its kinda serves no purpose except that it is to celebrate the unification of the nation. Its affectionately called the “Cake Topper” by the locals, because it serves no purpose in the city except to actually look pretty.
That being said, it is a monster of a monument, and this is when Bec and I really begin to agree that we honestly have not been more impressed by another capital city. All the landmarks that you have seen in pictures really are as big as you imagine they are going to be, and the most amazing thing is that they are still just as intact too. That is the really impressive thing. Rome is so history rich, and the majority of it is still really well preserved.
Athens had just as much, if not more history, but Rome…
…Rome’s history, I feel, is much more alive than Athens. I would assume that this would be because there was a lack of major invasion after major invasion. Rome certainly seemed to hold it’s own better.
We make our way from the King’s Monument, to the Roman Forums. While we are walking, I get chatting with Alexandra. The topic of being a tour guide comes up, and she tells me that she has multiple degrees, and you have to sit what is like the bar exam to be able to get your tour licence. Its mental. “I would never want to do that again”
“Really? Why is it so hard?”
“You have to know the history of all of Rome”
“You have to know what is behind every wall and under every building. Its not easy”
I am super impressed.
So, I asked her, “Whats behind this wall?”, pointing to the wall we are passing. I cant remember what she said, but she lays it out for me without skipping a beat, and hardly without looking at the building. Truth be told, she probably could have made it up on the spot, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.
I am genuinely impressed.
I’m certainly not taking the role of tour guides as light as I once did.
…Especially in Rome.
We reach the Roman forum, and Alexandra tells us how back in the day, this is where everyone met. This is where everything in the city happened. There wasn’t a business sector, social sector, arts sector. Its was all the same point, and it all happened at the one forum. Literally, all the roads converged at the Forum. It was the centre of Rome.
Back in the day, Rome was a democracy. When Julius Caesar was elected, he was elected as a dictator, but the way it worked, was that once he had fulfilled his duties as the dictator, he would give the power of being the dictator back to the senate. So, this is where it gets interesting…
Julius Caesar is elected and becomes Rome’s dictator. However, the senate end up murdering him before he gives the power back to the senate. Why is that? Well, their big fear was that he wouldn’t give the power back to to the senate, and if I was in the position of the senators, I would think the same thing. You see, he began to build monuments
He starts building all these monuments and creating notions that he is a god. For instance, one of the big things he did was move the forum around, and name central parts of Rome after himself. Being that you kinda can’t do that, he was pretty much saying that he can do whatever he wants. Hence, the murder. After his murder (if my memory serves me well), his nephew, Augustus Caesar was elected as the Dictator for Rome.
The senators were all like “Ahhh. Too easy”, cos Augusts was pretty crook for most of his life, so they thought that it would be easy to control him. Turns out that he was actually more influential than Julius Caesar. He stuck to his guns and amassed a HUGE amount of power, that when he finally gave the power back to the senate, they didn’t know what to do with it, so they gave it back to him.
This was the beginning of Rome as an empire, but the really cool thing is that instead of it being an uproar and a civil war, like in most instances, it was actually a peaceful transition from a democracy, into an Empire.
From here, we could see the Colosseum. The team had designed the tour well, because this is one of (if not the most) iconic landmarks in Rome, so leaving it till last was a smooth move, but didn’t feel like it was really held out on the tour longer than it should have been. We head down, and everyone is snapping pics left, right and centre. Which is understandable, naturally. Alexandra gathers everyone together, and begins the last leg of her tour.
She begins by telling us about how the outside ring of the Colosseum had fallen, to give it the signature, abruptly slanted end to the external ring of the ancient stadium. She was telling us that back when Rome entered the medieval age, the iron braces that were holding the ancient structure together were harvested to make canons, swords and cannonballs. Naturally, this left the structure pretty damn weak, and so during an earthquake, a lot of the outer ring collapsed, leaving only a portion left.
She goes on to tell us that the entire structure was built at the Emperor’s expense. I mean, the ENTIRE build was out of the personal pocket. Originally, it was built for the emperor, and his entertainment, but it later was made open to the public, and what is more, it was free. That is the really impressive part. There were tiers to the seating, so depending on how important you were, you were assigned a certain position in the stadium. The way it worked, was that you would get a ticket, with 3 numbers on it. The first told you which gate to go though, the second was which row you were in, and last was what seat you sat on.
Exactly like a casual Sunday at the footy.
So, the way it worked, was that the morning session in the colosseum was the gladiators fighting. They would begin by fighting each other, but if it got boring, the head of entertainment for the show would send out all sorts of animals for them to fight also. This would happen with the use of the 60 trapdoors in the floor of the colosseum, with each of them manned by 8 slaves. The fighters would have to stop and kill the animals, then get back to fighting each other. The subtile implication of such act was that the Emperor had complete control over not only the gladiators, but also the wild beasts of the Roman empire, and everything was subject to him.
Pretty damn clever.
During the lunch break, all the rich sorts would head home and feast and do whatever they wanted to, because they were rich and stuff. But, the plebs would stay behind, and all the animals that were killed during the shows would be butchered and cooked to feed the people attending the show. Pretty resourceful, I’d say. The Gladiators were pretty much all slaves, but, if a Roman citizen wanted to compete as a Gladiator, then they were able to revoke their citizenship in pursuit of the fame inside the colosseum walls. There was a minimum of 2 years training to be a gladiator. 6 months was spent learning the short sword alone, and 6 months extra was spent on a specific weapon of your choice.
Despite the bloodthirstiness of the Roman culture, by the end of the day, the people were usually pretty tired of seeing people or animals die, so to wrap up the day’s festivities, instead of having another bloodbath, they would have a 1v1 show with two gladiators. The 1v1 wasn’t even a fight to the death. If one of the competitors lost their weapon, or was knocked to the ground, then the victor would look to the Emperor for guidance.
At this point, the Emperor would stand and make a speech on behalf of the gladiator. He would tell the people about who he was, how many kids he had, where he comes from, how he holds himself in general life etc. etc., and would usually try to convince the people that this man wasn’t in need to dying today. Most of the time, people would vote against him dying, but on the occasion that he was too wounded, or that he was a bit of a tosser, then by way of vocal cheer (or lack thereof) from the crowd, the emperor would give the command to the victor to kill his opponent.
It wouldn’t happen right away.
The loser would have to strip off in front of everyone, get down on his knees, and hold the legs of the victor. This would expose a soft entry to his heart, between his neck and shoulder, where the victor (who was quite often his friend) would have to drive the sword into his heart, killing him. Naturally, being that it was pretty easily pierced, there was blood everywhere, which often satisfied people’s bloodlust.
Not gonna lie, I was certainly surprised that the Emperors weren’t more savage. Things like the movie Gladiator kinda paint a different picture. In fact! Gladiators were usually quite fat. Being that the majority of them were slaves, very rarely did they actually have any armour, so they used to carry a lot of fat, as a means of natural protection. Pretty good hey?
We thank our guide, as that was one of the best tours we’ve done since we were away. She’s actually amazing, and was more than happy to share her vast knowledge of Rome. We get on our way back to the hostel, and decide that for dinner, we are just going to have a whole selection of cheese & cured meats for dinner.
So, just around the corner from our hostel, we swing into this little deli, and this guy who we ca barely hold a conversation with, throws a variety of options for us to try in the way of meats and cheeses. The bloke is an absolute hero, and I kinda feel bad cos of the portions he lets us try. I mean, he is giving us some damn big pieces to try, and this stuff is amazing.
We walk out of there with 5 different cured meats and 4 brilliantly diverse cheeses. We head home, Crack open our Lambrusco, tuck into the cheese & wine, and veg out for the night. Its the best way to wrap up a day in Rome.
Come back for the next story,