Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Italy Day 1 Jewish and Ancient Rome: Rome Synagogue, Coliseum, Roman Forum

Barring two people whom I had seen during two weeks in Israel, I hadn't seen anyone I knew (much less anyone I was related to) face-to-face for the prior eight months! Family reunion! We met in the "lobby" of our hotel in Rome - Hotel Continentale on Via Palestro nearby to the train station. 

They basically had traveled all of the previous night and had gotten little sleep, but time while traveling is precious so we set out immediately for our jam-packed day of sight-seeing. 

We headed Southwest toward the Roman Forum.
My family and Caesar pose for a reunion picture - it's been a long time since we've seen Caesar.
We would wind around back at the Ancient Roman sights/sites after the Synagogue, but we couldn't help but get distracted by some of them along the way. First there was Trajan's Column
I assume that guy at the top of the column is Trajan.
The column depicts the military victories of Trajan in a continuous spiral relief sculpture that spans every inch of the cylinder which is very impressive.   
What a relief!
It's really lucky that Trajan's Column was the one that survived - these other ones weren't nearly so impressive.
Trajan's Column is just off of the Piazza Venezia which is dominated by the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II which contains the tomb of the unknown soldier or so I've read - we didn't go in, but walked in front of it.
It's very nice.
While we were walking through that Piazza (public square/plaza) it started to rain so my mom took shelter en route.
Ilana was better equipped to handle the rain - dad got wet.
We photograph well.
Realizing we didn't want to get too wet not yet having begun our scheduled activities for the day, we ducked into the first of many churches into which we were to duck over the course of the trip. Most churches are nice to look at:
The rain stopped, and we finally made it to the Great Synagogue of Rome
It quickly became clear that mom's favorite parts of Italy were going to relate to Judaism.
Unfortunately, it is forbidden to take pictures within most Synagogues in Europe and those in Italy were no exception. This is because there are more security risks over there with the elevated hate crime levels across the continent.
Someone on the internet broke the rules, but I'm glad they did because the sanctuary was beautiful.
The Synagogue is still in use and regularly, but for most of the week it is used as a museum with guided tours to the sanctuary every hour or so. The museum was nice. Most interesting was the row of many Torah covers designed with various patterns of cloth. We learned later on our tour that the Jews of Italy were forced to only work in a few professions, one of them being traders of used textiles - so a common donation to the Synagogue were ornate Torah covers fashioned out of the used textiles many of the Jews handled daily.

After the Synagogue, we walked two blocks away to the main street of the former Jewish Ghetto of Rome where there is now a wealth of Kosher restaurants and Judaica shops. One delicacy they had in plenty was artichokes - I wonder if that is because there was a particular affinity for artichokes in the Rome Jewish community, or if artichokes are just popular in Rome - either way they were delicious.
Being a tourist is hard on the legs - so we taxied to the Coliseum after our lunch in the Jewish Ghetto.
There it is!
Note: The ancient Roman amphitheater in Rome can be spelled either Colosseum or Coliseum.

The Colosseum was a Roman amphitheater used for entertainment. Entertainment in Roman times consisted infinitely more of killing human beings in one way or another than today. The wait to enter the Colosseum can be well over an hour, but if you are on a guided tour, which costs a few euros extra, one can bypass this wait in addition to receiving the tour. I would have no reference point from which to compare our tour to any others that are privately provided, but the tour provided by the Colosseum ticketing booth was top notch. We were granted access to the reconstructed portion of the original floor of the amphitheater and to the topmost accessible story of the structure, so I'd assume it's better than the private tour companies trying to sell tours outside the entrance. 

Once inside, we had some time to kill before our tour started (but at least we weren't still standing in line). Ilana and i took some great pictures of each other next to a wall.

Then we asked our dad to take a picture with the wall, so he did this:
As I said, the tour was very good. First we went to the reconstructed stage area and heard about all the different games played at the Coliseum, and by "games" I mean different methods of having people fight each other/animals to the death.
Those arches in the background lead to the concession stands where the ancients sold nachos/all-beef hot dogs.
I remember learning in high school Latin class that they would flood the Coliseum with water and stage naval battles inside the bowl of the stadium, but I never believed it. Even our tour guide who mentioned that it was thought by historians that they did this, admitted that no one knows how they would have done it. I think what happened was some ancient Roman was trying to write in his 1st Century C.E diary how awesome it would be if they flooded the coliseum with water and staged a naval battle, instead he wrote how awesome it was when they flooded the coliseum with water and staged a naval battle. Latin is very hard, it can confuse you very easily. I'm sure he was just confused.
See what I'm talking about? The water would leak out through all these holes!!

Over the many centuries, the Coliseum turned into a quarry where the people of Rome would come to strip building materials from its deteriorating shell. To preserve it, and to memorialize the Christians who died here, a Pope made it a holy site. 
That's why there's a cross here.
You know what? I'm going to have to call you back... yeah I'm about to watch this lion totally eat a former slave.
The tour ended at the top level of the Coliseum's remaining walkways which is restricted to most visitors. The views were really great.
View back towards the Piazza Venezia. 
This is the Roman Forum which was our next stop after the Coliseum.
See that little area of whitish grayish stones over the left portion of the stage area?  Those are the last remaining marble seats of the Amphitheater. 
The ticket that grants you access to the Coliseum also grants access to the Roman Forum, so doing them both in the same day is very convenient. We were realizing that touring all day on our feet can be very tiring so when we got to the Roman Forum, or as the Romans would spell it, the Roman Forvm, we had to have a seat:
We've all been taught that the Romans were great engineers, builders, thinkers, poets. What we were not taught, is that the Ancient Romans were total slobs! Look at the mess they left!
It's like they didn't clean up after themselves at all. No WONDER they call them "ruins"!
But seriously, it was cool to be in the former seat of Roman power, despite the mess. One major attraction was the Arch of Titus. Built in the year 82 to commemorate the Emperor's brother Titus's death. It depicts Titus's victories and in particular the conquest/siege of Jerusalem. It depicts Jews carrying the Menorah of the Holy Temple to Rome in submission. When the State of Israel was established, local Rabbis paraded the local Jewish Community in the opposite direction as the depicted march - signifying a return from the diaspora.  
Still Jewish!
There it is.
For scale:
Other than depicting Jews as slaves - it's a pretty impressive arch.
In true Roman slovenly fashion, some Roman left three steps of a staircase lying around so we played with that for a while:
I was entertained...
Exhausted, we taxied back to our hotel on Via Palestro. Unfortunately, due to our hotel's proximity to the center of Rome, we were not going to be spending much time in the public squares at night, which are supposed to be very beautiful and lively. Instead, after having dinner nearby to our hotel, we strolled down to the Piazza della Repubblica, and although it's no Piazza Navona - it was still beautiful.
Great first day!


  1. Dear Josh, I know I am an know-it-all. But I study classical Archeology, in fact I allready finished and one of my oral exam themes where emporer portraits. So the guy with you that you called Cesar, that is a cesar but not Julius Cesar. In fact it is his adoptive son whom you may know as Augustus. But that is a titel too and his real name was Gaius Iulius Divi filius Caesar known as Octavianus. His titels where Imperator Caesar Augustus and several others.
    And this statue is a replica of a famous type of portrait. It is an "Augustus Primaporta". The namegiving piece was found in the villa of Livia (his wife) near the modern town of Primaporta. And here is a good wikipedia piece about that statue. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustus_of_Prima_Porta
    So I am sorry to be a know-it-all, but I love my subject and I want to spread the knowledge. Jana

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