Rome is a crazy, busy, noisy city. But step onto the ancient Via Sacra, past the Arch of Constantine and into the Roman Forum, and you will leave all of that behind. If your imagination is active enough, and you choose one of the side paths not trampled by the hordes of tourists, it is almost like taking a step back into time. The sprawl of ruins before you are returned to their original glory and you can pretend to rub shoulders with stately matrons doing their shopping or senators paying their respects at one of the many temples.
Gareth and I wandered up the Palatine Hill where, legend has it, the cave was located where the she-wolf raised the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome. We enjoyed the shady trees and the fountains in the gardens overlooking the Forum. The view over Rome was pretty amazing too.
Back along the Via Sacra, we strolled lazily past palaces and temples in various states of dilapidation, including the House of Tiberius, that seemed to imitate the Colosseum with its many arched windows, the tranquil House of the Vestals where virgins had once tended the sacred fire of the goddess of the hearth, and the Temple of Castor and Pollux, twin sons born to Leda and Zeus in the guise of a swan.
At the northwest corner of the Forum we found the Umbilicus Urbis, an ancient shrine that served as the symbolic centre of the city and was believed to be the site of a crack in the ground that allowed access to the underworld. Can you imagine what a scary place this must have been for the ancient Romans? Did they come here to commune with the spirits of the dead, or did they avoid it all costs?
Eventually we reached the end of our exploration and had to make our way back to the bustle of the city. But as we climbed the steps up to the Theater of Marcellus, we couldn’t help but take a minute to stop and look down upon the Roman Forum again. A haven of tranquility, an ancient sanctuary, a piece of history in the midst of so much modernity, the Roman Forum is forever one of my favourite places in Rome.
Have you walked the ancient Via Sacra and visited the palaces and temples of the Roman Forum? Is this one of your bucket list items? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
For more posts in the Ciao Italy 2014 series, click here.