Our second day in Rome was as packed as the first one – if not more so. Having walked more than ten kilometres the previous day we managed to walk even further on day two.
The first (but unplanned) stop was at the 17th Century Palazzo Barberini which houses the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, the main national collection of older paintings in Rome.
Quite apart from the many magnificent pieces of art in the museum, the building itself was a piece of art too. For example the salon ceiling contains a exquisite fresco called the Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power by Pietro da Cortona (painted between 1632 and 1639). This vast masterpiece, glorifying the Barberini family, apparently became highly influential in guiding decoration for later palatial and church ceilings.
Another work of art was the magnificent staircase leading up to the salon, designed by the leading sculptor of the early 17th Century (and architect) Bernini.
There were many early religious pieces of art – altar piece, crucifixes etc, as well as many paintings by a range of acclaimed artists including Raphael, Tintoretto, Hans Holbein, Caravaggio and many more well-known and not-so-well-known painters of the 16th and 17th centuries.
After a quick and delicious brunch in a small restaurant over the road from the museum, we headed for the Colosseum to join the “skip the line” tour we had booked the previous day. On the way we managed a quick glimpse of the Trevi Fountain the area round which was horrendously crowded.
Despite having difficulty in finding the meeting point for the tour we thankfully arrived just in time.
The tour was interesting but again, like the Vatican the previous day, the Colosseum was just too crowded for my liking. I shudder to think what it was like when filled to capacity with 80,000 very excited spectators. Thankfully, there were 80 entrances and staircases which would have ensured safe evacuation if an emergency arose during a gladiatorial event.
Although two-thirds of the original Colosseum had been destroyed by the 1990s, restoration work has allowed today’s visitors to imagine the atmosphere of this incredible place during gladiatorial contests and other spectaculars.
It is amazing to think of the human ingenuity, creativity, intelligence and intellect required to build this magnificent structure and on the other hand, the shocking indifference at best and brutal delight at worst, at the death of an estimated 400,000 or more people and 1,000,000 animals over the course of the 390 years that the amphitheatre was used for gruesome entertainment.
From the Colosseum we walked up to the Palatine Hill – the most important of Rome’s seven hills. The Palatine Hill was in ancient times the most desirable address in Rome and as we walked through its pleasant gardens we were able to get a taste of the sweet air that Ancient Rome’s elite had enjoyed. It was such a relief to be away from being at close quarters with hoards of people.
We were able to look down on the remains of once sumptuous palaces and villas owned by the Emperor Augustus and other aristocrats and emperors.
Wandering to the edge of the Palatine Hill we could see below the site of what was once an immense race course, the Circus Maximus.
Before reaching the other side of Palatine Hill we strolled through the Farnese Gardens- the first private botanical garden in Europe, built by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese in the 1500s.
Although it is not anywhere near its former glory, the garden is still a pretty place to walk around.
Once through the gardens we were over on the other side of the Palatine Hill where there were stunning views from a series of terraces of the labyrinthine ruins of the Roman Forum, the Capitoline Hill and beyond.
Nearing the end of the allocated time for the tour, we made our way down into the vast and sprawling area of the Roman Forum. Unfortunately, there were only a few minutes before closing time to explore this incredible place jam packed with architectural ruins and archaeological excavations of temples, shrines, government buildings, squares, public buildings, markets and streets.
We wandered back towards the apartment that our old friends Peter and Cathy from Brisbane had rented and where we had stayed the previous night. But first we found an ideal side street cafe where we had an excellent meal.
Of course, even though we were exhausted, we couldn’t resist just a little clothes shopping after dinner. Well who can blame us we were in Italy after all!