Visiting Historic Rome - Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill + Pantheon

On our second day in Rome we explored its most ancient bits, including the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Pantheon. 
Since we were spending most of the day outside we were lucky because the weather was b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l, sunny and hot. Our hotel was literally a five minute walk to the base of the Colosseum so we strolled up to the entrance line around 10 AM. Best part was that we successfully avoided jet lag!


I had read online that if you visit on the first Sunday of the month a lot of tourist spots are free entry. So our entrance to the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill were free! Your ticket to the Colosseum gets you entry to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill (and vice versa) so you only need one ticket. Also, Rick Steves has really good audio tours for the Colosseum and Roman Forum for free on his Rick Steves Europe App so you can avoid buying the audio tour if you don't want to. We bought one audio tour (5 euro) to compare and my husband said the Rick Steves one was better!
Free entry was great but I also read that there would be a ton of tourists for that reason. We got in a looooong line at the entrance but it moved fast and we were in within 30 minutes.  So don't be discouraged if you see a line--you'll be in before you know it! Also, the Rick Steves tour actually starts outside so you can listen to it while you wait.

Standing in front of the The Colosseum was sensational. It just loomed there in all its ancient wonder smack dab in the middle of a bustling modern city. We couldn't wait to go inside and explore. 
With a regular entry ticket you can go on the the main level and the second level. Guided tours can be booked to go below ground and on the upper third level. However, these tours are not offered on First Sunday.  
We walked around the first floor, taking in the sights. Did you know the Colosseum was built to accommodate 50,000 people? It was massive (and still is). We saw the Emperor's designated seat, as well as the seats for the Vestal Virgins and the common folk.  Little of the actual stage (can I call it that?) remains but you could see where a replacement stage was built. You could also see into the pit below where animals were caged and gladiators prepared for battle. There were 36 trap doors in the arena.
You could still make out the remnants of hand operated elevator shafts that were used to move the animals (and I guess people?) to the Colosseum stage. We saw a cat lounging in the heat in the underground passages. It's lucky it was in the Colosseum now and not in 80 AD or so! It is said that over 500,000 people and over 1 million animals perished in the arena. 1 MILLION. The last gladiatorial fight occurred in 435 CE....so a long time ago. Also, procuring wild animals for the fights resulted in the elimination of some species!
Back in the day the marble seats reserved for noble families were carved with their names. It was really neat to see the collection of original Colosseum seats. I couldn't help but wonder who they all were and what their stories were. 
And that iconic top? It was caused by earthquakes.

After we completed our audio tour, we then moved on to the Roman Forum, which is located just East of the Colosseum.  You can literally see it from the Colosseum.
It's maybe a four minute walk before you're on the Via Sacre, the main street. The Roman Forum was  once the center of Rome's day-to-day operation and included political and religious buildings. Now of course it just looks like a bunch of rubble.
The Rick Steves audio tour for the Roman Forum was fascinating and talked about many of the sights in a convenient walking pattern. We followed along with no problem. I was downright giddy when he mentioned how we were walking on the same roads that Ancient Romans used. 
See those large stones? Caesar could have walked on them. How cool is that?!

I was particularly interested in the Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius, which was used for public law courts. I'm a lawyer so naturally I found it neat to stand where ancient courtrooms would have been. I can't even picture it. But the archways were massive! 
Those are archways that made up just the one side. The actual basilica extended to wear all the people are standing. You can see ruins of the old support columns that are fenced off and have grass growing.

I also was interested in the Temple of Vesta and the Vestal Virgins who kept the sacred flame of Rome burning.  There is not much left of the the Temple...it's just a curved stone wall with some columns, but you can get the idea of the scale of the Temple during ancient times. The Vestal Virgins lived in the Casa delle Vestali. It had a very nice courtyard lined with statutes which can still be appreciated today.
Once we had enough of the ruins we continued on to Palatine Hill, where Rome actually began as a tiny village (can you imagine?) in 8th century BC. 
Palatine Hill ultimately became the "Beverly Hills" of Rome, a posh residential area for the likes of Caesars. "Palatine" --> "Palazzo" (Italian) --> "Palai" (French) --> "Palace" (English). Many of the palaces have been destroyed through landslides but there are a few remaining that you can go in depending on the day and time you're there. We just walked to the top, took some photos and headed back down. The views were really spectacular. You could see the Vittoria monument (top left photo) and a glimpse of the Colosseum (top right photo). Plus you got a really good view of the Case delle Vestali courtyard (bottom left) and the basilica/courts (bottom right). 
Can't you just envision ancient Romans walking around? 

To regroup after the ruins we walked back to our hotel to enjoy some snacks and some vino. Our hotel room had access to an adorable private garden so we poured ourselves some wine and went outside to chat. 
I learned Rome has mosquitoes just like here and they were KILLER. I got more than a few bug bites. Maybe consider packing bug spray if you're going during warm weather!

We then walked to the Piazza della Rotonda to see the Pantheon...which was a little bit of a let down because I found out it is actually the third Pantheon (2 burned down in fires) and it isn't even facing the right direction (it faces South now, not North as it originally did). The Oculus was really cool though and I learned a little bit of architecture. PLus Italian Kings Umberto I (and his wife Queen Margherita) and Vittorio Emmanuele II are both buried in the Pantheon, as well as the artist Raphael. 
Do you see the hollowed squares in the dome? Those were to conserve weight while providing strength -- the squares toward the bottom were much thicker (and therefore heavier) than those toward the top. I think Rick Steves said the ones closest to the Oculus are 5 feet thick or something? The Oculus is the only source of natural light in the Pantheon. This was just a hole originally and water would rain inside. For this reason the marble floors have drainage holes in them. 

Outside the Pantheon, there is script above the columns that reads:
 M. AGRIPPA.L.F.COSTERTIUM.FECIT
The Pantheon; Pantheon Inscription;
Apparently this means "Marcus Agrippa son of Lucius, having been consul three times made it." But further than that I have no idea what it actually means...

We then walked over to Trastavere, a super cute neighborhood across the river with a bunch of shops and restaurants. There are even shops down at the river's edge under little tents. 
I think Rick Steves has an audio guide for a walk through Trastavere but we didn't do it. Instead, we were focused on some delicious grub and settled on Grazia & Graziella. We ended up being seated next to an American couple from Chicago who were in Italy for their honeymoon and we started chatting over dinner.
Oh my gosh this place had THE BEST bruschetta (it came three different ways). And prosecco. Seriously such good prosecco. We also had carbonara. I told you how I loved the pasta carbonara, didn't I?! If you're traveling in Italy don't be confused by the whole antipasti, first course, second course thing. Odds are an antipasti and one course (whether it be from the first course menu or meat course menu) will be more than enough. If anything I'd recommend you order one antipasti, one pasta course, and one meat course...and share it all. Trust me, you will not go hungry!

Overall, I loved how walk-able Rome was. You really could get everywhere by walking. It took some getting used to because the roads are pretty winding since they aren't laid out like a square grid (I guess a city grid was a more modern invention! Lol). We did take an Uber twice though. Once to the train station and then also to get to our adventure that I will tell you about next time! Check back later for our adventure on day three in Rome!

Have you ever been to Rome? What was your favorite thing to do? Tell me all about it in the comments below!

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