Although Rome holds plenty of modern-day delights for travelers, many visitors find the most fascinating attractions are those reminiscent of the Eternal City’s illustrious past. Set out from a marvelous cheap hotel in Rome to explore remnants strewn throughout the city and countryside that show how even the march of time cannot erase all vestiges of a once glorious empire.
Colosseum – Open daily at 8AM, Closes from 5:30 to 7PM, depending on the season
Even if you’ve been to this colossal monument to one of the world’s most grizzly reality shows, it’s certainly worth seeing again now that they have opened up the underground portion known as the hypogeum. Buried for centuries under erosion and rubble, this fascinating complex under the main arena has been restored and is open to the public. The bizarre structures inside these catacombs have been deciphered as an elaborate staging area where animals, sets and victims could be raised up directly into the arena.
Imagine how it must have titillated the over 50,000 spectators that took their seats according to their social status to watch in fascination as elephants, tigers and lions magically arose into the dusty arena, not to mention the animal’s predictably alarmed responses to suddenly being in the open air after their captivity underground.
Diocletian Baths – Open Tuesday through Sunday at 9AM, closes at 7:45PM
The palatial grandeur of the Diocletian Baths makes it clear that the ancient Roman elite were die-hard hedonists. From the frigidariums (cold pools) to the caldariums (hot tubs), luxury constantly surrounded the nobles floated around naked as jaybirds. The forest of frescoed marble columns, beautiful life-like statues and vaulted ceilings still seem to echo the gossip that must have flowed under the vaulted roofs as freely as the water from the fountains.
Villa dei Quintili – Open Tuesday through Sunday at 9AM, closes one hour before sunset
Though only a shell remains, this, villa set high upon a terraced hill overlooking Rome is still impressive enough to remind visitors its past glory. The remains of this monumental suburbium complex include the nympheum — a rotunda lined with statues resembling a forest grotto, designed to tempt the local nymphs into residence. Originally constructed as a home for some very successful Roman lawyers, the thermal aqueduct that fed the hot baths appealed to Emperor Commodus who later made it his home so he could relish the peaceful country atmosphere while surveying the city he commanded.
Tomb of Cecilia Metella- Open Tuesday through Sunday at 9AM, closes one hour before sunset
Surprisingly well-preserved, this particular vestige of Rome’s turbulent past has served many purposes through the ages. Besides the obvious funereal monument for the daughter of a family of prestige, its dominant position along the Appian Way made it ideally suited for less noble activities, such as a serving as a launching place for papal-sanctioned raids on unwary travelers on the road to Rome. The quadrangular basement displays excellent stonemasonry skills, painstakingly fashioned from flint concrete lined with travertine blocks, a definite factor in its longevity.
Even more astounding is the craftsmanship required to erect an imposing cylinder over the tomb sporting majestic bucrania friezes and bas-relief depictions of the family’s military history. A brick curtain sheaths the interior of the funerary chamber topped by a conical shaped tower open to the sky. Though modified over the years to include battlements and soldiers’ quarters, the prestige of the original tomb’s occupants has survived through the ages.
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