Continuing on through Rome we came to the Altare della Patria (Alter of the Fatherland) which is also known as Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II or Il Vittorio. It was built in honor of the first king of the unified Italy, Victor Emmanuel and it is the largest (and probably whitest) structure in Rome. The monument caused a huge controversy when it was built because its construction destroyed a large area of the Medieval Capitoline Hill neighborhood. It also sticks out in its surrounding area because its glaring white marble structure is a stark divergence from the earth toned buildings surrounding it.
Next were the Fori Imperiali (Imperial Fora) and the Forum Romanum (Roman Forum). Citizens in ancient Rome would have usually referred to the Forum Romanum as simply “Forum.” It is a large piazza that is surrounded by ruins of ancient government buildings in the center of the ancient city. The Fori Imperiali is not part of the Roman Forum even though they are located very close to each other. The Fori Imperiali was started by Julius Caesar and it was restored in the 20th century by Mussolini.
Next was the Colosseum, which was my absolute favorite site in Rome. We went late in the day about an hour before the ticket office closed (the Colosseum stays open an hour after they stop selling tickets). Because it was so late, it wasn’t crowded at all and we were able to wander the ancient passages until closing. The boys loved hearing their dad and Mat talk about gladiator shows and how they would flood the Colosseum for navy battle reenactments. Mat showed us where each class of people would have sat and explained the workings of the arena and hypogeum (the elaborate underground structure of tunnels). I could have spent an entire day there!
After the Colosseum, we wandered on to the Horti Palantini (Palentine Hill) and the Farnese Gardens (the first botanical gardens in Europe) and then to the Circus Maximus. We have watched Ben-Hur at least once each year ever since I was a little girl so it was very exciting to get to see the grand scale of the former chariot racing stadium, which is now a large park.
We ended our day with a quick stop to see the Bocca della Verità, or Mouth of Truth which sits in the portico of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin (the same church that holds the supposed relics of Saint Valentine). In ancient legend, it was believed that the Bocca della Verità was a lie detector and if a person were to tell a lie while their hand was in the sculpture’s mouth, their arm would be bitten off. If you’ve seen Roman Holiday (and if you haven’t then you should) you probably recognize it from its appearance in the 1953 film.
Finally, we were too exhausted to make it back to our hotel by foot and an Italian gentleman was nice enough to give us directions on how best to get back to the hotel using public transportation. David and Mat were proof that guys do sometimes stop and ask for directions.