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Castel Sant’Angelo history

castel sant angeloThe beautiful Castel Sant’Angelo, also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian, has a fascinating history. The latter name derives from its founder; the roman emperor Hadrian.
The construction of this great building started in year 135 AD and finished just 4 years later.

This also included the magnificent bridge in front of the castle – excluding the angel statues which were added later. Hadrian never got to see his mausoleum completely finished, as he died one year before its completion.

The emperor’s ashes were placed in the mausoleum, together with those of his wife and his first adopted son who died at young age.

A mausoleum for emperors

castel sant angeloThe mausoleum became a resting place for not only Hadrian, but also several of his successors. The last one to be interred in the building was Emperor Caracalla in year 217 AD. While the original structural design of the mausoleum is uncertain, historians believe it was composed of a square base with a large cylindrical body, crowned by a statue of Hadrian riding a chariot.

Expansions

castel sant angelo nightHowever, as one can see today, the Castel Sant’Angelo neither consists of only a cylindrical body, nor does it have a chariot statue at the top. This is due to the fact that the building has been serving several purposes throughout its history. This has in turn which has lead to several expansions of the building.

Exactly how the mausoleum used to look like during its peak is hard to say, as the original design is still uncertain. However, a report from the 6th century which describes the building has made historians believe that only the Colosseum surpassed it in splendor.

Barbaric invasion

passetto di borgoThe first change took place when the mausoleum was turned into a fortress during the decline of the Roman Empire. The fortress could however not stop the barbaric invasions and the sacking of Rome in the early 5th century.

Unfortunately, the sacking meant that the majority of the mausoleum decorations were stolen and much of the tomb content became scattered. The mausoleum took further damage when Rome was sacked once again in the 6th century.

Strategically located

Up until the Middle Ages, Castel Sant’Angelo was owned by various Roman families until the Papal state acquired the fortress in 1377. The Vatican saw great potential in the old fortress, as it was strategically located at the northern entrance to Rome – close to both the Vatican City and the Tiber River.

Passetto di Borgo

castel sant angelo nightIt didn’t take long for Pope Nicolas the 3rd to convert it into a proper castle. The pope also connected the castle to St Peter’s Basilica with an elevated passage. The passage is known as Passetto di Borgo and still exists today. The passage is located on the west side of the castle.

Visitors will see it as a wall-like structure leading all the way to Vatican City. The fortified passage is located on top of this wall and allowed for a quick and secure passage between the two buildings, in case of an emergency.

A bloody place

castel sant angelo statueThe Papal state did not only use this structure as a castle, but also as a prison where many noted Italians have been imprisoned.  Several executions took place in the small inner square and sometimes the mutilated bodies were displayed on the bridge in front of the castle in deterring purposes.

Gunpowder adaptations

Throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, Castel Sant’Angelo kept serving as a military fortification. In order to adapt to the use of new fire weapons, several expansions took place.

castel sant angelo statueThe bastions located in each corner dates back to this period and was meant to house artillery for defensive purposes. The walls were also surrounded with a moat filled with water from the river Tiber.

Why visit Castel Sant’Angelo ?

Castel Sant’Angelo is a beautiful site, full of history. The castle is crowned by a large statue at the top. The statue was also added during the Renaissance and depicts an angel. This angel honors an old legend which has given the castle its current name.

The legend

The legend holds that the Archangel Michael appeared at the top of the mausoleum in year 590. After he appeared, he sheathed his sword as a sign that the plague which had tormented Rome finally had come to an end.

castel sant angelo statueThe original statue was made in marble, but was later replaced with the bronze replica that stands today. The original statue can however still be found at the open court inside the castle.

The museum

The castle really only lost its military function in 1925, when it was renovated and began to serve as a national museum, which it still does today. While the museum is certainly worth a visit, you should definitely explore Castel Sant’Angelo itself.

Lots to discover

The many different roles the castle has played are all here for its visitors to discover; all the way from the funeral passage of Hadrian to the beautifully-frescoed interiors from the Papal expansions as well as the defensive battlements of the Renaissance.

Anyone interested in history and architecture, will certainly enjoy a visit to Castel Sant’Angelo. It is also possible to access the top of the castle. It will give provide great view over Rome in general and the St Peter’s Basilica in particular.

Castel Sant’Angelo location

Castel Sant’Angelo is located on the banks of the Tiber in the heart of RomeItaly. The castle is situated close to the Vatican City. For the exact location of Castel Sant’Angelo, check out the location map to the right.

Castel Sant’Angelo Video

Column of Marcus Aurelius history

This monument was raised to honor the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius was the emperor during a time when the northern provinces of the Roman Empire were under heavy stress. Nobody knows exactly why the tribes, in what are now the Czech and Slovak republics, became so violent at this moment in history.

Barbaric Invasions

Several different barbaric tribes were raiding along the northern border and across the river Danube, causing chaos and destruction in the Roman provinces. One of the tribes was the Germanic tribe known as the Marcomanni.

The other one was the Sarmatians; a people of ancient Iranian origin who migrated from Central Asia and settled in the south-eastern parts of Europe.

A struggle for control

Marcus Aurelius, who was more known for studying philosophy, shouldered the burden. In order to keep control over the area, Marcus Aurelius himself personally led the struggle against the Germanic tribes and the Sarmatians for the remaining time of his life.

Many people have actually seen these battles on screen, even though they might not know. The struggle against the Macromanni is depicted in the popular movie “Gladiator”, during its very first minutes.

Column founding

After Aurelius death, his son – the newly crowned emperor – Commodus quickly winded down the wars and declared that his father had them won. As a way of celebrating the victory and his father, he had this beautiful column raised.

Exactly when the column was raised is hard to say, but an inscription found in the vicinity attests that the column was completed in year 193. The column was most likely intended to be part of a larger complex, including a temple to the deified Marcus Aurelius.

However, there are no such remains left that indicate that anything else was actually built.In terms of the topography of ancient Rome, the column stood on the north part of the Campus Martius, in the centre of a square.

Restoration

The column has been the subject for a large restoration project, which is rather rare. The fact that it has been restored is not rare, but the time is happened is. The column was restored on order of pope Sixtus V, already in 1589.

The restoration included repairing and removing damaged and badly eroded decorations and inscriptions. During the project, the base of the monument was also lowered down in the ground to create stability and a new inscription was added on the renewed base.

Incorrect inscription

The inscription however mistakenly addresses Marcus Aurelius predecessor, Antoninus Pius, instead of Aurelius himself. The inscription says:

“Sixtus V, Supreme Pontiff, restored this spiral column, dedicated to the emperor Antoninus, sadly broken and ruinous, into its original form in 1589, in the 4th year of his pontificate.”

The statue

Another major change that affected the column during the restoration was the addition of the statue at the top. Originally, the column was most likely crowned by a statue of Marcus Aurelius, but it was lost before the 16th century.

For this reason, Sixtus V ordered that a new statue should be placed at top. This new statue, which is the same that stands today, was not of Marcus Aurelius but of Saint Paul.

Why visit the Column of Marcus Aurelius ?

This Doric column, covered in brilliant relief, stands an impressively tall on the Piazza Colonna. The monument, also known as the Aurelian Column, commemorates the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and his military campaigns in a stunning way.

Impressive detail

The column consists of almost 30 blocks of Luni marble. It is modeled after the nearby Trajan Column, which can be found a few hundred meters south of this column. The spiraling relief tells the story of Marcus Aurelius’ struggle against his northern enemies. The lower parts of the column tell the story of how the Roman army crosses the river Danube and fights the Macromanni. The upper part shows Marcus Aurelius victory over the Sarmatians.

The heads of the figures in the relief are made disproportionately large on purpose, so that the viewer can better interpret their facial expressions. Visitors to the column can probably see the amazing level of detail on the relief, even though it can be hard to spot from afar.

The pictorial language in the relief is unambiguous. The column depicts villages being burnt down and women and children being killed and captured by the tribesmen. It also emphasizes the Imperial army’s dominance and authority.

Observation point

Unknown to many is that there is actually a stairway inside the column. Hundreds of steps lead up to the small observation point at the top. By looking closely at the column, visitors can spot several tiny windows throughout the relief which leads light into the stairway.

Earthquake twist

Another thing that many don’t know is that the upper part of the column is displaced a bit, due to an earthquake. The twisting movement can be seen right at the middle of the column, where the battle versus the Macromanni ends and the battles versus the Sarmatians start. Again, this can hard to spot from afar.

Today, the column itself has give name to the surrounding square – Piazza Colonna. It is considered by Romans to be the very centre of the city.

Column of Marcus Aurelius location

The Column of Marcus Aurelius is located in RomeItaly. The column is located in central parts of the city. For the exact location of the Column of Marcus Aurelius, check out the location map to the right.

Column of Marcus Aurelius Video

Theatre of Marcellus history

The history of this open-air theatre dates back to the closing years of the Roman Republic. The planning for a new, massive theatre began in mid 1st century BC, under Julius Caesar.

Roman Rivalry

At that time of its construction, the largest theatre was the Theatre of Pompey – dedicated to a rival of Caesar.  After Julius Caesar defeated Pompey’s army during the struggle for control over Rome, he wanted to build a theater as impressive as the one of his rival. He annexed a large area and demolished several existing buildings, including two roman temples, in order to clear the ground for the theatre.

However, Caesar never got to see his theatre completed, as he was assassinated shortly was the construction started. As a result of his death, the whole project was put on hold.

Reign of Augustus

The project was restarted more than 20 years later, during the reign of Emperor Augustus. The man who said he found Rome in clay and left it in marble now turned his attention to the theatre. The construction of the massive structure went very fast. The theatre was so far advanced that the first shows could be held just a few years after Augustus took charge.

It was completed in 13 BC and formally inaugurated in 12 BC by Augustus himself. The theatre is named after Marcus Marcellus, Emperor Augustus’s nephew and designated successor. Marcellus died prematurely at a young age, five years before the completion of the theatre, in which Augustus dedicated it to his honor.

The largest in Rome

When completed, the Theatre of Marcellus was the largest theatre in Rome. It was an impressive 111 m in diameter and could hold more than 10.000 spectators. Just like many other Roman theaters in suitable locations, it had openings through which the natural setting could be seen.

The theatre was built mainly of tuff and concrete faced with stones. The outer parts of the theatre were covered in white travertine.

The building originally consisted of three levels supported by columns. Each one of the levels had a different architectural style. The lower levels had arches supported by columns in the Doric Order, while the upper consisted of Ionic columns. Only the two lover levels are still standing today.

Usage

The theatre was used for more than 400 year, undergoing several restorations during its lifetime. It offered several theatrical productions to the general public, especially during election campaigns. Like many other entertainment facilities, the theatre proved to be an exceptional propaganda tool.

Post ancient period

After its abandonment, the lower levels became buried under debris and vegetation. The building was, just like many other ancient buildings, used as a quarry for materials during the Middle Age. As you can see today, the ancient theatre is left in a ruinous state.

However, the building was not only used as a quarry, but also as a fortress as it was strategically located near the river. Over the years, it was owned by various Roman families, who expanded the building with living quarters at the top.

Why visit Theatre of Marcellus ?

The Theatre of Marcellus is one of the oldest preserved examples of an entertainment venue from ancient Rome.
A beautiful mix

As the theatre has undergone several modifications over its history, not much is left of what once was Rome’s largest theatre. However, it is also a striking example of different historical eras merged into one building. Visitors can see the high arches of the ancient theatre, the medieval fortified walls and the more elegant additions of the private living quarters. Today, the upper portion of the theatre still serves as apartments.

Theatre of Marcellus location

Theatre of Marcellus is located in Vatican City,RomeItaly. The theatre can be found on Via del Teatro di Marcello, downhill from the Capitol, on the way to the Mouth of Truth. For the exact location of Theatre of Marcellus, check out the location map to the right.

Theatre of Marcellus Video

Colosseum history

The Colosseum was built by Emperor Verpasian, the founder of the Flavian Dynasty. The Colosseum was actually originally called “the Flavian Amphitheatre”. The construction started in year 72 AD and the whole building stood completed 8 years later.

The Colossus

The huge structure was constructed on top of a park built by the previous emperor, Nero. This park included a massive statue of Emperor Nero, which was allowed to remain next to the theatre.

The statue was known as the Colossus statue, from which the theaters current name – Colosseum – derives from. The name was further changed towards “Colosseum” during the Middle Ages. In Italian, the amphitheatre is still known as Il Colosseo.

A massive stadium

The size of the Colosseum is imposing. Its elliptical structure reaches 189 meters long, 156 meters wide and stands almost 50 meters tall. The number of people it could accommodate is not certain, but estimates put the figure at around 50,000. The architecture was carefully planned in order to fit all these people. Its architects adopted solutions very similar to those used in modern stadiums to deal with the same problem.

The Colosseum had a total of eighty entrances at ground level. Each one was numbered, just like each exist and each staircase. In order for spectators to find their seats, they were given tickets in the form of numbered pottery shards which directed them to the appropriate section and row. The sections were based upon class and rank in the society, with the higher classes getting the seats which provided the best view.

Innovation at its finest

The Colosseum was not only groundbreaking when it comes to sheer size; it was also one of the most innovative and complex buildings of its time. The arena in particular had some very innovative solutions.

The arena consisted of a wooden floor covered by sand which concealed an elaborate underground structure known as the “hypogeum”. The hypogeum, literally meaning “underground”, consisted of a two-level subterranean network of tunnels and cages.

The underground was where gladiators and animals were held before contests began. Several tunnels connected nearby stables and gladiator schools to the hypogeum which allowed them to enter the structure undetected. By raising and lowering several hidden shafts and platforms, both gladiators and wild animals could be summoned instantly into the arena.

Gladiators

One can’t mention the Colosseum without mentioning gladiators. These classic warriors got their name from the roman short word, Gladius, which was used by the Roman legionaries. A gladiator was normally a prisoner of war or a slave who had been given the decision to either stay as a slave or fight in the arena.

For the ones who got the chance to chose, the decision was most likely hard -but easy. Slavery meant a slow, often painful death. On the other hand, successful gladiators could become very famous and even earn some money. If they survived enough battles, they also won their freedom by gaining the wooden sword.

Arena battles

The gladiator battles were by far the most appreciated of all shows. Before the battles began, the gladiators always paid homage to the Emperor’s stage with the famous words; “Ave Caesar, those who are about to die salute you.”

The gladiator battles were often duels between two combatants, matched up against each other depending on why type of equipment they carried. If one gladiator had been defeat in a duel, but not killed, he could ask for mercy by raising his arm. The emperor then decided his fate by either giving thumbs up or thumbs down, while the crowds did their best to affect the decision.

Other shows that frequently took place in the arena were battles between wild animals and between men and animals. The animals were mainly imported from Africa and the Middle East and included creatures such tigers, lions, bears and panthers. The games were usually held for a whole day or even several days in a row.

To mark the inauguration of the Colosseum in year 80 AD, Vespasian’s successor, Titus, held games one-hundred days in a row. In the process, thousands of wild animals and gladiators were killed.

More than entertainment

The theatre quickly became the most important political tool of an emperor. Emperors used the Colosseum to entertain the public with games. It was here that the emperor met and controlled the people of Rome. The arena continued to be used for contests well into the 6th century, with the gladiatorial fights in early 5th century.

Destruction

Throughout the years, the Colosseum has been damaged several times. Within its first 500 years, several earthquakes accrued which led to both external and internal damage on the structure. Lightning also hit the Colosseum one time, resulting in a fire which destroyed wooden parts of the amphitheatre’s interior.

Severe damage was dealt to the Colosseum in the 14th century, when a major earthquake caused parts of the outer walls to collapse. The result of this can still be seen today, as the whole southern part of the outer wall is gone.

During the Middle Ages, ancient Roman buildings and monuments weren’t respected in the same way they are today. For this reason, much of the tumbled stone was reused to build palaces, churches, hospitals and other buildings elsewhere in Rome, which has made any large rebuilding projects impossible.

Other signs of the medieval spoliation can also be seen on the Colosseum. The bronze clamps which held the stonework together have been hacked out of the walls, leaving numerous marks which still scar the building today.

Other usage

During its history, the Colosseum has not only been used for games and events. After the last gladiator and hunting events, it has been used as a church, as a cemetery and even as a fortress at one point.

During the 16th and 17th century, Church officials sought a productive role for the old Colosseum. Pope Sixtus the 5th even suggested that the building should be turned into a wool factory, but his proposal fell through.

Restoration

This thought of making the building productive was later abandoned. Instead, several Popes had various stabilization and restoration projects initiated. What they didn’t know at this time, is that this decision was about to make the Colosseum extremely productive in the future. Without their restoration projects, the Colosseum of today would not have been the same.

Throughout the 19th and 20th century, the façade has been reinforced and the interior repaired. There has also been a major restoration project more recently, finishing in year 2000. This project involved cleaning the building in order to deal and combat the effects of air pollution.

Why visit the Colosseum ?

The Colosseum was the Roman Empire’s most impressive building. The ruins of the Colosseum have fascinated people over the centuries with its striking beauty. One can only imagine how great it was during its prime time.

The Colosseum has become one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions, receiving millions of visitors each year. Hardly surprising, as the Colosseum is not only one of Italy’s most famous buildings, but one of the most famous buildings in the whole world.

Visitors to the Colosseum can enjoy walking in what use to be the Roman Empire’s most impressive building. The underground of the Colosseum, the hypogeum, is now totally exposed, so visitors can really get a good look of the fascinating levels.

Colosseum location

The Colosseum is located in RomeItaly. The Colosseum is situated next another of Ancient Rome’s greatest sites; the Roman Forum. For the exact location of the Colosseum, check out the location map to the right.

Colosseum Video

Circus of Maxentius history

This grand arena, located next to the Appian Way, was built during the early 4th century during the reign of the Roman Emperor Maxentius. The exact history of this circus is still rather unknown, but the records tell us about at least one of the games held at this circus

Death of Romulus

These games were the inaugural ones which were described to have been funerary in character. These games were most likely held in honor of the emperor’s son, Valerius Romulus, who died at young age. Romulus is believed to have been interred at the circus, at a masoluem Maxentius most likely already had built as a future tomb for himself.

The Tomb of Romulus is one of the first things that visitors will see if they are walking the Appian Way from Rome. However, today the tomb itself is in ruinous state and to a large extent concealed by another building.

Why visit Circus of Maxentius ?

Circus of Maxentius, known until the 19th century as the Circus of Caracalla, is the best preserved of all extant Roman circuses. It is also the second largest of all circuses, only beaten by Circus Maximus.

Left in ruins

As one can see, much of the circus itself is left in ruins despite the fact that it is the best preserved Roman Circus available. However, the 500 meter long racing track is still visible, as well as the two gate towers. These towers would have contained mechanism for raising the starting gates to allow the chariots to race down the track.

It was during the track excavation in the 19th century, that archeologists found an inscription which dedicated the circus to the “divine Romulus”. This was what helped the historians to identify the circus as Circus Maxentius, rather than the Circus of Caracalla.

Clad in marble

In the middle of the 90 meters wide track is the “spina” – the barrier which divided the track into two. The spina is exactly 1000 Roman Feet long, around 300 meters, and was most likely cased in marble during the glory days of the circus.

During these times, the circus was decorated with several statues and obelisks. One of the obelisks originally located here at the Circus of Maxentius is the obelisk which today dominates the popular square Piazza Navona, in central Rome.

A massive meeting place

The circus is believed to have had a spectator capacity of around 10.000 people. The spectators were standing on an elevated area surrounding the track, which allowed them to view the races in safety.

The audience was also protected from the sun by an arch which sprung from the summit. Not much of the spectator facilities are left today.

A dangerous show

While the spectators of the races were safe, the same cannot be said about the charioteers competing in the races. The dangers of the course required the contestants to wear both a helmet and a chest mail.

The chariots were drawn by 2, 4 or sometimes even 10 horses. As you can imagine, racing chariots on a track like this was bound to cause accidents. It wasn’t uncommon that charioteers were wounded or killed due to crashes during the race, despite their protection.

An inspiring site

Even though the towers are ruins, the spina largely covered and the arches broken, the old circus is still an impressive sight. Ruins have its own kind of beauty and together with its rich history and tradition, the Circus of Maxentius stands out as a great site along the the Appian Way.

Circus of Maxentius location

The Circus of Maxentius is located in RomeItaly. The circus can be found along the ancient Roman road known as the Appian Way.

The whole area is well served by public transport, but is also easily accessed by foot or bicycle, as the Appian Way is a popular hiking road. For the exact location of the Circus of Maxentius, check out the location map to the right.

Circus of Maxentius Video

Roman Forum history

The history of the Roman Forum dates back thousands of years. According to tradition, the birth of the Roman Forum is closely linked to the battle between Romulus, the first king of Rome controlling the Palatine Hill and his rival, Titus Tatius who occupied the Capitoline Hill.

A place for reasoning

The legend states that the battle between the rivals was stopped by the prayers and cries of the Capitoline women, which made the men lay down their weapons and try negotiations instead. As the site of the Forum lied in between the two hills, it became the designated place for the two people to meet and discuss. This is the reason why many places where discussion are held today, be it online or offline, are called forums.

An innovative solution

The area next to the Capitoline Hill was in ancient times a marshland. In order to make the ground more easily buildable, one of the world’s earliest sewage systems was constructed; the Cloaca Maxima.

After the sewage was built, the area quickly developed into the home of several markets and places of social activity. With this, another step was taken towards what would become the center of one of the greatest empires in the history.

A center of power

As time passed, the use of the forum as a market place diminished as the city grew. Instead, more public buildings were constructed around the square in which it became a natural centre for the growing town. In order to make room for forum expansions, many surrounding buildings were demolished, even several privately owned homes.

During its peak, more or less all economic and judicial buildings were located on Forum Romanum. The forum was also one of the most important religious centers of Rome, as it housed several sacred basilicas and temples. The majority of the structures were built during the reign of Julius Caesar and his successor Augustus.

The Forum was not only a place for meetings and discussions, but it also has a history of violence and destruction. Several battles between rivaling factions has taken place around the Forum, often followed by vicious fires.

Abandoned

The majority of the Forum temples were abandoned after the ban of non-Christian cults in the late 4th century. Some of the temples fell in ruin while others became converted into churches. The final blow was dealt to the Forum during the sacking of Rome in year 410, in which the majority of the buildings were destroyed. The once so great Forum Romanum collapsed together with the Empire it was built to serve.

The cattle field

During the Middle Ages, the area was mostly buried under earth and debris. Several of the old ruinous buildings were used by shepherds and their cattle, which gave the area the nickname “Campo Vaccino” – “the cattle field”. Just like many other ancient Roman buildings, the Forum became partly used as a quarry for new building projects. Today’s respect of Rome’s ancient buildings did not exist during these grim times.

Excavations

This changed in the early 19th century, when archaeologists under the Napoleonic regime started excavating parts of the site. Around 100 years later, much of the Forum Romanum had been revealed.

These excavations showed that the Forum was built in many separate layers. Due to its location, both flooding of the Tiber River and erosion from the surrounding hills cased the ground level on the forum to rise several times. Instead of removing all debris, they Romans simply paved it over.

This meant that several of the later additions to the Forum had to be removed in order to restore it back to its original street level wherever possible. With this accomplished, the historic center of power and the very heart of the ancient Roman Empire had been brought back to life.

Why visit the Roman Forum ?

The Roman Forum also goes by its Latin name, Forum Romanum and some simply call it the Forum. This is truly one of the most unique places in the world, where one can find the excavations of several ancient Roman buildings in the middle of modern Rome.

Interesting sites

The Forum contains several magnificent monuments, such as the Temple of Saturn, the Arch of Titus, the Temple of Vesta and the church of San Luca e Martina. However, there are more than 10 temples and basilicas at the site as well as several arches so visitors will have a quite a lot to do.

An important site

Today, the Roman Forum is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. It is actually still subject to excavations but the majority of the parts are open to visitors.

Some of the best views over the forum are from the terraces of Campidoglio at the western end of the Forum. From there, visitors can get a complete view over site and all the way towards the Colosseum. It is a mighty view and one can only imagine how it grand it must have looked at the time of Rome’s splendor.

Roman Forum location

The Roman Forum is located between the Palatine Hill and the Capitoline Hill in RomeItaly. The cemetery is situated in the area between Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum. For the exact location of the Roman Forum, check out the location map to the right.

Roman Forum Video

Pyramid of Cestius history

The massive monument that is Pyramid of Cestius has a rich history. The pyramid was built on request by Gaius Cestius Epulo; a rich magistrate, praetor and a member of one of the four great religious corporations at Rome. It is believed to have been built around year 15 BC as an extraordinary tomb.

A Roman pyramid

One might think it is strange to find an old pyramid in the center of Rome and in a sense – it is. However, after the Roman conquest of Egypt in year 30 BC, Rome was going through a fad for all things Egyptian. Several obelisks were taken from Egypt and placed at Circuses and Forums all around Rome. There was also another pyramid raised in Rome, the pyramid of Romulus, which was demolished in the 16th century.

Nubian inspiration

Despite the Egyptian craze and in contrast to popular belief, the Pyramid of Cestius is not based upon the famous pyramids in Giza. If you think about it, the Giza pyramids are all much shallower than this rather steep pyramid.

The Pyramid of Cestius is instead believed to have been based upon the more pointy Nubian pyramids. One Nubian kingdom was attacked shortly before the construction of this pyramid, which suggests that Gaius Cestius possibly served in that campaign and became inspired. Historians suggest the purpose of the tomb’s pyramid-shape was to serve as a commemoration to the Roman victories in Africa.

A marble marvel

The Pyramid of Cestius stands an impressive 37 meters high and almost 30 meters wide. It was built using concrete and brick on a travertine foundation and covered with marble blocks. Today, the pyramid is located in the city but during the time of its construction, it stood in open countryside. During this period, large tombs were not allowed within the city walls.

Incorporated

However, Rome grew at a rapid and by the 3rd century, The Pyramid of Cestius had been surrounded by buildings and thus it became a part of the city. The pyramid was even incorporated into the city wall during the construction of the Aurelian Walls towards the end of the 3rd century.

The inclusion of the pyramid into the wall is the main reason why it is so well preserved. The inclusion made it hard to demolish the Pyramid of Cestius without also destroying the Aurelian Wall.

Why visit Pyramid of Cestius ?

The Pyramid of Cestius is a beautiful site. Anyone looking closely at the outer walls of the pyramid should be able to spot inscriptions. There inscriptions dedicate the pyramid to Cestius. They read;

C · CESTIVS · L · F · POB · EPULO · PR · TR · PL

VII · VIR · EPOLONVM

OPVS · APSOLVTVM · EX · TESTAMENTO · DIEBVS ·

CCXXX

ARBITRATV

PONTI · P · F · CLA · MELAE · HEREDIS · ET · POTHI · L

These inscriptions says;

“Gaius Cestius Epulo, son of Lucius, praetor, tribune of the plebs, septemvir epulonum “ – with the latter referring to his religious group. “The work was completed, in accordance with the will, in 330 days, by the decision of the heir Pontus Mela, son of Publius of the Claudia and Pothus, freedman”

There is also an additional inscription on the east side, added in the 17th century. This inscription commemorates the excavation and restoration work carried during the time on orders of Pope Alexander the 7th.

The burial chamber

The tomb of Gaius Cestius was located inside the pyramid within a small burial chamber. The chamber was rediscovered in year 1660, during the pope’s restoration. They discovered that the small room was decorated with several detailed wall paintings – so called frescoes.

The wall painitings were however in bad condition and only parts of them remain today. These paintings are some of the first examples in Rome of the so called Third Style Roman painting.

A family tomb

They found no traces of any other contents in the tomb, as it most likely had been plundered in the past. During the excavations, they also found traces of several columns and statues outside the pyramid – remains which today can be found at Musei Capitolini. Inscriptions on the bases of the statues imply that the burial chamber, despite its small size, served as a family tomb for several members of Cestius’s family.

An appreciated pyramid

The pyramid has been much admired by architects throughout history and it became the primary model for pyramids built in the West during the 18th and 19th century. Today, it is the only ancient roman pyramid standing in Rome, making it a truly unique sight. It is also one of the very best preserved ancient buildings in Rome.

Pyramid of Cestius location

The Pyramid of Cestius is located in RomeItaly. The cemetery is situated in southern parts of the city, next to the Aurelian Wall and the Pyramid of Cestius. For the exact location of the Pyramid of Cestius, check out the location map to the right.

Pyramid of Cestius Video

Catacombs of San Callisto history

The history of the Catacombs of San Callisto dates back almost 2000 years. The original catacombs are believed to have been a private Christian underground burial place.

The reason for it being underground was because Christians – prior to Emperor Constantine I – often were persecuted for their religious beliefs. In fact, the government of Rome persecuted all those who chose not to practice the religion of the state. During these times, the Christian religion was not as dominating as it is today which forced the Christians to literally hide underground.

Underground expansion

 

The underground cemetery was expanded during the end of the second century by a deacon of Rome. The catacombs were expanded to not only include more tombs, but also chapels, meeting areas, dining rooms and even places to sleep. The man responsible for the expansion later became a Pope under the name Callixtus I. The name of the catacombs – San Callisto – derives from this man. Sometimes they even go by the name of Catacombs of St. Callixtus.

Official burial site

After the expansion, the Catacombs of San Callisto quickly became the official burial site for Rome’s Christians which was followed by additional expansions. Over the course of history, more than 50 martyrs and 16 popes have been buried here, making it one of the most important Christian cemeteries, if not the most important.

Rediscovery

The Catacombs of San Callisto were rediscovered by the Italian archeologist Giovanni Battista in 1854. When he discovered the tunnels, he called them “the little Vatican – the central monument of all Christian cemeteries”.

Why visit Catacombs of San Callisto ?

The Catacombs of San Callisto is the most sacred and important of all the Roman catacombs. The Catacombs of San Callisto is pretty much a must visit for anyone interested in Roman and religious history.

A vast tunnel complex

The size of the Catacombs of San Callisto is impressive. The tunnel complex stretches out for almost 19 kilometers and is structured in five levels. The deepest parts of the catacombs reach an impressive depth of roughly 20 meters.

Holy tombs

Inside the underground complex, one can discover the Crypt of the Popes and investigate the crypt of St. Cecilia – the patron of sacred music. Visitors can also find several ancient frescoes, sculptures and other wall paintings along the impressive tunnels. The catacombs are truly an example of great underground architecture.

A popular site

The Catacombs of San Callisto are the most visited ones of all the ancient underground tunnels in the region. Tens of thousands of people visit the site each year to experience the phenomenal tunnels. Just remember that the place is probably not something for claustrophobic people, so everyone afraid of enclosed spaces should stay on the surface!

Catacombs of San Callisto location

The Catacombs of San Callisto is located in RomeItaly. The catacombs can be found along the ancient Roman road known as the Appian Way. The whole area is well served by public transport, but is also easily accessed by foot or bicycle, as the Appian Wayis a popular hiking road. For the exact location of the Catacombs of San Callisto, check out the location map to the right.

Catacombs of San Callisto Video

Catacombs of San Sebastiano history

Exactly when the Catacombs of San Sebastiano were constructed is difficult to say. What the historians do know is that the catacombs were built in the first place and that the basilica in turn was built on top of them. The catacombs were built mainly as a cemetery for Christians and as a place to hold secret religious meetings during the worst times of the Christian persecution.

The Basilica of San Sebastiano

As mentioned, the Basilica of San Sebastiano was constructed after the catacombs. More precisely, the originally basilica was constructed in the 4th century. Its official name is “San Sebastiano fouri le mura”, meaning “San Sebastiano outside the walls”.

This name refers to the fact that the basilica is built outside the Aurelian Walls. The reason for using this name is to differentiate the basilica from the Church of San Sebastiano on the Palatine Hill in Rome. The basilica is dedicated to a popular Roman martyr of the 3rd century; St. Sebastian.

The Apostles

However, this dedication only dates back to the 9th century. The basilica was initially known as “Basilica Apostolorum”, meaning the Basilica of the Apostles. The reason for this is that the legend has it that both St. Peter and St. Paul was temporary buried here in the 3rd century.

This legend is why the basilica was constructed over the catacombs in the first place. Later, the apostles’ remains were moved to their respective basilica of today.

St. Sebastian

While the remains of the two apostles are gone, this basilica still holds the remains of St. Sebastian. Today, his tomb is located inside the basilica, but his original resting place was in the catacombs underneath it.

His remains were temporarily moved to a safer location in year 826, due to fear of a Saracen attack. The Saracen actually did attack not long after St. Sebastian’s relocation, an attack which destroyed the entire basilica.

It didn’t take long until the whole building was reconstructed. The basilica of today does however not date back to the 9th century. Some parts of the current structure were built during the 13th century, but the majority dates back to the 17th century.

Why visit the Catacombs of San Sebastiano ?

The Catacombs of San Sebastiano have always been the most accessible of the many underground cemeteries which can be found in the region. For this reason, it is also one of the least preserved ones and also one of the smaller ones when it comes to sheer size.

However, the word “smaller” really has to put into context here, as the tunnels have a total length of around 11 kilometers. So the fact that it is one of the smaller catacombs doesn’t take away the fact that it is absolutely huge.

An underground world

There is a lot to see here at the Basilica of San Sebastiano and its catacombs. Visitors to the tunnels can discover ancient mosaics, graffiti and other wall paintings. One can also see the old Christian burial chambers and sarcophagi, although the bodies have since a long ago been relocated.

There is also a small underground Christian altar located within the tunnels. This altar was used to hold services during times of the Christian persecution.

Relics Chapel

There are also features in the basilica which deserves a special mention, for example the Relics Chapel directly across the nave. It holds several holy artifacts, such as one of the arrows which struck St. Sebastian together with a part of the column to which he was tied during the martyrdom. It also holds a stone with a relief that is said to be the footprint of Jesus.

The basilica is also home to a beautiful bust of St. Sebastian, which has been attributed to the famous Italian renaissance artist Bernini.

Former pilgrim church

This place was until year 2000 one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome; a place all Roman Catholics were expected to visit. Despite the fact that is now has lost that status, many pilgrims st ill include it in the list of must visit places. The site has also not lost its popularity as a tourist destination and it is visited by thousands of people each year.

Catacombs of San Sebastiano location

The Catacombs of San Sebastiano is located in RomeItaly. The catacombs can be found along the ancient Roman road known as the Appian Way. The whole area is well served by public transport, but is also easily accessed by foot or bicycle, as the Appian Way is a popular hiking road. For the exact location of the Catacombs of San Sebastiano, check out the location map to the right.

Catacombs of San Sebastiano Video

Basilica of St. John Lateran history

The Basilica of St. John Lateran has an impressive history. In ancient Roman times, this site was occupied by a mansion belonging to the rich Laterani family. This is the reason why word “Lateran” can be found in the name of the cathedral.

The mansion was later confiscated by Emperor Nero after a leading Laterani member had been accused of conspiracy against the emperor. With this, the palace lost much of its old functions. The site became instead militarized when imperial cavalry barracks and a fort were built on the site.

The first basilica

The history of the cathedral itself starts some hundred years later when the first Christian emperor, Constantine the 1st, acquired the old palace through a marriage. The emperor chose to give the Lateran palace to the Roman Church as a gift. Following this, the small palace basilica was converted and enlarged and became the official residence of the Pope.

The house of god

The Basilica and the adjacent Lateran Palace was officially dedicated by Pope Sylvester in year 324 in which he declared it to be “Domus Dei” – “The house of God”. In its interior, the Papal Throne was placed which marked it as the Cathedral of Rome.

Emperor Constantine also made sure that the interior was richly decorated. It included seven silver altars, more than 100 chandeliers and a gold covered apse vault.

Rededication

The Lateran Palace and the cathedral have been rededicated twice. The first time was in the 10th century when it was dedicated to Saint John the Baptist in honor of the newly consecrated baptistery.

The second time was in the 12th century, when it was dedicated to Saint John the Evangelist. These two saints are however only regarded as co-patrons of the cathedral – the chief patron is Christ the Savior himself.

Decline and destruction

The Lateran palace and the cathedral began to decline somewhat during the Avignon papacy. This was a period when the papal residence was moved to Avignon in France, under the lead of the French Pope Clement V.

During this period, two destructive fires ravaged the Lateran Palace and the cathedral which left them both in bad shape. With this, the buildings lost their former splendor, despite the fact that the Avignon papacy sent money to cover the costs of reconstruction and maintenance.

When the Avignon papacy formally ended and the Pope once again resided in Rome, the Lateran Palace and the basilica were deemed inadequate considering the accumulated damage from the fires. Due to this, they constructed the Palace of the Vatican adjacent to the already existing St. Peter’s Basilica. This became the new papal residence and has been ever since.

Restoration

Even though the site was no longer the residence of the pope, it was not left without attention. The man who finally invested in the cathedral was Pope Sixtus V – the man responsible for the urban re-planning of Rome in the 16th century. Sixtus chose not to restore the cathedral. Instead he chose to tear it down and build a whole new structure on the site – the cathedral that stands today.

However, some parts of today’s cathedral do not date back to the Pope’s reconstruction. Several statues of the apostles were added to the cathedral interior during the 18th century. The 18th century also included a major renovation, including the addition of the new façade.

This façade was completed in 1735 and is the one still standing today. The architect, Alessandro Galilei, removed all vestiges of traditional ancient basilica architecture and designed it in a neo-classical style.

Why visit the Basilica of St. John Lateran ?

The great Basilica of St. John Lateran is the oldest of Rome’s four major basilicas and, unknown to many, the cathedral of the Church of Rome. It is thus the official seat of the Pope and holds the title of “Mother church of the whole world” among Catholics. It ranks above all other churches in the Roman Catholic Church – even above St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Beautiful exterior

The main façade is perhaps the most known part of the building. The top of the façade is crowned with several large statues. The center statue depicts Christ himself while the other statues represent several other saints, including the two co-patrons of the cathedral. Below the statues is a long Latin text inscribed. The inscription says;

“Clement XII, Supreme Pontiff, in his fifth year, to Christ the Savior in honor of Saints John the Baptist and Evangalist.”

The reference to Pope XII clarifies that it was under his command that the new façade was built. Another impressive feature of the façade is the massive bronze doors. These doors are significantly older than the façade itself, as they originally belonged to the Senate Hall in the Roman Forum.

The Lateran Obelisk

The palace and cathedral also houses one of the largest ancient obelisks in the world; the Lateran Obelisk. This Egyptian obelisk’s original location was at the great Karnak Temple in Egypt, but it was shipped to Constantinople and later Rome. Once in Rome, it was re-erected at Circus Maximus.

During the urban re-planning of Rome, Pope Sixtus V located and dug up the obelisk and placed it at its current site. The Lateran Obelisk can be found in front of the northern façade.

Interior

The inside of the cathedral is a joy to behold. Visitors can not only enjoy the great 18th century statues of the apostles, but several other decorations and pieces of art. The cathedral houses several papal tombs, as well as the Papal cathedra – located in the apse.

The Scala Sancta

The Basilica of St. John Lateran also houses “The Scala Sancta” – “The Holy Stairs”. These wooden steps are according to Roman Catholic tradition, the staircase that once ledto the praetorium of Pilate at Jerusalem It is therefore sanctified by the footsteps of Jesus Christ during his Passion.

Support structures

One should not forget to also visit the adjacent cloister and Baptist buildings. Visitors to the cloister can admire the spiral marble columns and the stunning Cosmatesque mosaics. The Baptist building was the first baptistery in Rome, converted from an earlier Roman Temple. The baptistery has a rich inside and is definitely worth a visit as well.

The mother of all churches

Today, this world cathedral is one of Rome’s most important buildings. Hundreds of thousands of visitors travel to the cathedral each year to discover its beauty.

Basilica of St. John Lateran location

The Basilica of St. John Lateran is located infRomeItaly. The massive basilica is located in the south-eastern parts of the city. For the exact location of Basilica of St. John Lateran, check out the location map to the right.

Basilica of St. John Lateran Video