September Travels – Rome and the ‘Rome (Oxford Archaeological Guides) [Kindle Edition]’

[This post is part of a series which records my road trip to Sicily during September. I took loads of photos, but have only included a few at the end of each blog post.]

Since my brother moved to Rome, I have been there a good couple of times. Prior to then, there was one notorious trip where I got heat exhaustion and vomited over some armed policemen’s shoes by the Capitoline Hill and Michaelangelo’s cordonata capitolina. The OH and I have mainly explored Rome on foot; often starting from the Appia Antica and walking inwards to the centre of old Rome. Generally, we would pitch up in Rome during August, and our walks often coincided with the hottest time of day. Mad dogs and Englishmen eh? However, after one particularly hot walk, we learnt to get up super early and set out by 8am in order to beat the heat.

The last few times that we had come to Rome, I’d relied on the Rough Guide to Rome. It contains very helpful maps and some overview of the history of the different sites in Rome. The Rough Guide is good if you need places to eat, sleep and shop. If you want to know about the history, archaeological elements of ancient buildings, or want a very detailed chronology of Rome, then you’ll need something else.

This time around, I wanted something more detailed that specifically focused on the elements of Roman history that I was interested, as I’m not particularly interested in the ecclesiastical aspects of Rome. The Rough Guide is good if you need places to eat, sleep and shop. If you want to know about the history, archaeological elements of ancient buildings, or want a very detailed chronology of Rome, then you’ll need something else.

Due to the wonders of technology, I discovered and purchased the Rome (Oxford Archaeological Guides) [Kindle Edition] (Amanda Claridge, 2nd edn, OUP, 2010) while wandering around the Palatine Hill. This guidebook is excellent – however I really suggest getting the kindle (or other ebook) edition as it weighs in at a 560 pages. The publisher’s describe the guide as providing coverage of all the important sites from 800 BC – AD 600. It contains 220 maps, plans, diagrams and photos and divides the sites into 14  main areas to help plan and prioritise visits. It covers the following areas:

  • Roman Forum; Upper Via Sacra; Palatine; Imperial Forums; Campus Martius; Capitoline Hill; Circus Flaminius to Circus Maximus; Colosseum and Esquiline hill; Caelian hill and the inner via Appia; Lateran to Porta Maggiore; Viminal hill; Pyramid to Testaccio; the outer via Appia; other outlying sites; Museums and Catacombs. [source]

The introduction includes detailed background, history and culture of Ancient Rome and places the city in context. It is a well written and informative guide. For the Publisher’s description of the guide click [here].

We concentrated on a very small area of Rome: the Palatine, Colosseum and Forum; and the via Appia Antica. For each of these areas, I will discuss the three things that I find useful in a specialist guidebook: detailed maps of different sites and information on opening times, clear, informative and easy to follow historical/archaeological/architectural information about the site, and interesting/intriguing stories and facts that make the place come alive. The Guide brought the history of these places alive:

Palatine Hill

The guidebook covers these areas in different chapters [see photo].

Front Cover Rome: Oxford Archaeological Guide . Photo: CanadianKate

Front Cover Rome: Oxford Archaeological Guide . Photo: CanadianKate

Contents and Chapter layout to Rome: Oxford Archaeological Guide. Photo: CanadianKate

Contents and Chapter layout to Rome: Oxford Archaeological Guide. Photo: CanadianKate

Chapters in the guidebook can be searched via the detailed chapter outline [see photo]. guidebook is easily searchable through using navigation within chapters [see photo], or using the search function within the kindle/eBook. I found the search function particularly useful for wider areas such as the Appia Antica. For the Palatine and Forum sites, the intra-chapter navigation was fine. The map detail is a bit difficult to follow, but I think this is more a formatting issue for electronic books then an issue with the book itself. However, they are still very useful and detailed enough to identify the different areas of interest and also navigate the larger sites easily. I did bring the other guidebook along to walk between the different sites, as this guidebook contains quite limited maps for how to get around Rome itself.

Navigation within chapters in Rome (OAG). Photo: CanadianKate

Navigation within chapters in Rome (OAG). Photo: CanadianKate

Example of detailed map in Rome (OAG). Photo: CanadianKate

Example of detailed map in Rome (OAG). Photo: CanadianKate

I learnt so much about the Palatine from this guidebook. The chapters in the eBook version are easy to follow and the text can be increased/decreased depending on personal preference. The author also includes interesting snippits and stories in grey boxes which are short and to the point. For example, the chapter on the Palatine Hill also includes a little section on the Casa Romuli (Hut of Romulus), the ‘reputed’ dwelling-place of the founder and first king of Rome [see photo].

Example of a chapter in Rome (OAG). Photo: CanadianKate

Example of a chapter in Rome (OAG). Photo: CanadianKate

Further example of information in Rome (OAG). Photo: CanadianKate

Further example of information in Rome (OAG). Photo: CanadianKate

From this guidebook I learnt:

  • That the Palatine summit itself developed both outwards and upwards. Apparently because of the amount of building on the Palatine, the hill has grown upwards by up to 15m in places.
  • Pretty much anyone of importance lived on the Palatine
  • Lots of buildings burnt down often more than once
  • Augustus really liked his small old fashioned palace and used the same bedroom the whole year round.
  • The Casa was carefully restored to its original state after being damaged by fire and storms. The last recorded fire was in 12 BC. 

It’s possible to buy a ticket that will let you into the Forum, Colosseum and the Palatine over two days. It’s not the cheapest ticket in the world, but it’s possible to spend the whole day in the Forum and Palatine if psych and feet allow. We got hungry after a couple of hours.

The Forum & Colosseum

I’ve been to both of these places before, and quite frankly, I don’t find either of them particularly interesting. However, like the good ol’ tour guide that I was, I dragged the OH and MIL around them. The MIL did really want to explore inside the Colosseum, so we did that again. This guide made the building seem much more interesting then I originally though. I learnt:

  • That the building commenced in AD 70 by Vespasian and completed by Titus in AD 80
  • Due to a fire in AD 217 that gutted most of the upper levels of seating and the arena, the Colosseum was not fully operational until AD 240
  • By the later 6th Century, a church had been installed and used the arena as a cemetery
  • In 1200 the Frangipane family took over the Colosseum and turned it into a fortified house. How awesome is that?!
  • The Colosseum has its own microclimate

The Colosseum seemed much more interesting after reading about it!

Via Appia Antica & the catacombs

As I’ve mentioned, me and the OH have been along the Appian Way so many times, but I love the road. I think the fact that it’s really not that touristy and quite quite (for Rome standards) really appeals to me. Once again, we did walk along it but starting from Central Rome. Usually guide books don’t recommend that you walk along the start of it because there isn’t a pavement and there isn’t really much to see. I quite like the walk because you can identify bits of appropriated roamn architecture and I always feel like I deserve my dinner afterwards. My MIL hated the walk! She didn’t enjoy the traffic and the speed at which Roman drives sailed by. Me, I don’t really mind it.

The Appian Way is one of the earliest Roads in the ancient republic and was named after Appius Claudius Caecus. To be honest, the guidebook wasn’t that helpful for the Appia Antica. It split the road into different chapters, and I found it really difficult to situate where I was and what I was looking at. It wasn’t until we got to the Catacombs of St Callixtus that I had any idea of where I was! However, the description of the Circus of Maxentius makes me want to go there again – it looks truly amazing.

To end this blog post (its a bit of a beast!) I’ve included some photos I’ve taken of the places we explored. My experience of Rome was really improved by the Rome guidebook. At times it was a bit clunky to follow, but that was mainly a formatting problem with translating a guidebook to an eBook. The information and writing was superb. I found reading the guide book either before or after visiting the places meant I could relate the sites that I had seen to the descriptions and get even more out of the experience.

I will be going back to Rome soon and this guide book will be used again.

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