Italians and Wine Culture

Italians and Wine Culture

Italians drink wine as an aperitif, with the meal and after the meal they finish off with a hair-raising distilled wine called grapa. Chianti is probably the best known Italian wine, but the quality varies, so look for the sign of the black cockerel on the label, and settle for reliable makes, like Frescobaldi, Melini and Ricasol. Other good red wines (rossi) are Barolo, Valpolicella, and a full-bodied wine from Scily called Corvo.

Connoisseurs say that Brunello de Montalcino is the best Italian red wine. Some of the best white wines are Orvieto, Frascati, and Soave and, if you like a sweet, light sparkling wine, Asti Spumante is very refreshing. Martini and Cinzano are famous Italian aperitifs, but for a change try Punt e Mes, or Campari. Strega is an interesting liqueur and Sambuca (tastes of licorice). In general, it is safer to order wine by the bottle or half-bottle rather than the carafe. Rome is ful of fascinating drinking places. Perhaps the best known is the Cafe de Paris, of La Doce Vita fame, on the famous via Veneto.

The Cafe Greco (via Condoti 86) was a favorite haunt of Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde and Buffalo Bill. Baretto, on the same street, is one of the places to be seen having your before-dinner drinks – if you can get in. Bar Zodiaco (viale Parco Bellini, 90), the lovely Monte Mario near Observatory, and the Bar Tre Scalini has a lovely terrace in one of Rome’s most beautiful squares, Piazza Navona. This is a great place for ice cream too.

Let’s Go Back to Ancient Rome

Let’s Go Back to Ancient Rome

Rome has so much to offer to the world, not only by the various pieces of art and its massive and intricate architecture. Its history also speaks a lot of how great Rome is even before.

Roman Art

The arts of ancient Rome can be compared to those of the Greek’s. They do have their similarities. This can be attributed to the fact that when the Romans decided to conquer the Greeks, the former noticed how art was infused into the lifestyle of the latter. Out of curiosity and love for Greek art, Roman soldiers decided to bring such culture right at their own land. They also brought artists-slaves with them. Thus, if you will take a good look Ara Pacis, you will notice the fancy swirls, which are so Greek. Romans are also fond of creating portraitures and busts of famous persons. However, unlike the Greeks who love to dwell on the ideals of their artwork, the Romans were more focused on their design and technical aspects.

Roman Religion

Ancient Rome also shares almost the same beliefs and rituals practiced by the Greeks. For one, they both believed in too many gods, who had dominance over different portions of their lives, including marriage, occupation, and nature. Moreover, in Ancient Rome, their gods have their own Greek equivalent. A good example is the Zeus of Greece and Jupiter of Rome. Emperors too were being regarded as gods, especially by those who were living in eastern side of the Roman Empire. Though paganism could be the first religion of Romans, let’s not forget that Roman Catholicism also found its birth in the Eternal City.

Roman Clothing

It could have just been one wool piece they used to wrap around themselves. However, when Ancient Rome saw the more advanced dressing habit of Greece, they opted to adopt linen tunics, and they became even more comfortable. Footwear of both men and women were made of leather. On special occasions, Roman men were required to wear togas; however, they have to take note of the different ways to wear them, depending on their stature. Women, on the other hand, have to wear not jut one tunic, in addition to the veil or wool scarf they have to wrap around their tunics. This gave them warmth whenever the weather gets cold or it’s raining.

Roman People

People in ancient Rome enjoyed more freedom and equality than other countries and empires at that time. Even women were protected by their laws, though people who are located at the west side of the empire became more liberal than those who lived in the east. The Roman Empire was also open even to travelers; thus, there was so much interaction and increase of knowledge in ancient Rome. Nevertheless, the rise of minority groups in the empire also paved the way for cultural wars and tensions.

The disparity of men and women can be felt when it comes to education. Girls were left at home, while boys were sent to school. Those who are living in the villages, meanwhile, were illiterate, simply because they couldn’t afford to get an education. The privileged ones, children who grew up in well-off families, had the opportunity to study in other cities, such as in Athens and Alexandria.

Walking around Rome is more than being inspired by its culture and history. It means reliving it, even if it’s going to be just for a day.

Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy

Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy

Not all people are true sightseers; some prefer to merely walk about and absorb the pace and atmosphere of the Rome city. Use common sense; don’t try to do so much that you will be exhausted at the end of a day. If possible, spread your sightseeings over several days. The points of interest listed in Rome’s travel catalogs are only the high spots; there are usually many more in each city. If you are staying at a hotel, most desk clerks will be able to direct you a church of your choice; or consult the classified pages of the local telephone book.

Restaurants are classified as reasonable, moderate and expensive. Of course, it is possible to have a more expensive meal in a reasonable priced restaurant, just as it is often possible to order a less costly meal in an expensive restaurant. The classifications given merely suggest the typical prices. Restaurants vary to great extent, as anyone who travels across the Rome will agree. The restaurants listed in catalogs are merely representative selections; it would be impossible to list them all. Remember that even good restaurants occasionally serve mediocre food and that no place can satisfy everyone.

You will note that opening and closing hours vary to a certain degree from region to region. In most areas, shops remain open one or two evenings a week. This is often great convenience for the visitor who is busy during the day.

Rome: The Roman Forum

Rome: The Roman Forum

‘I need no ivory temple for my delight,’ wrote Propertius in Augustus’ day, ‘enough that I can see the Roman Forum.’ Here, from immemorial times, had been the meeting place of a civilization that was always positive. This Forum, so quiet in its ruins now, was filled with activity from the dawn of recorded history. Around its edges butchers, fruit-sellers, and money-lenders had their stands; in its centre were held public meetings and religious ceremonies closely bound up with the city’s practical life. If the past haunts the Forum, it is a past filled with less sinister figures than those which linger in the shadows of the Palatine above.

Nowhere in Rome has more human drama been crowded into so little space. Here, according to tradition, the men of Romulus had snatched as brides the maidens of the Sabine tribes. Here, too, was set the tragic, stirring tale of the centurion Virginius, and his daughter, Virginia, whom he stabbed with a knife from a nearby butcher’s shop to save her from a tyrant’s claim.

Here legend placed the ancient story of Marcus Curtius’ leap into the unfathomable gulf yawning below the Capitol. Here Antony showed the Romans the body of the murdered Caesar and read them his will. Here, too, roused to fury by this sight and by the dead Caesar’s generosity, the people burned his body in their most honoured spot as a final tribute to his memory. And along the Forum’s Sacred Way, from the Arch of Titus up the Capitol hill, passed the triumphal processions of emperors and generals, returning victorious from the wars.

The Forum’s activities probably took place at first entirely in the open air. Later shops and temples were built and the great basilicas along the edges, which combined halls for courts and assemblies with space for shops. Throngs too large for these basilicas were addressed from the rostra, special platforms built for this purpose, or from the steps of the Forum’s temples. The Senate met in these temples, as well as in others throughout Rome, but its special home was in the Forum, in the Senate House, consecrated to Victory.

Julius Caesar, city planner as well as warrior and statesman, gave the Forum the general shape it preserves today. One of the most arresting spots in its whole area is the altar before the temple dedicated there by the Senate to mark the place where his body was burned in 44 B.C.

As power grew more and more concentrated in the hands of the emperors and their officials, public activities in the Forum became less important. But the place remained as unique in Roman memory as when Cicero had called it ‘the Forum in which all justice is preserved’. The emperors built larger and more elaborate forums for business and amusement, but this remained ‘the Forum’ or ‘the Forum of the Romans’, by virtue of its age and associations.

As Christianity gradually conquered paganism, the temples of the Forum were closed by imperial edicts, though these edicts were disregarded from time to time. For a while some of the temples were safeguarded as public monuments or kept for various uses. But the Gothic wars of the sixth century so drained the city’s resources that it would have been impossible to keep the old buildings in good repair, even had any considerable group wanted to preserve the remnants of paganism. The temples which survived did so largely because they were transformed into churches or because they were too massive to be pulled down easily for building material. The earthquake of 847, which damaged the Colosseum, probably hastened their destruction.

During the centuries of slow decay and active pillage, the ground-level of the Forum rose with the debris of fallen structures and the washing down of earth and ruin from the surrounding hills, until traffic was almost completely blocked, and papal processions had to find other ways than the old triumphal road. The few remaining columns of the ancient temples were buried, sometimes half their height; the crumbling ruins were robbed of stone and brick to be burnt for lime or re-used in humbler buildings.

Such was the Forum’s state in the first years of the fifteenth century, when interest in antiquity was reviving with the early Renaissance. Some time before 1431 Poggio Bracciolini the humanist, wrote wistfully: ‘The Roman Forum, the most celebrated place in the city, where the people assembled and laws were made, and the nearby Comitium, where magistrates were chosen, are now deserted through the malignance of Fortune. The one is given over to swine and cattle; the other is enclosed as a vegetable garden.’

In 1536 the Forum was partially cleared to provide a triumphal way for the Hapsburg Emperor, Charles V, in celebration of his victory over the Turks in Tunisia the year before. Unfortunately, the preparation of this triumphal road gave a fresh impetus to the plundering of the ruins, against which Raphael had already protested. After this clearing, the Forum, once more passable for traffic, was drawn again into the active life of Rome. When the excavators of the sixteenth century had finished their search for antiques, quiet settled once more about the Forum, but it was no longer a quiet of death. The lowing of cattle and the shouts of drovers now filled the air, for the Forum was again used as a market.

Indeed, its classic name was almost forgotten and it was known then, and for long afterward, as the Campo Vaccino, or Cow Pasture, from the animals herded and sold there. Its very site, questioned by Ligorio in the sixteenth century, long remained a subject of antiquarian argument. Fortunately there were always men of plain common sense who, refusing to be drawn into fine-spun argument, kept to the old site while accepting the new name, and said with the seventeenth-century Englishman, John Raymond: ‘The Campo Vaccino was heretofore the Forum Romanum.’

The eighteenth century saw a revival of interest in antiquity unequalled since the early Renaissance, which stimulated the desire for scholarly excavations. Late in the century such excavations were begun in the Forum, and for a hundred and fifty years its ruins were laid bare, down even to graves of the eighth century B.C. or earlier, below its ancient paving stones. During the last century and a half more has been learned of the Forum’s buildings than was known during the thousand years before; yet even today scholars feel certain of less than many a Roman boy of ancient times.

Throughout the centuries three groups of columns and one lone shaft have been landmarks of the Forum. Most of these, at the western end, close below the Capitol, mark the sites of the temples of Saturn and of Vespasian. The eight grey and red granite columns of the portico of Saturn’s temple stand almost at right angles to the Senator’s Palace. This was one of the Forum’s oldest temples, although the columns which stand today are late.

An inscription above them states that the temple was restored by vote of the Senate after a fire, probably that of A.D. 284, which swept the Forum. The Senate had a special interest in this temple, where the steep Clivus Capitolinus wound up the Capitol, for it had its treasury here. The writer of the Mirabilia had these facts clearly in mind when he referred to the ‘public Treasury, that was the temple of Saturn’, beside the ‘Triumphal Arch, whence was the ascent into the Capitol’. Later generations which had lost the tradition called it by many names, such as the ‘Temple of Concord’ and the ‘Temple of Fortune.’

Close by the Temple of Saturn stand the three corner columns of the Temple of Vespasian. Called for centuries ‘Temple of Jupiter Tonans’, this temple’s columns, with their sharp flutings, their rich Corinthian capitals, and their elaborately carved frieze above, were the delight of artists. Titus and Domitian built the temple late in the first century A.D. and dedicated it to Vespasian, their father. Titus died and was deified before it was completed; he may have shared the dedication.

The anonymous monk of the eighth century who copied the inscriptions preserved at Einsiedeln left the clue which finally solved the temple’s identity. Much more of the temple was evidently standing then, for the inscription stated clearly that the building had been dedicated to Vespasian and restored by the emperors Severus and Caracalla.

Between Vespasian’s temple and the Arch of Severus rises the Column of Phocas which has stood erect ever since it was set up in A.D. 608, the last monument erected in the Forum in what might still be considered ancient times. Its identity was completely lost until the excavations of the early nineteenth century uncovered its base with a dedication to ‘… our lord, Phocas, the eternal emperor’. It was a sign of the fallen fortunes of Rome that the citizens set up no new column to honour this upstart Byzantine Emperor of the East, but one carved long before and put to a new use.

By one of the world’s pleasant ironies this column is best known throughout the English-speaking world through two lines of poetry far from accurate. Its base had been uncovered and the inscription read in 1813; Charlotte Eaton referred to its identity in 1817 as common knowledge among visitors. But Byron, who was in Rome the same year as Mrs. Eaton, was not noted for close attention to specific facts; even when he knew them, he often preferred the suggestion of mystery. The sober facts are cold beside his apostrophe:

‘Tully was not so eloquent as thou,
Thou nameless column with the buried base!’

The third group of columns is midway between the Capitol and the Arch of Titus. These three parallel fluted shafts of the Temple of Castor which appear in the foreground of Marten van Heemskerck’s drawing, in that of Claude Lorrain, and in Canaletto’s painting, are perhaps the most outstanding of the three groups. They rise in comparative isolation near the end of the old Republican Forum, and the richness of their Corinthian capitals and carved entablature has made them, like the three of Vespasian’s temple, a favourite subject for artists. These columns do not belong to the first temple there, or even to the one Cicero called ‘that famous and glorious memorial of the past… which stands where the nation may see it daily’.

The Colosseum was a “marvel” of Rome

The Colosseum was a "marvel" of Rome

The Colosseum was a ‘marvel’ of Rome when it was new, almost nineteen hundred years ago, partly because of its size and partly because the circumstances under which it was built made it one of the world’s great ‘gallery plays’. ‘Here, where the far-seen Amphitheatre lifts its mass august,’ wrote Martial, ‘was Nero’s mere.’ Vespasian had drained the artificial lake in the gardens of Nero’s Golden House and begun upon its site this vast theatre for the games and spectacles dear to Roman hearts, which his son Titus was to finish.

Nero, last emperor of the line of Caesar and Augustus, had died by his own hand, hated by the people and the army and declared a public enemy by the Senate. Within a year, the Roman legions nominated three successors, also doomed to quick and violent deaths. Vespasian, the final candidate, was more fortunate. A popular general, who was waging a successful siege against Jerusalem when he was chosen emperor, he returned to Rome and set about the task of blotting out the evil memory of Nero.

A man of humble birth and shrewd common sense, without the legendary glamour of the Julian dynasty, he, together with Titus, succeeded in building up the prestige of the new imperial line, largely through a far-reaching programme of public works by which the people were given back as recreation centres much of the land which Nero had confiscated for his own pleasures. Suetonius echoed the popular response to this policy in a remark concerning Titus, probably written within half a century of that emperor’s death: ‘He took away nothing from any citizen. He respected others’ property, if anyone ever did… And yet he was second to none of his predecessors in munificence.’

The Colosseum was practically ready for use when Vespasian died in A.D. 79. Titus opened it, still unfinished, in A.D. 80, with magnificent gladiatorial games and naval contests for which the arena was flooded. It was completed by Domitian, Titus’ brother and successor, but had to be restored several times because of fires due to lightning.

Standing isolated beyond the Forum, in the low spot between the Palatine, Esquiline, and Caelian hills, this new amphitheatre was easily accessible from the heart of the ancient city, yet isolated enough to permit the easy movement of crowds. It could seat about forty-five thousand, and probably had standing room for about five thousand more in its upper gallery.

Its great oval shell was about one-third of a mile in circumference, its longer axis measuring about 617 feet, its shorter about 512. The long axis, whose entrances were used for processions, runs parallel with the Roman Forum, roughly southeast and northwest. The imperial seats were at the south side, facing along the shorter axis, to give a closer view of the spectacles. Immense awnings, handled by sailors from the imperial fleet, sheltered the spectators.

Though the exterior of the great building is impressive by reason of its severe and solid bulk, its outstanding feature was its perfect adaptation to the handling of large and potentially unruly crowds. Seventy-six of its eighty arcades were numbered; the tickets bore corresponding numbers, so that holders could find their way directly to their seats from the appropriate entrance without crowding the corridors. It was a structure to delight the practical Vespasian and the architectural engineers who had built it.

The Colosseum’s builders followed much the same principle as that employed in steel construction today, except that for the skeleton framework of piers and arches they used hard travertine stone. The outer walls are of the same stone; the inner ones are composed of several kinds of stone and concrete, with or without brick facings. Metal cramps reinforced the joining of the stones; the holes now so noticeable in the walls were made in the centuries following the decline of Rome by those who dug out these cramps for their metal or for the lead which was sometimes used with them.

The tradition that Christians by the thousands were martyred in the arena grew up in comparatively late times. Some may have suffered here during various persecutions, but, needless to say, not in those of Nero’s day, as the site was then the emperor’s lake. The last gladiatorial games were held in the Colosseum in A.D. 404; emperors from the time of Constantine had tried to stop them without success. The last recorded animal sports are mentioned in 523.

The ancient Romans called this building the Flavian Amphitheatre from the family of Flavius to which Vespasian and his sons, Titus and Domitian, belonged. The present name came into use some time during the early Middle Ages. The first-known mention of the amphitheatre as the Colosseum is in an eighth-century Latin work traditionally ascribed to the English monk and historian, Bede. The writer of this work quotes a current Saxon pilgrim’s proverb: Quandiu stabit Coliseus, stabit et Roma; quando cadet Coliseus, cadet et Roma; quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus, which today is best known through Byron’s translation in Childe Harold:

‘While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand;
When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall:
And when Rome falls–the world.’

Some have held that this proverb referred not to the amphitheatre but to the colossal bronze statue of Nero which stood nearby, remodelled by later emperors as a sun god. No one knows just when this colossus fell-the last known reference to it in ancient times was in A.D. 354 when it was mentioned as the ‘crowned colossus’ in connection with a spring festival of garland sellers along the Sacred Way.

It had probably disappeared by Bede’s time, for the eighth-century Einsiedeln Itinerary did not mention it, although its fame lingered throughout the Middle Ages. It seems more likely that such a proverb would grow up about an immense and enduring building than about a statue which was only one of several of its kind in Rome, and that the building was first called ‘colossal amphitheatre’ and then ‘colosseum’ because of its great size.

Destination Rome

Destination Rome

A League of Latine cities is said to have been founded in the eighth century, and Rome under her kings gradually attained in it a leading position. The expulsion of the kings and the introduction of an Aristocratic government, with two consuls and a governing assembly, the Senate, caused internal dissensions which brought the Romans again under the rule of the Etruscans, until, after a long period of strife, the conditions were reversed and Rome with the Latines and Sabines conquered all round.

This development was interrupted by the Keltic invasion, which in the beginning of the fourth century descended on Italy from over the Alps. Rome was overwhelmed but soon recovered herself and drove back the Kelts, who then settled permanently in the Plain of the Po. No energetic attempts were made to Latinize them till after the Second Punic War. The powerful mountain tribes gave the Romans much trouble, as we learn from the accounts of the Samnite wars, the more so as these nations had just before destroyed the Etruscan rule in Campania and had laid hands on several of the Greek colonies.

After the overthrow of the Samnites, Lucanians, and other nations of Southern Italy, the Greek towns on the coast necessarily became subject to Rome. Tarentum held out the last by inviting over Pyrrhus, the warlike but unstable King of Epirus, and made a successful stand during a series of years until it fell in 270 B.C., and Rome was acknowledged as the predominant power from the Apennines to the Straits of Messina.

This war with Tarentum had forced Rome, owing to the expedition of Pyrrhus to Sicily, to interfere in the politics and trade of the island. Since the overthrow of the Etruscans the dominion of the Tyrrhenian Sea had fallen into the hands of Rome. Thus she became a rival of Carthage, who had treated the Western Mediterranean from Africa and Sicily onwards as her own domain and had made the utmost of it.

Assistance given to the Greeks of Sicily and an alliance with the Mamertines of Messina brought about a conflict with Carthage, leading to the First Punic War and a delimitation of the respective spheres of influence. Carthage surrendered the island but compensated herself richly in Spain. Sicily was shared between Rome and Hiero of Syracuse, and became the first Roman Province.