If anybody tells you the Sacred Road is not touristy or crowded, assume they recently smoked an entire pound of crack cocaine and their perception of reality is not to be trusted.
Exiting the Colosseum puts you at one end of the Via Sacra, or Sacred Road– ancient Rome’s equivalent of downtown Main Street.
At one end is Capitoline Hill (one of the famous “seven hills of Rome”) and at the other is the Colosseum.
As you wander your way along the Via Sacra, you will get to experience the pleasure of walking on millennia-old cobblestone paths. If you’re European you’re probably used to old shit made of cobblestone so whatever, but for those of us who hail from countries less than 200 years old it was absolutely hell on our ankles and feet.
At some point in history, it was either Nero or Caligula who embarked on an orgy of spending for public works and had the road lined with colonnades. Parts of these constructs are still visible today.
By now it’s high noon. The sun is directly overhead and all the shadows are being nuked out of my pictures. The temperature is over 9000, there are people everywhere, I’m sweating in places I didn’t know existed and shade is non-existent.
It’s no wonder Roman art has everybody running around naked all the time. It’s too goddamn hot to wear clothes here.
Lining the Sacred Road are a series of arches. Each of them stands as testament to the triumphs of various emperors of Rome. The one nearest the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine. Heading towards the Forum will take you past the Arch of Titus and exiting the Sacred Road will take you through the Arch of Septimius Severus. There are a few others but we seem to have missed them entirely.
As you begin to enter the Forum, you can make one of several choices– you can head up Palatine Hill and explore the ruins of the homes of nobility, or you can continue along the Sacred Road toward the forum proper. But first, grab some water. The only fountains we saw were situated right at the crossroads.
From the ground we saw what appeared to be a particularly well-preserved building so we climbed the hill to check it out. No idea what purpose it served but its balcony appears to be something one might deliver a speech from. Perhaps it was a dwelling for political figures of prominence.
Its terrace offers some decent views of the surrounding landscape, including a direct line of sight into the ruins of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine. Supposedly this was the last building added to the Forum before the entire collapse of the Roman Empire.
But then you round a corner and find yourself completely surrounded by the ruins of temples, shops, and government buildings. It’s like one of those moments where you emerge from the underbrush and find yourself in Jurassic Park.
No, seriously. What remains of the Roman Empire is still larger than life. These man-made dinosaurs hail from a time where scale itself was awe-inspiring. But we routinely build big shit these days so some big-ass building is just nothing special anymore. Maybe that’s why pop culture has taken to fetishizing post-apocalyptic events; we love seeing our idols and institutions destroyed. I will admit it is fascinating to see how time has ravaged these monuments.
We stopped in at the Temple of Romulus. There wasn’t much to see; it was stuffy, crowded and dank. It predates Christianity but it remains in excellent condition owing to its annexation with the Basilica di Santi Cosma e Damiano directly behind it. We could see one hell of an ornate-looking chapel behind the public viewing area but it was roped off to the public.