Our First Day in Rome – Circus Maximus and Baths of Caracalla

One benefit of travelling in off-peak tourist season was that we were able to check into our accommodation quite early everywhere we went. This was great because it meant we could freshen up and head out for the day without our suitcases.

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Our apartment in Rome

 

Our accommodation was an apartment accessed through a door off one of the main streets. Inside, there was a decent sized square, around which many apartments were built. It seems that these little living areas are behind many of the closed doors you see as you walk down the street. It’s amazing how many people can be living in apartments behind one tiny little door!

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View of the inside square from our apartment

After we had checked in and paid the city tax – a tax on tourist accommodation that has to be paid per person per night for the first 5 nights, with varying prices depending on the quality of your accommodation – we headed off to see the Colosseum, which was at the end of our street.

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First close up view of the Colosseum

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The Arch of Constantine

We had planned to go in that day, but I was feeling really tired and dizzy and the line was an hour long, so we just took a few photos of the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine, and then wandered off to the Circus Maximus.

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Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum

There isn’t really a lot to see at the Circus Maximus, but it is still interesting all the same. We had the treat of watching police horses walking on the track, just like the horses would have done in ancient days, except a lot slower..and without the chariots and roaring crowds. Exciting stuff.
But really, it was quite peaceful and it is interesting to see the oldest and biggest public space in Rome preserved amidst busy city traffic and used as a public park and walking track. They say the Ludi Romani (Roman Games) were held here every September, which were the oldest games in Rome.

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Police horses trotting around the race track

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View of the Circus Maximus towards the Palatine Hill

Then we headed off to the Baths of Caracalla, which cost €6 each entry. They were huge and really interesting. You have to use your imagination a bit, like with most Roman ruins, but we really enjoyed our visit here. In their day, these baths would have looked so magnificent. The walls were astonishingly high, and the remnants and reconstructions of the marble decoration that would have been on the floor and walls makes you wish you could have seen it in all its glory. Although, when I think about it, having to use a public bath and toilet doesn’t seem overly appealing. Regardless, such massive structures really make you marvel at the power of Rome and how such mighty civilisations end up as crumbling ruins.

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Inside a palaestra

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Entering the dressing rooms

The baths were the second largest in Rome. Building started in AD 212 and finished in AD 217. They had a frigidarium (cold room), tepidarium (warm room) and caladarium (hot room). There were also two palaestrae, which were spaces for exercise, and a natatio, which was an olympic sized swimming pool. On the edge of the pool we saw the marks from an old Roman board game called tropa. The aim was to get a walnut/knucklebone into each of the holes in a certain order and then get the last one across the line.

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The natatio

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The board game on the side of the natatio

Caracalla himself was a pretty terrible man. His actual name was Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Caracalla was a nickname he got because of a Gallic tunic he wore. He had a different name when he was born, but it seems these Romans changed their names when their status changed. It’s interesting to read about the entire lives of all the Roman emperors, but I’ll just include a little bit of info I found interesting.

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Walkway through the frigidarium from one palaestra to the other

Caracalla and his brother Geta did not get on at all, and when their father, Emperor Septimius Severus, died they divided the palace in half and put guards at all the doors between each side. They had joint rule, but they disagreed on everything and were constantly plotting to kill each other. They wanted to divide the empire in two, but their mother Julia stopped them and tried to arrange a meeting of reconciliation. However, Caracalla came armed and killed his brother, who died in their mother’s arms. He then ran to the Praetorian Guard claiming that he had been the one who had escaped an assassination attempt by his brother, and ordered the soldiers to protect him. The soldiers actually preferred Geta, but Caracalla promised them lots of money.

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Frigidarium

Caracalla then had all of Geta’s supporters and acquaintances killed, including everyone who lived on Geta’s half of the palace. When he found his mother and other women crying over Geta’s death, he had all the other women put to death, and ordered his mother to stop grieving or be killed. Supposedly, she was forced to act cheerful and was watched all the time to make sure she didn’t grieve for Geta.

Other acts attributed to Caracalla include ordering the Praetorian Guard to attack a crowd who had insulted a charioteer he liked, and slaughtering and burying alive the people of Alexandria when he heard they were making jokes about him. So, that gives you an idea of the sort of person Caracalla was.

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Gardens behind the baths

The good things he did included building the Baths of Caracalla (although it seems like they were actually his father’s idea) and issuing the Constitutio Antoniniana, which gave Roman citizenship to all free men in the Empire. This could be seen as a selfish thing too though, because some historians think that the main reason behind this was to increase the amount of people paying tax by making them all citizens.

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Looking back at the baths from the garden

Caracalla died in AD 217 when he was 29, stabbed to death when he got off his horse for a toilet break. The Baths of Caracalla themselves were abandoned in AD 537 when the Goths blocked the aqueducts during the Siege of Rome.

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A collage of some of the security we saw on our first day. It was pretty common over there

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A very pretty street we walked down on our way home

 

 

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4 Responses to Our First Day in Rome – Circus Maximus and Baths of Caracalla

  1. Valerie Longbons says:

    So interesting! I enjoyed our few days in Rome on tour in 1982 and would have liked longer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Carol Gale says:

    So interesting Larissa! I’m enjoying your tour from my armchair and look forward to the next chapter! Xx

    Like

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