But if you’re a Latin lover from way back who is looking to hunt down some authentically ancient spots in Rome (perhaps by hiring a guide or three), or you’ve just read a lot of Asterix comics and want to match fiction with reality, where do you go? Just where was Caesar stabbed, given it wasn’t in the Senate House in the Forum, and what is the Appian Way?
We consulted Rome guide Maurizio Benvenuti and racked our brains to bring you six off the beaten track places to visit for lovers of Ancient Rome, so pack up your toga, slap on those caligae and read on!
All roads lead to Rome and a 30 minute bus ride (remember to pre-purchase your tickets!) or 20 minute train ride from Termini brings you to the Queen of Roads, or the Via Appia Antica, the Appian Way. Built in 312 B.C. by censor Appius Claudius Caecus, it ran from the Forum (now partially renamed the Via Sacra) to Brindisi, or 563 kms. It was one of the ancient world’s most important roads in an Empire famed for roadworks that increased communication, and troop and trade movement. The Way also paid witness to important historical events, such as the crucifixion of more than 6,000 slaves along its route for 130 miles, following the slave revolt led by Spartacus, according to Rome Info.
The Appian Way, as one of the ancient main roads into Rome, is lined with Roman ruins, such as the tomb of Caecilia Metella and the Baths of Caracalla, and even if you don’t know your Catallus from your Virgil, it is an incredibly pleasant experience to hire a bike near the start of the Way and cycle down the road in the Italian summer. Public water fountains with cold, clear water dot the path and if you arrive early enough, you can plan a route that passes a river to swim in (bike hire places can usually provide a simple map for you to follow).
Be warned that this is still a fairly popular activity in summer and it can get baking hot in the sun, but meandering from ruin to ruin, cycling lazily underneath green trees on sun-dappled paths, jolting over, reportedly, some of the original paving stones from the ancient road and retracing the footsteps of people who lived more than 2,000 years ago, is an unbeatable experience that will outweigh any discomfort or annoyance.
2) The place where Caesar was killed
Julius Caesar was infamously assassinated on the Ides of March in the Senate by those who feared he wished to make himself king. Roman historians have said more than 60 conspirators were involved, stabbing the dictator 23 times. The story goes that Caesar fought back until he saw Brutus, with whom he was reportedly close (and who was, some theorise, Caesar’s illegitimate son), among the conspirators, whereupon he covered his head with his toga and submitted to the attack. While history is divided as to whether Caesar said anything at his death, Shakespeare immortalised the line “Et tu, Brute?” (‘You too, Brutus?’).
However, those looking for the fatal spot in the Forum, where the Curia Julia, or Senate House, was located, will look in vain, since at the time of the assassination, this was still being built and the senate was meeting in the Curia of the Teatro di Pompeo, the Theatre of Pompey. In 2012, researchers unearthed what they think is the memorial that was erected on the site of Caesar’s demise at the base of the Curia in the Theatre, located in the Largo di Torre Argentina, which you can walk around and view from the footpath that runs around the sunken site.
3) The Basilica of San Clemente
Rome guide Maurizio Benvenuti suggests that lovers of Ancient Rome not miss out on the Basilica of San Clemente, which is a 10 minute walk from the Colosseum.
Here, he says, visitors can see how modern buildings were erected upon ancient ones, with a twelfth century church built on top of a fifth century church, itself built on top of a Roman house and a mithraem, or temple to Mithras. For around 10 Euro, Maurizio says, travellers can walk down the steps and back into history.
If you’re looking to view ancient Roman statues, Maurizio advises travellers to stop by the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, which he describes as an amazing museum that you can visit quietly without having to use your elbows to get some room!
Near the Termini train station, the museum also contains a large floral fresco taken from the house of Livia, the wife of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, he says. The wife, mother and grandmother of emperors, Livia has been painted colourfully throughout history, as a poisoner and schemer, and as cold, calculating, powerful and more – so a fresco of flowers is a nice change from what could have been depicted!
5) The 3D reconstruction inside the Palazzo Valentini.
Last but not least, Maurizio recommends visiting the 3D reconstruction of a Roman house inside the Palazzo Valentini, near the Piazza Venezia. A Roman house was excavated here quite recently, and lights and sounds make it live again in all its former splendour, Maurizio says, with many different language options available.
This one is a little more complicated, because nobody seems to be quite sure where it’s actually located on the Capitoline Hill, with some researchers saying it was a steep cliff next to the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, overlooking the Forum.
Back in Ancient Rome, traitors were supposedly thrown from the Tarpeian Rock, in memory of the story of Tarpeia, a Vestal Virgin, or possibly the daughter of the commander of the city (both versions occur, sources say). The legend goes that Tarpeia offered to betray the city to the besieging Sabines, in exchange for what they bore on their arms, meaning their bracelets and jewellery. However once inside, the Sabines promptly crushed Tarpeia to death with the shields they bore (on their arms, if you’re still lost) for being a traitor.
At any rate, you have a few options to feel the weight of this particular sight: wander around the Capitoline Hill, or visit the Forum and consider the price of loyalty and sedition.