It is so strange to say it, but today is our last official day of touring here in Rome. We have a classroom day tomorrow and then we are headed out. SO STRANGE.
But anyway, that is not the point of this post. Today was full of monumental sites and acted as the perfect bookend to our stay in this city. It particularly highlighted the Imperial period, both its beginning and its apex, which was (in my opinion) the most impressive part of Roman history.
We began our day with a metro ride across town to see the Ara Pacis. This is a monumental altar built by Emperor Augustus to commemorate the Pax Romana, or the Roman period of peace, which had begun under his rule. It is this beautiful bright white altar with relief sculptures covering every inch. At first it may just seem beautiful, full of decorative scenes, but when one looks closer you begin to realize that every part of it has a deeper meaning. The Imperial procession of the many figures on the sides of the altar actually justify the reign of the Emperor through the disply of his family and ancestral connections, the more than fifty types of flowers and plants represent the flourishing of the empire under Augustus' rule, and the babies with their mother are probably Pax, the goddess of peace, with Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. This is probably one of the greatest examples of propaganda ever created.
Augustus was master of propaganda, and he had to be because his rule represented a shift in the history of Rome. They were changing from the Republican period to a system of what would become Imperial rule. But the people were very against going back to rule by a single individual, they had already had a Regal period but rebelled against the kings to create the system of the Republic. So Augustus had to be very careful in how he presented himself to the public- never as official "Emperor" but also simultaniously justifying his right to hold as much power as he did in his position. It was a tough game, but he did it wonderfully.
Our other big event for the day was seeing the Pantheon. The structure we see today is not the original building, which was initially built by Marcus Agrippa, but is actually the reconstruction which was designed and built by Emperor Hadrian (remember him, the one with the super rad villa that we visited earlier?). It is not only an amazing building, but also a greatly innovative one.
The structure is a strange one in that it has a traditional temple front stuck on a round drum. But it is not just new in its shape, but also in its construction. The use of concrete in Roman structures is expected (they were in fact the ones who invented it), but Hadrian takes it to the next level. As the dome goes up, the composition of the concrete actually changes, becoming a lighter and thinner mixture as it gets closer to the top, helping to relieve the stress on the dome by lessening the weight. It was also originally covered in silver leaf, which would have been stunning, espeically when the sun would come in from the occulus and reflect the light into the interior. These are just a few of the notable details about this amazing building, but it is definitly worth looking into if you care to hear more.
We also saw many other important things, including the Column of Trajan, the Forum of Trajan which features the covered markets, and the obelisk which was used in the huge sundial built by Augustus. I could go on all day about all these things, but I will spare you the lectures, I've already done enough of that here. I have to try to remember that we aren't all Classics majors who find this stuff as riviting as I do... I just get overly excited and want to share everything we learned!
The point though is that we saw many great sites today, and it was the best possible way we could have ended our tours here in Italy. We are definitely going to miss doing this everyday.