Rome Travel Guide

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Colle Oppio: In the Shadow of the Coliseum

So you've "done" the Coliseum.  It's not yet lunchtime [1-3 in Rome outside the tourist areas], you've given the fenced-in Arch of Constantine its due, and you're tired of being surrounded by tourists and badgered by folks wanting to sell you stuff. Where do you go?  What's next?

You wouldn't know it, but you're just due passi--literally two steps, but generally meaning "nearby"--from Colle Oppio [Oppio Hill], a fascinating, compact, Roman park, filled with attractions from the historic to the funky.  You can get onto, or into, the Colle Oppio through the gate, and then the path, that runs roughly north from the Coliseum, paralleling via Labicana. This is one of Rome's famous seven hills, and some say one of the most inspiring in Rome, with the Coliseum as its backdrop.

One of the first things you see, on your left, is a statue to Alfredo Oriani [1852-1909].  On the side it says A Roma Madre Ravenna.  It's a creation of the Fascist era--XIII, the 13th year of the Fascist regime, or 1935.  A novelist, poet, and social critic, Oriani's work received little attention until the end of the Great War, when it was discovered by the Fascist regime and, with Mussolini as editor, republished in 30 volumes.  Oddly, Oriani was also appreciated by leftist and anti-Fascist Antonio Gramsci, who wrote about him in his prison notebooks.  When we saw the statue, it had been lightly defaced with a right-wing symbol.







Shortly after the statue, turn up to the left.  Ahead is a large pool/fountain--another, somewhat earlier Fascist-era monument.














Perhaps its outstanding feature is the amphorae that decorate it--symbols of ancient Rome, when clay vessels of this kind were used to transport oil and other commodities.  The smaller fountains at the sides of the larger ones are of interest as well.  Above each of them is the letter "A" [for Anno, year] and the number VI [the sixth year of Fascism, or 1928].









Beyond the fountain, on a wall to the right, is some intriguing and, we assume, relatively permanent graffiti: Omnia Vincit Amore [sounds to us, who have never studied Latin, like Love Conquers All/Colle Oppio, and in the center a symbol we haven't seen before.  And just ahead, the remains of a substantial and once-elegant complex of ancient Roman baths.  These are what remains of the magnificent, 10,000 square meter Baths of Trajan (Emperor 98-117 AD), designed by the brilliant architect Apollodorus of Damascusa in 109 AD above Nero's famous - or infamous - Golden House (closed/open/closed - we think now truly closed - the conservationists can't seem to prevent its collapse.  Luckily we saw it in its brief open period a few years ago). [See Marco's update in the first comment below - there may be hope here.]  There's another piece to your left and back--we'll get there in a moment.






This park has another aspect, one that you may--or may not--appreciate.  It's a gathering and resting place for black immigrants, some of them the itinerant merchants who are ubiquitous in Rome's tourist areas, others, perhaps, unemployed or underemployed.  When we visited in May, the field next to the baths was dotted with sleeping young men.





As you move more or less back toward the fountain, and somewhat to the right, you'll find a second set of
ancient bath ruins.  These are more of the Baths of Trajan.  When we last were there, the city had put up some informative placards near the various ruin sites.  Since the baths covered 10,000 square meters and had gyms, saunas, hot and cold rooms, etc., you will find ruins dotting Colle Oppio, which has been called an archaeologist's dream.  No crowds here.

Next to this piece of the baths is another treasure, from the 1930s: a stone fountain in the modernist style, once elegant but now broken and defaced.  The marble bowl is beautiful, nonetheless.  And the fasces on the side of the fountain are remarkably well preserved.












Two more sights to see.  One is a modest, 2-story building of unknown origins--it could be hundreds of years old, or only a century--fenced in and circled by bushes and trees.  As the sign says, it's the property of the Comune di Roma--the city government--and houses the Centro Anziani "Colle Oppio": a social center for the neighborhood's population of older, retired people--of which Italy has plenty.




Our last stop is a small athletic field, in sight of the Coliseum, where we began our journey.  On our visit it wasn't being used for soccer or any other sport, but rather as a meeting place for the the area's itinerant merchants.  They often carry their wares in blue plastic bags.  On this day, these merchants also hoped to sell umbrellas.  A broader view of the field is at the end of this post.

Bill  


2 comments:

Marco said...

I would like to point out that the Domus Aurea is not "truly closed" and that conservationists aren't unable to prevent its collapse - they have been working on it for the past ten years, and parts of the site will reopen on October 25th. The rest of the works will be finished by 2018.

Here's the link to the restorers' website: http://archeoroma.beniculturali.it/cantieredomusaurea/

And yesterday's article on the Messaggero: http://www.ilmessaggero.it/ROMA/CRONACA/domus_aurea_roma/notizie/934498.shtml

Dianne Bennett and William Graebner said...

Another reader left an email reminding visitors NOT to tour Colle Oppio at dusk or in the evening.