Getaway to Italy: Splendor in the Ruins

From the Leaning Tower of Pisa to the city of Venice (which could sink any day now), some of Italy’s most famous destinations serve as precarious reminders that Italians aren’t exactly known for their commitment to quality structural engineering. On the flipside, this means that Italy has countless ancient ruins which, despite a few centuries of wear and tear, are still pretty gorgeous. It’s sort of like how an Alfa Romeo breaks down every other week, but whether it’s rounding a twisty bend or spitting out oil on the side of the road, it sure looks fantastic. So leave practicality and efficiency to Germany and head to Italy for what the country does get right—beauty, passion, and history. Be it a city ravaged by volcanic lava or an edifice crumbled away by flaming cannonballs, you’re sure to find splendor in at least one of Italy’s (literal) hot messes.

The Colosseum (Rome)

The average NFL arena holds just slightly more than the 50,000 people the Colosseum was able to accommodate way back before the Ye Olde Marketplace had started selling hot dogs and beer helmets (which is too bad, especially considering that the Roman 50K was a whole lot more raucous than the immobile masses that often inhabit today’s  football stadiums). Still, those who intended to survive as a prisoner in the Colosseum had to have the speed of a running back and the stature of a lineman in order to defeat the magnificent beasts, fellow captives, and, in some cases, naval warships that the Roman government used to see which prisoners were true MVPs.

Roman Forum (Rome)

What was once the globe’s premier cosmopolitan center has now been relegated to one of Rome’s hottest tourist attractions, complete with the high quality food that such spots are known for, exotic relics only a gift shop could offer, and, of course, people taking peace sign selfies. But in all seriousness, you should still do as the Romans did and pay a visit to the Forum. Gaze up at the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns, as tall as the lines are long. Explore the marketplaces that were once filled with the scent incense and ambrosia. Imagine the dim candlelight that once lit the temple of the vestal virgins whose light was almost as brilliant as the flash of a Nokia camera phone.

The Baths of Trajan, the Seven Halls, and the Domus Aurea (Rome)

If you like lead poisoning, you’ll love the Roman Empire. Romans were all about living the lead aqueduct lifestyle, which some argue caused the decline of the empire. Regardless, it’s pretty impressive that the Romans had it together enough that they were able to use gravity to transport water throughout the empire (even if it may or may not have killed everyone in the process). The Seven Halls are neither halls nor seven in number. Rather, these nine chambers served as water reservoirs for all the greasy, sweaty Romans washing in the Baths of Trajan, which were not as glamorous or mysterious as the name suggests. With a capacity of eight million liters, the Seven Halls were able to supply water to a number of different rooms—the frigidarium, caldarium, and tepidarium—allowing bathers to choose pools of different temperatures. Adjacent to the bath complex was the Domus Aurea—Nero’s mansion in the heart of Rome. True to form, Nero ensured that his house was decked out with every upgrade his builder had to offer, from rooms adorned in gold leaf and jewels to fabulous frescos. 

Pompeii

On August 23, 79 CE, residents of Pompeii celebrated Vulcanalia, a celebration of the god of fire who lives in a volcano. Vulcan was not pleased with the festival, so he got angry and incinerated the city the next day. Had Pompeii’s performers put on a better show, maybe you could still visit the original city today. Alas, all that’s left are the ruins, which are still pretty cool. The first stone amphitheatre in the Roman world still remains in Pompeii, along with antiquities representative of the time period, preserved for millennia by the layers of volcanic ash that blanketed the fallen metropolis.

Hadrian’s Villa (Tivoli)

Hadrian built his villa in modern day Tivoli, Italy, in 134 CE as an escape from the craziness of Rome. In fact, he loved it so much that he ditched Rome and governed the empire from his prized home. Complete with libraries, a theater, gardens, and baths, Hadrian constructed his villa to be a miniature metropolis. The good news is that unlike Marie Antoinette, who did something similar, Hadrian didn’t get guillotined.

Eryx (Sicily)

On Sicily’s Monte San Giuliano lies Eryx, an ancient city filled with stone castles and sweeping vistas of the Mediterranean. This city changed hands more often than Taylor Swift changes boyfriends, with Rome, Phoenicia, and Carthage each governing it for a time.

Monte Consolino (Calabria)

Located in a rural, mountainous region of Italy, there’s not a whole lot going on at the top of this peak, except for Monte Consolino’s hottest ruin: Unnamed Norman Castle. This castle has everything: crumbled walls, panoramic views of the surrounding mountain range, and plenty of history.

Written by Let’s Go staff

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