Last Saturday, we awoke to one of the greatest things we could have asked for in a Roman summer: neither a tourist-free Coliseum nor free gelato, but clouds. This made our walk past the Tempio di Ercole Vincitore (Temple of Hercules), through the Theater of Marcellus, and into the Ghetto of Rome much less scorching – that is, the day went from a blazing hot 96 to a slightly less sunny 93 degrees.
To get to the temple, which was our first stop with Crispin (our archeological guide), we walked past the Bocca Della Verità (the Mouth of Truth). The man’s face depicted on the sculpture is said to bite off the hand of anyone who dares to put his or her hand in its mouth and lie, basically making it a spotty ancient Roman polygraph. Once we were sitting down, Crispin taught us about architecture and Roman vs. Greek styles of temples, using the Tempio di Ercole Vincitore and the nearby Tempio di Portuno (Temple of Fortune) as contrasting examples.
We learned that the cella, or the main inner chamber, is in the center of the Greek temple, usually surrounded by a single layer of columns. Meanwhile, the Roman cella was flush against the back wall of the temple, offset in the front by a porch, which was one or more rows of columns – not unlike the porches we have today in the fronts of our houses (sidenote: our class has come to learn that many aspects of Roman culture are appropriated from their conquered nations. The temple is not exempt; the Etruscans, an ancient Italian civilization, are thought to have made temples shockingly similar to those of the Romans). In addition, the Greek podium (i.e. the rectangular or circular base of the temple) had three rows of steps all around the temples. The Romans had tall podiums, only accessible by one set of stairs at the front of the temple. And thanks to our new knowledge of ancient architecture, we discovered that the Herculean Temple was Greek and the Tempio di Portuno was Roman.
Next, at the Theater of Marcellus, which Augustus completed after Caesar’s death, we learned and saw more classic architectural motifs. The theater is built mainly of tufa (lovingly called “ugly tufa” by Crispin due to its brown, crumbly appearance) in a pattern called opus reticulatum. One of the several patterns we learned about, opus reticulatum consists of, essentially, square based pyramids whose sharp ends are stuck into the core (note: the Latin reticulatum = net-like. Look up a picture of opus reticulatum to see why). But the theater was not left covered in ugly tufa; it was covered in a much prettier, cleaner common stone called travertine. The theater is also one of the earliest examples of Roman brick, a brick that would become very useful to the ancient Romans.
Finally, we arrived for lunch/break time in the “Ghetto,” or the Jewish quarter. Although our restaurant ran out of the much hyped-up fried artichokes, we still had a nice time eating mozzarella and walking around (still shaded from the sun!). On our way home, we four girls walked up stairs (not steep but still numerous) to the Piazza del Campidoglio, or the Capitoline Hill. Continuing our walk, we then huffed up some more stairs to what we now call the “White Building:” i.e. the Altare Della Patria, a beautiful monument built for Victor Emmanuel II (and my favorite monument I’ve seen so far).
After our daily Latin translation, the day finished on the Tiber river, shopping for jewelry and eating chocolate-covered strawberries. Besides learning a great deal and seeing beautiful sites, I also found many Pokémon that day.