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Two Boys do Rome

June 22, 2024

Two Boys do Rome

No lounging by a pool or seashore on this trip. I wanted to make the boys work a bit. Tramp the streets and understand some of the history and culture of a great city. We chose Rome as there’s so much to see, and at age nine, they’d be able to relate some to school learning or their Horrible Histories books.

The twins love a TV programme called Race Across the World – five teams of two have to get across a part of the world using any mode of travel except air.

If we pretended we weren’t with them, we could give them challenges to complete in getting to and around Rome. It sort of worked initially and they had fun discovering interesting facts about the places they were visiting.

Legend has it that Rome was founded in 753 BC by twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, who were raised by a she-wolf. Romulus eventually kills Remus and founds Rome on Palatine Hill.

Rome Facts

Rome was the first city in the world to reach one million inhabitants, in 133BC, compared to London 1801 and Paris 1850. Those million people lived within the 13.7 km² of the city walls, 73,000 people per km², and 6.6 times the density of modern-day New York City. At its peak, the Roman Empire in its entirety had around 90 million people. Once known as capital of the world (caput mundi) it only became capital of modern Italy in 1871 after Florence and Turin had held the title.

The Trevi Fountain

Day one was a route march. Sadly, after much walking to our first stop, The Trevi Fountain, our initial excitement at seeing no crowds evaporated when we saw no water either. Every Monday morning, they drain the fountain to clean it and hoover up the equivalent of 3000 euros a day that gets thrown in. That’s a lot of wishes.

Rome has over 2,000 fountains, most of which provide free drinking water. Even in late May the temperature was pushing into the 90s Fahrenheit. We returned later for James and Jack to flip in their coins. 

Designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi in the 18th century, the fountain stands 86 feet tall by 161 feet wide, with a central figure of Neptune flanked by Tritons and sea creatures. It’s the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and one of the most famous in the world.

The Spanish Steps

Quite sensibly the boys asked what Spanish steps were doing in Rome? Built in 1725 The Spanish Steps were financed by Étienne Gueffier, a French diplomat representing the Bourbon French Kingdom at the Holy See (Vatican), to reach the French monastery church, Trinita dei Monti, at the top.

The Vatican’s Spanish embassy controlled the area which led to them being called the Spanish Steps.

Borghese Gardens

The Borghese Gardens are a 200-acre park created out of former vineyards in the 17th century. After some impressive rowing on the lake, they licked their way through their first Italian gelato.


The Borghese Gallery and Museum was previously the summer residence of the influential Borghese family. The 17th century building is filled with masterpieces despite giving 500 important works to Napoleon in 1807 most of which are now in the Louvre. 

Gladiator Training

Gladiator, feminine: gladiatrix – from the word gladius (sword), a fighting entertainer of Ancient Rome.

In the early days these fights were to the death. Gladiators who lost the battle or were injured were sentenced to die on the field. Hundreds of thousands died in the almost 200 known amphitheatres across the empire, along with rare exotic wild animals. In later years, the rules changed and very few gladiators died under Caesar.


We learnt the origins of the gladiators and how helmets and armour adapted from the early Greek styles. This helmet’s ridge at the front gave more protection from a forward blow to the forehead, and the skirt helped to stop the opponent stabbing you in the back from above the shield.

Successful gladiators could be considered superstars by citizens. So much so that their blood was a popular medicine in Ancient Rome and was quickly sponged off the arena floor. Drinking warm gladiator blood was seen as a cure for epilepsy and given to women struggling to conceive.

Why Learn History?

Studying history matters for several reasons. It helps us understand the human experience through insights into past societies, cultures, and events. This helps us navigate our own lives and make better decisions.

Analysing historical events helps critical thinking. We learn to evaluate evidence, consider multiple perspectives, and draw conclusions based on facts and context. History also creates a shared narrative, even if created with bias by the victors. It helps us understand where we come from, fostering a sense of identity and connection with others. Learning from historical mistakes allows us to avoid repeating them, and instead shape a better future.

Yet still today, fanatics like to destroy history to supplant their own ideology and dogma. Much has been lost through the ages by extremism; an obsessive, uncritical zeal, that hides the extent of doubt lurking in the shadow self - that wonderful repository of insight.

But much of Rome is there to see, 2000 years later. It’s estimate that 90% of ancient Rome still lies buried. And it’s almost impossible to redevelop areas without coming across archaeological structures.

The Pantheon

Derived from the Greek words 'πᾶν' pan – all, and 'θεός' theos – god, pantheon literally means ‘of all gods’.

Built by Agrippa around 26 BC as a temple to the Gods and the living Sovran, it’s believed the present building was a reconstruction by Hadrian between 118 and 125 AD. Standing with the original marble and granite from thousands of years ago it's the most well-preserved structure from Ancient Rome, having survived floods and earthquakes

The spectacular 43.2m (142ft) dome was the largest in the world for more than 1300 years until Brunelleschi built the famous Duomo in Florence. Romans were the first to use concrete for construction. Opus caementicium was made from volcanic dust mixed with rock pieces, lime, and sea water. This dome used concrete combined with lighter materials such as tufa and pumice to gradually decrease the weight as the dome rises.

Hair Colouring

The frugality of the early days of empire gave way to a more hedonistic expression and a popular ornamentation was with hair colour. As the empire expanded, traders and slaves came to Rome and introduced more exotic colours associated with the foreign appearance of people from present-day France and Germany.

Romans used a variety of methods and ingredients for dyeing their hair. Some used henna to get a red effect, others used berries, vinegar, beech wood ashes, goats’ fat, or crushed nutshells. A dye for black hair came from leeches and vinegar, fermented for two months, it was then applied to hair and baked in the sun. We won’t be trying that soon.

The most popular colour was blonde, even though it was associated with prostitutes who were required by law to dye their hair blonde to be easily recognized. The wealthiest Romans could afford the more striking effects, some of them powdering their hair with gold dust.

Next week we continue with our visits to the St. Caliixtus catacombs where 500,000 bodies lay in 24km of tunnels, the Leonardo da Vinci Museum, the Colosseum, the Forum, the Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica, and more.

 Michael Van Clarke

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