This semester I’m enrolled in a course called Shakespeare’s Italy. I’ve never properly studied Shakespeare, and I felt as an English major I couldn’t possibly continue any further in my literary education without reading his greatest works. After only two classes, I’m pretty excited for the course. Throughout this semester, we’ll focus on five of Shakespeare’s plays set in Italy including The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and Julius Caesar. Our first assignment given last Wednesday was to read the entirety of Julius Caesar. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect as two days later I left for the play's very setting- Rome.
The first two days of the trip, it was pretty difficult trying to imagine the city as it was during the days of Caesar’s rule. I could hardly picture Brutus and Cassius walking down the street as they plotted Caesar’s death whilst surrounded by honking cars, flocks of flashy tourists, and giant movie billboards.
Then this morning I went to the Roman Forum with a tour group, and it was as if a light switch flicked on. This was the Caesar’s Rome.
The Roman Forum sits about twenty feet lower than street level due to the fact that it was mainly underground for thousands of years. Due to the annual flooding of the Tiber River, Ancient Rome was covered in about a foot of sand and debris every year, burying much of its history in the process. In the 1800s, the area was finally excavated, and now more than 2.5 million tourists visit the site each year.
Historians and archeologists have expertly placed the fragments of columns and buildings in the approximate locations based on ancient accounts. Throughout my tour, our guide pointed out the remains of law offices, government buildings, Pagan chapels, and even a dentist office (excavators found piles of teeth in a drain on the spot and concluded this was an early form of dentistry.)
Due to detailed accounts in poems by Plutarch, a Greek-Roman writer who lived from 45 AD to 127 AD, we can pinpoint exact locations of Ancient Rome. In fact, Shakespeare relied heavily on Plutarch’s poems while writing Julius Caesar. During my tour, the guide pointed out the platform Mark Antony delivered his famous “Friends, Romans, Countrymen,” speech, the final resting spot of Caesar himself, and the Senate building where Caesar was voted posthumously to become a god.
Another highlight of the Forum includes Caesar’s Palace (not the one in Las Vegas). Climbing to the top of the Palatine Hill left us a little winded, but it offered spectacular views.
Following the tour of the Roman Forum, we were left free to explore the famed Colosseum by ourselves. Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater, the Colosseum was built in the first century AD. Strolling through the building, I was struck by the its sheer history and significance.
Before the TCU students finally departed Rome to head back to Florence, we split off into groups to find a place for lunch. Wandering the streets with five of my friends, we poked our heads into a few places before finally settling on a cute trattoria (an Italian restaurant that’s a bit cheaper and has a more extensive menu than an osteria.)
After scarfing down some artichoke pasta (artichokes are a popular ingredient in Rome- I recommend their fried artichoke hearts), we paid the waiter and left. As we were headed to the door, I was stunned to see an actress from the 2000s teen drama Gossip Girl. Once outside, my friends and I couldn’t contain our excitement from seeing “Blair’s mom” as we called her.
This funny encounter was the perfect way to end a surprising and exciting weekend in Rome.