Roman history –
admission free

Our journey to Aqueduct Park (Parco degli Acquedotti) was a hot one. Europe is in the throes of a heatwave which was made all the worse by Roman transit—there is no AC or promise that the bus will actually show up, ever!

Google maps didn’t help either—suggesting we get off the bus at the side of a highway, which we did—of course— but there was no entrance. So we walked along the side of the highway and up a road with no sidewalks and enough blind spots that I was pretty sure we would become relics, then down a dusty residential street and onto an unmarked path beside a house.

In Rome you often find yourself wondering whether Roman city planners know what they have in their own city and if pedestrians are considered:

What we think is magnificent they think mundane; what should have a grand entrance is nothing but a crack in a wall; or what should be accessible or marked, isn’t.

But that’s part of the fun of travel and the amazing experience of visiting Rome. In any case, for the longest time we could see the aqueducts—soaring over a soccer field, a grocery store, alongside the highway—but could not get to them.

We read about Aqueducts in history class or see them in movies like Gladiator, but to be able to walk under the arches or touch the stone columns is amazing—it’s as if you’ve just discovered the pyramids of Egypt. Following the dirt path between houses and under a newer Aqueduct, you come to a hill that overlooks the soaring Claudia Aqueduct on a grassy plain next to the TrenItalia tracks.

Most of the wonders of Rome are roped off, gated or require an entrance fee. This park and the promise to interact with history, is completely free. You can wander uninhibited, unmonitored throughout the park, whether it be by foot or bicycle. If you want to have a picnic, choose a spot under one of the shady Italian Stone Pine trees that skirts the ruins. We had just come from the Square Colosseum, a beautiful and problematic relic of Mussolini’s Facist regime, and there were treated with the exact opposite experience: guards, gates, and the glare of the sun. It’s called Palazzo della Civiltà Italiano and was meant to be the show piece of Mussolini’s new European capital. The Square Colosseum was built to celebrate the original Colosseum, evoking the greatness of Roman Empire with its arches, while also speaking to the Facist future of Italy with its severe rational lines.

It had recently been turned into the global headquarters of Fendi and despite its historical significance, it is gated around the perimeter with a 12 foot high security fence, watched over by a guard in a glass booth who, no doubt, plays both security officer and fashion police. We walked around the exterior and it is a beautiful, soaring temple that stuns you while making you feel small and insignificant. The symmetry of the arches and the purity of the travertine marble make for a great instagram photo. We tried to enter to get a sense of the interior but were swiftly told to leave by a FendiBot.

Unlike Canada where every piece of 50+ year-old history is labelled and remembered, in Rome and with these two symbols of Italian history in particular, there is no plaque—you have to put the pieces together yourself.

It was an interesting day. On the one hand you have a park with two thousand year-old relics of a civilization that birthed our own, unencumbered by security fences and on the other you have a building that was built for the people that represented Italian Facism—the very worst of European history—and is now inaccessible to the public.  Andrew and I loved being able to walk and fly the drone over and under the aqueducts and take photos of the soaring Facist temple of the Square Colosseum. Both are similar—the use of arches, conceived as acts of empire and meant to inspire the people of Rome. Together, you get a complete picture of Rome — from the age of Emperors to the rise and fall of Facism.

If you’re looking to get away from the crowds and see Roman history in a unique way, the one thing to do is this Arch Tour of Aqueduct Park and the Square Colosseum. Bring water, a baseball cap and a phone with data.