We were in Rome for only two days, which was not nearly enough. But in the time we were there, we packed in a bunch. We did a lot of sightseeing, explored the neighborhood where the apartment was, and did our laundry.
One of the things that was crazy about Rome is that there are so many ruins around the city that you can see stuff everywhere. Even ancient pillar capital remnants on the side of the road in the weeds among the trash:
We also mastered the public transportation there, including bus, tram, and metro. We even took our first long-distance train to travel to Florence.
But before I get ahead of myself, back to Rome. While we were exploring, we learned some very interesting stories and some pretty fascinating facts. If you already know these things, sorry for making it sound so new! And hope you don’t think we are ignorant for not knowing these things before.
1. The Colosseum:
Did you know that the Colosseum was built by 20,00 Jewish SLAVES, back in the first century A.D.? I had NO IDEA!!!! It's most likely true. When the Romans conquered Jerusalem they took Jewish slaves back to Rome with them and they did all the hard work.
This photo below was taken before we knew this was built by Jewish slaves. Otherwise, we might not have been smiling so much!
2. And, the Colosseum was funded by the Jewish treasures the Romans took from the Temple (Bet HaMikdash) they destroyed in Jerusalem????
You can see some of the treasures they took in the Arch of Titus (which I knew about, by the way) which is in the Roman Forum.
3. In more modern times, did you know Jewish people were forced to live in the Jewish Ghetto in Rome, which was in the WORST part of the city until… wait for it… 1870???? Five years after slavery was abolished in the US??? And most Jews lived in the ghetto until the walls were torn down in 1888??? That’s CRAZY!!
4. And, while they were forced to live in the ghetto, there were only TWO jobs they were allowed to work at: second-hand clothing and fish mongering. And, the great synagogue in Rome? It was built in the Jewish Ghetto only AFTER the ghetto walls were torn down, as a gift to the Jewish community by the city of Rome.
5. And finally, wait til you read this:
We went on a free walking tour of Rome, “off the beaten track” and we walked to this rose garden. The tour guide was so excited that the garden was open because, she said, it was only open in the spring and then for only a couple weeks in October.
As we walked in I saw this:
And wondered what the heck it was for. But kept quiet.
The tour guide talked about the rose garden, and the rich American woman who built the rose garden and how it was a miracle that the roses grew so beautifully in this garden, and blah blah, and oh, by the way, where we were standing, in this rose garden, it used to be the Jewish cemetery of Rome.
The Jewish ghetto is just down the way a bit, and of course the Jews could not be buried in the Christian cemeteries, and so they were given this piece of land for their cemetery. It was known as the “ugly market of the Jews”.
Well, finally, when Italy was no longer a Papal state, in 1880, they were able to be buried in a different cemetery and in 1934 the rose garden opened.
Part of this deal included exhuming the bodies in the original cemetery to move them to the new one, but the people who were digging everything up decided to only move the bodies of those who had remaining relatives in Rome. Or maybe they were in a very big rush to build this garden. But whatever the reason, only 20% of the bodies were removed and we were standing on a cemetery that was now a rose garden but still had 80% of its original inhabitants still underground beneath our feet.
And what memory do we have that this was the cemetery of the Jews? Well that monument in the photo above that people put stones on, a Jewish tradition, but also, we were told, look at what shape the rose garden is in…
You can’t see it as you are standing in the garden, our tour guide said. But, if you go to google maps, and look at the garden you will see it is shaped by design as a menorah, with 7 branches and the little auxiliary garden across the street is shaped as the flame of the candle. And so I did. And this is what I saw.
WOW!!! My mind was blown.
And, the reason it is open in October for a couple weeks? Well, in 1943, on October 18, the Nazis deported the Jews to a concentration camp. Out of 1,035 Jews, only 16 survived. In commemoration of that horrible date, the city opens the rose garden so that the Jews can visit and pay respects to the dead.
And final story, Do you know what this is: Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta or Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM)
The smallest sovereign state in the world. They have a monastery and you look through a keyhole at the garden and see across the way Saint Peter’s Basilica and Vatican City. It actually has its own postage stamp and diplomatic relations with over 100 countries.