Tour #3: The Baths of Caracalla, Rome
Background: Emperor Septimius Severus first commissioned the baths in AD 206 and after his death, Caracalla, his son, completed the baths in AD 216. The composition of the baths was typical of any Roman bath, including the frigidarium (cold water), the tepidarium (tepid water), and the caldarium (hot water), but on a much grander scale. The natatio (swimming pool) was next to the frigidarium and was open to the sky. In its day, the baths would have been decorated with marble, paintings, sculptures, and floor mosaics. On each side of the baths was the palaestra (gymnasium) where people could exercise. Libraries and gardens were also a part of the Baths of Caracalla.
I really enjoyed visiting these baths; the walls are so tall, even today, that you can imagine how impressive it would have been in its prime. I booked a guide and the Wheely Trekky for this tour because I was advised that I needed the Trekky; however, after being led around for a while, I noticed that this wasn’t strictly true. I think we only visited 3/4 of the baths because I was getting too hot, but from what I saw, the area is very flat and there were no steps, except to go to the underground, but my guide finagled a different way to get there. There are some gravelly areas, but I know my wheelchair would have managed it fine. If your wheelchair has a hard time with small bumps, or if you use a manual wheelchair then you might need the Wheely Trekky.
But, really, the bumps are not that bad. Visitors can’t get too close to the actual walls of the baths because a lot of it is fenced off. I didn’t speak up at the time because the tour was already half over before I decided that I could have done it in my wheelchair and because in the end, the tour guide found another way for me to visit the underground parts of the baths. Not only that, but as we were leaving the underground, two of the staff at Caracalla offered to show us the Mithraeum, which usually requires tickets to be bought separately from the baths. So that was an extra treat, free of charge on my end.
The god Mithra originated in Persia and became popular in Imperial Rome. Its worshippers, members of a ‘mystery cult’, congregated underground in the Mithraeum. That hole in the centre of the chamber is the fossa sanguinis (blood pit) where a bull was sacrificed as an offering to Mithra.
It was really wonderful that we were allowed to visit the Mithraeum. No one else was down there except for our small group and the two staff members, one of which told us the history of the Mithraeum, in Italian, and my guide provided translations. And it was nice and cool down there; a perfect way to end the day’s tour.
Tour #4: The Villa of the Quintilii, Rome
Background: This site was once owned by the Quintilii brothers, consuls in AD 151. Emperor Commodus coveted the villa for himself and promptly had the brothers killed so that he could acquire it. The area surrounding the villa is so large that it was once thought to be a separate town.
There is no doubt that wheelchair users require the Wheely Trekky for this tour. The area is beautiful, but has steps all over, and the Trekky is necessary in order to see the inside of the villa.
Tour #5: Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa), Tivoli
Background: Emperor Hadrian constructed this vast villa between the years AD 118 and 134. The villa once stretched across 300 hectares; the ruins are still extensive, but only a portion of those 300 hectares remains today.
I am very glad that I added this tour to my schedule at the last minute; it was one of my favourite tours. The combination of the sprawling trees, the pools filled with sea-green water, and the copies of the caryatids (female statues used for structural support instead of a column) surrounding the Canopus (the long pool), all aid in imagining how the villa looked when it was originally built. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see one of the major highlights of Hadrian’s Villa, the Maritime Theatre, because it was closed to the public at the time of my visit. Oh well, next time.
Stay tuned for my tours of Pompeii and the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. Follow my blog for regular updates on ideas for your next accessible vacation.