Note from Michelle: One of my favorite historical fiction trilogies is the Antonius Trilogy by Brook Allen, a Virginia author. Brook did a great amount of research prior to and while writing her books on the life of Marc Antony in Rome. This post is an article she wrote sharing her experiences and suggestions while in Rome. Enjoy!
During the decade and a half in which I wrote the Antonius Trilogy on the life of Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony), Rome became my happy place. It’s where I researched, where I got to know my characters in depth, where I imagined scenes playing themselves out, and where I ate an immense amount of gelato, experienced the longest lines in my lifetime, and where I decided I loved to get lost.
Seriously, I do love getting lost in Rome!
If one looks at the layout of cities that began as legionary colonies, literally planted by Rome’s enormous military strength, it’s easy to get from place to place, since towns like Numantia in Spain, Carnuntum in what is now Austria, and Timgad in Algeria are all based on grid-patterns, because legionary camps were always placed on a grid. Rome, however, is not. After a decisive defeat by the Gauls in the 3rd century BC, Romans wound up leaving the maze of upheaval just the way it was. And so today’s confusing layout of Rome is based on many things, military defeats, the shape of immense ancient theaters, and today’s archaeological excavations. It’s all part of what has created the delightful havoc of the Eternal City in its modern state.
Each visit I’ve had in Rome, I’ve left my hotel on purpose at least once during my stay to purposefully get lost. It’s in my wanderings that I’ve had some of my fondest memories, tasted my favorite gelato, and discovered the perfect leather wallet or experienced part of the city’s antiquity that I hadn’t expected to see.
If you’ve never been to Rome, one of the most important parts of the trip is locating yourself within walking distance of the city’s heart: the Forum Romanum, which hasn’t stopped beating for 2500 years. I’ve stayed in several fabulous hotels and rental properties, but my favorite has to be the privately owned and operated Hotel Lancelot near the Colosseum. The Khan family has managed this small, 60-rm. boutique hotel for years, and even provide a complimentary breakfast spread that’s extremely impressive, as well as a dinner option, should guests wish to eat in. Rooms are clean, simple, and most convenient to the city center. You really can’t go wrong at Hotel Lancelot.
In 2019, when I last visited, I took off one day for a walk on the Tiber River, allowing myself to get lost through the Circus Maximus (Rome’s gigantic chariot racing track), through what was once the cattle market (the Forum Boarium), and past delightful foot-bridge that dates from the 1st century BC—the Ponte Fabricio. This amazing bridge is in its original state and is truly stunning. I kept walking and wound up at the Ara Pacis, the Altar of Roman Peace which was first built by Rome’s first emperor, Augustus. Now located in a lofty glass building, it’s welcoming and air-conditioned; the perfect place to relax after an urban hike. And right next door is the newly-restored Mausoleum of Augustus.
On the way back from this little adventure, I stopped and enjoyed home-made mint gelato, with traces of freshly ground mint leaves amid the frozen milk and rich chocolate goodness.
I cannot stress the importance and joy of getting lost in a city like Rome. By doing so, you experience the people, learn a little Italian, and try some of the most fabulous food. However, I must honor the preference of people who don’t travel as much and might feel intimidated by intentionally getting lost in a city they’ve never visited. In that case, a guide familiar with Roman culture will give you the very best of experiences. There’s nobody I’d recommend more than Silvia Prosperi, who founded A Friend in Rome tour services. Silvia and I met accidentally, while I was researching my book. When I needed to access sites closed to the public, she went the extra mile, assisting me in contacting Italian authorities within the Ministry of Culture. Her assistance paid off for us both, for she got to see an ancient Republican domus that she’d never been able to visit before, despite her years as a guide. Together, she and I descended into the 3rd century BC Casa dei Grifi on the Palatine Hill and found a real commonality in the love of her city’s history. Silvia is a phenomenal treasure of information and can set up specialty tours and special experiences for families with young children. I highly recommend her services.
And as an author who has written on the ancient Roman world, I challenge you, as a visitor to allow yourself the adventure of getting LOST in Rome. How often can you walk over stone roads once traversed by Roman legions? Have you ever wandered into a Church and seen the very chains that may have held Peter the Apostle prisoner, or have you ever stood agape at the very top of the cupola—St. Peter’s Dome?
Do it. Get LOST in Rome!
Author Brook Allen has a passion for ancient history—especially 1st century BC Rome. Her Antonius Trilogy is a detailed account of the life of Marcus Antonius—Marc Antony, which she worked on for fifteen years. The first installment, Antonius: Son of Rome was published in March 2019. It follows Antony as a young man, from the age of eleven, when his father died in disgrace, until he’s twenty-seven and meets Cleopatra for the first time. Brook’s second book is Antonius: Second in Command, dealing with Antony’s tumultuous rise to power at Caesar’s side and culminating with the civil war against Brutus and Cassius. Antonius: Soldier of Fate is the last book in the trilogy, spotlighting the romance between Antonius and Cleopatra and the historic war with Octavian Caesar.
Learn more about Brook Allen at www.brookallenauthor.com.