Showing posts with label Colosseum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Colosseum. Show all posts

13 December 2018

Pope Sixtus V

Pontiff who cleaned up and rebuilt Rome and reformed church

Pope Sixtus V introduced a programme of measures to tackle Rome's problems
Pope Sixtus V introduced a programme of
measures to tackle Rome's problems
Pope Sixtus V, whose five-year reign was one of the most effective of any pontiff in history, was born Felice Peretti on this day in 1521 in Grottammare, a coastal resort in the Marche region that was then part of the Papal States.

Succeeding Pope Gregory XIII in 1585, Sixtus V inherited an administration that was riddled with corruption and a city of Rome that to a large extent fallen into the hands of thieves and criminal gangs.

He responded with a series of measures that brought about profound change with far-reaching consequences for the city and the wider country, making his mark on a scale that few pontiffs had matched before or since.

As well as tackling crime with brutal ruthlessness, he introduced significant reforms in the administration of the Catholic Church and commissioned lavish building projects that changed Rome from a medieval city to a one of Baroque grandeur.

The son of a poor farm hand in Grottammare, the future pope entered a monastery when he was nine years old and joined the Order of Friars Minor three years later. His familiarity with adversity made him resourceful and strong.

After being ordained, he impressed many with his preaching and was a popular choice as pope, attaining office at the age of 64 following Gregory XIII’s death.

Pope Gregory XIII left Rome's finances in a parlous state, while crime gripped the city
Pope Gregory XIII left Rome's finances in a
parlous state, while crime gripped the city
He was determined from the start to be remembered as a pope who left Rome and the Church in a much better state than the one he inherited.

The brigands and criminal gangs who held the city in their grip were his first targets, and he used the full strength of his papal forces to crush them, beginning a clampdown that would eventually see as many as 27,000 criminals and their mob bosses rounded up an executed.

As a deterrent to others, Sixtus V would regularly have the heads of executed brigands placed on top of stakes around the city.

The result was that within two years Rome was the safest city in Europe, the countryside was free of bandits and the economy prospered.

Sixtus tackled his reforms of the central administration of the church with similar zeal. By a papal bull - edict - issued in 1586,  he redefined the Sacred College of Cardinals by setting the number of cardinals at no more than 70, a limit that stayed in place until the pontificate of John XXIII (1958–63).

In 1588 he overhauled the Curia - the government of the Catholic Church - in its entirety, establishing 15 congregations - departments - in a structure that also remained substantially unchanged until the 1960s.

Pope Sixtus V had an estimated 27,000 criminals put to death in a ruthless purge
Pope Sixtus V had an estimated 27,000
criminals put to death in a ruthless purge
In his crackdown on waste and corruption, he introduced harsh financial policies, which included the sale of offices, the creation of new loans, regulation of prices and the imposition of new taxes.

Sixtus V was determined to refill the treasury, although he could hardly be accused of sitting on the new wealth he created.

Turning his attention to the urban plan of Rome, he ordered the creation of broad new streets that were the beginnings of how the map of the city looks today. The Porta del Popolo, where he placed an obelisk in the piazza, the Via Sistina and Via delle Quattro Fontane all owe their existence to Sixtus V.

The Cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica was completed after he ordered the architect Giacomo della Porta to finish what had been a ten-year plan of works inside 24 months.  Sixtus V also built the loggia of Sixtus in the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano and the chapel of the Praesepe in Santa Maria Maggiore, as well as commissioning repairs to the Quirinal, Lateran and Vatican palaces.

He restored Rome’s four Egyptian obelisks, including that in St Peter's Square.

Sixtus V restored the aqueduct of Septimus Severus - called the Acqua Felice after his baptismal name - in addition to the Acqua Vergine, which flows into the Trevi Fountain, with the purpose of bringing clean water into a less inhabited area and encouraging people to live there. The Palazzo Barberini and the Triton fountain were later made possible thanks to Sixtus V’s aqueduct.

Sixtus V placed a statue of St Paul atop the Column of Marcus Aurelius, built in 193AD
Sixtus V placed a statue of St Paul atop the
Column of Marcus Aurelius, built in 193AD
Not everything he did was popular. He displaced many residents by razing buildings to make way for his new streets and showed little appreciation for antiquities. He envisioned converting the Colosseum into a wool factory with homes for its workers, and turned the Column of Marcus Aurelius and Trajan’s column into pedestals for statues of St. Peter and Paul.

In his foreign policies, Sixtus V proposed the conquest of Egypt and supported King Philip II of Spain in his planned invasion of England, with ambitions to excommunicate Elizabeth I, although in the event none of those things happened.

Sixtus V died on August 27, 1590, the last pope to have used the name Sixtus.  He was disliked by many of his subjects but history has recognized him as a significant figure in the Counter Reformation, and a pope who took on great enterprises and made significant achievements. He also left five million crowns in the coffers of what had been a bankrupt treasury.

The remains of the 16th century fortress stand over the
coastal resort of Grottammare, where Pope Sixtus V was born
Travel tip:

Grottammare is one of the beach resorts that make up the Marche region’s Riviera delle Palme, a stretch of coastline around the larger town of San Benedetto del Tronto. It is notable for a fine, sandy beach but also for the well preserved remains of a fortress overlooking the town that was built following the sacking of Grottammare by the Montenegran Princes of Dulcigno in 1525.  The centre of the older part of the town is Piazza Peretti, a square enclosed by the Church of San Giovanni Battista, the Town Hall, Municipal Tower and Teatro dell'Arancio.  Grottammare takes pleasure in celebrating its geographical position on the 43ยบ parallel, the line of latitude that also passes through the cities of Assisi (Italy), Santiago de Compostela (Spain), Lourdes (France), Medjugorje (Bosnia), Vladivostok (Russia), Sapporo (Japan), Buffalo and Milwaukee (United States).

The Fountain of Moses at the end of the Aqua Felice aqueduct into Rome
The Fountain of Moses at the end of the Aqua
Felice aqueduct into Rome
Travel tip:

The Aqua Felice was the first aqueduct built during the Roman Renaissance, more than 1,000 years after the ancient aqueducts in Rome had been cut by invading Goths. Sixtus V commissioned his favourite architect, Domenico Fontana, who came up with the Fountain of Moses which also serves as the terminus of the Aqua Felice. Although the fountain, sometimes known as ‘Fat Moses’, has never been particularly well-liked, it is seen as representative of the great urban renewal that took place in Rome during the Renaissance, particularly under Sixtus V.

More reading:

Urban VIII, the pope whose extravagance led to disgrace

Pius V, the pope for excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England for heresy

The kidnapping of Pope Boniface VIII

Also on this day:

The Festa di Santa Lucia

1466: The death of Renaissance sculptor Donatello

1720: The birth of playwright Carlo Gozzi


21 December 2017

Strife-torn Rome turns to Vespasian

Elevation of military leader ends Year of Four Emperors

Vespasian, the ninth Emperor of Rome
Vespasian, the ninth Emperor of Rome
The ninth Roman emperor, Vespasian, began his 10-year rule on this day in 69AD, ending a period of civil war that brought the death of Nero and encompassed a series of short-lived administrations that became known as the Year of the Four Emperors.

Nero committed suicide in June 68 AD, having lost the support of the Praetorian Guard and been declared an enemy of the state by the Senate.

However, his successor, Galba, after initially having the support of the Praetorian Guard, quickly became unpopular.  On his march to Rome, he imposed heavy fines on or vengefully destroyed towns that did not declare their immediate allegiance to him and then refused to pay the bonuses he had promised the soldiers who had supported his elevation to power.

After he had several senators and officials executed without trial on suspicion of conspiracy, the Germanic legions openly revolted and swore allegiance to their governor, Vitellius, proclaiming him as emperor.  Bribed by Marcus Salvius Otho, the Roman military commander, members of the Praetorian Guard set upon Galba in the Forum on January 15, 69AD and killed him.

Otho was named as Galba’s successor but the Germanic legions were unhappy and persuaded their leader to march on Rome and claim power. Defeated in the Battle of Bedriacum, which took place in an area close to today’s city of Cremona, Otho committed suicide, having been emperor less than three months.

The make-up of the Roman Empire in 69AD
The make-up of the Roman Empire in 69AD
Now Vitellius was declared emperor but his extravagance in power drove the imperial treasury close to bankruptcy and when he began the torture and murder of both moneylenders and opponents of his regime it was clear he would struggle to retain power.

Meanwhile, Vespasian, who had acquired kudos as a military leader during the invasion of Britain in 43AD and had been charged by Nero with quelling the Great Jewish Revolt of 67AD as the appointed commander in Judaea, was building a powerbase in the east, where he had the support of the legions in Syria and Egypt.

With the eastern legions behind him, he marched on Rome. At the same time, the Danubian legions in the north declared their support for him and an army led by Marcus Antonius Primus scored a spectacular victory over Vitellius’s army in the Second Battle of Bedriacum.

Back in Rome, Vitellius desperately offered bribes in the hope of rallying some support and when this failed he had no option but to flee.  Before he could escape Rome, however, he was captured by Vespasian’s army and killed on December 20.

The Colosseum in Rome was begun by Vespasian and  completed by his son, Titus
The Colosseum in Rome was begun by Vespasian and
completed by his son, Titus
The Senate accepted Vespasian as emperor the following day and he remained in control for 10 years until his death in 79AD, probably from dysentery.

He did not take up office in Rome until 70AD, at first remaining in Egypt to consolidate his power base and quell the opposition that still existed there from pockets who had supported to one or other of his predecessors. His son, Titus, meanwhile, completed the job he had been given to restore order in Judaea.

When Vespasian did move to Rome, he reformed the financial system and initiated several ambitious construction projects, including the Flavian Amphitheatre, better known today as the Roman Colosseum.

As a response to the revolts of 68–69, Vespasian introduced strict rules of conduct to strengthen army discipline. Also, through his general, Agricola, Vespasian continued imperial expansion in Britain.

After his death, he was succeeded by his eldest son, Titus. It was the first time a Roman emperor had been succeeded directly by his own natural son and the period of their combined rule, along with that of Titus's brother, Domitian, became known as the Flavian dynasty, after the family name of Flavius.

Calvatone is home of the La Bine Nature Reserve
Calvatone is home of the La Bine Nature Reserve
Travel tip:

The Battles of Bedriacum are thought to have taken place close to the present-day village of Calvatone, about 35km (22 miles) east of Cremona in Lombardy.  The area is well known for the protected area known as La Bine Nature Reserve, an area of marshland either side of the Oglio river that is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, featuring many aquatic mammals and birds in particular.

Travel tip:

Rome’s Colosseum, built of travertine, tuff, and brick-faced concrete, was the largest of all the Roman amphitheatres. Construction began under Vespasian in 72AD and was completed by his son, Titus, in 80 with further modifications were made during the reign of Titus’s younger brother, Domitian (81–96), the three emperors who made up the Flavian dynasty. It is estimated the Colosseum could hold up to 80,000 spectators.  It is thought that, having been known first as the Flavian Amphitheatre, it became known colloquially as the Colosseum because of its proximity to a colossal statue of Nero.

30 December 2016

Titus – Roman Emperor

'Good' ruler who helped victims of Vesuvius eruption

A statue of  Titus unearthed in Herculaneum, which can be found in a Berlin museum
A statue of  Titus unearthed in Herculaneum,
 which can be found in a Berlin museum
The Roman Emperor Titus was born Titus Flavius Vespasianus on this day in AD 39.

He was Emperor from AD 79 to 81 and is remembered for capturing Jerusalem and for completing the Colosseum in Rome.

Two months after his accession, on August 24, AD 79, Mount Vesuvius in Campania began erupting, eventually killing thousands of people around Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Titus appointed officials to coordinate the relief effort, while donating large amounts of money from the imperial treasury to aid the victims. He visited Pompeii twice.

Titus was a member of the Flavian dynasty and succeeded his father Vespasian after his death, becoming the first Roman emperor to come to the throne after his biological father.

Titus was believed to have been born in Rome on December 30, AD 39, the eldest son of Titus Flavius Vespasianus, who was commonly known as Vespasian.

His father had earned prestige as a military commander, taking part in the invasion of Britain in AD 43 under the emperor Claudius.

Titus served under his father in Judea during the first Jewish-Roman war. The campaign came to a brief halt with the death of Emperor Nero in AD 68, which launched Vespasian’s bid for imperial power.

When Vespasian was declared Emperor in July AD 69, Titus was left in charge of ending the Jewish rebellion.  In AD 70 he besieged and captured Jerusalem and the Arch of Titus was built in Rome to commemorate his victory.

The Arch of Titus in Rome, built to commemorate the  victory of Titus in capturing Jerusalem
The Arch of Titus in Rome, built to commemorate the
victory of Titus in capturing Jerusalem
After the death of Vespasian from an infection, Titus succeeded him as Emperor.

Under the rule of his father, he gained notoriety in Rome while serving as prefect of the Praetorian Guard, and for carrying on a controversial relationship with the Jewish queen, Berenice.

There were fears among some Romans that Titus might be another Nero, whose leadership was seen as brutal and corrupt. In fact, his brief reign was considered a triumph by Suetonius and other historians, who saw him as a 'good' emperor and recorded that he was much loved by the population.

Building work on the Flavian amphitheatre, now known as the Colosseum, began in AD 70 under Vespasian and was finally completed in AD 80 under Titus. To inaugurate the amphitheatre, spectacular games, including gladiatorial combat and mock naval battles, were held there, lasting for 100 days.

But after barely two years as Emperor, Titus died of a fever on 13 September AD 81. Historians have speculated about his death and suspicion has fallen on his brother, Domitian, who succeeded him as Emperor and could have poisoned him.

Travel tip:

The Colosseum in the centre of Rome is the largest amphitheatre ever built. Construction began on the oval building in about AD 70 close to the Forum. The amphitheatre was built to hold up to 80,000 spectators and was used for events such as gladiator contests, mock sea battles and executions. Nowadays it has links to the Catholic Church and the Pope always starts his torch-lit Good Friday procession there.

The gladiator barracks: One of the ruins left behind after the eruption of Vesuvius and later uncovered at Pompeii
The gladiator barracks: One of the ruins left behind after the
eruption of Vesuvius and later uncovered at Pompeii
Travel tip:

Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, burying the Roman cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis and Stabiae and killing thousands. An eyewitness account of the eruption has been left behind by a Roman administrator and poet, Pliny the Younger, who described the event in his letters to the historian Tacitus. In the early hours of the morning of 25 August, pyroclastic flows of hot gas and rock began to sweep down the mountain, knocking down all the structures in their path and incinerating or suffocating the people who remained. The remains of about 1500 people have been found at Pompeii and Herculaneum. The excavated ruins of Pompeii, show what daily life was like in a Roman city, down to what was sold in the shops and how people decorated their homes. Tourists can also visit the volcano, which since 1955 has been part of Mount Vesuvius National Park.

More reading:

AD 79: Europe's worst volcanic disaster

Decline and fall: Gibbon's epic work on history of Roman Empire

The 1944 Vesuvius eruption

Also on this day:


15 October 2016

Gibbon's moment of inspiration

Walk around the Forum sparked idea for epic work 

Edward Gibbon, as depicted by the English portrait artist Joshua Reynolds
Edward Gibbon, as depicted by the English
portrait artist Joshua Reynolds
The English writer and historian Edward Gibbon claimed that the inspiration to write the book that - unbeknown to him - would grant him literary immortality came to him while exploring the ruins of the Forum in Rome on this day in 1764.

Gibbon, who had enjoyed modest success with his first book, entitled Essay on the Study of Literature, was in Rome after deciding to embark on the Grand Tour, taking in the Italian cities of Florence, Naples and Venice as well as the capital.

Later, in his memoirs, Gibbon wrote that:

"It was at Rome, on the fifteenth of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted friars were singing Vespers in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the City first started to my mind."

In the event, the book expanded to cover rather more than the city of Rome.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ran to six volumes and as many as 5,000 pages in the original version and saw Gibbon, whose second work - Memoires Litteraires de la Grande Bretagne - had been dismissed as having little merit by fellow writers and historians, eventually recognised as in the forefront of historians in Europe.

The scope of the work was vast, covering a period in the history of the empire from 98 to 1590.  He began the project in the 1770s and the first volume was published in 1776 by Strahan & Cadell of London.

All six volumes of the epic work can still be purchased
All six volumes of the epic
work can still be purchased
Encouraged by its success - he was paid £1,000 and the book had to be reprinted six times - Gibbon continued with the subsequent volumes, although it was not until 1789 that it was completed with the publication of the final three volumes.

The book took in early Christianity, the Roman State Church and the broader history of Europe, and discusses the decline of the Roman Empire in the East and West.

Its objectivity and the heavy use of primary sources was unusual at the time and signalled a change in methodology that became a model for later historians. Gibbon was dubbed the first "modern historian of ancient Rome".

It is still being reprinted today, in the full six volumes or in a number of abridged versions.

Gibbon's theory about the collapse of the Roman Empire was that it succumbed to barbarian invasions mainly due to the gradual loss of civic virtue among its citizens.

They had become weak, he argued, and to defend the Empire its leaders had to call upon the help of barbarian mercenaries, who then became so numerous and ingrained that they were able to take over the Empire. Romans themselves, he believed, began to reject the tough military lifestyle that had been required of them.

He argued that the rise of Christianity had created a belief that a better life existed after death, which fostered an indifference among Roman citizens to the idea of sacrificing themselves for a greater purpose. Christians, moreover, were comparatively pacifist compared with the Romans.

A general view of the site of the Roman Forum
A general view of the site of the Roman Forum
Gibbon also pointed the finger at the Praetorian Guard for plotting against emperors who did not suit them and for continually demanding increased pay.

He attracted criticism for what appeared to be a scathing assessment of Christianity, which resulted in the book being banned in several countries.  Gibbon was accused of disrespecting the idea of sacred Christian doctrine by treating the rise of Christianity as a historical phenomenon rather than something with a supernatural explanation.

Gibbon, who had converted to Catholicism as a young man but reverted to Protestantism under threat of being disowned by his father, from whom he would later inherit a substantial fortune, explained that he wanted to write a history not influenced by official church doctrine, although he undermined any claim that he was aiming for a neutral perspective by accusing the Christian movement of "supplanting in an unnecessarily destructive way the great culture that preceded it" and for "the outrage of [practising] religious intolerance and warfare".

Decline and Fall had so absorbed Gibbon that he felt a sense of loss when the final draft was completed.  "A sober melancholy was spread over my mind by the idea that I had taken my everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion," he wrote.

His later years were unhappy ones.  He struggled with depression and the physical discomfort of various ailments and died in 1794 at the age of 56.

Travel tip:

Rome's historic Forum, situated between Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum, was at the heart both of the ancient city of Rome and the Roman Empire itself, the nucleus of political affairs and commercial business, a place where elections took place and great speeches were made.  The site fell into disrepair with the fall of the Empire and over time buildings were dismantled for the stone and marble, with much debris left behind.  Eventually it was abandoned and became overgrown and was used mainly for grazing cattle.  Attempts at uncovering and restoring buildings began in the early 19th century and the process of excavating areas long buried continues today.  The impressive and extensive ruins are now one of Rome's major tourist attractions.

The triumphal Arch of Septimius Severus
The triumphal Arch of Septimius Severus
Travel tip:

Entry to the Forum costs €12 (€7.50 for concessions), which also permits entry to the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill.  The site opens at 8.30am and closes one hour before sunset.  Visitors should allow at least two hours to explore the Forum and an hour to tour the Colosseum, although many will spend much longer.  Monuments that would be popular choices on a must-see list include the white marble Arch of Septimius Severus, the Curia Julia, where the Senate met, and the circular Temple of Vesta. 

(Photo of Forum by Marco Verch CC BY 2.0)
(Photo of Septimius Arch by Jebulon CC0)


10 September 2016

Historic victory at Rome Olympics

Bikila's golden moment for African athletics

Abebe Bikila (left) during the opening stages of the  marathon at the 1960 Rome Olympics
Abebe Bikila (left) during the opening stages of the
marathon at the 1960 Rome Olympics
History was made on this day at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome when Ethiopia's Abebe Bikila won the marathon.

Not only did he run the whole 26 mile 385 yards (42.195km) barefoot, he also became the first athlete from sub-Saharan Africa to win an Olympic gold medal.

Bikila retained the marathon title at Tokyo in 1964.  Subsequently, the middle and long-distance running events have become increasingly dominated by sub-Saharan runners, particularly Kenyans and Ethiopians.

The British runner Mo Farah - born in Somalia - continued that domination by winning both the 5,000m and 10,000m gold medals at consecutive summer Olympics in London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro this year.

In total, more than 40 gold medals at distances from 800m to the marathon have been won by sub-Saharan runners since Bikila's breakthrough.

Bikila competed in Rome only after a late call-up to the Ethiopia squad to fill a place vacated when a colleague became ill.

Bikila on the podium with runner-up Rhadi Ben Abdesselam
Bikila on the podium with runner-up Rhadi Ben Abdesselam
He arrived with no running shoes but hoped to be supplied with some by adidas, one of the Games sponsors.  However, by the time Bikila went to see their representatives in Rome, they had only a few pairs left and none would fit him comfortably, so he decided to run barefoot.

It was no real inconvenience in any event because he rarely trained in running shoes.

The starting point for the marathon was the foot of the wide staircase leading up to the Piazza del Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill and the finish line was at the Arch of Constantine, just outside the Colosseum.

Bikila came home first in a time of two hours 15 minutes 16.2 seconds, which at the time was an Olympic record.  He crossed the line 25 seconds ahead of the Moroccan runner, Rhadi Ben Abdesselam, from whom he had sprinted away in the last 500m.

The beautiful Piazza del Campidoglio on the Capitoline Hill in the centre of Rome
The beautiful Piazza del Campidoglio on the
Capitoline Hill in the centre of Rome
According to accounts of the race, Bikila had been told before the race that Rhadi was his most dangerous rival but expected him to be wearing the number 26 on his vest.  In fact, Rhadi wore 185. The two ran side by side for more than half the distance with Bikila still believing there was another runner ahead of them, wearing 26.

Later in 1960, Bikila was briefly detained following an attempted coup in Ethiopia but was soon able to resume his career.  His winning time at Tokyo in 1964 was a world record 2 hours 12 minutes 11.2 seconds.

Travel tips:

The Capitoline is one of the Seven Hills of Rome.  It was the site of an ancient Roman citadel but few ruins exist.  The area was redeveloped in the 16th century in line with an urban plan drawn up by the artist and architect Michelangelo Buonarotti as a central square - the Piazza del Campidoglio - surrounded by palaces.

The parade of athletes at the opening ceremony of the 1960 Olympics at the Stadio Olimpico
The parade of athletes at the opening ceremony
of the 1960 Olympics at the Stadio Olimpico
Travel tips:

Rome's Olympic Stadium - the Stadio Olimpico - was built between 1928 and 1938 as part of the Foro Mussolini (now Foro Italico), a sports complex Mussolini hoped would enable Rome to host the 1944 Olympics had they taken place.  Originally named Stadio dei Cipressi and later Stadio dei Centomila, it was renamed when Rome won the bidding process for the 1960 Games, pipping the Swiss city of Lausanne.  Rebuilt for the 1990 football World Cup, it is now home to the Roma and Lazio football clubs and has hosted four European Cup/Champions League finals.

(Photo of Piazza del Campidoglio by Prasenberg CC BY 2.0)
(Photo of Stadio Olimpico by Alex Dawson (Flickr) CC BY-SA 2.0)


30 June 2016

First Martyrs' Day

Nero blamed Christians for his own crimes

Henryk Siemiradzki's painting shows trussed up Christian captives about to be torched in Rome in AD64
Henryk Siemiradzki's painting shows trussed up Christian
captives about to be torched in Rome in AD64
Christians martyred in Rome during the reign of Nero in AD 64 are remembered every year on this day in Italy.

The Catholic Church celebrates the lives of the many men and women put to death by Nero, who are now known as i Primi Martiri, first martyrs of the Church of Rome, with a feast day every year on 30 June.

In the summer of AD 64, Rome was devastated by fire. The unpopular emperor Nero, who wanted to enlarge his palace, was suspected of setting fire to the city himself but he accused the early Christians then living in Rome and had them executed.

Some were fed to wild animals, some crucified, while others were burnt to death to illuminate the sky and provide evening entertainment.

The feast of the First Martyrs came into the Church calendar in 1969 as a general celebration day for the early Roman martyrs. It falls the day after the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul, the patron saints of Rome.

Part of a fresco from Nero's Domus Aurea in Rome, which can be found in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford
Part of a fresco from Nero's Domus Aurea in Rome, which
can be found in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford
Travel tip:

After the fires had cleared the existing buildings away, Nero had an elaborate villa, his Golden House (Domus Aurea), built a short walk away from the Colosseum on Palatine Hill in Rome. Construction took place between AD 64 and the Emperor’s suicide in AD 68. The site of the villa in Viale Domus Aurea can be visited during a guided tour to view the restoration works. 

Travel tip:

There is a permanent memorial to the First Martyrs in Piazza di Protomartiri Romani, which is close to the Basilica of Saint Peter inside Vatican City in Rome.