Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.
~ ~ G. K. Chesterton
[One of the iconoclastic images in the world. The Colosseum of Rome. What is not so famous is the construction equipment in the foreground. Photo is mine.]
Part One: The City As A Museum
I cannot find a street, a tiny alley, a lane or a shady sidewalk in Rome that will not lead you to yet another street, alley, lane or sidewalk. Modern buildings abut broken columns, capitals and archways that are thousands of years old. What do I need? A history book? A Michelin Guide? A hotel map of the city? A brochure that is titled “Things To Do And See In Rome? An iPad with Google maps?
All five items would help. But it wouldn’t help enough. This is a city that needs to be walked and you would need the time to digest what you are walking near. Your well shod feet will touch the very pavement of rock that sandaled centurions, slaves, craftsmen and beggars walked upon two millennia ago. If history excites you and the proximity to affairs that changed the course of human events, then this city is a feast for you. But it’s an elixir that must be taken in small doses, otherwise your mind will likely explode with the thickness of the past. True, there are other places on this small planet that can have the same effect; Stonehenge, The Great Wall of China, The Pyramids. But for millions of people, Rome connects with us because there are so many commonalties of culture that we, today, share with the ancient Romans. Religion, language and the foundations of democracy to name a few. Films such as “Ben-Hur”, “Spartacus” and “The Gladiator” have become part of our culture.
The incomparable Shakespeare found inspiration in Roman history.
“E tu, Brute?” (‘Julius Caesar’ Act 3 Scene 1.)
I stood near the Colosseum and watched modern-day laborers and masons make necessary repairs in places that seemed twenty stories up. It made me dizzy.
To see a Corinthian column laying its side in the grass, thirty feet below street level makes me marvel at how anyone could possibility put the pieces back together again. The way it was in 200 BC.
So, if history is of little interest to you, Rome would be just another major center of modern day fashion, most likely like it was back in the day.
Part Two: The City Today and Our Time Here
I supposed it’s possible to experience Rome without a thought about religion. But, frankly, I don’t see how you could to that. Rome and Christianity are bound together like fraternal twins. And, what would Rome be without the Vatican City, the smallest city-state in the world. It’s only 400+ acres. I think my grandmother’s farm was just a little bit smaller. There are probably Walmart parking lots somewhere that come close to the size of Vatican City.
It is within these walls that the Popes have shepherded a billion Roman Catholics. Decisions made here affect lives of uncounted souls. The present Pontiff, Francis I is a congenial man from South America. He used to love to dance the Tango with his girlfriend before he was called to the priesthood, then becoming a Cardinal and then, upon the death of John Paul II, was elected to be the next in line to a long chain of men (and not a few woman, but that’s another blog) dating back to St. Peter himself.
I am not a practicing Catholic but I confess it was a thrill of sorts to watch him pass three meters in front of me (in the Popemobile) before he read his messages from the steps in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. He has a gentle and kind face. It is said that he cooks his own meals.
The art inside the Vatican is nothing short of astounding. To get to the Sistine Chapel you have to walk through many galleries of large tapestries, paintings and sculptures that are worth more that the GNP of many countries. I’m not one to judge the Churches vast wealth. You might as well complain about the weather or the setting of the sun.
It is what is it. Change? I’ve read years ago that any progress or modernization of Church policy moves at a glacial pace. I don’t doubt that for a minute.
Away from the Vatican, Rome is chaotic, noisy and seemingly out-of-control. I risked my life crossing a side street. Traffic rules are mostly general guidelines. But the people are friendly and tolerant of non-Italian speakers.
Pasta shops are three to a block. Cannoli is everywhere. Beer mugs the size of a Buick are gripped by men in nearly every street side cafe. The coffee is strong and the pizza toppings are as abundant as a typical produce section of a Whole Foods Market in Manhattan.
Unless you run an official marathon to work and back each day, you will gain a lot of weight in Rome.
But life is to be enjoyed, is it not?
Part Three: My Photo Gallery
My iPhone photo storage cloud must be responsible for all the rain we’ve had on this trip. To make a long post manageable, I’ll simply put a few of my favorite photos below. I hope you enjoy them.
[A typical alley. Intriguing and moderately clean. Taken a few blocks from the Colosseum. Photo is mine.]
[Pope Francis rides by me. At first I thought he pointed at me and said: “You’re the man”, then I realized his eyes were closed. Photo is mine.]
[Near the alter of St. Peter’s Basilica. Photo is mine.]
[In a gallery leading to the Sistine Chapel. Title: “Fortuna restrained by Cupid” by Scoula di Guido Reni. Photo is mine,]
[The Pieta. What more can one say? Arguably one of the most sculptures in the world. Photo is mine. The sculpture is by Michelangelo.]
[This is not in the Vatican but no photo collection of Rome can exclude The Trevi Fountain. This was used in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita”. Some trivia: In the film “Three Coins in the Fountain” (1954), the legend of the coins was born. If you throw one coin, you will return to Rome, if you throw two coins, you will fall in love with an attractive Italian. If you throw three coins, you will marry the one you met. (There’s no mention of a fourth coin but something tells me it likely involves a divorce lawyer.) Photo is mine.]
Kind of like a modern dating site only using water.
~ ~ ~
I certainly hope you enjoyed this romp through the history and culture of Rome. There are many famous quotes about Rome. My favorite is from a Three Stooges movie.
One stooge: Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Second stooge: Neither was Syracuse.
Et tu, Brute?