Monday I will have been in Rome for a week and I have yet to post about it yet, although I have taken (just checked) eight hundred and eighteen photographs while here. Oh, and that doesn’t count the ones I snapped with my phone. Oh dear.
Rome is hard to get a handle on. Its bigger and more filled with tourists than anywhere I have yet been. Its older than most and inter-layered with history quite overwhelmingly. My beloved graduate professor and thesis adviser Ozayr Saloojee, who happens to be teaching a class in Rome right now, calls it “palimpsest-y” which seems to sum it up nicely. One of my favorite undergraduate professors, Robert Ostergren taught a class on the history of European urbanization in which he referred regularly to the “Three Romes,” meaning the Roman Rome, the Vatican-reorganized pilgrimage site and the Italian capitol and seat of Fascist government from the 30’s. I would add, now, a fourth Rome in the contemporary buildings of Zaha Hadid and Richard Meier etc which is slowly being inserted in amongst all the history.
Given all this, I’m not sure quite how I can logically capture the experience of “the Eternal City.” Here are a few snapshots, literally and metaphorically, from my first day in Rome where I wandered through all three major Architectural eras and a big chunk of the city trying to get my bearings:
The Roman history is very much in evidence – most of the Aurelian Walls are still in place and the city works around them, driving in through the arches and building up against (and into) the ancient structures.
They like to mark their city points of interest with obelisks looted from Egyptian history. This happened during the time that the Popes Sixtus the fourth and fifth (seriously) were intent on turning Rome into a city fit to be a major tourist destination. They knocked down big swaths of the medieval city and put in new squares (mostly round) and landmarkers, namely these obelisks.
Churches are everywhere and some are truly spectacular. You really can’t wander more than a block without finding a church and nearly every one I’ve poked my head into have been impressive. It starts to get repetitive after a while. But some are really stunning. This is the Chiesa de Sant’Andrea near the Spanish Steps.
Also everywhere are the tourists. This is a picture of the mass of tourists near the Trevi fountain. Similar crowds can be found nearly everywhere else. I’ve been quite spoiled by the dearth of other travellers elsewhere on my winter journey but the Eternal City seems to be eternally full of people.
The Romans like their fountains in general. Here’s the one at the base of the Spanish Steps, which I particularly like.
There’s so much archaeological history floating around that they it is taken for granted. Any one of these piles of historical rubble could make a museum in America. Here they don’t even bother to cover it with a tarp.
What is taken quite seriously is white marble and national pride. This is the Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II – a sort of national monument housing the “altar of the fatherland” and several museums. Fascist, obviously.
Despite all these romantic images of the glorious past, the substance that built the roman empire was not marble facing but brick structure. Since most of that marble facing was looted at later points in history for new buildings (I’m looking at you Duomo of Piza) or sometimes just to burn for lime! what remains of Roman Rome is mostly brick. Really impressive, monumental quantities of brick.
So that was Day One. Palimpsest-y, indeed. I expect I’ll try to organize future roman posts more by category than itinerary as I’ve made a habit of mixing historical periods in my day which would be obnoxious in blog form. Expect to read more about ancient Rome, and its environs, ie the Appian Way and Ostia Antica, Vatican Rome, in the form of its many museums and its plan for reorganizing the city into a tourist mecca with a lot of help from the likes of Michaelangelo and Bernini, Fascist Rome, including the EUR and much more. Plus Zaha’s Maxxi.