When In Rome.........
Last week, i read a news bit that Italy's Ministry of Culture proposed a 60Million- Euro preservation plan to secure Rome's historical areas - something rustled up in a hurry only after the recent collapse of an ancient monument in Pompeii set the alarm bells ringing.
Its imponderable what Rome would do without its history ! History is what brings the gaping hoards and the tourist lolly in. But for all that, its surprising that the Italians do not exert themselves too much to gift wrap their treasures and vend them more energetically. Since their everyday cityscape is so enmeshed with the historical remains, the locals seem to be quite cool to the charm and romance their invaluable heritage. On my visit, I got the distinct feeling that they were quite blase' about it . They had the same "chalta hai" attitude our countrymen have here .
When in Rome,I dint feel the need to be Roman. Rome was " Indian" in character : The people there littered freely ; they plastered notices on 2000 year old walls with impunity; they exhibited atrocious traffic etiquette. They were garrulous and loud in public. Youth in public spaces were unruly. Personnel in public service counters were bored and inefficient. The suburban train had grimy seats and shattered windowpanes. There were beggars ( Albanians and Romany immigrants). And the local government took only as much care of their monuments as our own ASI does- i.e., haphazard. I felt at home ! This was a few years ago. So, I was really glad to see the above-mentioned news.
The Pantheon ( the 1800 years old Pagan temple) fascinated me more than the Colosseum ( old name : The Flavian Amphitheatre) or the "BenHur" racetrack , Circus Maximus , did.
At the popular and crowded Trevi Fountain, ( a lovely work of art) there were some urchins diving in to retrieve coins tossed in by starry eyed tourists. They must be making small fortunes ! But we heard that only Caritas, a Charity organisation is authorised to collect the coins , weekly, every Sunday.
We abandoned plans of climbing the famous Spanish Steps , because it was so crawling with visitors that nothing of its design or beauty was discernable. But it was fun to window shop ( only !)nearby , in the Piazza di Spagna, where shops displayed all the famous labels I had only seen in glossy magazines.
Did enjoy loafing around Trestevere with its quaint alleys and shops and piazza, all so very, very Italian in character. They said its also part of the unsavoury "underbelly" of the metro, but luckily, we emerged from it unmolested and with pockets unpicked.
Other Piazzas like Il Campo, Del Popolo ( where stands the captured Egyptian obelisk of Ramases II) and Navona are great sites to walk about and soak in the Roman colour and ethos, but it was unsettling to hear that most of these have , in history, been sites of public hangings and executions.
At Bocca Della Verita, we dutifully tested ourselves, by placing our hands inside the mouth of the circular stone face of an unknown ancient god, who, according to myth, will bite off a liar's hand ! Later, we came to know that the opening was an ancient sewer grate !
The Roman Forum, guarded by the Palatine and Capitoline hills, filled me with awe about the might of Imperial Rome. Incredible, that the then SuperPower which had conquered 85% of the known world, should have had such an unbelievably small Capital nestling in a narrow valley ! North of the Forum , stands the 125 Ft. high marble colossus, Trajan's Coloumn, with a continuous spiral of bas relief running from bottom to top, most panels of which cannot be seen clearly however much one cranes one's neck ! For detailed viewing, one can go to the Roman Civilization Museum and see plaster casts of all the sections, part by part. This museum also had a nice film show educating us about Roman History. ( And no , Nero - bad boy though he was - did not fiddle when Rome burned, but actually organised relief works. )
Though the whole city is an open air museum, it is still necessary to have a National Museum to preserve stuff which could not be left in the open. But here the word "National Museum" does not denote one building or complex, but a whole chain of institutions scattered across different locations. Tourists have to short list according to fancy. The museum on The Capitoline Hill is the world's oldest museum. Castel Sant'Angelo, another national museum, is situated along River Tiber, right across from The Vatican, at the end of a classical bridge lined by Angels. This towering cylindrical fortress, the musoleum of Hadrian, is surmounted by a dramatic bronze figure of the angel Michael , who is believed to have saved the city from Plague in the 6th. century. A magnificent building in an evocative setting. Loved it.
It was also necessary to pick and choose from among the hundreds of Basilicas and Cathedrals. The one I was really bowled over by was San Pietro en Vincoli, with a very prosaic, uninspiring facade, but with beautiful mosaics,frescos and vaults, inside. Here sits Michelangelo's grand marble Moses.
And there were those quaint Catacombs under San Sabastian, errie place.
The mosaic works in San Paolo are remarkable - the halo around the heads of saints is made up of tiny glass pellets filled with gold dust, this gives the portraits an ethereal glow.
A pyramid in Rome ? Yes, there is one, 120 ft. tall, built in 12 BC when anything Egyptian was a great craze among Romans. It was the tomb of a wealthy man, Caius Cestius, now it is part of The Aurelian Wall , situated close to Porta San Paolo with a subway station named for it " Pyramide".
The Vittorio Emanuale II Monument, the youngest of the grand monuments of Rome, was built only in 1935 in honour of the first leader of Unified Italy and contains a Tomb to the Unknown soldiers of World War I. It kept appearing on all our outings because of its very central location and seemed impressive enough to me. But unfortunately, it is treated with some scorn by locals who call it a marble victorian Typewriter !
It was interesting to run into an Italian Cafe owner of South Indian origin, who insisted on serving us dosas and rasam , by instructing his Italian cook in detail on how to use available ingredients innovatively to produce that fare, specially for us! Though these two dishes came out like pancake and thin tomato soup in disguise, we relished the meal because it was served with so much love. At another bistro, an effusive Neapolitan chef gave us a spirited demo. of making "de orijnaal, gooood Marinara", to the accompaniment of grand, theatrical hand gestures and operatic exclamations ! An enjoyable show !
The Hop-On-Hop-Off busline doing the archeological sites circuit had a very interesting name : Archeobus !( Right out of Flintstones ? !).
Many places in Rome observe the weekly holiday on Mondays, which only means that one cannot enter the sites, but can very well admire the ruins peacefully from the outside, without crowds jostling about .
A trip to Rome is not complete without a visit to The Vatican. But then , the Vatican is another country.........meriting another post.
We tossed coins into the Trevi Fountain , with full faith in the urban legend that that ritual would take us back to Rome someday. Well........ Still waiting ! Would love to visit again !