I didn't toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain but I hope I can make my way back to Rome someday. For now though, this brief romance will doRead More
I landed in Rome on a rainy evening and while at the conveyer belt, quickly changed from my boots to birkenstocks because public transport means waiting and changeovers. Ergo, comfort is key.
I boarded the train towards the city and with the rain and the Cyprus trees in the view, I fell asleep. So naturally, I missed my stop. It’s fine I told myself. It happened so many times during my first few weeks in Melbourne, I became a pro at navigating myself back (I had to). So I got off at the next one. I went to buy my ticket and then the first problem: it only took exact change and I didn’t have some 2 euro with me. So I tried my ATM card. Naturally when things start to go wrong, it goes on so it wasn’t shocking that both my cards didn’t work. I knew what I had to do: I either get on without a ticket because I was just one stop away or I beg. I mean, its 2 euro. Who would refuse? But hold on. There was a last resort. My Australian card. It was still active and I still had some dollars in it and what do you know, it worked! It was smooth from there. I reached my stop and because of the rain, I took a cab instead of the bus and was greeted by my Airbnb host, Maura. I don’t remember anything from then till the next morning. I don’t even remember my sister coming in and was shocked to see her in the morning. Maura and her partner had already left for work which meant we were alone in the apartment and finally got to see a glimpse of Rome in daylight. It was a lovely day and we started it off with a cup of tea in the terrace. Our first stop? The Colosseum, Palatine Hill and The Roman Forum.
The colosseum is a major train station meaning you will not get lost. You take the stairs and walk out of the station and you are instantly struck with the view of the colosseum and my god, it is majestic. The feeling is not something you can be prepared for. It’s grander than you ever imagined it to be. And you’re not sure why you’re overwhelmed with so many emotions because in actuality, it has nothing to do with you but all the same, you let those emotions just take its course. We stood there and asked each other if we really were in Rome and if we really were standing in front of the colosseum. I'm not dreaming right? I remember asking.
The Colosseum is without a doubt a giant. It is however a strange place isn’t it? This place had seen so much bloodshed and death and now we come to see it in such high spirit while condemning just that in our everyday life. Not to take the joy out of the Colosseum though. That was their sport back in the times and if we lived then, I’m sure we’d have watched it and enjoyed it too (?).
The stage upon which the gladiators fought has been restored in a modern way but the fighters’ pits, the section where the emperor and men and women of importance were seated are still as they were. I know just as much as you do about the colosseum but I learned two new facts:
- While there is no existing records and information that states the martyrdom of Christians in the colosseum, the idea spread and became popular in the course of the 17th century. There was even a suggestion that a church might be built in the centre of the arena dedicated to the martyrs. The great Bernini and later Carlo Fontana worked on the project although it never took flight. Today, outside the area is a modern cross in front of which the Pope stops when he completes the Via Crucis each Good Friday.
- In 1381, the Roman Senate assigned a third of the monument on the west wing to the SS Salvatore confraternity (a brotherhood for religious charity) where the hospital San Giacomo del Colosseo dedicated to St. James the Great was set up.
The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill is a short walk across the Colosseum and because of its proximity, most people visit not knowing its importance. The entrance of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are side by side and it is up to you which site you wish to visit first.
According to Roman mythology, Palatine Hill was the site where the twins Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf Lupa who nursed them and later, Rome was derived from Romulus’s name. So it is fitting that the city of Rome is said to be founded on this Hill (archaeological discoveries as proof).
The home of Rome’s first inhabitants, the Hill fell into ruin during the Medieval Ages but was resurged during the Renaissance and it is quite evident from the architecture, landscaping and sections of garden that are now there. The Hill is also home to many stray cats I reckon because I spotted many among the ruins. There were parts of Palatine Hill which made me feel like I was in the scene of a painting or that I actually have been transported to an age old time because you find yourself alone for a long period of time and it is quite impossible to not let out a sigh of marvel. Palatine Hill also has a look out point which gives you an amazing view of the Roman Forum below as well as domes and church tops and the golden Italian light binds you in its spell.
Previously a marsh and even a cow grazing land in its worse state before restoration, the Roman Forum is one of the most important historical sites in the world. It holds a key role in the shaping of the Roman Empire because it was their political and civic centre. It is a site full many ruins which include the temple of Antonius and Faustina, of Romulus, of Cesar, of Castor and Pollux and of Vesta. I knew about some and learned about the rest. I promise not to turn this into a history lesson but I think it’s important that I write a bit extensively about the Roman Forum.
I first heard about the Vestal Virgins in, would you believe in a song lyric, Procul Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale , about ten years ago. Just the phrase felt loaded with a story so I googled it and was led to the Atrium Vestae (Temple of Vestas) and the Vestal Virgins. The Temple of Vestas was the home to the Vestal Virgins who vowed to a lifetime of celibacy. The temple also contained the Sacred fire of Vesta – the Goddess of Fire and Hearth – which brought good fortune to the city. The Atrium Vestae is said to have been completed around 113 AD. The virgins are kept in this service for 30 years within which time they must remain chaste. They were to tend to the eternal flame and safeguard the temple and its sacred properties. According to Suetonius and Tactius, the Vestals guarded public treaties, imperial wills and other state documents. Injury to the Vestal Virgins were punishable by death. They were free to marry once released from their vow but it is said that only few resorted to it. A vestal who lost her virginity was subjected to harsh punishment such as death in terrible ways as this act was seen as jeopardizing Rome.
The temple has been remarkably restored and the status of several of the Vestal Virgins, which were found in a pile, are now arranged in a row. This correct arrangement, however, is unknown.
What is possibly the most recognisable of the ruins in the Forum is the remains of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Zeus or Jupiter (this is both Greek and Roman mythology). While a temple, it is now just three Corinthian columns standing tall. The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina on the other hand has been extraordinarily preserved. It is also one of the first temples you see/notice when you make your way to the site. During the medieval Ages, the temple was converted to a church. Another curious façade of this temple is a green door amidst the Corinthian columns.
"I’ll show you where you’ll find each sort of man in town,
To save you the trouble of tracking them down, be it men of virtue
You seek, or men of vice, men with and without morals.
If you need a man to perjure an oath, the Comitium’s the place;
But for liars and braggarts, go to the shrine of Venus Cloacina.
Wealthy husbands incautious with cash haunt the Basilica –
There too the busiest hookers and the pimps who strike the deal.
Members of the dinner clubs you’ll find in the Fish-market.
Gentlemen stroll at the end of the Forum, men of money;
In the centre, near the Canal, linger the pure pretenders.
Above the lacus Curtius the slanders gather, bold
Malicious men who brazenly accuse the innocent
But who themselves make truer targets for their charges.
At the Old Shops are those who lend or borrow money,
And others behind the Temple of Castor – trust them at your peril.
On Tuscan Way, more hookers, of either sex;
On the Velabrum, bakers, butchers, and prognosticators,
And swindlers, or those who rent the stall for swindler’s work.
- Plautus describing the Roman Forum in Curculio, 467 – 82
I visited the Roman Forum first followed by Palatine Hill while my sister did the opposite. We underestimated the magnitude of the two sites and after a good many hours of individual wandering, we soon realised that we were lost without the means to find each other. She had a working EU number and I didn’t. I am certain she panicked.
I went back to the Roman Forum and waited near the exit (hoping that there was just one entrance). After witnessing a wedding shoot, a photographer attempting the ol' reflection shot of the Colosseum (a reflection in a puddle) after which he was mercilessly copied and witnessing a bunch of Asian tourists doing Asian things, my sister and me finally found each other and we walked towards Piazza Venezia where we also saw Largo de Torre Argentina, an archeological ruin that is said to also be the site of Julius Cesar’s murder.
The autumn breeze was in the air and the golden sunlight began to envelop Rome when we saw a board with a poem called Roma written by Ezra Pound:
“O thou new comer who seek’st Rome in Rome…”
September 24, 2015
To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember where we ate or what we ate or if we even ate at all when we were in Rome. Food is a complete blur because all I was immersed in was the sights and the colours and the buildings. And getting lost every other day without any means of communication.
Our Airbnb host, Maura’s apartment was located in Municipio VI (Rome is divided into 20 municipals) forming the outer ring of the city centre as well as the Vatican City. Our closest train station was Stazione Tiburtina which was on the main line and it was about 5 minutes of a bus ride away, the bus stop being about 200 meters away from the house. It’s so downplayed in those pieces about travel tips but location plays such an important role, don’t you think?
There is much to see in the city of Rome and we started our day looking for the Trevi Fountain on a beautiful morning. Rome has a multitude of lanes and it shouldn’t scare you. You’re bound to find something spectacular in each. You wouldn’t find a single “modern” building which makes the wandering all the more picturesque. Just to be absolutely clear, there are no sky scrapers, no form of concrete jungle in Italy. As it was, so it is. Another distinct characteristic is the juxtaposition between religion and art. Italy clearly holds an important place in the history of Christendom and vice versa I should say and this comes across in the art that you will see across the city.
The Trevi Fountain is in the Trevi district and there are some low-key directions for Piazza Di Trevi in and around so you can’t miss it. Part of the Trevi Fountain was also being restored which meant that the role of it being a ‘fountain’ wasn’t at play. This majorly frustrated a young man part of an entourage what we would normally view as ‘frat boys’. My sister understood what he said, hand gestures and all. He basically didn’t understand the point of their visit to the fountain. If, however, you were there to see the work of art rather than making a wish, you weren’t disappointed.
We rarely joined a tour group (except for the Vatican) and we resorted to either audio guides or on some occasions, standing near a tour group to listen to a guide (I think this might count as a travel cheat). While at the fountain, there was a tour group and some of the people wanted to toss the coin and make a wish (legend has it that if you toss a coin in the Trevi fountain, you will visit Rome again). Even though it was in the middle of restored, a small space of the fountain was allotted and filled with water for the tourists. The tour operator for this group was adamant to let his group know that all these coins were going into the pockets of the Vatican! While he clearly sounded like he wasn't a fan of this taxation of sort, it was a very interesting fact to learn. It meant that a lot of these old sites and works of art are still under direct control of the holy city because more than half I would assume were commissioned when the Papacy and the church had autonomous control.
Oh. Before you ask, yes. I did think about following a Roman Holiday itinerary. While that wasn’t possible, we did make our way to the Spanish steps one evening and boy, were we in for a shock. I don’t know if it was because we were there during the evening but there was no space on the steps. Everyone came and sat. they just sat and did nothing. Some girls wanted their Audrey moment but the success rate wasn't very high. The Spanish Steps is famous architecturally, yes, but I reckon all of us wanted to come and see it because of Roman Holiday.
The Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps and The Pantheon are close to each other and they form an odd ‘L’ shape so to speak meaning you can cover all three in a day. Problem is we had the Vatican listed down for the day so we wanted to catch sight of the Steps in the morning. But we just kept hitting a blank over and over again so we hopped on the first bus we saw and made our way to the Vatican.
Up until then, the most fun we had was walking through the many lanes and just marvelling at every building and laughing at the ‘Roman soldiers’. The Trevi Fountain was a minor let-down because of the restoration and the Spanish steps didn’t wow. The Pantheon, however, made up for both. I’m going to be honest here. I only knew about The Pantheon because of Dan Brown’s Angles and Demons. My sister jeered and rolled her eyes at me when I told her that but hey, I guess you do learn something from everything and back in 2005, Dan Brown overloaded me with so much information, I had to read it twice mainly to decipher what was fiction. Remember the famous bit about the Demon’s hole or Oculus and the mix up with Raphael’s tomb? It’s the clue he messed up. If you can’t find your book, I guess YouTube? I haven't watched the movie but that scene should be there. It’s a crucial point in the book at least because SPOILER it’s the lead up to the first murder.
So yes. THAT Pantheon. Historically, the Pantheon was built thrice in the same exact spot and the third Pantheon was completed in 125 BC. Earlier in history, the Pantheon was converted into the church of St. Mary of the Martyrs in 608 BCE. From the outside, it can be passed off as an ordinary temple but the Pantheon, according to Michelangelo, felt like it was the work on angels, not men. When you enter, it is but a simple rotunda. It will take you seconds to go around it but the significance of the Pantheon lies in symbolism. It is said that the site was not chosen by chance. It is the spot where Romulus, the founder of Rome, at his death was seized by an eagle and taken off to the skies with the gods and upon the translation of the word, Pantheon comes from two Greek words: pan meaning "everything" and teon meaning “divine”.
The interior of the Pantheon receives its light from the sky; the 'eye'. The opening or the eye is 8.8 m in diameter and light streams in. The Pantheon is also the final resting place of one of the great renaissance master Raphael Santi and is also said to be the most copied and imitated of all ancient works.
By the time we got to the Pantheon, my phone, ipad and camera were all running low of battery because we were in the Vatican earlier in the day. Thankfully I did have my film camera with me (I unfortunately still haven't developed my films from the trip). I would love to go back and visit the Pantheon because of all its symbolisms AND to take some decent photographs and not the random ones I had to conjure up. There is also an eclectic atmosphere outside the Pantheon as it leads up to Piazza Navona. There were wonderfully Italian street performers, uniquely Italian cafes and just beautiful houses and buildings that were lined up along the old and cobbled pavements.
I got lost again that evening. I was desperately looking for a shop that would sell a sim card. I don’t know if it was just my luck but it sure felt impossible finding a shop that sells something as generic as a simcard. Even google search didn’t yield any help. Everyone suggested what card to get but nobody gave any information as to where one can buy that card. I asked a souvenir shop vendor and he directed me to someone across the street. The guy across the street directed me to a place which, in his words, was just down that street and then a right. Sure. I found more electronic stores who said they didn’t have any.
By then it was dark and we seemed to have landed up in the CBD (if you can call it that). For starters, we found H&M but we didn’t really care. I basically ran when I saw two mobile service stores because it was closing time and shouted back at my sister to wait for me there. There where I had no idea because I just bolted. Turns out, they were terribly expensive and would take a day to activate and I could only use it within Italy. So that was that. I made my way back looking for my sister and couldn’t find her. I walked up and down the street thrice before I gave up. I figured she made her way back to the apartment. And she did. Safely too might I add because she is quite terrible with directions. We were fortunate that Maura’s apartment was so well located.
September 23 - 26, 2015
*I finally watched Angels and Demons and I was terribly, terribly, TERRIBLY disappointed. They changed everything including names of major characters. I can’t believe Ron Howard directed that monstrosity. It needs to be remade. It HAS to be! Maybe into a miniseries??