To paraphrase Dorothy, when I stepped off the bus in Rome this weekend, I turned to my friend with a look that said, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Florence anymore.” Those couple days in the City of Seven Hills rode like a rollercoaster set to double as a tilt a whirl. We saw a ton and barely anything at all. No doubt, though our minds were blown.
Due to its massive size, Rome can support an impressive diversity of spaces. On the very outskirts, farthest from the historical center, you find graffiti covering every possible surface and as much trash lining the street as pavement. Moving just a little away from that, though, you find decent living spaces, intriguing impromptu street markets, flower stands, restaurants, grand churches, towering statues, crumbling aqueducts, and lovely public green spaces. The parks and tree lined streets are almost reminiscent of New York, one area reminding me particularly of the paths north of Columbus Circle. One thing my friend and I found most entertaining in the parks was the astounding number of cats. For example, there were at least thirty wandering around the Trophies of Marius. We saw food laid out for them, so we gathered they serve as the neighborhood pets. Consequently, I’ve unofficially redubbed Rome the “city of cats.”
Besides felines, we witnessed some true wonders on this brief trip. I think my first glimpse of St. Peter’s Square struck me even more so than my first sight of the Duomo. The space is shaped so your eye first sweeps the perimeter of towering columns, then shoots up the center obelisk as if on a high speed elevator, then finally to the Basilica itself. Figures stare down at you from all around while the dome of the Basilica reaches high to Heaven. This scene was back lit perfectly when we visited, and it simply took my breath away.
We went to on a guided tour of the Vatican museum our first day. For those like me who can spend hours in just one room of a museum, let me suggest not taking a tour. Though you’ll learn Michelangelo didn’t believe in himself as a painter and had to be convinced to paint the Sistine Chapel, that there is a spot in the ceiling you can see where a cannon ball fell through it, that some of the maps in the map room are “upside down,” and that Popes often appear in paintings depicting time periods they weren’t actually part of, you’ll feel as though you’re sprinting through and past most of the museum’s offerings. What we did see was splendid. I’ve been to many museums, and this place quickly stepped up to compete as one of my favorites.
The second day, we had a much less stressful tour of the Coliseum and Roman Forum. I loved the Coliseum, as well as learning a bit more of its history. The Coliseum stands where a lake belonging to Nero once stood. In attempting to eradicate all memory of Nero from their land, the Romans drained the lake and built the Coliseum. There were held free events for the public, such as animal fights, gladiator fights, and even boat battles. All the marble and metal from the space was removed and recycled when the Coliseum fell out of use, which is why there are no seats now and there are large concaves in the stone. In being in this space, I tried to reconstruct it in my mind’s eye and found it very easy to imagine festivity erupting from every glorious corner. I did the same as we wandered through the Forum. Though some of the temples stand as only stumps of columns now, I still felt as though I had stepped back in time into Ancient Rome itself.
Besides these main attractions, we we sampled various other treasures found buried in the alleys of Rome. We saw Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and Piazza Popolo. We were enamored by the sight that is the Altare della Patria in Piazza Venezia. It is a mighty mountain of marble rising in the center of Rome, almost gaudy in its extravagance. We were inspired by the beam of light pouring through the roof of the Pantheon. My friend and I stumbled upon a wonderful market in Campo de Fiori and sampled some of the enticing wares. We sat down to a traditional Roman lunch of tonnarelli cacao e pepe, zucchini e fiori di zucca (pasta with zucchini and zucchini flowers), carciofi alla romana (Roman-style artichoke), and tartufo Bernini (an insane chocolate experience) in the Piazza Navona.
As all things in Italy seem to be, Rome is truly amazing. I don’t know if I could do much more than visit, though. The traffic through the wide streets, the mobs of people at every minute attraction, the trash, as well as the men nonchalantly proclaiming their love for you in the streets serve to make the place a little off-putting. Perhaps in revisiting I will find more space in my heart for its madness. For now, I am glad to be back in my cozy, home-away-from-home, Firenze.