This is a city where the past is the present, where Gods still linger and monarchs are worshipped , where myths and legends merge to create history , where romance is about wars fought and won, where art is a way of life , where stones speak and the silence of the scultures speak of a glorious past, where winged creatures are not birds , but Gods , where the spirit of Renaissance still lives on the streets , celebrating the exuberance of life. Its the root of civilisation and ironically, you run away from civilisation the moment you set foot here , as you step into the bygone eras .
This trip for me was personal and special. I ‘ve poured over the stories from classical mythology , learnt by rote the names of all the Gods and Goddesses, dreamt of Zeus and Venus, got intoxicated by Bachchus and smitten by Cupid and read all the exploits of the Ceasars and imagined Nero fiddling … and I completely got lost amidst the art and architecture . It was hot and humid and extremely crowded .
There was art in every nook and corner. Statues and sculptures screamed for attention as pretty fountains dotted every street . Each piazza has a history behind it, be it Piazza Navona or Piazza Venezia or Piazza Di Spagna . In Piazza Navona are three fountains: Fontana del Moro, Fontana di Nettuno and in the centre of the square Bernini’s magnificent Fontana dei Fiumi. Four allegorical statues portray the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube and the Rio de la Plata, symbolizing the four corners of the world.
As we passed through the city, we came upon The Area Sacra . It has temples and remains of Pompey’s theatre complex . Adjacent to the same is the Curia of Pompey, which was used as a temporary assembly for senators .It is widely believed that Julius Ceasar was stabbed to death amidst these ruins here on the Ides of March .
The Pantheon was one of the temples that was first on my priority .In Latin , it means the temple of all the Gods and it was dedicated to the ancient Gods of Rome. Rebuilt in 27 BC by Agrippa, it was destroyed , only to be built again by Emperor Hadrian in 125 AD ..ironically this was my last stop over in Rome as we were late to catch our train to Zurich. It became a tomb and painters like Raphael are buried here . Today its a church and even weddings are celebrated here . This temple to me is the definition of the word ancient .
We went to the Vatican ,the sovereign city state , landlocked in Rome is governed by the Pope . .The route from Rome takes you across the Tiber to St Peter’s Square into St Peter’s Basilca . The Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope, the Sistine Chapel and the museums are the other must visits here. We were told that the Pope was away in Austria … There were strict dress codes..shorts, short skirts and even sleeveless T shirts and tees were not allowed..
We spent a lot of time marvelling at the Basilca, especially at the Dome, which is believed to be designed by Michaelangelo and then redesigned by architect Giacomo della Porta and then quickly made a dash to the Sistene Chapel to look at the frescos before going to Castel Sant’Angelo , a beautiful mausoleum built on the banks of the river Tiber, by Emperor Hadrian (2nd century AD), who wished to have a tomb for himself and his successors. According to the legend, it was not yet completed by the time of Hadrian’s death and the emperor being buried in another place until the mausoleum was ready. It was at first a fortress , then a prison and finally a magnificent papal residence. The magnificent bridge , the calm river and the imposing structure and the serene surroundings uplifts you to a completely different world.
The Colosseum …one of the ancient seven wonders, this gem is a beauty ..We walked in the sweltering heat and waited in the long queque and sweated as the sea of humanity gathered around us …but it was breathtaking . The Colosseum owes its name to a colossal bronze statue, representing the Emperor Nero,(no, the sculptor is Ganymede and not Nero) that used to stand in this area.
Symbol of Rome worldwide, the Colosseum was built between 72-80 A.D. and this amphi theatre could hold more than 70,000 spectators who could watch the fights between gladiators, the hunting of animals . Legend has it that the architect who designed the Colosseum is said to have been thrown alive to the wild beasts “as a reward for his own work”, thus inaugurating the long story of blood and cruelties of the building he himself had conceived.
Next to the Colosseum is the temple of Venus and Roma designed by emperor Hadrian. It was dedicated to the patron goddesses of Rome – Roma, the divine personifaction of the city, and Venus, the mother of the ancestor of Romulus and Remus.It was this temple which caused the rift between Hadrian and Apollodorus, the brilliant court architect of emperor Trajan. Apollodorus had remarked that the seated statues of the godesses were too large for the temple. For if they would stand up, they would actually knock their heads on the ceiling.Those comments should eventually cost Apollodorus his life.
We walked down to The Roman Forum, which is the most important archaeological area in Rome. It extends from the Capitol Hill to the Palatine. In the 7th century B.C., the Forum was the very nerve of Rome’s political, commercial and religious life. Later on, the Imperial Forums were added to the Roman Forum – Foro di Cesare, Foro di Augusto, Foro di Nerva, Foro di Vespasiano and the most imposing one, the Foro di Traiano, of which one can still admire the huge Column of the Markets.
Today the remains of the Forum Romanum seem like a pile of rubble and rocks that are scattered around.- but this is the layout of ancient Rome’s town centre , the very foundation of the ancient city where columns and pillars speak of battles won and lost , where statues of queens and goddesses vied for attention , where temples and palaces once stood majestically against the hills .
As we walked towards Piazza Venezia,we were greeted by a majestic white monument. The Vittoriano built to honour Victor Emanuel II, the first king of Italy, offer some breathtaking views of Rome . Built of white marble, the monument invited controversy for destroying a large portion of the Capitoline Hill . It also has the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
If I have to sum up Rome in a couplet, I am reminded of a poem by Keats and though the Ode is to a Grecian Urn, it will not be misplaced here
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty
that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know “