As you stroll down the rather beautiful Via Del Circus Massimo, you are presented with churches on your left, and the Circus Maximus on your right with the ruins of the palaces of antiquity looming on the Palatine overhead. If you take a left at the end of the famous arena that is now simply a big field, you are on Via Dell’Area Massima di Ercole, and on your left is a large building that now houses theatre props and equipment. It stands as a rather ordinary building in the centre of the City. Not many people realise that underneath it, still stands an old Pagan temple built by the cult of Mithra around 200ad.
Much of what we see in Rome today, left over by the Roman era, is a teardrop in the ocean of what actually still exists underground. Since the end of the Roman Empire, their successors (the Byzantines among others) have preserved the old city of Rome and simply built on top of it. Vast Roman streets and slums have been preserved under ground. Archeologists predict that only 10% of the underground Rome has been found, which is incredibly exciting for those of us who have an interest in Roman history.
I have been to Rome twice. And whilst I haven’t yet been to cities like Milan or Venice or Paris, I cannot imagine any City being greater than Rome. You get the instantaneous feeling that you are standing in a truly eternal city. The epicentre of two great empires; Rome and Catholicism. It is a surreal feeling.
Sat at a little Italian cafe, with violinists playing in the centre of the complex, looking out at the architecture of Bernini at the Piazza Navona is quite honestly indescribable. Beauty and history are two very complementary subjects.
As you walk through the centre of the Roman World; the Forum, you get a feeling that you have been transported back through history. You start to feel that you are standing in the spot where Sulla struck fear as a much hated tyrant. Where Cicero would have stood. Where Caesar would have strolled arrogantly, proclaiming himself some sort of God. Where Octavian would have rode gallantly through the main area draped in robes and cheered through the streets by hundreds of thousands of supporters, having defeated Marc Antony and “saved” Rome. And later, where the people would have almost hero worshiped Claudius and Trajan and Hadrian. It is so seeped in history, it is almost like walking onto a film set because it doesn’t seem real.
The Catholic section of the City is just as amazing. I am always in two frames of mind about Catholic Rome. On the one hand, it is beautiful. The Sistine Chapel, the Raphael rooms, and the architecture again by Bernini among others, is simply stunning. It is unrivaled anywhere on the planet. The atmosphere as the sun sets behind St Peters is something I don’t think I will forget any time soon. However, the very foundation of the Catholic Church is built on oppression and quite horrendous violence. I cannot imagine Jesus would be proud of Catholicism, if he stood in the centre of St Peters square and viewed with astonishment the great wealth they have accumulated in his name.
The Trevi fountain is locked away in Trevi Square, a tightly boxed area surrounded by cafes filled with Italian businessmen on cell phones, and lovers surrounding the fountain itself having their memories recorded on camera. It lights up at night. The Baroque Architect Nicola Salvi is responsible for the fountain. Although his work mimics that of Bernini whose undertaking of the creation of the fountain died with him (as you can tell i’m quite the fan of Bernini) The fountain depicts the Roman god of the sea, Neptune on a chariot made of shells being pulled by two horses. The horses’ moods reflect the moods of the sea directed by Neptune. One is angry and abrasive, the other is calm and uninterested. Whilst built about two hundred years after the Renaissance period, the statue seems to adhere entirely to Renaissance architecture, ignoring the common Baroque use of Neptune as a servant to City state propaganda (see “Neptune offers the wealth of the sea to Venice” by Tiepolo for typical Baroque depictions of Neptune). When it comes to the Trevi Fountain, Neptune is always in control, as in Roman myth. The myth comes to life, when you stand in front of the fountain and visualise the statue as if it had come to life.
I cannot describe in words just how I feel when i’m in Rome. I owe it to my love of Roman and Catholic history. Words on a page in books on the subjects that I read, suddenly become reality when stood in the City itself. It is a wonderful feeling. I cannot recommend Rome enough.