Rome was not built in a day but day by day. It was devastated many times, rebuilt again. In spite of all vicissitudes, pre-Christian ancient Rome still exists before us. You can touch its concrete body. By its side exists the Head Quarter of the Christian world, the Vatican City and the most modern, not-too-religious, scientifically grown Rome with skyscrapers. A capital of the ancient world, capital of the Catholic Christian faith, some say the capital of the moral world, Rome still stands before us with all the entities coalesced into one.
I accept, Subhadra, my companion’s heart felt comment that had I come out of Europe without seeing Rome, once the heart and head of the continent, it would be a senseless and heartless job.
Sicily, Venice, Florence, with wild nature and other beauties, may be more attractive to some, even to me, but Rome or Roma as a city is unique in the world’s history. There were much older and greater civilizations elsewhere but no where such tall and concrete buildings like Forum, amphitheatre like Colosseum and God’s temples which have been existing for 2000 years and more. They were never completely razed to the ground.
As per legend, Romulus, an unwanted child was thrown in the river Tiber, saved by it and suckled by a wolf. He was the founder and first king of Rome, not before fourth century B.C. But archaeological evidences show that Rome consisted of four hill communities; Palatine, Quiriline, Esquiline and Capitoline, born in the second half of seventh century, probably not far from 600 B.C.
We alighted from the plane at the Leonardo Da Vinci airport (Fuimicino Aeroporto) and came by train to Termini. One has to usually begin and terminate his journey to Rome, both at Termini.
The ancient monuments and archaeological remains maybe termed as the Roman vestigia. They attract most of the visitors from lands near and far.
The greatest thing to see is the Colosseum or Amphitheatrum Flavium. It is a vast stadium- 188 meter in length, 156 meter in width and 57 meter in height. It could hold 87000 spectators. Begun in 72 C.E. by Emperor Vespasian, it was completed by his son Titus in 80 C.E.
The inauguration festival of the Colosseum continued for 100 days. 50000 people enjoyed different bloody games as was the wont of the people at that time. Fights among wild animals and gladiators, between men and animals resulted in killing some 5000 animals and several hundred gladiators. Naval engagements also took place. Water used to be channeled in for the purpose. We entered it by a big lift. Wide stairs are also in use. It is the only place where one has to pay entry fee. It is a gigantic structure in several layers including the basement. Portions of it still remains before us, still erect as it was, like a colossus, the name it derived from the statue of Nero, which was near it.
Near the Colossus is the Arch of Constantine which the Roman Senate and the Roman people dedicated to Constantine after his victory over Maxentius at the Ponte Milvio. It is said to be one of the well-preserved architectural structures in Rome.
Roman Forum is a combination of buildings. It evolved out of the adjacent villages. Social, cultural, commercial intercourses took place here in ancient Rome. The Senate for consultations and tribunals, temples and monuments, everything was there at the foot of the Palatine hills which extended to Velian and Esquiline.
Pantheon, one of the most important monuments, erected by Marcus Agrippa in 27 B.C. and dedicated to seven planetary gods, was damaged many times. The Pope later dedicated it to Virgin Mary and all martyrs. Its half spherical top covering the rotunda is the largest among such things ever built. Castle Sant’ Angelo or Mausoleum of Adrian was built between 135 and 139 C.E. by Emperors Adrian and Antoninus.
Most of the temples, decayed over the years, and still existing, were built earlier than other structures. Temples were the beauteous offering of men to their Gods before they built shelters for themselves. Many such temples were razed to the ground and churches made over their ruins, as it happens in countries where an alien race, culture or religion comes to occupy and build its own monuments, as a mark of its supremacy. A few such temples are; temple of Saturn (497 B.C.), temple of Castor and Pollux (484B.C.), temple of Vestal Virginis, temple of Vesta and Minerva temple.
In 50 C.E. a Christian community of Rome was formed under the leadership of Saint Peter. Inevitably there was a clash of faith and culture. Fight between people, between groups ensued. Peter died as a martyr in 64 or 67 C.E. In 394 C.E. all earlier rites were forbidden and Christian faith proclaimed as the only truth. The church asserted its supremacy.
Saracens arrived and devastated the city. Normans attacked and destroyed it in 1084 C.E. Pope left for his Avignon residence (1305-1377) and the city suffered a great havoc. The population dwindled to a great extent. But each time the city regained its stature. After the return of Pope it was a period of renaissance. ‘Sack the Rome’ occurred in 1527 and again it revived. The conflict between the State and the church ended and Vatican City was born on 11 February 1929 with four basilicas. It became a little State with an area of one sixth of a square mile and a population of about one thousand. The Head Quarter of the Christian world, Vatican, became the Pope’s home. He became the Head of the State and the churches the world over. Many types of orders, guards were created and finally Swiss guards with eighteenth century uniforms remained.
St. Peter’s Basilica or church is the first important thing in the Vatican City. Constantine the great ordered its construction in 324 C.E. at the place where the saint was buried. It was ruined after 1000 years and Pope Nicholas decided to rebuild it. Bramante started its construction, to be continued by the famous artists, Raphael and Michael Angelo, one after the other. The work was completed in 1626. The great hall abounds with works or art everywhere; statue of Michael Angelo, La Pieta by him, other statues, tombs, the magnificent coupola and Popal alter are the things among others to be seen. Young Michael Angelo at the age of 25 years, between 1499 and 1500, sculptured his famous La Pieta, a marble statue. People congregate at the vast St. Peter Square to here the Pope speaking from his window. His apartment is in a house close to the square.
Sistine Chapel with one of the great halls of the world will give a wonderful experience to the visitor. It is full of paintings, some of which are world’s masterpieces. Last Judgement, an elaborate painting sequence and Volta are the works of the master painter Michael Angelo. Besides Sistine Chapel there are a number of museums in the Vatican City with works of different masters of different countries.
Maria Maggiore, outside the Vatican, was visited by us on the first day as it is very near Tarmini station where we stayed. It was created in 452 C.E. by Pope Sixtus-3. The famous chain of St. Peter, found in Jerusalem, was installed in S. Pietro in Vincoli near S. Maggiore. Here is the famous statue of Moses by Michael Angelo. There are churches dedicated to St. John Lateran and St. Pauls outside the Vatican.
Piazza is place. There are number of open places in Rome, embellished by famous statues and fountains created by immortal artists. Piazza Novona, piazza Colonna, Piazza Rotunda, Piazza Montecitorio, etc. Piazza di Trevi is the largest square in Rome. In it is the Fontana di Trevi, its construction was completed in 1762. Leaning against the statue of the Duke of Poli statue of Ocean stands on the seashell chariot, pulled by the sea horses. A fountain and basin, semi-circling the statues representing the ocean and others, are always crowded by thousands of visitors throughout the year. Belief is, whoever throws a coin in the water is destined to come back to Rome. An ingrained faith, pre-Christian must be though there is no dearth of faith, logical and illogical, in the Christian world too. After all, faith is faith.
Piazza di Spagna with 18th century castles, Spanish steps and the church of St. Trinity dei Monti above the steps, has a romantic attraction. Below the steps is the fountain of Barcaccia, sculptured by Pietro Bernini between 1627 and 1629. The long lane opposite the steps is full of glass covered show windows of famous jewellers. Feasting the eyes is quite possible from outside without entering the shops. The wide steps are always occupied, mostly by the young people. In the wide space above the steps artists paint their pictures which are for sale.
In Rome one can move through ancient ruins, churches and chapels, parks and roads quite freely. Even night walks among 17th, 18th century palaces, illumined roads and other places are quite possible. Buses, underground trains, trams, all ply through the city and are accessible by the same ticket, available in the shops, kiosks. There are number of hotels charging at varying rates. Eateries are aplenty. Everywhere one may find pizzeria, galeteri for pizza and ice-creams. The city is ready to entertain gourmands with pizza, pasta, zucchini, artichokes, codfish, different types of other fishes and meat. One has to be careful in ordering the foods. We had a trouble after ordering for a fish soup in a ristorante. In a huge bowl different type of boiled fishes, from head to tail, unknown sea-shells, oysters, other sea foods, just boiled, floating in plenty of water, was served. Though it must be tastier to some than us accustomed to spicy cooked food, we had to forsake a greater portion of it.
It is true that Rome is built with real artistic taste. Names of great artists are associated with painting and sculpture. Modern Rome, it is said, has imitated the historic Rome, perhaps architecturally, but the two cannot be the same. At this point of time we cannot be sure if ancients were more barbaric and cruel than the moderns. At this point of time we are not sure whether Romans before the advent of Christianity or after that were pagans. Perhaps both were the same with different faiths.
Art and culture cannot be devoid of music. Many things go side by side, served with music. One plays accordion very rhythmically in between the rows of eaters seated on chairs on the footpath outside the ristorante or in the underground train compartment and requests for notes or coins as he finishes, like ‘Baul’ singers in a train compartment passing through the Birbhum district of Bengal. Romans have a rhythmic language, almost rhyming. We remained there for a few enchanting days, immersed in history, art and music. I become nostalgic again and again whenever I remember it.
In Rome there are numerous patrician villas which deserve attention like umpteen number of statues and fountains. Even human statues play their part standing in a corner or a conspicuous place, exactly attired as a real statue. People see them with admiration and throw coins in their box. There are some old baths and other interesting places like the training ground of the gladiators.
The more I remember our tour in and out of Rome I recollect that we were both inside and outside of it. While the past lived among the living visitors respecting it with love and awe the present too was vibrant with young people expressing love before all in the streets and gatherings, musicians playing on the roads and the restaurants overflowing with eaters and drinkers. And the famous police vehicles with their high pitched sounds made rounds in the streets. On the whole Rome is a living city gay with the glory of the dead.
(c) Aju Mukhopadhyay