Once upon a time, in the days of gladiators, emperors and a legendary empire that looked as if it would bow down to nobody, the city of Rome was known as the all powerful capital of the world. These days thankfully, the city has softened, its formidable face replaced with a reputation as one of the top contenders for a beautiful European city break. But in terms of undeniable history and culture, Rome was surely dealt the absolute winning hand.
An unparalleled tapestry of fantastic architecture spun from the glory days of old and interwoven with rich Renaissance and Baroque offerings is displayed without the city. But it’s not just the history that draws you in… There’s romance in the air. Hell, it’s even echoed in the Italian name for the city, conjuring up images of shuttered windows, cobbled streets and hanging flowers. It’s around every corner, in two elderly men linking arms as they slowly make their way down the pavement; in the lovers sharing a kiss on the Spanish Steps; in the waiters calling out ‘Bonjourno’ to the passing girls. And in the language that rolls passionately off the tongue at triple speed (if in doubt try adding vowels to the end of your words).
There’s no better place to begin being seduced by the city than by simply strolling around the streets of the historic centre. Crisp, blue skies offset the colours around the lovely Piazza Navona with its stunning trio of white marble fountains. The impressive central Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) features four marble figures representing the four rivers of the world as they were seen at the time – the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube and the Rio de la Plata. Originally built for athletic contests, the square is now lined with luxurious cafes and abuzz with artists, caricaturists, fortune tellers and buskers entertaining tourists and locals alike.
Drop into the Pantheon, the city’s best preserved Ancient monument, for a sight to make you go weak at the knees. The magnificent dimensions and amazing dome ceiling is topped off by the oculus, an opening in the dome serving as a symbolic connection to the gods. Rainwater is free to pour through but thanks to good, old, Ancient Roman efficiency, there is a system in place to drain it away as if by magic. It is now an imposing church but it feels like the 2000 year old temple it is as soon as you walk through the towering doors.
It would be rude not to mention the incredible sight of the awesome Colosseum. Dominating the skyline, it is the iconic emblem of Rome, symbolizing both beauty and savagery beyond all measure. It was in this commanding arena that all kinds of shows were held from mock sea battles and re-enactments of famous dramas to grisly executions and the famous gladiatorial games where men were not only pitted against each other but against wild animals – lions, tigers and even hippos. An inspiration for writers and travelers of the 18th and 19th century (as mentioned in another Travelettes post), the Colosseum’s columns cast atmospheric shadows, doing all kind of romantic things with the light. The sight seems at odds with the bloody history that comes along with. But hey, they do say love hurts.
It seemed to me that the eternal city really did offer a banquet of experiences that could conceivably go on forever and I barely had a taste of the antipasti. I’m sure we’re not over yet Rome…