Spiritual Rome

Our last full day in Rome started off sunny and warm and looked like a perfect day to explore more of Rome’s extraordinary fountains as I’ve already mentioned I have a great love for them. We checked our guidebook and came up with the itinerary for the day. We walked around “our” neighbourhood (it did really felt like ours at that point, it was an amazing place to get back to after a hectic day of enchanting discoveries). The area around the fountain where we’d hang out before going back to our hotel was empty now.
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And then out of the blue, the sky grew overcast and a dull rain began to fall making it a “perfect” day to explore the fountains. It was a celestial fountain now that prompted us to start making new decisions about the day. As we realized, it wouldn’t be wise to head out somewhere far, we stuck with “our” area and ended up not far from the Cavour metro station where I saw the signs for Saint Peter in Chains Church known for housing one of Michaelangelo’s unfinished works. We decided we would go see it as we wouldn’t staying outside anyway. We went down to an underground passage where we heard a man playing “L’Italiano vero”. It sounded good! Bravissimo! The church had a humble façade and wasn’t really imposing inside except for one massive masterpiece on the right – Michaelangelo’s statue of the Moses. Michaelangelo was commissioned to design a tomb for Pope Julius II but he never finished it. After his death, his assistants had to piece it all together according to Michaelangelo’s instructions. It had been intended to be a lot more tremendous. But anyway what we saw was really awe-inspiring. It was a very rich experience to see it here in this intimate setting without crowds of tourists. You have to pay 1 Euro to light up the sculpture for a better look at it. It’s one of the things I find utterly hypocritical about church and how they try to charge people for everything, but at the end of the day everyone has to make a living somehow (especially during the economic recession, you can’t just pray for God to put an end to it). We went further to the altar to see Peter’s chains that are said to have held Peter while he was in the Mamertine Prison here in Rome and that’s one of the ends of it that let loose as Peter was saved by an angel. There were some people praying here but being a non-believer would not raise eyebrows. It felt comfortable to be in here and that had nothing to do with deity. What made me emotional was seeing a man on a wheelchair being helped out of the building. His family must have gone to all this trouble of taking him here for him to see the Moses. I have no clue why but I felt like crying… That’s the power of art indeed!
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We went outside but it just wouldn’t stop raining. The weather was having its way (doesn’t it always?). We needed a spiritual shelter to protect us against the rain again and we made for Santa Maria Maggiore, one of Rome’s oldest and best-preserved churches. That was where I was sitting savouring my first Roman evening… It seemed like it was yesterday really! There were people crowding inside – another beautiful thing about Rome is that whenever you need a shelter, you can get inside plentiful churches for warmth and comfort regardless of your religious beliefs. The interior of the church was just breathtaking. I felt in heaven peering at the gilded ceiling. I sat on a bench to rest my feet without taking my eyes off the ceiling with my PC in my hands to guide me through the church. I stepped out the rainy technology-savvy world outside into some enigmatically comforting spirituality but I also brought a piece of it along with me and I was at peace enjoying the best of both worlds. It is the most important church honouring the Virgin Mary and there is an icon dedicated to her. I got my Mum an icon here too as I thought it would be the most suitable place to do that. Virgin Mary is a mum and we all look up to our mothers for comfort, guidance and protection (unless we’re in Rome where there are churches to do that for us). We all get a bit religious when it comes to our mothers… It takes a saint person to love a child unconditionally and see them through good and bad times for them to find their path in life. This is what this church celebrated for me – sacred motherhood.
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We went outside to find that the rain still wouldn’t stop and decided to do a little shopping. I noticed that most shop assistants in Rome are male and that makes the whole experience more pleasurable. It was amazing to get something other than souvenirs to take back home. Splashing in my bathtub using all these wonderful products thinking back to those beautiful days… No, it wasn’t my past yet, there were more memories to be made and good times to be had before we left the next day. The Roman rain wanted to linger on our skin for a little longer. All the spirituality of the morning made us hungry so we went to this lovely place across the road from our hotel and watched an international crowd there. It is nice to watch people mingling and interacting in a casual social setting. There were two elderly ladies with backpacks who looked British as they seemed a bit awkward and kept saying “Sorry!”. Being on the road must be a key to staying young after all! I was trying to stop myself from feeling reminiscent again as I was enjoying my home-made pasta and sipping on my wine. It just had to clear up and eventually it did and we headed straight to the Colosseum after a short break at our hotel. No, we were already reminiscent as I believe we wanted more of this iconic Roman landmark before we left. It was a totally different feeling to be walking by it now that we had been here for almost a week. I was trying to imagine what it felt to a local passing it by on a daily basis. We’d already been inside so there was no more pressure now. So now yes, it was just there – the magnificent and fragile Colosseum! What is life just outside it? It’s pretty much like everywhere else – there are people going about their daily lives, some tourists taking photos, men (and a large proportion of them are handsome) on their bikes strutting their stuff in gorgeous clothes. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of one against the Colosseum! We stayed for a bit in the park just across the road with a beautiful view of the colossal building. There was a group of dodgy-looking teenagers on a stroll but I realized there were people like this everywhere (the historical backdrop of the ancient times didn’t stop them). Other than that, it felt peaceful in this little park. Except that we got the Colosseum on the left…
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We decided to get on with our day of pilgrimage and made our way to San Giovanni Laterano, the first Christian church in Rome opened in 318 A.D. It was within a walking distance from the Colosseum but was a bit tricky to find. My sister was the one to brave the mazes of the streets that led to what used to be the city walls. I am rubbish at navigating the streets but I’m fairly good at making memories! The neighbourhood looked a bit isolated and there were just a few people around. There were yellow leaves on these lonely streets but I wasn’t ready to look into the future just for now. The moment we saw an Egyptian obelisk, we knew we’d got there as they were originally designed to guide pilgrimages. The one we saw was the tallest in Rome. There was a French-speaking family walking in front of us and it was funny to watch a little girl walking behind her parents taking photos without them even looking back to check on her. That was a different parenting pattern and it seemed to be working as the kid was obviously having a good time! This area felt different from what we had seen so far. The exterior of the church didn’t look too impressive (or were we getting used to seeing beauty all around?) and there were some nagging street sellers offering us books in Russian! No, thanks! The interior did look imposing even though I felt considerably more comfortable in Sante Maria Maggiore (or had I had enough of the churches for the day?). It was really large and walking around was like walking along a piazza. My sister needed to use a bathroom and she joined a queue outside it and the cleaning lady really surprised me when I heard her say that someone “made a shower” and my sister was the last one in the queue. She said it in a fairly good English! It felt a bit funny to be watching people queuing up to use the bathroom in a famous church but that is only natural. We went outside in a while to watch people in a different kind of a queue – to kneel over the famous stairs that Jesus Christ was said to have climbed. It wasn’t funny but it seemed a bit weird anyway. I wonder what kind of effect this had on believers and their faith. Did it hurt?
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We planned to see Basilica of San Clemente with its underground labyrinths but we failed to find it as hard as we tried. We dropped in to one of the churches that seemed to be right at this spot but it was a wrong church. We quickly made our way back. We were now on a mission to find the Via XX Settembre street that according to the map ran all the way through the Termini Station area. 20 September was the day marking Italy Unification and that, by chance, was my birthday! The Italian Republic and myself shared a birthday!
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It was not a touristy street and there were business-looking people all around. I was happy to be here. There were some state institutions and we felt a bit like aliens. There were a lot of shops selling clothes as well, especially fur. Who would need fur in Rome? Right, Russians! There was one last church that we wanted to find – Santa Maria della Vittoria as there was a really interesting piece of art by Bernini called St.Teresa in Ecstasy. But there was a service there so we couldn’t get in even though a polite homeless man let us in. “Well, maybe some other time”, we thought… There was a splendid fountain of the Moses (yes, remember what the mission for the day originally was?). It looked massive! It was like an elaborate painting with water streaming down it. Very impressive! We headed further to get on with our original mission to Piazza Barberini with Fountain of Bees by Bernini. The bee was the symbol of the Barberini family, hence the name. Before we checked out this famous fountain, we popped into a shop in the square to get some Italian food and drinks to take back home. The choice was really varied and an Asian shop assistant spoke amazing English. She offered me to try some garlic sauce and it tasted so good and I wish I had bought it. There was some very strong drink on sale that could cause you to hallucinate if you take too much (no use saying this to Russians!) and two men asked if it was safe to drink it in small portions. Before answering, the shop assistant asked where they came from and they said they are from Norway. “Aw, you can!”, she said. We all had a laugh about it! Well, she didn’t know where we came from… Stocked up on some pasta, spices and drinks, we went into a chemist’s to get some beauty products and found ourselves totally overwhelmed with a whole range of products for men! In Russia you don’t get this kind of variety (well, it shows when you walk down the streets of our country). There is normally a large section for women and a tiny little section for men. Yes, you have to invest in those looks, they don’t come for free! Italian men, I salute you! You make it all seem so effortless but now we know your secret! Piazza Barberini was a nice square with a relatively busy traffic. I was sitting there watching a helicopter up in the sky and the last thing I wanted was to get on one the next day…
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The late evening was settling in and it really hit us that was our last night in Rome… Night is indeed the most romantic time and it makes the thought of having to say goodbye simply unbearable… It is like parting with your summertime love that you had known all along wouldn’t last forever but that hardly makes getting over it any easier. Why did you have to look so beautiful tonight, Rome? I felt like an accomplished photographer looking at photos of you I took that night. Did you shine your extra light just for me to realize how happy I had been? You will be in my heart forever no matter what my regular landscape is! One last look at my snowwhite monument, more romantic songs to hear being played in the street… There was a spectacular light show in Trajan’s Forum showcasing the ancient Roman history with its main events projected onto the ancient buildings. Bravissimo! That was a kind of lesson worth travelling all this way for! I felt like shedding a tear…
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It was time for a farewell dinner in a cosy restaunrant overlooking Via Cavour. The waiter seemed to take an instant liking to my sister (well, Italian men will be Italian men!) but she said she was leaving the next day… Yes, we were. Scusi… A farewell gelato, a farewell look at the Colosseum at night… I was so reluctant to go to bed that night because there might not be another Roman night in my life. Well, I guess we need to count our blessings and be thankful for whatever we already have as a memory… It was so sad to be asked by a friendly Asian guy at the reception desk whether we needed a taxi for the airport for the next day… I even started missing him wishing me good night every night… Yes, he remembered it would all have to end so soon. But we have half of tomorrow with you, Rome! Bonne Notta!

Baroque Rome

Buongiorno! It’s another beautiful sunny morning in the city of Rome! No reason not to smile and not to be happy about life – La vita è bella! The mission for the day was to discover more modern sides of Rome. But we started off with something fundamentally ancient. We couldn’t help it as the location of our hotel got us face to face with ancient times. I said “Buongiorno!” to the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument as we were walking past it on our way to the Pantheon, a legendary building dating back to over two thousand years ago. We got a bit lost on our way to it and stumbled across what we were planning to see a bit later – the magnificent Piazza Navona. I instantly recognized it as well! It was one of the most beautiful piazzas I’d seen so far! In ancient times it used to be a racetrack and it was huge!
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I did a little research about the architect Bernini and the way he transformed Rome into what it is today adding a strong touch of Baroque and he really excelled at making this place a perfect public space. I’ve got a huge love of fountains and the magic transcending them. The most famous Four Rivers Fountain, the classic Baroque, was stunning and its noises made me feel I was in an actual river! Another marvellous Egyptian obelisk… There is so much to take in! It was like a dream I didn’t want to wake up from! That was Baroque was all about! Transcending people into a dream!
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According to the map, we were just close to the Pantheon but we didn’t seem to find it. We were circling around a maze of splendid churches surrounding it when finally here it was – low-key and fragile from the back. That was where you didn’t have to imagine too much – it was there standing in front of your eyes! Sometimes the past is more than a pile of rubble and can make the past tangible enough to be believed! The Pantheon was a perfect example of that. We knew the main gem was inside and we had a visit to the Borghese Gallery booked two hours later so we only had a quick look around the neighbourhood. It was touristy but there was an amazing chaotic vibe. See you soon, Pantheon!
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We headed to the famous Spanish steps. On our way we walked by the imposing Column of Mark Aurelius in Piazza Colona.
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What we were about to see was staggering enough to sweep us off our feet. Those were the pricetags in the famous boutiques in Via dei Condotti.
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We didn’t feel we were the only people who couldn’t afford to splash out on any of these outrageously fashionable items! Who even wears those? It was amusing to catch a glimpse of items for a privileged few. Is this paradise? Spending everything on a bag? Well, to me it would be more than everything! High-end shopping is similar to a museum experience for me. Well, there is no reason not to smile! I’m here in Rome and my ticket bought me more than money can buy! And I felt like singing “Felicità, felicità!”
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Up at the end of the street we could see the famous Spanish steps with the church Trinita dei Monti at the top. There is the Spanish embassy near here, hence the name. To be honest, that was my first disappointment here in Rome.
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I’d been imagining I would see an extraordinary set of steps with blooming flowers of both sides, the imposing church at the top and the fountain at the bottom. In fact, there were no flowers, the façade of the church was under reconstruction and so was the fountain. So only the steps were there. It felt more like a construction site and I felt a bit intrusive coming here as if I caught someone in the middle of something and should excuse myself and leave.
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Was that me a while before with emotinal tears coming to my eyes as I was watching a Rome documentary showing a beautiful crowd of people hanging around here at night eating their gelatos or sharing glances (or kisses)? Well, I shouldn’t have felt this way! But you can’t help it – the thoughts of the future can be way more vibrant than real life! But can you really live this real life with no thoughts of the past and the future? They will come creeping in! And what about the view? Yes, it was gorgeous as we got up the stairs! The palm trees, beautiful houses! I felt a bit of Spain in the middle of Rome! It’s like some tension building up in the air waiting to climax – that’s what I was feeling till the moment some Asian man approached me with a rose! No, it wasn’t a romantic gesture at all! That’s a little trick they play on you in major Italian cities. They come up to you and put a rose in your face. You have to keep saying “No, thanks!” quite a lot before they leave you alone. Others were trying to get us to buy some souvenir toys… We were aware of that but that was the first time we had been mobbed by these conmen.Keats and Shelley must have got another impression of the place. There was their memorial house close by. That was the house where Keats spent his last days.
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So it wasn’t a place to hang around long and it was time for us to go all the way to the Borghese Gallery that seemed to be only accessible on foot.
This unique gallery is set in Rome’s third largest public park – Villa Borghese. We walked past the places like Villa Medici and enjoyed magnificent views of the Dome till we reached this vast green space. It’s a perfect place to escape the city (not that we were up for that but locals probably would be).
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It’s an English style park and there was a little something just around every corner. My sister has a fascination for parks and she seemed to be enjoying being here even more than anything else we’d seen so far. Just lying on the grass pensively looking at the sky or enjoying a leisurely read… That wasn’t our plan for the day! It took us a while before we felt we were reaching the gallery.
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It was scorchingly hot but it felt a bit more bearable here. The gallery building wasn’t large. It boasts a large private collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. Reservations can only be made well in advance and two hours is all you get here. It all made it feel like we were paying a private visit to the cardinal himself to be kindly shown his extraordinary art collection.
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We waited in a queue to get our tickets and at 1 p.m. sharp our tour began. Soaking up art has to be an essential ingredient of a trip and that had been our first time doing it on our own in an art gallery. I need a lot of art classes to feel comfortable around such an impressive collection but at the end of the day, you learn as you go along. That was me learning. For me it’s more about emotions art stirrs in me. Whenever I feel this sultry warmth filling up this space between me and a piece of art, I know this is not going to ever let go. I’m enchanted, fascinated, mystified – you name it! But sometimes in order to help this connection along, you need to have an informed understanding of what you’re exposed to so it’s not just about how you feel. The rational part of us fuels our emotions and so they get the better of us and that’s that sultry warmth caused by a combination of knowing and feeling. There were a lot of exquisite paintings by especially by Caravaggio. But the absolute hightlight of the gallery for me was the sculpture by the famous Bernini whose masterpieces we marvelled at earlier that day in Piazza Navona. The statue “Apollo and Daphne” showing him losing his mind as she is running away from him and her fingertips are turning into leaves. A moment made into minutes I stood there feeling it blasting into particles of light I could feel right over to my fingertips. What a beautiful escape! A pleasure that might seem to be right at your fingertips but so hard to gratify. I was just dumbfounded!
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Another astonishing masterpiece was “The Rape of Proserpine” also by Bernini. This girl cannot turn into a tree and her sheer suffering resonates as you look into her tormented eyes…
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The masculinity was so vibrant and tense on the face of “David”, another jaw-dropping masterpiece…
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I think me and sculpture have a future together… After a final lingering look at “Apollo and Daphne” and resting our feet in one of magnificent halls, it was time for us to leave. The way that your visit is timed, makes the whole experience a bit strained but the sculptures certainly added something sublime to it… Without actually realizing it, we started babbling something out in English as we went down to the souvenir shop and I still have doubts as to whether it was us there or our identities were now blurred… We talked about the art of appreciation of art and it felt so amazing to be speaking English and feeling more integrated into the international melting pot. Is that me or someone I don’t really know writing this then…? No matter how we thought speaking English transformed our identities, somehow a man selling snacks in the park got the clue where we came from! Well, it’s all over our faces (even with sunglasses on them)…
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It was a long walk across the park and we rested our feet a bit more and we wanted to again and again. What I felt was a kind of tiredness I didn’t really want to recharge from, you want to keep going instead! That only happens while travelling, you think that if you pause, it will all go back to normal again – you and things you do every day… I wasn’t ready to stop, I wanted to hold onto this and that’s when we found ourselves on the Pincian Hill with sweepingly romantic views of Rome! A street performer was playing “Hotel California” by Eagles, a childhood throwback for me… Another movie-like scene when I felt like pausing and saying “No, that can’t be true, it’s just a film!”. It wasn’t, it was real!
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After a few days in Rome, I found myself being capable of distinguishing between different shades of romance (who was I turning into – another someone I don’t really know…?). An Asian guy who mistook me for an Italian and wanted to make my acquaintance after asking me to take a photo of him and his friend didn’t fit my extravagant painting of romance so I just smiled and said a simple no.
We were going down towards Piazza del Popolo (“People’s Square), a very famous public space, when we came across the Leonardo da Vinci Museum. There’s no visit to Italy without mentioning this Italian-born genuis. The museum is interactive and deals more with Da Vinci’s technical brilliance. There are replicas of different devices invented and developed by him and to me that was getting to know this significant aspect of his contribution that I had underestimated. There was also a short documentary on one of Da Vinci’s most mysterious work “The Last Supper”. I was just in the process of reading “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown so I was hugely interested in that as this book centers on this painting. That was insightful and good fun!
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When we exited the museum, we could size up Piazza del Popolo. It was just splendid! Another obelisk, fountains… A perfect movie set except that there was another conman trying to sell us roses as we were taking photos… Never mind him! There was a lot going on there – some street performers doing magical tricks, someone performing Michael Jackson’s famous moonwalk – this actually made me feel emotional the way he performed it. There was some energy, what they now call “swag”, about it. I loved it and that helped me see what this square was all about!
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Now it was time for dinner and evening passegiata. We had a perfect place for this – the Via del Corso. It’s one of the main streets of central Rome lined with shops and restaurants. I knew it was supposed to feel special to walk it and it did! We popped into one of the cafes for our dinner. It was really busy so we were seated on the second floor.We were having a bellissima meal when I noticed another waiter who was serving an Asian girl who looked as if she was performing some magic food ritual involving boiled water and all he did was smile politely. He was just absolutely handsome and made me wish it was him who was serving us! Well, who was I turning into anyway? I had to remember about Russia and how things would be a lot more dreary there… OK, another lingering look at the waiter and we left… Just to hear the waiter who had served us humming the Russian anthem as we were going downstairs towards the exit! Well, the credit for this has to go to my sister as she was the one who noticed him do that as I was probably pondering over how my life would never be the same after I’d seen this waiter… She knew that would be something to mention here so a big thank you to her!
We knew the famous Trevi Fountain was under reconstruction while we were visiting so we weren’t going to get our taste of “La Dolce Vita” and couldn’t even contemplate jumping into that fountain like the volupterous Sylvia did in that legendary film by Federico Fellini. Some dreams aren’t meant to come true – there was just a massive construction site with tourists coming to hang around here probably on impulse. So there was no tossing a coin to go back and no Baroque marvel… But we were fine because now we had a lot more reasons to come back!
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The Vittorio Emanuele Monument didn’t fail to impress me again as I saw it at the end of the Via del Corso, it was magic at night! That has to be one of my top places in Rome!
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We heard more street performers as we headed along Via dei Imperiali all the way to the Colosseum that was still bustling. That night I got a close up!
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I admired the style of men walking by ever more as we went back to our hotel area and were about to experience something truly out of this world when we entered Santa Maria dei Monti church right across the road from our hotel. I could swear I was in a (horror) movie! What if they close the door and won’t notice us? Apart from that fear that was consuming me, that was genuinely spiritual! There seems to be no one around but the two of us. What a bliss! We safely got out and headed towards a popular meeting place in Monti – the Fountain of the Madonna dei Monti. There were youths hanging around and it was a really vibrant place and there was no one behaving disorderly, it was just young people spending time here surrounded by the ancient Rome. I loved it, it’s just so beautiful to feel young! After a daily portion of gelato, it was time for some shut eye. We had an early start the next day! More reflections and more fantasies… Bonne Nota!

So an Ancient History Class Begins…

Buongiorno, Roma! A brisk Roman morning to wake up to! Bellissimo! The first thing I do is to look out the window to see how things have changed from the night scene. A narrow cobbled streets packed with tightly parked cars with a few cars managing to navigate this chaos. One is parked right at our door and it has probably brought our breakfast! I wish I could wake up every morning like this – carefree and ready to let travelling do what it does – transform me with new beautiful knowledge and probably make me look back on what is already the past. Delicious coffee and croissants and friendly staff got my morning started. It was going to be a scorching sizzling day as we were setting on our tour of the heart of the ancient Rome, which was just a short walk from our hotel.
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There is something beautiful about every morning spent in a new place, but there is extra something about the Roman morning especially when high up the road there is the… Colosseum! It’s not what you imagine it to be when you see it on countless photos and there is a slight fragility about it as you would expect of something that has been there since 80 A.D. and it is really mind-boggling just thinking about it! Can we even believe life existed back then?! Do we even exist as we are now about to become part of what was more than ages ago?
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After a short brisk walk we find ourselves right in front of this postcard image of Rome. Except that a significant part of the “building” is under reconstruction. It looks a lot smaller, but you can’t fail to see the legendary arches and how meticulously they are held together. One must really be able to step back in time in order to appreciate the engineering prowess of that era. We were expecting to be stuck in a overwhelmingly long queue to enter, but it was surprisingly easy to get inside. As you are standing there, you can’t really take in where you are.
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We go up the railing and here it is! Some people might not be curious about what the Colosseum is like from the inside, but I believe this is where you can at least make an effort to imagine how the colossity of the building must have felt to about 50,000 spectators that the arena could house. Of course it wasn’t light-hearted fun and entertainment, the building was designed with a political and social agenda in mind.
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The smell of sweat perspiring over a gladiator’s skin (that in a lot of people’s imagination would look like Russell Crowe in his star role in the film“Gladiator”), wild animals entering the arena roaring, spectators screaming as their thumbs go up or down… It all seems too long ago to be believed… We stroll around for a bit in the increasing heat and wish we had taken our hats with us. The place is getting filled with people who also seemed to be struggling to imagine what looked so elaborate and spectacular in movies. Just walking this area, I knew I was making up for my poor Ancient History education because even if it was hard to believe, I was part of it just like everyone else confusingly walking by.
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After a while, we got up to the upper level where there used to be cheap seats that gave a better view of the arena which was now being reconstructed. It was even hotter up here and this is where it hit me how huge emperors’ egos were and how they might have been standing here overlooking the arena. Creating an empire that large would require a big ego even though it wasn’t always the case for the Roman emperors. The fact that we might fail to see the grandeur and colossity of the Colosseum now shows what a long way we have come…
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Only a third of the original building remained and I see it as a privilege to go back in time (or at least make an effort to) and would love to believe that preserving it is more than just about generating revenues and making profit… The sun was beating up and having enjoyed a few more emperor-like moments, we went down to the Colosseum museum. Of course you might be tempted to scratch your name on one of the bricks and that would be deemed as a criminal offence. But it’s totally legal to put your hand on the brick and feel in touch with what is still unknown to you… I almost stumbled down one of the stairs of the inside area and I was aware of the significance of this moment. We saw a number of ancient objects on display and we were going to see a lot of them through the course of our trip. Yes, we’ve done that, we’ve seen the Colosseum and there is so much more!
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It was a midday and the streets were getting crowded. The next stop was the Roman Forum. Before that, we needed to cool off a bit and decided to have some gelato and the view we had was so magnificently ancient. My sister went to get it and I was sitting there admiring the Colosseum on the right and the Arch of Constantine on the left. That was the most breathtaking view I’d had so far!
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I’m not religious but I realize how important this arch is for Christianity. It was built about two hundred years later than the Colosseum but to us it all blurrs into an ancient infinity. That was an extraordinary ancient spot with two siginificant buildings adjoining each other in the centre of a modern European capital. There must be more to it than just a tourist attraction. I wonder what Italians think about ancient buildings making up an immense part of their cities. Does this feel like something counterbalancing hectiс modern lives? The History of the Roman Empire arguably pertains to more than the history of one country but the rest of the world as well. I was taking in the view watching people dressed up as gladiators and a few Americans goofing around who I guess weren’t aware of me understanding them until I started smiling. There was some couple speaking Spannish next to me. Were we all just spectators at that moment regardless of background and nationality? My sister finally came back with a large gelato and other Americans sitting close by made a comment that it was something that had to be tried. So off we went to the Roman Forum. It was getting boiling hot and the area we were about to tour looked impressively large! No wonder it did because the Roman Forum was the centre of the political and social life of the city. What we saw might have seemed just like a lot of grass and piles of rubble…
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What I instantly recognized was the Arch of Titus. My imagination was more fueled by heat than the ancient world I was submerged to. I was listening to an audioguide I had downloaded back home and it still wasn’t making sense. I was trying to imagine a bustling city centre, people gathering on the Via Sacra, but all I could feel was that I was hot! The only way I could think about Julius Caesar who might have walked this very area of the pavement where I was standing dripping in sweat was that he might be passing by for real. Yes, it felt as if I was hallucinating in this heat! We kept looking for a place to recharge and reflect. I’d failed this part of my Ancient History class and I realized we should have booked a tour of the Roman Forum instead. The area was too huge and poorly marked for us to navigate our way. There was one thing we were happy to find and that was a public fountain. We have ancient aqueducts to thank for that, a little salvation in the heat of a summer Roman day…
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Now that my consciousness was clearing up a bit, I was ready to take in the view we had from up where we were. An extensive green area, that was a chunk of the ancient Rome I wouldn’t have pictured back at school. We had no more physical energy for the Pallatine Hill. It took us a while to find our way to the exit and we knew we were there when we heard a man in a language very familiar to us saying that there it was… We enjoyed stunning views of the Colosseum from here and took some photos. I don’t know whether it was Roman heat or my growing awareness of the ancient times but I was starting to lose track of time…
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We headed back to our hotel having to open our umbrellas to protect us against the sunshine and had a gentleman commenting that it wasn’t raining… Well, it was too hot for us to care really! We got stocked up on some takeaway pizza in a lovely place right across the road from our hotel. We munched on our pizza back at our nice hotel room as we were reflecting on advantages and disadvantages of living in Italy after we saw that one of the women working in this place was of Slavic origin and spoke some Russian. Does working here right near the Colosseum make things easier for you..?
After having a break from the smouldering heat of the Roman Forum, we continued our Ancient History class as we headed to Capitol Hill (Campidoglio), the religious centre of the ancient Rome. We walked along Via dei Fori Imperiale, a road built by Mussolini to connect Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum with a few ancient structures demolished in the process. So I had mixed feelings walking it but the views I had were a treat! It was like walking an ancient alley of fame. Trajan’s Forum looked a lot more comprehensible than the Roman Forum and I loved panoramic views of it.
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I was enjoying standing there halfway between the ancient and medieval Rome. Originally we had difficulty finding the Capitol Hill and no one we asked seemed to know where it was. We were so desperate that we ended up asking a fellow Russian for directions in English! It turned out to be just across the corner from the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II, an immense white monument dominating the Roman landscape celebrating the Unification of Italy.
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I recognized Capitol Hill and it was breathtaking to be walking up the Michaelangelo stairs to get to the Capitoline Museums. We were at the top of the hill in Piazza del Campidoglio with a replica of the statue of Marcus Aurelius in the centre of it. All I could say was “Beautiful!”, the word I would be saying a lot on this trip.
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The ancient and medieval worlds colliding was spectacular up here! We entered the first building of the museum (Palazzo dei Conservatori) to see a replica of the statue of David by Michaelangelo. A lot of tourists got inside for a sneaky photo.
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While in Rome, you find yourself bundled in layers and layers of history and that was just a beginning for us. There were remains of the statue of Constantine – his head, hand and foot. I never knew I could develop love for sculpture but something inside me was saying otherwise.
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It was an early evening and there weren’t crowds of tourists and touring this museum was one of the best museum experiences I’d had! It was queit and peaceful. The original of the statue of Marcus Aurelius was a centerpiece of one of the rooms and it looked incredible as I was sitting taking it in in a room with just a few people except us. I was overwhelmed with the amount of things I had yet to learn as I looked at all these sculptures, perpetually frozen pieces of life.
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The remains of the Temple of Jupiter got me in a pensive mood as well.. How come a city as superstitious as Rome used to be came to become the centre of Christianity…? With these things in mind, I left this part of the museum planning to check out the second one the next day.
Piazza del Campidoglio is a bellissima public space (as the name “piazza” suggests)! I felt a bit like a goddess sitting on top of Capitol Hill overlooking a busy city. People we saw coming out of a posh café looked as if they had just stepped out of a movie set or a fashion commercial. The Italian sense of fashion is internationally reverred and I could certainly see why. Eye-catching but not showy… A beautiful woman accompanied by a beautiful man… That was another facet of Italy I was yet to marvel at. Yes, from up here going to Rome seemed like the best thing we’d ever decided to do!
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It was time for an evening walk (passegiata) when we watched the sun set over the snow white National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II sometimes referred to as a “typewriter” or a “wedding cake”. It had a different energy to it but it didn’t seem to contradict the ancient Rome we’d been exposed to that day…
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The Trajan Forum views were stunning and I knew I was smart to agree to take this Ancient History lesson.
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Another bellissima meal, a walk back to the hotel, a late night gelato.
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Can I cheekily turn away to have another look at the Colosseum? Bonne Notte, Colosseo! Bonne Notte, Roma!