This is the Piazza del Popolo (the “People’s Square”) and it was at this moment when Rome and I finally ‘clicked’. I am high up on a balcony at the edge of the Villa Borghese. We’d had a fairly disappointing time until that point, but after a refreshing morning in the Villa’s gardens I was starting to feel better and this feeling swelled to a kind of crescendo when we came across this view. That can happen in Rome – it is a hilly city, but that means ample opportunities of coming across ‘WOW’ sights when you aren’t expecting them. It was warm, there was a clear view across to the Vatican and I think I even sighed happily before whipping out the camera to capture the scene.
Do you see the ‘Ti Amo’ at the bottom, written in chalk on the pavement? I didn’t even notice that was there until I uploaded the shot to the computer. ‘Ti Amo’ means ‘I love you’ and I thought that’s just perfect. YES. Whoever wrote that, thank you.
Here’s the Colosseum, worth the price of the ticket to Rome alone. I loved it. It’s hard to even describe the kind of majesty you feel you’re stepping into when you enter and look around at thousands of years of history. The fact it is still standing, after only taking eight years to complete and how the structure was weakened from centuries of plundering of materials, including the marble and its iron clamps, until Pope Benedict XIV put a stop to that misuse by declaring it a sacred site, is remarkable. (Bit of irony though: some of the recycled marble was used in St Peter’s Basilica.) Imagine how different it would look today if they kept taking bits off it. And consider how it would appear if it had been left alone all that time!
Like other ruins, the Colosseum has its fair share of resident cats. Here is this black cat, warming itself on the marble, completely blithe to the dozens of people (including me) poking cameras in its face. He was particularly tame though – most cats were cagey, darting away from attention and into the many holes around the place.
Perhaps I’m over thinking it, but I found the number of cats charming. It makes a connection between grandeur and ordinariness, that familiar site of felines strutting about the place, in their casual manner. You could laugh because they don’t care for rules, ignore the signs of ‘DO NOT CROSS’ and ‘DO NOT SIT’ and just do their own thing.
They taught me something too – at the end of the video below, we count the number of cats we found at the Largo Argentina. It was a site we literally just wandered past on our last morning and had no clue about its significance until I just did a little googling. What happened there? Oh, just the assassination of Julius Caesar. You might have heard of him.
The Circus Maximus is still there, still hosting athletics – of a sort. Once it was chariot races and gladiatorial matches, now you can jog lengths up and down the middle.
I took this to try to give an idea of the scale of these buildings, constructed with rudimentary tools and technology (but slaves, yes). Look, if you can, at the size of the few people in front of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. Aren’t they tiny?
That triple archway of what’s left of the Basilica of Maxentius could easily outdo the size of many modern day aircraft hangers.
After a week – just the right amount of time – I felt that I had seen most of what I wanted to see in Rome and came away with a clearer understanding of the place. I can see why the people who love it really love it – the city has an energy similar to that of New York. However in New York, that energy is tied to the here and now; the possibility of ambition. Perhaps that energy is tempered in Rome because its heyday is in the past, tied up in legacy. But here you know you’re part of something bigger. And that’s nice too.
Next up – Istanbul and Gallipoli.
More Rome highlights:
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