Rome (S.P.Q.R), the city of mighty Romans, the power house of European politics for centuries ranks high in defining the course of history and the western civilisation alike. Romans who ruled Europe and the Mediterranean countries for centuries have a great impact in shaping this City. The city with all its magnificence holds a special place in the world of politics, art, architecture and Religion.
From the gloomy England weather flying over the breath taking peaks of Alps and through Sunny Mediterranean into Fiumicino Aeroporto was quite welcoming.
Arriving at the Aeroporto looking around seeping through the setting, people, the noise felt as if I am in a familiar territory… going around the terminal building, standing in the bus station felt as if I am at Majestic (Bangalore bus station)…bit of an exaggeration..! It was in the month of May and sun was shining brightly, for the first time in Europe I felt the tropical sun and was sweating too. At the bus station in the Aeroporto there were some familiar sights of ads …guess wat…for English medium schools. Boarding the bus was also bit of a challenge and for somebody living in England queuing is a way of life…but in Rome its going back to our Asian ways…the art of civilisation…!!
During my visit Italy was going through some unusual political period – Controversial Populist leader Berlusconi being the premier of the country, Bunga bunga parties were customary rituals. Also my visit was coincided with Rome’s city municipality elections and could see election posters on many walls (luckily not on historic monuments). Questioning my skeptical outlook, I was further stirred back to senses, as(all) the roads leading to Rome were all terrified with enormous traffic jams and honking was the norm (now I know how Edvige Antonia Albina Maino …i.e. Mrs Sonia Gandhi adopted so well at her Sasuraals (in-laws), without much cultural shock!).
Reached the city center from where the Hotel was at a walking distance. At the hotel got acquainted with two fellow inquisitive travelers Peter (Swiss) & Al (Japanese).
After a bit of relaxation and chit chat with Peter & Al, we all three went to Vatican the smallest country (by landmass, 0.2 sq miles or 110 acres) in the World. Being a fan of Dan brown, getting into Vatican was exhilarating as well spiritual.
Surrounded by high medieval walls with hawk eye security by Swiss Guards entered the Vatican Museum after a delightful Italian Ice cream from the corner shop opposite to Vatican entrance. Italian Ice creams are very delicious and are world famous, this is an added allure and in fact there are many Ice cream shops in the city.
After the security check (similar to Airports) we were lead into the Vatican museum through the amazing double spiral stair case to some of the renowned classical art works in the world, mainly the collection of art by the trio masters of high renaissance period – Raphael, Michelangelo & Da Vinci, the modern art works by Van Gogh, Picasso, and some of the best sculptures, busts and Masks.
Walking through these colourful galleries witnessing the richness of the art world, it was indeed intriguing and beautiful. My personal favourites are the lively frescoes in Raffaele rooms (Stanze di Raffaello) painted by Raphael – especially the master piece “The School of Athens” & Da vinci’s painting St. Jerome in the Wilderness.
The School of Athens – by Raphael
Raffaele rooms (Stanze di Raffaello):
After several round ups through the different aisles of the Museum like Gallery of the Maps (my personal favorite as well) and Papal throne we were finally lead into the Vatican gardens where Pope and the cardinals usually enjoy their free time.
Completing the Vatican museum tour at twilight we came out and entered the St. Peter’s basilica court yard which was dimly lit …many people were still around …pretty much gripped in their prayers. There was something in the air bit spiritual. The cold breeze made it feel even special.
It was bit late in the evening and with tired legs and we all three went back to the city centre where it was still lively and after few look in the menus of the surrounding Ristorantes we went inside one where we had scrumptious pasta meal.
Next day early in the morning I decided to venture alone as the others were still sleeping. From Rome Termini Started walking towards the Colosseum thinking that I will finish the morning walk with a bit of explore in the midst of the historical monuments. After few stops here and there mainly churches, and Roman buildings like theaters, courtyards, piazzas didn’t notice 2 hrs passed in a blink. With this pace I thought it’s impossible for me to reach Colosseum by walk even before mid-day..! Finally decided to board the bus and since this was just a morning walk I didn’t come out well planned and without maps had to rely on City bus services. With bit of initial disorientation enjoyed a little detour within Rome, after few minutes of journey I realized that the bus was going exactly opposite direction to my destination and had to get down mid-way, which lead me into a residential part of Rome, well built, beautifully colored, elegant houses with balconies and gardens were all in line and evenly spaced.
After a bit of wandering through the lanes of Rome with few bonjournos (actually BUONGIORNO – Good morning) and smiles from residents finally found a busy road in the vicinity. Soon I got into another city Bus which took me to Via Palermo, from where I walked to the Road Via die Serpenti leading to “Piazza del Colosseo” – The Colosseum, just before mid-day…!
What a beautiful structure Colosseum is (even in its ruins)…built in 80 AD for entertaining public(Amphitheater) by brutally killing the slaves in the death fight was the set norm for the rich and civilians alike.
On one side of Colosseum along its length there is a beautiful garden – the gardens of Emperor Nero, The garden extends from road beside Colosseum and goes above the top of a hill from where the view of Colosseum is that of peeping into next door neighbours’ window…indeed tempting ha..!
The big windows of colosseum are very tempting and a leap (bubka’s leap…Sergey Bubka) could land you just inside the mighty wall of colosseum …off course with the broken bones..!(don’t try not recommended …J). As we walk further along the park , we just land on the other side of hill with a beautiful picturesque landscape of city of Rome filled with high walls of churches, Piazzas, Villas and other administrative office buildings with lot of green in between. The golden rays of sun and the smoke from the chimneys made the view even lustrous.
Just within the garden is Emperor Nero’s villa “DOMUS Aurea” in Ruins. Standing in this very garden brings a piece of history – Emperor Nero was a scandalous figure at the time, the conspiracy theory is that “the Great fire of Rome”(64 AD), was triggered by him to clear the area to build his lavish villa. Emperor Nero often portrayed in bad light for his extravagance and tyranny. He also executed his mother and poisoned his brother. Eventually due to public uproar he committed suicide, which caused a brief period of civil wars referred as “The year of four emperors” (69 AD).
Coming out of Nero’s garden, going around to the other side of colosseum where the Road runs along the uphill beside the colosseum (towards Palatine hill) saw the high gates and the colosseum gardens where lot of tourist visitors were in lengthy ques to get inside. The magnificent structure which stood test of time is in ruins…but the echoes of gladiators and roaring lions still aloud within its walls. The sand inside the colosseum drenched in blood of these brave gladiators has many stories to tell. Famous ones are Spartacus(111-71 BC), a gladiator from the North mountains range who revolted against the Romans to abolish slavery – watch the HBO series –quite brutal and word of caution- don’t watch with kids..! another legendary one being General Maximus Decimus Meridius …in short Russell Crowe!, watch Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (Set during the times of Great Emperor Marcus Aurelius, around 180 AD) for a peek into the world of Gladiators.
Only surviving Son of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Commodus was erratic, anti-traditional and was not popular among his subjects; this was the Plot for movie “Gladiator”, Maximus defeating Commodus.
Coming out of Colosseum along the length of Via Dei fori Imperiali the sprawling Roman Ruins remain in its Grandeur – originally a market place famously called as Forum Magnum(Roman Forum) between the valley of Palatine hill and Capitoline hill(2 imp hills in Rome among 7) . These ruins are still rich..!, offers (insight into the world of Romans) anyone who is interested in Roman history to marvel at the sight of these glorious architectural structures and archaeological excavations across both sides of the Road – Via Dei fori Imperiali. Roman forum was the nucleus of Roman public life and commercial affairs alike for centuries and was the site for public speeches, processions, criminal trials, elections and gladiatorial matches.
ROMAN FORUM: Courtesy Bing Maps
Emerging out of this complex stands “Altare della Patria” – Altar of the Fatherland(19th Century), is a monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of unified Italy, between the Piazza Venezia and the Capitoline Hill.
On the Capitoline hill we find the Michelangelo’s architectural masterpiece – Piazza del Campidoglio, a trapezoidal museum building indeed a complex construction. Commissioned by Pope to create this structure Michelangelo created a new theme by ignoring the forum and facing towards the church bringing in a new perspective to the Rome’s life.
Michelangelo often addressed as “the Divine One”, Il Divino, is one of the most gifted and celebrated multi-talented personality of the 16th Century Renaissance period. He was an architect, sculptor, Painter and poet and is considered to be one of the greatest artists of all time due to his divine touch and has exerted his influence to date through his famous works at places like Florence, Bologna, Rome & Vatican.
Standing in the Court yard of Capitoline Museums (beside bronze statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius) looking towards Tiber Islands, “Theatre of Pompey” is seen just in the horizon near to River Tiber.
Theater of Pompey is the place where the greatest military commander of all time – “Julius Caesar” was assassinated by a group of 60 men led by Brutus, stabbing Caesar 23 times brutally on Ides (15th) of March 44BC.
“Why, this is violence!” (“Ista quidem vis est!”), Cried Julius Caesar
“Et tu, Brute?” (“You too, Brutus?”);this derives from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1599),
Julius Caesar (100BC to 44BC) played a pivotal role as General leading legions by extending the Roman supremacy in Middle East, Egypt, Gaul (France), Spain, Britain & Germania. As a dictator his influence in Roman republic was commendable and his popularity among the masses was that of unparalleled in history. His death led to the fall of Roman republic and after several civil wars his adopted heir Octavian (Popular as Augustus) founded Roman Empire in 27BC defeating Mark Anthony(Caesar’s right hand) & Cleopatra.
At last I ended my morning walk at 3 in the afternoon critical about the unusual love affair between Charming Cleopatra & Charismatic Caesar of power, lust and greed…! Such is the city of Rome totally immerse the travelers in its ever lasting legacy.
By then pretty much tired and thirst stricken found my way to a nearby pizzeria. In Rome you are never too far from a pizzeria and believe me these pizzas are best in the world, the Alien American pizza houses are nowhere near to this quality and also for vegetarians you have lot of options..!..ya you heard it right 🙂
Eating Pizza, thinking about Caesar and Cleopatra – was it a fatal attraction or pure love..!
ROME PART 2 BLOG ..Coming Soon.! – to bore you guys with some more history
Things to explore in the mean time:
- Read Books – Julius Caesar by Shakespeare, Caesar & Cleopatra by George Bernard Shaw
- Watch TV Series – “ROME” HBO series, “Italy by Francesco da Mosto” BBC Series
- Take Virtual tour of Vatican – especially the Raffaele Rooms – http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/stanze-di-raffaello/tour-virtuale.html
- “The man who screwed an entire country” – Read Economist article June 2011 on Berlusconi
Disclaimer: Some of the images used in this Blog are taken from net.