So much of European history has a connection with Rome and the Romans. The remnants of ancient Rome and its imperial ambitions are strewn across the countries of the Mediterranean and into Western and Northern Europe. It feels as if we have some sort of investment in Rome, and when we visited the ‘Eternal City’ it was a little like coming home. Its language, it’s sophisticated architecture, its statuary and sadly its techniques of fighting and conquering are all part of our inheritance.
We arrived in Rome one summer afternoon and were given a fairly routine but interesting tour of some of the city and then early next morning were at the entrance to the Colosseum as it opened. It is vast and despite the ugly way it was often used, is strangely moving in its vastness and as a piece of architecture is an astonishing bit of engineering, built as it was in the first century A.D.
We opted out of a visit to the Vatican, with its ‘opulent arrogance’ as someone has said, having our own reservations about its dominance as a state within a state, as well as a distaste for the doctrinal authoritarianism which it represents.
But we enjoyed being two of the many tourists in the Trevi Square watching the monumental baroque Fountain supplied by an aqueduct constructed in 19 BC and bringing water from the Salone springs, 20 km from the city. I can’t remember if we dropped coins in the fountain – to guarantee that one day we would return – but I expect we did. Everyone else was.
We were very impressed with the Pantheon. Built 1800 years ago and originally a temple for all pagan gods, it has a magnificent dome more than 43 meters high and the opening at the top, the oculus, is its only source of natural light. The temple was converted into a church in 609 and although adapted for that use, the marble floor still features the original Roman design.
The tombs of the painter Raphael and several Italian kings are in the building. We loved it and had a great sense of Roman history as we wandered around.
This is a busy modern city, and the advantage of its massive – and often ugly – street development was carried out during the Mussolini years, is that the traffic congestion of many other European cities is largely absent. We have good memories of being there; less happy ones about a three hour wait in the airport at the end of the day!