I just had a great almost-a-week in Rome, although unfortunately it didn’t involve either Gregory Peck or a wild ride on a Vespa – but wading through my emails now that I am home, I am surprised to find that Rome is not listed on Mastercard’s list of the top ten tourist destinations of 2015. This baffles me… and makes me wonder whether I can trust them with my debt…
Rome is one of my favorite places in the world and one of the few trips to which I will almost never say no. I love it when it’s hot, I love it when it’s cold… you get the idea. I love its overblown, thickly-layered beauty from a well-lived life (not a well-maintained vanity), and the low-tech, terra-cotta skyline split here and there by the angular thrust of a chunk of ancient marble against an operatic, widescreen backdrop of blue sky and green hills.
Rome is two-and-a-half million people shoulder to shoulder with three thousand years of history, a CliffsNotes tour of the history of the Western world, ageless and timeless and utterly in the now. I found once again that I never remember just how much I love the city, until I have to leave.
I wanted to hit the ground running and so I had pre-booked a guided night tour of the Forum of Caesar on the Friday that I arrived, which was advertised as a multimedia reconstruction and history of the Forum and the twentieth-century excavations that have laid it bare to evoke the excitement of the Forum and its role in the daily life of Rome.
Yes. I am a big history geek, and the tour was running on a very limited schedule for the summer and fall (through the end of November, so catch it if you have the opportunity). The tour met at the ticket office by the Column of Trajan just off the Piazza Venezia, where the weather was perfect, if hot. Early arrival gave me ample time to cop a seat, a piccolo stracciatella gelato and indulge in some prime people-watching as the sun dropped below the horizon.
Since the Italians seem to expect that you know where you are supposed to be and when you are supposed to be there, there are few announcements – and sometimes no signs – to herd you toward the correct path, but through a combination of hanging about and looking interested, I managed to successfully join the descent to the ground level of the Forum, where a raised walkway led us through the rather dramatically-lit Forum itself to the newly-opened underground entrance to the excavations.
This entrance was previously closed to all except the archaeologists working the site, and was carved through the foundations of the medieval neighborhoods that covered the area until, in the 1930’s, Il Duce decided that he needed a grand, imperial boulevard between the Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum and had an army of workers level an entire neighborhood to create the bed for the via dei Fori Imperiali, which was then laid down over the neighborhood’s flattened remains.
You can’t argue that it is impressive and beautiful… and with a long history in Rome of the use and recycling of the available space, there was a historical precedent – Julius Caesar did the same thing when he created the Forum over two thousand years ago (to the tune of the equivalent of around three hundred million euros).
The multimedia portion of the tour included projections on the underground passage walls of the demolition and construction that took place in the years preceding World War II, followed by very beautifully-rendered depictions of the appearance and probable usage of both the exterior and interior of the ancient Forum as we followed the well-narrated audio guide on a twisting path through the Forum.
This is where the Roman Senate met and governed the Republic, where Julius Caesar built a temple to Venus (his ancestress, or so he said) and installed a gold-covered statue of Cleopatra (who did all she could to continue that line) alongside the marble statue of the goddess, where we walked in the footsteps of the rich and poor who tramped cheek by jowl through what was the heart of the ancient city – and is now admittedly the somewhat baffling remains of a landscape fifteen feet or so below our modern city streets – a landscape in which I hope enough has survived of what they knew over two thousand years ago that they just might recognize it, despite the sometimes rough and disrespectful treatment it has been given along the way.