In my earlier post on Rome, I tried to provide a brief, an extremely brief walk-through of ancient Rome. But to ensure that my (already bored?) readers did not doze off reading it, I had to limit myself without describing what is possibly more Roman than anything else – Forum Magnum (commonly known as the “Roman forum”).
Located right next to the Colosseum, between Palatine and Capitoline hills, this was the oldest part of Rome, and for a long time, its grandest too. It was the judicial, political, economic and religious epicenter of the city and a place for the whos who to make their presence felt. In today’s world this would be like squeezing Champs Elysees, Wall street and 10 Downing street, all into one block. This was also then, the place where a victorious Roman legion (and there were many of those) would be welcomed by the citizenry and royalty of ancient Rome.
Today sadly, what is left of it are some pillars and mostly rubble, leaving much to ones own imagination. Being very limited in that part of my brain, I just engrossed myself in admiring the size of the imposing pillars (but was totally lost as to why did they build those in middle of a plain ground). Imposing they were till I saw a little tomb, which on closer inspection proved to be of a curiously named bloke, Julius Caeser (now where did I hear that name).
What was even more surprising was to have found some fresh flowers on top of it, which I was sure would have been placed as a routine job by an employee of the heritage council. “No friend”, retorted my guide, as she pointed out that this tomb has never been without flowers on any day. Be it rain, snow or hail, there is someone – from the normal Roman public – who finds time to honour the legend more than two centuries after his death. She proudly brought out that this is a feat that even Jesus Christ himself cannot boast of (see he was born after dear Julius).
But all these great personalities and the might of the empire could not save them from the two most hungry and dreadful enemies – corruption and mismanagement. By the late 5th century AD, these two aspects of Roman administration had all but killed the once unassailable empire. Wants to make me remind our politicians that we’re nowhere near as strong as the Roman empire, so please do not tempt fate by befriending those two enemies for long. Anyway lets leave politics for another day.
Disclaimer: The views that follow are purely personal and I take total responsibility for them. They definitely bear resemblance to actual monuments and real people, but the slant on them may not be according to everyone’s liking.
Now I move on to a glorious second chapter in Roman history, the Renaissance. It was the time of art, of science, of religion and of controversy. Rome had its share, maybe not in equal measure, but in abundance of each of those factors. The city is littered with shining marvels of art and science which are perfect examples that when these two great human aspects combine, the results seem to transcend time and space with their beauty (listening Mr Hawking).
Be it the Fontana della Barcaccia (a baroque boat shaped fountain) at Piazza di Spagna, or the “fountain of four rivers” (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) at the achingly beautiful Piazza Navona, or maybe the colossal Fontana di Trevi, every single one of them is equally mesmerising to a first time, or a returning visitor. Infact they are so good, that a certain Mr Dan Brown wrote a bestseller, revolving his plot around four of the defining monuments from the city’s medieval heritage.
The crowning jewel among them all according to me is “St Peter’s square”, which if nothing else, is a mathematician’s fantasy for the perfect dimensions and symmetry it possesses. Everyone I meet seems to talk only of the imposing basilica and its humongous dome. Yes, the structure is captivating (as from outside, so much more from inside), but brave a tiring and claustrophobic climb up its very “beautiful dome” (trust me the beauty diminishes with each successive sweaty step as you climb it) and you’ll realise that the square outstrips everything around it.
It seems like a circular vortex ready to engulf the basilica and all people around it and the obelisk at its centre seems to point down the road towards infinity (or the end of space and time as Mr Hawking would put it). From here one can get a view of the Papal residence right below and the Vittoria Emanuele memorial in the distance (looks like a giant white typewriter to me), but I was repeatedly being drawn towards St Peter’s square.
It was then that it hit me. The so called “square” is actually circular in shape. Which absent minded, pot smoking, vernacularly / geometrically challenged buffoon named this masterpiece. How ironic is it that a study in geometrical symmetry by a master of the ancient art has to bear the ignominy of such a blasphemous name (all those who do not agree with my naming theory, please refer a few paras above “all views are purely personal”).
Anyways moving inside the basilica, immediately on the right is a marble statue called “Pieta”. Now I admit that my understanding of medieval art is as good as any man’s understanding of women (which is, well…….ha ha ladies, you can’t kill me here), but one does not have to be a connoisseur of art (or a mind reader in the case of “understanding” women) to be blown away by the beauty of the sculpture. It’s surreal as one can almost see Christ’s body shivering and feel the pain in mother Mary’s eye.
I’m not sure what the other tourists were making of my facial expressions then, but then I don’t think too many people would be interested in studying my expressions rather than the masterpiece. It only got worse once I read that this little gem was crafted by Michelangelo when he was all of 24 years old. 24!!!!!!!! God all I was doing at that age was getting drunk (ok I’m still doing that, but hey atleast I’m consistent at what I do).
Rest of the basilica is full of what anyone would find in an Indian temple, albeit with names and attire changed. Oh but there is one difference. All the pious propaganda duties carried out so successfully by “pandits” back home, have been delegated to an electronic audio guide by the tech savvy Vatican (is that an oxymoron?). It keeps reminding you every second minute that you are staring at something built in “xvz year of our lord” and once – and I’m NOT joking – encourages you to detest England and France, as you face a statue of a prominent clergy stamping over those two old rivals of the papacy. So much then for sermons of peace and harmony (again all views personal).
At this juncture I get a feeling that writing more would only invite trouble, if I’m already not skin deep in that (but really ladies, I didn’t mean that). Anyways Rome has tons more to offer, but that’s for you discover. Take my suggestion, save that money you were about to blow away on a home theatre and large screen TV; add a little more and you’ll get to witness the grandest theatre there is and walk through a script unlike any movie. So get on a plane and let Rome take you on a journey of a lifetime. But hey, don’t forget – when in Rome, do as Romans do (all bricks and bats at the comments section below, for unparliamentary attacks, choose my mailbox).
ps: St Peter’s SQUARE……arrrrrrrgggggggghhhhhh!!!!!!!!!