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Rome, the Eternal City

Dr. Srutimala Duara

Boarding the fast Eurostar at 11:54 a.m. from Naples we reached Rome at 1:00 p.m. and thought that we would be right in the city and so take a walk soon after reaching our hotel to have a feel of the place. But when we showed our hotel address, we found that Monterotondo is a place about 20 km away from the city of Rome. We bargained with a taxi and finally got a man who agreed to take us for 50 Euro. The others had charged 120 Euro! We were taken to our ‘La Petit Hotel’.

At first we were disappointed that we had come to such a quiet, out-of-the-city place. But once in the hotel, talking to the owner cum manager, we learnt that with 6 Euro we could get a day pass that could take us to Rome. We decided to take a sightseeing bus the next day from Rome. Rome, being very big and a history that goes back to centuries, could not be seen without a guide of some sort. Claudio, the owner of our hotel, was very helpful. He gave us the bus and train timing to go to Rome. Claudio seemed to run the hotel, all by himself – he was the manager, the bell boy, the cook, all rolled into one.

We decided to take a walk and explore our locality. We discovered a shop that sold everything for 1 Euro. Even a big wine bottle cost 1 Euro. I bought 2 tuna cheese sandwich in a pack for 1.20 Euro and a 1.5 litre of juice for 0.25 Euro. We enquired about bus and train tickets and then returned to the hotel to keep our buys. Then we came out and walked leisurely having a feel of the place, a quiet place, far from Rome. We sat on a bench in a square that had a fountain, a church near-by and houses dotted the hills further up. Though initially we grumbled about the distance from Rome, by late evening we said to each other – We got to see a small place too in Italy and there’s a kind of tranquillity in such places. So no regrets! Later trying to find some information about the place I came to know that the history of Monterotondo is tied to the life of the nobles’ families that inhabited it - the Orsini and Barberini.

The next morning, from San Martino bus stop near our hotel we took the bus to the train station. In the station we asked a girl about tickets to Tiburtina Station. She helped us get tickets (3.80 Euro return) from a machine and rushed to the platform – a very small station as one would find in a village of India. We got down at the fifth stop from Monterontondo Station and it took about 25 minutes. From Timburtina we bought a Metro B line return ticket to Termine station for 2 Euro at a tobacco shop. At Termine station Anuradha and I went to find a hop-on-hop-off bus while Meghali and Malobika took a 4 Euro day pass to roam in Rome. But I wanted to do it properly, for Rome has a history that I needed to know in connection with the monuments that we would visit.

Anuradha and I found a GLT (Green Line Tours) bus just out of the station, as our hotel guy Claudio had told us. We bought a 24-hour pass – a guided tour – for 20 Euro and the bus started at Stazione Termini and stopped at the stops that led us to historically famous sights. We went through the leaflet with the stops indicated in it.

1. Santa Maria Maggiore

2. Colosseo

3. Bocca della Verito with Circo Massimo

4. Piazza Venezian with Campidogtio

5. Piazza Navona with the Pantheon

6. San Pietro with Castel Sant Angelo too

7. Musei Vaticani

8. Piazza di Spagna with Ara Pacis

9. Fontana di Trevi

10.Piazza Tsarberini

11.Piazza della Repubblica

We decided to get down first in Vatican City. It was a great feeling to be in the smallest state of the world and the seat of the head of the Roman Catholic Church. We walked to the Sistine Chapel, paid 14 Euro for the entrance and spent more than 2 hours looking at the sculptures and paintings, its architecture and its decoration that was frescoed throughout by Renaissance artists including Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio and others. Under the patronage of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo painted 12,000 square feet of the chapel ceiling between 1508 and 1512.

We took out own time, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing rooted looking at the ceilings till our necks ached, especially The Last Judgement, painted by Michelangelo. The Last Judgment is a depiction of the second coming of Christ and the Apocalypse. The souls of humanity rise and descend to their fates as judged by Christ and his saintly entourage. The wall on which The Last Judgment is painted looms out slightly over the viewer as it rises, and is meant to be somewhat fearful and to instill piety and respect for God's power. It is truly his crowning achievement in painting. The ceiling painted by Michelangelo has a series of nine paintings showing God's Creation of the World, God's Relationship with Mankind, and Mankind's Fall from God's Grace.

On the large pendentives that support the vault are painted twelve Biblical and Classical men and women who prophesied that God would send Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind. I wondered how the great painter had worked on the paintings on the ceiling. It must have taken its toll on Michelangelo's health: working on his back, an impressive amount of paint must have entered his lungs. But I guess it was certainly worth the effort.

After seeing Sistine Chapel, one could not but agree with Johann Wolfgang Goethe, that without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving. Words are not adequate to describe the feelings the paintings and the sculptures roused in me. My hearts full, with sighs of experiencing something too beautiful for words, I walked to the stop of the GLT, showed the ticket and hopped on only to hop off at the Piazza di Spagna, popularly known as the Spanish Steps. With its characteristic butterfly plan, the Piazza di Spagna is one of the most famous images in the world, as well as being one of the most majestic urban monuments of Roman Baroque style. History has it that in the Renaissance period, the square was the most popular tourist attraction in the city: it attracted artists and writers alike and was full of elegant hotels, inns and residences.

At the foot of the stairs was the famous Barcaccia Fountain, the work of Pietro Bernini and his son, Gian Lorenzo. With its characteristic form of a sinking ship, the fountain recalls the historic flood of the River Tiber in 1598 and refers to a folk legend whereby a fishing boat carried away by the flood of the river was found at the exact spot. The sun was up and the heat was somewhat uncomfortable. We saw people filling their bottles with the cold waters of the fountain and we did the same.

Once again we were in our GLT bus and decided to hop off at Trevi Fountain. I heard that the Fontana di Trevi or Trevi Fountain is the most famous and arguably the most beautiful fountain in all of Rome. The central figure of the fountain, in front of a large niche, is Neptune, god of the sea. He is riding a chariot in the shape of a shell, pulled by two sea horses. Each sea horse is guided by a Triton. One of the horses is calm and obedient, the other one restive. They symbolize the fluctuating moods of the sea. On the left hand side of Neptune is a statue representing Abundance, The statue on the right represents Salubrity. The sculptures are simply grand. Above the sculptures are bas-reliefs, one of them shows Agrippa, the general who built the aqueduct that carries water to the fountain. The water at the bottom of the fountain represents the sea. Legend has it that you will return to Rome if you throw a coin into the water. You should toss it over your shoulder with your back to the fountain. I tossed a coin wishing I would return to Rome one day with my husband. I was missing him. And my wish was granted, for I did come back to Rome with my husband and daughter in 2015.

We hopped on and then off the bus again at Colosseum. The Colosseum is probably the most impressive building of the Roman empire. Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater, it was the largest building of the era. The monumental structure has fallen into ruins, but even today it is an imposing and beautiful sight. It could accommodate some 55,000 spectators who could enter the building through no less than 80 entrances.

Above the ground are four storeys, the upper storey contained seating for lower classes and women. The lowest storey was preserved for prominent citizens. Emperors used the Colosseum to entertain the public with free games. Those games were a symbol of prestige and power and they were a way for an emperor to increase his popularity. Games were held for a whole day or even several days in a row. They usually started with comical acts and displays of exotic animals and ended with fights to the death between animals and gladiators or between gladiators. These fighters were usually slaves, prisoners of war or condemned criminals. Below the ground were rooms with mechanical devices and cages containing wild animals. The cages could be hoisted, enabling the animals to appear in the middle of the arena. Amazing! At that period how such a structure could be conceived and constructed! And I also wondered about the animals that were let loose to combat with humans. How barbaric! Thank heavens I was not in that period of history, on second thoughts, maybe I was, and I don’t remember it now! Anuradha sat under a tree enjoying the world from the shade while I made a round exploring the sheer majesty of the Colosseum.

Our next hop off was at the Pantheon. We had to walk quite a distance from our bus stop before we reached the gigantic structure. Built more than 1800 years ago, the magnificent Pantheon building still stands as a reminder of the great Roman empire. A huge bronze door gives access to the cylindrical building. With its thick brick walls and large marble columns, the Pantheon made an immediate impression. But for its time the most remarkable part of the building is the more than 43 meter high dome. At the top of the dome is a large opening, the oculus, which was the only source of light. Originally a temple for all pagan gods, the temple was converted into a church in 609. Why did the Christians convert pagan places into something totally different was the question that came to my mind as I looked around the interiors of the imposing structure. The Pantheon now contains the tombs of the famous artist Raphael and of several Italian Kings.

The Pantheon borders the Piazza della Rotonda, a rectangular square with a central fountain and obelisk. We sat for a while near the fountain outside the Pantheon before getting up once again on our GLT bus.

It was so convenient sitting in the GLT bus as it came frequently to the stops and getting down when or if we wished to, taking in the grandeur of the eternal city. Some places could be viewed from the bus itself and we did not feel like getting down. We simply sat in the bus and looked from the roof at the eternal city. The city appeared so commanding with its imposing structures, statues and fountains at every bend. Past seemed to be lurking in every nook and corner as if it was just yesterday and not centuries back. I penned down my thoughts on Rome:

History looks down from every bend

century chasing century

till time links in a chain

a fountain here and a monument there

one era speaking to another

Anthony Cleopatra and Julius Caesar

playing hide and seek in every corner

the smallest nation guarding Christianity zealously

denouncing Darwin’s theory

a temple telling tales of Michelangelo

mythology oozing from every statuette

a flight of steps overlooking

history’s curves and terraces

down in a narrow street a dome to heavens

talks of the arched vault of the gods

a daunting edifice beholder of gruesome tricks

when lives were but discounted commodities

imposing meeting ground a city within a city

silent witness to an incredible capital

a fountain enticing tourists to throw coins

to return to this eternal city.


[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Publisher.]


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