I’ve been back home, recovering from my adventures for over a month, and busy trying to catch up with the life I left behind for two weeks, but I want to say at least a few words about the Eternal City. Annie and I spent 5 days in chaotic, ancient and modern Rome. We were celebrating our trek, recovering from its demands on our bodies, and yet … increasing my sense of overwhelm. People fatigue. Culture fatigue. Big city fatigue.
Because Rome is full:
The modern, the natural, the ancient and iconic, and the human: all smooshed together in Rome.
The buildings each scream of history and baroque character. Some have paintings framed on their outsides, or statues, or columns. Civic buildings get shouldered aside by church after church after church. It’s brick; it’s marble; it’s old cement; it’s stone. Everything is tightly packed on roads that are often cobbled, almost always parked up, and yet streams of tourists and crazy cars still compete for the remaining space left for moving.
Like most of the tourists we talked to, we stayed in an AirBnB apartment. My exhaustion from the trek caught up with me in, and we’d come home in the afternoons after a visit to a museum or something, and I immediately crashed for hours. Despite the extra sleep, I got cranky. The noise in in the city after the quiet of our days trekking seemed designed to annoy me. Our apartment was clearly not meant to be lived in: the kitchen was in a cupboard–not even a large closet– and had no oven and no microwave, and very few pots and plates. No cutting board, no broom or dustpan. And I couldn’t get the funky coffee pot to work. And STILL my phone wasn’t functioning right. Gah!
But of course we managed totally fine. It was Rome! And it was wonderfully convenient.
Our apartment was a block or two from the Pantheon: the oldest structure on the planet continuously in use since it opened under Hadrian’s rule around 126 AD, first as a Roman temple to all the gods, then later as a Christian Church, especially honoring martyrs.
You can see much better shots of the exterior on the internet, but this is the entrance.
The dome, made from unreinforced concrete is open to the sky, with the final pillar thereby coming from the sun directly into the temple and infusing it with natural light. So cool, so powerful. Did you know that cement was an ancient invention? I had no idea! They used to crush marble (you know, those boring greek things?) to make it. I found myself aching to see the Pantheon as it was when it celebrated all the gods. The immense statue to Jupiter by the alter has been replaced with a beautiful Mary.
Well, I’m a sucker for statues, and they are everywhere in Rome. You don’t trip over them, because they’re mostly enormous,
a remnant from the Colossus of Rome (I think), originally located in the Forum. To give a sense of the size, the pillar there is supporting a high ceiling. This is in the Capitoline Museum–go there!
often on pedestals,
frequently spouting water in fountains,
The four-rivers Fountain
The Trevi Fountain–never to be seen except swarmed with crowds (unless they’ve turned it off for cleaning)
Or, like my favorite here, holding up an obelisk.
We walked a lot in Rome, regularly using my GPS phone feature to move down tiny streets called things like “Donkey Alley.” We bought something called the “Roma Pass” which gave us 3 days of free subway and bus rides and a MUCH shorter line into the Coliseum (we got one free museum and chose that one)–and that alone was worth the cost! The trick about the bus and subway is that it’s very hard to find stops, so you end up doing a lot of walking anyway. Let’s just say I had no problem getting my 10,000 steps.
The seven hills of Rome are more famous than obvious, but Palatine and Capitoline Hills surround the Forum. These are not big hills, but small steep things with many steps or sheer cliffs that you come across while walking around and think, “oooh, I bet this is famous. I bet important things happened here!” But since everything is famous and reeking of history in Rome, I got a bit inured to the shock of that thrill. Still, the Coliseum and Forum are simply amazing, and kind of smack dab in the middle of everything. As is fitting, of course.
They’ve fairly recently rebuilt one side of the Coliseum to show its full height, and it truly is enormous. Built to appease the population. I think the idea was, if you provide free entertainment (and there were free seats), people won’t mind going hungry so much. Interesting.
Inside the sports arena of the Coliseum, you see the huge underpinning of the wooden floor, which they originally covered with several inches of sand for the combats: free men (gladiators) against slaves, slaves against wild beasts. I think it was one way slaves could win their freedom, but the odds were not good.
Everywhere you go in Rome, excavation sites abound–it’s why their subway system is so abysmal. You probably can’t dig a garden in Rome because you hit something ancient. And its not just Roman ruins we’re talking; it’s PRE-roman. Turns out every civilization builds on top of the one before, both literally and symbolically.
Although we’d planned to go to Pompeii for a day, we had trouble finding the bus stop and missed it. Instead, we traded it in for a guided tour to Tivoli, not far outside Rome, where we visited Hadrian’s Villa, in ruins.
A Roman bath at Hadrian’s villa. There were several set-ups, from his own private baths to those designed for the nobles, down to the slave baths. Each set-up had three bathing areas: hot, tepid, and cold –you can tell this is a hot bath, because it’s round, designed as the most efficient way to keep in the heat.
Couldn’t resist including the toilet!
Hadrian’s private quarters, cut off by a moat!
So, Hadrian’s love of his life was a young man who died tragically in Egypt (I think he drowned). Hadrian had this large pond built in tribute to the (I suspect) kid. Hadrian was a big designer, which evidently drove his architects wild.
But Tivoli is also famous for Villa d’Este, built in the 16th century by the cardinal of that name. The Villa is pooh-poohed simply because the gardens he created by diverting the river Aniene (we walked by this river on our trek!) are simply phenomenal. Here I’ll quote from Wiki: “The fame and glory of the Villa d’Este was above all established by its extraordinary system of fountains; fifty-one fountains and nymphaeums, 398 spouts, 364 water jets, 64 waterfalls, and 220 basins, fed by 875 meters of canals, channels and cascades, and all working entirely by the force of gravity, without pumps.”
This is the first fountain you see, a small thing, but beautifully balanced with the surrounding view.
And then you walk down… and around… and each step brings you to something different and maybe kind of odd.
Or truly fanciful…
Or just simply overwhelmingly spectacular.
Tivoli was a wonderful side trip to our days in Rome. And we also got this final blessing from the man himself at the entrance to the Villa d’Este.
And now my adventure is over. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to tag along on my sister’s plans when her friend couldn’t make it. It was glorious to experience Italy through walking (though it was limited to Lazio) and trusting to a pilgrimage trail.
I learned a lot about my body and my relationship to it, to that aspect of myself. I am so, so grateful to my feet and my legs and my hands and my arms–all of me that was put to the test on this voyage. And to my sister! Who forgave my fatigue and occasionally snarky responses to it and to her. Having the time to really experience Rome thoroughly was a great luxury.