Monday, 16 June 2008


We spent 3 days and 3 nights in Rome. It was incredible. How lovely it is to go to a city where eating pizza and ice-cream (not usually together) counts as a cultural activity. Mmmm, delicious.

I'm talking about the food first as there seems to be no way to accurately express the wonderment of Rome the city. Ruins, columns, churches and piazzas that elsewhere would be at the centre piece of the town's tourist trail are here just tucked away, almost unremarked upon. It's not just the huge sense of living history that the Forum and Colosseum represent, but the way it's sucked the world to it; the Vactican Museum had a collection of ancient writings dating back to the 3rd millenia BC - 5,000 years have passed since those legal documents were written in cuniform on clay tablets. Then, wandering through the jaw-dropping private rooms of Pope's past, decorated with stunning frescos painted by Raphael, it hits you that after the Roman Empire came nearly 1700 years of direct rule by the Catholic Church, that the glory of modern Rome with its palaces, cathedrals, fountains, monuments, wide avenues, twisting alleys, shuttered town houses, parks and bridges is a religious construction, not one belonging to antiquity but instead to the Dark Ages, the Holy Roman Empire, the Renaissance, the Counter-Reformation and the Napoleonic era. Florence was a Capital of Italy before Rome ever was, and as we explored the streets there was the sense that Rome will always exist, perhaps long after the Church and State have faded. It is as if the city were alive, feeding on beliefs and ideologies, humans moving through it like blood in arteries, building monuments like muscles and either repelling or absorbing invaders.

We were both truly blown away. After the wonder of the Vatican Museum, we dared not face the majesty of St Peters so soon less its glory be lost or our brains half melted by the Sistine Chapel, the Borgia apartments, the Hall of Maps and countless other treasures. We went the next day instead and were almost blinded by its brilliance; unlike other Churches, often made of dark stone, that are filled with shadows, St Peters is a construction in marble and gold and glows in the sunlight streaming through the windows. That many of the popes behaved like the Roman emperors by commissioning huge artworks to mark their era as pontiff and also installed lavish commemorations to their predecessors was all to the good for the modern visitor. The place is stuffed full of beautifully executed statues, frescoes, carvings, busts and almost everywhere you look, there is something more to see. Plus, it is free to go in and thankfully, we got there early enough to avoid the queues at the entrance.

Next, we took a milk-float style city bus over to the Colisseum, which we'd marvelled at from the outside on our first evening in Rome, but now wanted to see inside. Well, it's pretty impressive, but actually it seemed to lose some of its magic when elbowing through the crowds to see where they used to pen the wild animals and where Caesar and his family would sit to watch the games.

A stroll through the Jewish Ghetto (largely closed as it was Saturday) and the charming Testevere district completed our tour of Rome. Our various walks over the previous couple of days had also taken in (to summarise) the Forum (left us both speechless, no mean feat) the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon, plus a host of other monuments in varying states of splendidness.

After all that history and culture, it seemed fitting to end our Roman Holiday by hooking up with three other Brits, (three Sunderland lads on a two-week holiday - Chris, Paul & Lee), to watch the football (Greece v Russia - not a particularly inspiring game), have a chat and drink lager in time-honoured English fashion. Next stop, a villa in Tuscany.

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