Rome. One name. A million memories. The Eternal City. Endless images. What exactly is Rome to you?
Rome for me is the hulking, ruined grandeur of the Colosseum, stark and unyielding against an early autumn sunset. Every stone, pillar and archway has memories of desperate gladiator duels, animal fights and appalling ritual sacrifices seared into it. It seems to defy both time and the Gods themselves.
Rome is the smell of fresh, piping hot espresso and the zesty aroma of fresh, fragrant lemon trees in full bloom in the first, heady days of spring. It is sunset on the waters of the ageless, meandering Tiber, and an early evening stroll across one of the ancient bridges that still vaults that serpentine span.
Rome is the jagged, stunted remnants of shorn doric columns, glinting eerily in the noonday sun that washes the scarred, silent expanse of the Forum. The same sun that once glinted on the blades of the daggers of Brutus and Cassius as they bathed this same soil in Caesar’s blood.
Rome is the sight and sound of masses of motor scooters, buzzing like hordes of maddened wasps as they swarm heedlessly past the balcony from where the strutting, meat headed Il Duce once harangued the increasingly sullen crowds. It is the cool, ordered magnificence of Bernini’s stunning, colonnaded courtyard as it sweeps up to the serene, ordered symmetry of Piazza San Pietro. It is the intricate, impossible, frescoed real estate of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. And the brooding, turreted bulwarks of Castel Sant Angelo, where more than one pope sought refuge in the Middle Ages .
Rome is the bustling cafe society of Piazza Navona and its riot of impossibly ornate fountains. Rome is cold, crisp wine on a warm summer night, sitting under illuminated plane trees and watching la dolce vita unfurl all around you like some impossibly exquisite Caravaggio painting.
Above all, Rome is, truly, eternal. A city that was once the centre of the greatest empire the world had ever known; a magician’s conjuring trick that reinvented itself to become the focal point for one of the world’s greatest religions. A city that embraced modernity, and then framed it in the context of its own matchless, exalted past. A stunning juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern; the sensational and the effortlessly, eternally serene. A moody, Machiavellian style melting pot that inspired Michelangelo and infuriated Mussolini. A city so mesmerising and sweeping in historical scope and treasures that even the retreating German army balked at vandalising it in 1944, defying Hitler’s direct orders to destroy it completely.
Rome is Trevi. It is Audrey Hepburn on a scooter in Sabrina. Rome is laughing children eating gelato on the Spanish Steps in the summertime.
These are just a few of my own mental images of this swaggering, majestic city. What is Rome to you?