THE ETERNAL CITY.
My best New Year was in Rome, the eternal city. It was +18 and raining occasionally. The whole city, it seemed, went outside. People were singing and dancing in the streets. Little carts with sparkling wine appeared at every corner, and you know what? In Italy, all sparkling wine is Italian: bubbly, light and sweet. After midnight, when the fireworks are done and the noise subsides, thousands peacefully march through the city, across the river, and to the Vatican. They say that about 200,000 gather together in the square in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral, to wait for the Pope’s blessing, which he dispenses at 6 A.M. from his balcony. We just walked around, drinking in the fresh warm air, touching the tangerines which grow all over the city. They are purely decorative, not intended for anybody’s consumption.
During the day, we walked, looking into side streets. It’s hard to believe that you just happen to glance to your left, and there is the familiar silhouette: the Coliseum. Somehow I always imagined it as it appears in those traditional photos, more or less a ruin. But actually it isn’t. One can go inside and climb all over, eventually getting to the very top. It is easy to imagine how it used to be ages ago, when some 70,000 spectators came to see the gladiators fight. Wandering around along the narrow ancient streets, looking at those palaces, fountains, squares, one feels the centuries blend into one amazing beautiful tapestry of human history. “Pantheon?” I asked a passer-by. “Diretto, dextra et sinistra”, he said. Direct, right and left. It seemed to us that the Italians sing, not talk, sometimes quite passionately. When you come to the Pantheon, you will probably need a few moments to grasp what it is you see. A perfectly circular huge building with its oculus, opening, in the dome. “Agrippa fecit…” runs the inscription on its façade. The Pantheon was begun by Agrippa in 27 BC, then destroyed, then rebuilt by Hadrian in 118. It became a Christian church in the seventh century, and still is. We were very lucky to come early enough, as later it closed for visitors when the service began. We walked inside, following the crowd which gradually came to a stop in front of a simple tomb which said, “Raffaello”. Raphael, or Raffaello Sanzio, perhaps the most famous Renaissance painter. Though it is hard to say who was more famous, Michelangelo, with his Sistine Chapel, and the famous staircase in the center of the city; or Leonardo da Vinci; or many other artists of various ages. When we stood in line in theVatican to get into the cathedral, then walked in and saw Michelangelo’s Pieta, words deserted us. I cried. It’s impossible to imagine such genius, who was in his early twenties when he created this masterpiece.
We had a déjà vu moment when we found a building which looks like the Coliseum, but isn’t, in one of the side streets. It is actually home to the family which had it built, or most probably restored and renovated. Via Nazionale is one of the longest in town, that’s where you will find most shops. It is easy to use the buses in Rome, since practically all of them come back to Termini, the main train station. From Termini, you can explore the surroundings, like Villa d’Este, which is a historical monument in itself.
There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, tavernas which cater to all tastes. You can sit in the square right in front of the Pantheon and stare at it while you eat, have an ice-cream or strawberry tarts near the celebrated Trevi Fountain. You can visit any beautiful church, or just go to Santa Maria in Cosmedin, shown in “Roman Holiday”: you can put your hand inside La Bocca della Verità, the Mouth of Truth, the same stone mouth that so scared Audrey Hepburn’s princess in the movie. You can walk in the tangerine and orange park and look at all the fascinating places, which show you the European history from Anno Domini 1 to today. The ancient Trojan’s Column is not far from Emperor Victor Emmanuel’s palace. Mussolini’s balcony is next to the loggia where Napoleon’s mother-in-law used to sit and comment loudly on passers-by, until the emperor had shades installed. You can take a bus excursion and enjoy the city from the upper deck. When our large bus began to slowly squeeze in between parked cars, all the pedestrians and motorists dropped whatever they were doing and waited to see how the driver managed, then they cheered and applauded. We have seen school children in the Coliseum and in the famous Thermi – ancient Baths, clearly having their history lessons. Imagine that, studying history where it really happened, and is still happening every day. Imagine walking along the streets where every building seems familiar, because you saw it in your own history textbook.
Rome is a joy forever.