We traveled to Rome last week to spend the night before Steve’s flight to the US. One of the things we love about where we live is that we’re about two hours from Rome by train.
Rome is one of the great cities of the world. The Roman Empire influenced art, architecture, culture, and society in most of this part of the world and beyond. Its influences can still be felt today. Romance languages, a discipline in universities to this day, find their origins in Rome. The aqueducts gave them running water and sewers for indoor plumbing, contributing in large part to the longevity of the Roman Empire. Many health issues that plagued other civilizations escaped the Romans because of their access to clean water and efficient sanitation. A testament to their building and engineering prowess, many of the aqueducts are still standing today – over 2,000 years later. Concrete was invented by the Romans and widely used in the construction of buildings and monuments – again, many still standing today. Ever been inside the Pantheon? A marvel of a building and a capsule of the ingenuity of the Romans. The list of contributions the Romans made to the world goes on and on – newspapers, roads, the calendar, roman numerals (Super Bowl LVI, anyone?). A great city, indeed.
Rome is a modern city in an ancient setting. It fascinates me how Romans live side by side with ancient artifacts as they ride their motor scooters to work. I often wonder if you get so used to seeing the Colosseum everyday that you don’t even notice it anymore. That would be heartbreaking and I don’t believe it’s true. Years ago we met a waiter in Rome and struck up a conversation. We told him how much we loved his city and how proud he should be of it. He pulled out a photo he had taken of the Colosseum that he carried with him everywhere he went. Now, he could have been just telling us this to reinforce the magic of Rome to these two hapless tourists and maybe get a better tip. Who knows? Regardless of the reason, it worked. I still remember it 25 years later.
Taking a cab ride in Rome is amazing and not just because of the insane way Romans drive. As you drive over those cobbled streets, you pass by churches that have welcomed worshipers for hundreds of years, portions of the old city walls, a fragment of a building that now rests on the grass beside the street. You ride through modern streets that accommodate a staggering number of wheeled vehicles that suddenly funnel through an ancient arched gate. You pass by Circus Maximus and see people jogging around its perimeter, walking their dogs in the middle, and picnicking on the banks. You try to imagine chariots hurling around this oblong track (why does an image of Charlton Heston pop into my mind?) as the elite watched from their villas on the Palatine Hill. You pass the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla and imagine Romans lounging in the various spa rooms adorned with elaborate mosaic tiles, getting clean and catching up on the latest news. And you spin around the Colosseum and imagine the excited throngs inside waiting on the emperor to give the thumbs up or down for the fate of the poor gladiator. History and antiquity at every turn. A cab ride in Rome is more than a conveyance from point A to point B, it’s ride through time. Every ride I take I feel like I’m there for the first time, pointing gape-mouthed to this ruin and that monument and saying, “I wonder what that is?” between oohs and aahs.
Rome is timeless and enduring. It’s inspirational to me – somehow I can feel the millions of souls who’ve called it home over the millennia. I can feel the presence of the caesars and the commoners whose feet trod on the streets of the Roman Forum. Then I look up and see a double decker sight-seeing bus and remember that Rome is one of the great tourist destinations of the world. All roads led to Rome – although today those roads are in the air and over train tracks as well as pavement. And somewhere there is a waiter taking his photo of the Colosseum out of his pocket and smiling.