Rome November 2009
Trip Start Mar 30, 2009
37Trip End Ongoing
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Rome is the eternal city, 2765 years old, according to the suckling wolf story. It was the largest city on earth at about 1,000,000 residents during the Imperial period, then vacated to 20,000 during the Middle Ages, back to about 3 million today. It has had so many rich historical periods that the museums are specialized – Prehistoric, Etruscan, Egyptian, Early Medieval, High Medieval, Papal Gifts, Construction discoveries, Municipal Gifts, Imperial Rome, Jewish, Public Baths, Renaissance, Post Renaissance, Papal collections, Cardinal collections, Family Collections, Modern, Contemporary, Pasta, Archaeological, Catacombs, and Literary
the Vatican Museums – acquisitions and commissions enabled by indescribable, sustained wealth and power. Nothing else like it, beyond financial measure. 6 square foot Raphael paintings sell for $50 million. He painted something like 6,000 sf in the Vatican. The value of the Sistine Chapel? Money has no meaning. The last pope started a modern art gallery in 1973, in order to display a collection that was largely donated by artists over the past 2 centuries just to claim that they had paintings in the Vatican – Van Gogh, DeChirico, Feininger, Kandinsky, Bottero, Severini – 30 rooms of art, an afterthought in Vatican terms, but a world renowned billion dollar collection on its own.
No place knows culture like Rome. Beijing, Athens, Cairo, Istanbul have their depth, but no place commands influence in art, architecture, history, politics, military and style like Rome. The City learned to bury its treasures during times of war, having been sacked dozens of times. With lots of treasures and lots of sackings, Rome’s subsoil is still a gold mine of culture. Populations were often dispersed, records of the burials lost. It was common during the centuries, as it is today, to unearth spectacular intact Greek and Roman artifacts, like the Laocoon sculpture, commissioned and transported to Rome from Rhodes in the 1st century BC, but lost for centuries under Nero’s Golden House
The architecture, monuments, palaces, and ruins track Western history. You can see where Caesar was stabbed in 44 BC, where Hadrian bought his fruit, where Caligula partied, where Michaelangelo wrote poetry, where Caravaggio murdered one of his critics, where Leonardo played practical jokes, where Mussolini entertained Hitler.
Rome has always been serious about its image. The City was built to have substance. Romans invented concrete and they have continued to build with the most enduring materials available. You won’t find any particle board in Santa Maria Maggiore. Street curbs and gutters are marble, fences are cast iron, many streets are granite, garbage bins are terrazzo. The Palazzos of the wealthy are astounding constructions, many of them now housing the museums noted above, some converted to public use like the American Embassy in Palazzo Margherita and the French Embassy in Palazzo Farnese. The Barberini Palace is a masterwork of the Renaissance by Bernini and Borromini who were pitted against each other to construct the most elaborate of the papal residences. 400 years later, the debate continues as to who won.
Rome is an amusing background for pop culture, a role it has played for 25 centuries. Spectacles in the Colloseum included wild animals and exotic, though unwilling, people from all parts of Europe and Africa
The place can be so profound and so trivial. Piazza Navona, an oval laid out 2000 years ago as an arena, and occasionally flooded for battle re-enactments just for the fun of it, where the Bernini statue 'The Four Rivers” is placed and Borromini’s masterpiece church Sante Agnes in Agone is situated, and world famous restaurant Tre Scalini hosted Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, and Eddie Albert, is now filled with circus stalls that look like they belong on a vacant lot in Philomath, hawking the most inane of throwaway souvenirs. It’s pathetic, appalling and inspirational.