Deriving inspiration from the famous quote ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss’, my companion Arjun and I embarked on a journey further south to the ancient city of Rome, the capital of Italy and a land of great historical significance. My hyper planning had given birth to a small red notebook whose pages were filled down to the last little square with my scrawls, metro train routes, snapshots of what to see in each city, brief historical inputs, dos and don’ts, so on and so forth.
The hour- and-a- half flight from Paris to Rome was made slightly more interesting thanks to the chatty old Italian man occupying the seat next to us. As I immersed myself in the French version of a gossip magazine, Arjun humoured the old man by indulging in general banter.
We were in for a surprise as we alighted on Italian soil. As opposed to the cold, rainy countenance of Paris, Rome presented us with a warm and bright visage. One would think that this warm welcome would have facilitated a harmonious beginning of our Roman Holiday but this was not to be. We could not find our hotel and after one particularly nasty skirmish with a rather unfriendly shopkeeper, Arjun stormed out, determined to find our hotel on his own.
What he did not realize was that in his anger fuelled haste, he had left me far behind. Certain that Arjun was doing this on purpose and that he was somewhere around the corner deriving sadistic pleasure from my uneasiness, I took my post at the station entrance, determined not to give him the pleasure of seeing me fret. As seconds turned into minutes and every other tall, lanky man in a red t-shirt did not turn out to be Arjun, I began to realize that I was really lost.
LOST….the word flashed like a red neon sign in my head. To cut a very long and painful story short, despite the state of dread that I was quickly sinking into, I managed to weave my way through the busy Roma Termini and reach the store where I had last been together with Arjun. Relief swept all over me as there, amidst a sea of white and blond, stood my very own brown skinned, black haired knight in shining armour, looking equally panic stricken and scared as me. In that moment, thoughts of super gluing myself to him crossed my mind.
Having lost precious hours, we rushed to the hotel (which Arjun had somehow managed to locate in the middle of the aforementioned fiasco), dumped our luggage and headed out to our first destination- The Colosseum- Rome’s most popular monument.
The Colosseum stood in all it’s magnificence in front of the metro station-a piece of history decorating the present modern landscape. It resembled a tiered wedding cake which had been carelessly nibbled at, perhaps by a pesky little kid, so that it now had big chunks missing from random places. A monument which constantly reminds us of how barbaric mankind can be. A monument which tells us a story of a time when royalty meant being able to witness and enjoy heinous acts of violence from the choicest of perches. As if to cleanse this architectural marvel of centuries of sins committed within it’s edifice, during and after the medieval era it was used as a venue for religious events.
Circling the Colosseum, we encountered street performers dressed as Gladiators, stalls groaning under heaps of souvenirs and kiosks offering food and drinks to the visitors. Right next to the Colosseum is an arena full of Roman ruins. Popularly known as the Roman Forum, this enclosure housed the most important government buildings around the main market place. The once grand site is now just a heap of architectural remains which pitifully speak of wealthier times. Standing here, one gets an impression of how the mighty fell despite their strong belief in their own invincibility. In about three hours, I felt I had already had enough of excavation sites. I was longing to see something complete, something without dents and holes, something which did not make me sad.
The perfect antidote to this gloom was the bright, one hundred per cent intact, gigantic and spectacular Trevi fountain. In deep contrast to the tiny avenue where it was located, the Trevi soars majestically above the surrounding buildings. This famous Baroque fountain enjoys the status of a celebrity having been featured in many popular films like Three Coins in a Fountain, La Dolce Vita and of course the heart warming Roman Holiday.
Neptune, the God of the ocean is at the centre , riding his shell shaped chariot drawn by two horses. The sheer strength which the sculpture exudes is incredible.
An enormous Italian dinner comprising of sea food spaghetti, but of course the famous Italian pizza, red wine and strawberries with cream for dessert was the perfect finale of the day.
Day two was packed as we had lots to see in very little time. The Spanish Steps were first on our jam packed itinerary and a 200 meter walk from the metro station brought us face to face with the realisation that we were looking at the widest set of steps in Europe.
The sun shone mercilessly upon us as we sweated our way up the 138 steps to the Trinità dei Monti church which towers over the Piazza di Spagna. Piazza di Spagna houses one of the many many fountains in Rome. Another Piazza on our list was the Piazza del Popollo which is known for it’s symmetrical architecture. The two prominent domes here are mirror images of each other. The sight of these twin domes makes one reflect upon how brilliant the architects of yore were. Also, I guess it was a trend in those times for European conquerors to pillage Egypt and bring back obelisks to decorate their Piazzas back home. The Piazza del Poppolo also showcased such an Obelisk right in the center.
‘When in Rome, visit the Vatican city’- This is my version of the famous saying and we followed it verbatim. In order to avoid long queues, we had booked tickets to the Vatican museum in advance. Unlike the Louvre, the Vatican museum did not offer any thematic trail. This was a bit of a problem as we ended up spending nearly five hours inside trying to cover all the 54 galleries. The Gallery of Busts interested me the most as it gave faces to all those characters whom I had read of in books. As we scratched our heads, in an effort to revive our brain cells, we were only able to recognize the busts of Julius Caesar, Marcus Agrippa and a few more who had once been sketchily described in our NCERT textbooks.
Even though each gallery had some thing of extraordinary beauty to offer, The Sistine Chapel with it’s famous Michelangelo frescoes took my breath away. The nine paintings which form the elaborate ceiling fresco depict the various phases of man’s relationship with God- The Creation of the World, God’s relationship with Mankind and Mankind’s Fall from God’s Grace. The Last judgement, also painted by Michelangelo on the altar wall, is a fiery depiction of Judgement Day based on individual karmas, attainment of nirvana in heaven or condemnation to the fires and demons of hell.
The figures which fascinated me the most were those of Charon and Minos-Judge of the Underworld. The figures look extremely menacing with their horns and sinister expressions. Minos with the serpent coiled around his body, looks dark and scary.The damned souls are shown being pushed out of the boat by Charon into a sea teeming with awful ogres. On the other hand, the depiction of Heaven is sunny and peaceful.
Angels and Saints along with the Almighty seem to reside here. The Sistine chapel’s sanctity is maintained by disciples of the Pope ensuring that no one takes pictures, people are appropriately dressed and there is complete silence inside. If I had my way, I would have spent an entire evening admiring the works of Michelangelo but our hectic schedule did not give us the luxury to fritter away time .
The St. Peter’s Basilica guarded by the richly dressed Swiss guards beckoned us as we made our way out of the Sistine Chapel. Living up to it’s fame, this church is the mother of all churches around the world. As the name suggests, the church is the final resting place of St. Peter who was one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. Michelangelo’s dome, Bernini’s Baldacchino and other renowned artists’ artwork define the St. Peter’s basilica. One can imagine the beauty of a structure brimming with such great art. We were lucky to get an opportunity to attend the Mass and we would like to believe that we left the holy church a little more enlightened.
Exhausted and beat, we managed to reach the last point on our itinerary – The Pantheon just half an hour before it was scheduled to shut down for the day. As luck would have it, we were not only able to feast our eyes upon Raphael’s tomb and the coffered ceiling of the structure, but were also entertained by a uniformed brass band playing an impromptu symphony right outside the massive Pantheon. The festivities helped in elevating our tired spirits and we gorged on traditional Italian spaghetti and wine.
The beauty of Rome lies in the fact that as opposed to the chic and organized Paris, Rome comes across as disorganized and rustic. The difference is the same as between fine cuisine and comfort food. A certain warmth oozes out of every nook and corner and bidding adieu can be very difficult. However, I have a ray of hope – The two cent coin that I flipped into the Trevi fountain will ensure my speedy return to this wonderful city!
Preeti Sharma is an MBA from Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies and dabbles with creative writing. As she stepped into the hectic and mundane routine of corporate life, her writing became her stress buster. Her insatiable wanderlust and need for change prompt her to travel as much as possible and she is at present, travelling across Europe and trying to pen down as many memories as possible.