Rome, stones and gladiators: the colossal Italian capital
So much history, so much romance. I am alone in the original capital of the Roman Empire, to experience for myself the ‘City of Fountains’, where lovers whisper and doves cry.
By Vici Burgess in Rome.
THE awesome gladiator thrusts his sword through the bloody chest of his opponent, gasping in exhaustion as the man before him sinks to the ground. Sweat drips from his brow, as he looks up to the screaming throngs of spectators and raises his arms, fists clenched and receives his praise. He will live to fight for another day.
So much history, so much romance. I am alone in the original capital of the Roman Empire, to experience for myself Italy’s ‘City of Fountains’, where lovers whisper and doves cry.
Rome-ancing the stone
Romance is in the air as I walk the old streets of Rome, admiring the ancient churches and grand yet quaint buildings. Young Romeos whistle and holler their approval at the young females, yet I am desperate to catch my first glimpse of the infamous Colosseum.
Scenes from the film Gladiator come to life before my eyes. Despite this wonder of the world being a “colossal” tourist attraction, the almighty essence of the hollow shell, still maintains a considerable amount of dignity and awe, while representing Roman entertainment of the past in all its glory. It’s impossible not to be catapulted back through time, as images of the age of gladiators stalk the ruin.
Make believers, dressed in Gladiator costumes, tout for tourism outside. Their robes and plastic swords flailing, they entrap those who come to visit the ruin, to pose for photos.
The sun basks on this gargantuan figure, and the architecture proves itself to be millenniums before its time. I feel honoured, yet insignificant in these modern times, as we bow and appreciate arguably the most significant and influential civilisation of all time.
Travelling through time
Where today tourists queue to visit the historic site, thousands of years ago in 80 AD, the common public would clamour similarly to view the games, which were eventually banned.
It is hard to comprehend the thousands of bloody deaths, which have taken place here. The sheer vastness of the building almost eclipses the fact that this is a gravesite for outlaws and criminals back in the day. I am humbled.
The size of a small football stadium, its uneven rim falls down to a stadium like tier, then drops once more, to the remains of where the blood thirsty crowds used to holler. The well crafted and pain stakingly well designed archways, of which there are hundreds, are the epitome of the Roman Empire’s stamp on civilization.
Further down still, my eyes drop to the stage floor, where the games were held, but most of the ground has rotted away with time, and I can see the enclosed areas where the imprisoned gladiators and various vicious animals used to be held. The intricate little rooms, like a moss covered maize of death before the fights. Most without exception, spending the last moments of their lives here and before the crowds above them.
It is difficult to take in the enormity. It has lived up to every expectation and more. But I must take a moment to myself and shut out the tour guide’s drone, to let the imagination roam, and find a place where ghosts dance and souls collide in the charged, breathtaking atmosphere. To give the historic site the appreciation it deserves.
Exploring the depths of the city
I am led by a sense of adventure which tells me that in whichever direction I turn, another hidden wonder will enchant me. The gothic buildings are so high that it is indeed a maze of beauty, as I head to explore the city centre. I consider my scrunched up map, and decide that perhaps I have taken a wrong turn.
Random stone bathing sinks pulse water to the pebbled streets, as a secret courtyard comes into view. Following the old winding street, there is suddenly a busy town square of open space, and I realise that I have accidentally discovered the Piazza Navaro
The old Roman buildings tower overhead, the colours of sand, lemon and peach, cocooning the Piazza Navona, to create a brilliant, colourful hive of activity. Beautiful balconies overflow with flowers and bubbles float through the air, encouraging children to commit parents to a hand held bubble making machine.
Typical Italian restaurants call out for customers and wafts of pizza, pasta and garlic drift on the breeze. One waiter in particular gets a little over excited as the suave ladies pass him by. He blows kisses and touts, and is sent inside by a more senior member of staff to stop scaring the custom away.
Fantastic fountains, chipped from pale stone, create fallen horses and naked, mystical gods and heroes of the past. They are surrounded by crystal waters, which flow from their basins. Mischievous pigeons perch on the heads of these ancient statues, mocking and cooing, while preening themselves on the look out for the next tourist to drop stray sandwich crumbs.
The centre attracts Artists, talented individuals who display their work, their love of the eternal city evident. Captured in every paint stoke onto the canvass. Africans sell their multitude of leather bags and watches, one for every occasion, tormenting the passers by. A balloon seller delights children as a distorted arrangement is placed on his head. He creates gladiator swords and twisted head dresses of multi colours.
The bicycle, bells chiming, and the vesper – always the vesper, trail through, separating the meanderors. An elegant horse and cart pulls through, complimenting the scene perfectly. The mellow sound of the saxophone drifts by, as the Santana guitarist is replaced by a relaxing melody that I can’t quite place.
The sun beats down on this particularly hot afternoon, and I curse my choice of clothing as I had eyed the earlier clouds that have given way to the sunshine. I can feel my black t-shirt sticking to my chest, as I choose a café and relish the chilled water as it slips down my throat.
Couples drift, wandering through the colourful stalls, delicious aftershaves and expensive perfumes perusing them. The young Italians drape their arms around their loved ones in such an endearing fashion that it reminds me that I am alone in this endearing city.
I am mellowed. I think I have found the most beautiful city in the world. A weekend is long enough to see all the main attractions and slip into the way of life here, but I could stay forever and still appreciate everything Rome has to offer – sunshine, good food, music, history and stunning buildings attract gorgeous people and a laid back attitude.
“When in Rome…” has never seemed more appropriate. I sit in this cafe for hours, watching the world go by, enjoying the Italian ambience and easy style of living. I know that I will return again and again to this very spot, and will carry the inspiration it has created forever. This is what it means to be alive. Bella!