EST. 2009

October 9, 2014

That Roma Aeterna

THE AGE, THE SCALE, THE SPLENDOR. The geometric perfection. The monolithic might. The grandeur of millennia long past. If I am being verbose, it's because no small set of words can seem to describe what I found in Rome. A week now since we visited and I am still filled with awe.

At the major attractions, there is little escape from the hordes of tourists. But even motley crowds are unable to dilute Rome's cinematic appeal. From atop the Il Vittoriano, a vision in itself, views of the Eternal City sweep like a scene from a movie. Ornate domes tower over stone pines as Vespas splutter on the cobblestones below. Stealing the show is the Colosseum; iconic like a veteran star unfaded by age. Used originally for holding spectacles both grand and gruesome, the amphitheatre today is the main attraction, visited by thousands of tourists every year. The grand. The gruesome. We're all still here taking selfies.

Over at the Vatican, Bernini's Piazza San Pietro won my affection not only for being my namesake, but for its dramatic, almost theatrical layout. With colonnades on either side of St. Peter's Basilica, each lined with four rows of columns, the piazza was designed to "embrace visitors in the maternal arms of mother church." An obelisk moved thrice since importing from Egypt punctuates the center of the piazza, serving as a gnomon to a giant sundial on the limestone floor.

Also imported with such arduous performance were the columns fronting the Pantheon. Each weighing 60 tons, the columns were quarried in Egypt and either dragged or floated through the Nile, the Mediterranean, the Tiber, and any land mass along the way. The scene to see, however, is inside the building. Up top. Shining in through an oculus at the dome's apex, a spotlight of sunlight slowly circles the interiors, illuminating its rich carvings and marble patterns.

When in Rome, it seems, do look to the heavens. At the Vatican Museums' Gallery of Maps, paintings and decorations fill a 120-meter-long ceiling. But even with its length, it is no rival to Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel masterpiece. The Creation of Adam was directly above where we stood amidst a sea of other tourists, and like a true drama queen, I teared up in heart-swelling awe. “In a secularising world," says Alain de Botton, "art has replaced religion as a touchstone of our reverence and devotion.” But what then of art that depicts religious themes?

The trip was my first to Rome, and in just a few days, it made me wish I were an artist, an architect, a scholar, or even a mere resident of the city, just to be surrounded by its beautiful, millennia-spanning profundity. If I could channel Anouk Aimée in La Dolce Vita, I would love that too.

Maybe it's the spectacle of tourism. Maybe it's the glamor of cinema. Gore Vidal in Fellini's Roma calls Rome "the city of illusions. Not only by chance you have here the church, the government, the cinema. They each produce illusions."

No matter. "Veni, vidi, vici." I came. I saw. But it was Rome that conquered me.

Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Hotel Pulitzer Roma, La Zanzara, Pantheon, Vatican Museums, Tre Scalini Piazza Navona and Piazza San Pietro, Rome. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.