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Archive for August, 2007

Reflections on Rome

The sun was setting on our first day in Rome. We’d just arrived earlier that afternoon, leaving just a few hours to explore the city in a relaxed, unscheduled fashion.

We’d braved the Roma Metro, infamous for teams of thieves and pickpockets, and made it to Piazza di Spagna, the Spanish Steps. From there, it was a short walk to the famous Fontana di Trevi, the Trevi Fountain. Built during the Renaissance era, both are pretty, and full of people. But quickly boring: a few minutes and pictures and you’ll be wanting to move on.

We started to get hungry. At about nine o’clock, the umbrella-covered al fresco tables lining the streets started to fill with energetic diners, drinking wine and nibbling on overflowing plates of antipasto. We found a restaurant recommendation in our guidebook, and proceeded to get lost in Rome’s twisty labyrinth of side streets trying to find it.

A few turns later, still solidly lost, we found ourselves walking down a narrow street lined with gelaterie and trattorie, and the occasional bar. In the distance, white marble emerged into view as the buildings on the narrow street yielded into a wide piazza. One Corinthian column, followed by another, eight in all, the white marble glowing in contrast with other buildings lit with yellow-tinted incandescents. A beautiful triangular portico framing enormous doors, in front of a wide dome that seemed to dwarf neighbouring buildings, set against a beautiful twilight sky. With each and every step, more of the meter-high block letting slid into view. “M. AGRIPPA FECIT…”

I became rooted to the very spot I was standing, my feet firmly affixed to the cobblestone pavement, my mouth agape as I gawked at the pantheon, beautiful in its simplicity and perfect symmetry. My knees weakened and threatened to buckle. A sea of locals and tourists flowed past me, as a brook parts around a newly placed pebble. Juxtaposed against the umbrellas-lined ristoranti, the hustle and bustle of the piazza, and a street busker playing stereotypical Italian music (for the tourists, of course), the Pantheon surely did not belong. It felt as if the two-millenia old building had been rescued from the past and unceremoniously dropped in the middle of the piazza.

How fragile human life and human civilization are! This building, this mass of marble and stone, has existed on that very spot for a hundred generations of man. It’s witnessed the fall of an ancient thousand-year-old civilization, centuries of turmoil, and recently, the dawn of “modern civilization”. We are but insignificant blips when measured against this relic, a behemoth of time. Where will you or I or “Western civilization” be in two thousand years? I don’t know; but the Pantheon will be in Rome.

A few minutes later, I finally remembered to take a photograph. It’s the one you see at the top of this page. We visited the Pantheon a few more times over the course of the week. Any routes we picked would inevitably detour to the Pantheon, just because “it’s so close” (everything’s close by in Rome). On the eve of our departure from Rome, the final destination of our night walk across was the Pantheon, “one last time”. But even after we forlornly walked away, that magical image of the Pantheon, and all it embodied about Rome, accompanied us on our long trip home.