Rachel came from London to Rome this weekend, and since it was her first time in the city, we went all out on a blitz to see as many tourist sites as our feet would allow. While it wasn’t the most relaxing weekend (next time she’s here we’ll take things a bit slower…), it was a great opportunity for me to re-visit many places that I hadn’t seen since my high school trip to Rome in 2005.
We marveled at the delicate and realistic Bernini statues at the Galleria Borghese, looked up in awe at the mammoth St. Peter’s Basilica, gazed out on the city from the heights of former Roman imperial palaces on the Palatine Hill, and weaved our way through the ruins of the Roman Forum. Lest you worry, we ate our fair share of pizza and pasta, drank many espressos and cappuccinos, and tested just about every gelato shop in town (basil, walnut and honey was my favorite flavor, followed by raspberry sage).
One of the amazing things about Rome is that it is home to so many rich layers of history, from the triumphant Roman empire to grandiose Baroque Renaissance churches to Mussoulini’s imposing fascist designs. Exhausting as it was, seeing so many of these sites and encountering so much of this history over the course of a few days afforded a unique vantage point to understand and appreciate the interplay and interrelationship between each of these layers.
I’ll share an example of something I found particularly striking. On Saturday, we toured St. Peter’s Basilica. Although I had been there before, its sheer scale and ornate décor took my breath away. Walking through the nave, I couldn’t help but stare in awe at the designs on the ceiling, especially in the transept:
Fast forward to the next day, when I am looking up at the remaining wing of the Basilica of Maxentius in the Roman Forum. Built in 308, only the north wing of the structure survives today. Take a look at the Basilica, paying close attention to the concrete pattern of the ceiling.
Ceiling décor aside, even the word “basilica” was borrowed from the past. In Roman times, basilicas were large public buildings where Roman officials (in the case of the Basilica of Maxentius, the emperor himself) received visitors or heard disputes. The term for this important gathering place was later adopted by early Christians.
A fascinating study in historical continuity, and a connection that is all the more clear when you experience it in person.