ARTICLE: EMEL CELEBI PHOTO: MURAT TANER
La Doce Vita
Rome, home of ‘la dolce vita’ and a city that truly teaches people to love life, and perhaps how to live as well...
Long before I ever went to Rome, I had heard the expression, “When in Rome do as the Romans do.” Perhaps it was an advertising slogan. But what did it mean, do as the Romans do? The guidebooks warn you: beware of the traffic in Rome! While perhaps not as frequently as in Naples, drivers, especially motorcyclists, may not stop at red lights. Nor do they necessarily honor pedestrian crossings. If you’re going to cross the street, you’d best do it in the wake of a Roman. Be practical and follow his lead. Another word to the wise: heavy traffic means air pollution, especially in summer. The best months for visiting the city are April, May and June, or autumn. November to February is an ideal time too if you want to avoid the tourist crush. One last thing: it’s only the tourists who, as they pass by on the bus, turn to look today at the majestic Colosseum, where gladiators or wild animals once fought to the death in the days when it held over 80 thousand spectators, and of which it was said that if it ever collapsed Rome would fall; the busy modern Romans never cast a glance.
AN ART ENCYCLOPEDIA
This magnificent city, which amazes visitors with its history dating to 753 BC, its archaeological monuments harking back to ancient Rome, and its architecture that exhibits influences of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, art nouveau, the Neoclassical, modernism and the most avant garde movements in art today, can also lay claim to being a virtual encyclopedia and museum of three millennia of western art. But the archaeological ruins that are visible at Rome represent just the tip of the iceberg. Knowing that there is another city just four meters beneath our feet, and that this too was built over yet another settlement, might make most of us despair of ever discovering the real Rome. But life is not meant to be taken that seriously, especially if you’re in Rome.
“I came into the world when I first saw Rome!” Thus spoke the Italian director Fellini, who also tells us how to recognize a true Roman. “Opinion has it that a real Roman is generous, outgoing, extremely sociable and a bit of a hedonist, that he enjoys the company of other people, is vehemently passionate about politics, and passes himself off as non-religious while packing his wife and daughters off to church in the belief there should be at least some people in the family who have a developed relationship with the Almighty.” It’s not for nothing that Rome is known for ‘la dolce vita’. Even if we don’t drift from one lover to another in the nightclubs of the Via Veneto like Marcello Mastroianni in the role of the young journalist Fellini’s film of the same name, we nevertheless have the right to indulge ourselves a little when in Rome: candlelight dinners, spaghetti alla marinara, risotto, gnocchi with tomato and basil sauce, the world’s finest chocolates and coffee, pastry shops serving tiramisu with strawberries, flower stalls and the up-market emporiums where we can shop if we have money to burn.
The best way to see how life flows in Rome is to wander the streets aimlessly. Despite its being a large metropolis, everything is within walking distance. And you can’t get lost thanks to the street signs. The railroad terminal, or Stazione Termini, the point of arrival for most visitors coming from the airport or from other cities, is very close to Rome’s historic center. If you have one of the detailed maps that are available free of charge from one of the nearby tourist offices, you’re all set to discover the city.
According to its founding legend, Romulus and Remus are the sons of Rhea Silvia and the war god Mars. Tossed into the Tiber in a basket, the twins are found by a she-wolf who suckles them. When a dispute arises between them one day as to where the city should be founded, Romulus kills his brother, and in the end Rome is founded on the Palatine Hill. Archaeologists confirm the existence of such a settlement on the Palatine in this period, which coincides with the founding of the city. The political, commercial and religious center of ancient Rome, the Foro Romano or Roman Forum, is famous today for its ruins, which give us an idea about urban planning in the Roman period. The ruins, between the Campidoglio and Palatine Hills, lie in a former swamp which was drained and where large sewage canals were laid by Rome’s fifth emperor, the legendary Tarquinius (616-579 BC). The opulent temples, basilicas and other buildings at the Forum, whose importance had waned four centuries later, disappeared one by one before the residents’ very eyes until eventually the area came to be used as grazing ground. People explain this as ‘history repeating itself’ since the situation was no different at the time of the city’s founding. Meanwhile the design of the square, built in 1538, that bears the same name, Campidoglio, as one of Rome’s famous seven hills, is due to Michelangelo, who was also responsible for designing the facades of the palaces that surround it. And we should hasten to add that
it is the same square where Brutus demanded that Caesar be assassinated.
TOURING THE CITY ON THE WINGS OF WORDS
If only we had winged feet and could see many places in a short time. The monumental Piazza de Venezia, for example, and the Spanish Steps where tourists absolutely must sit down and have their photo taken before leaving the city, the Church of the Trinita Dei Monti at the top of the steps, the ever verdant Gardens of the Villa Borghese, the catacombs along the Appian Way, the Castel Sant’Angelo, the Via Vittorio Veneto steeped in 1960s nostalgia, the Campo dei Fiori where heretics were burned at the stoke during the Inquisition but which buzzes with bars, trattorias, and produce and flower markets today. Meanwhile the Piazza Navona, which was designed in the shape of a hippodrome, was built over the stadium of the Emperor Domitian. Tourists pause today to rest their weary bones on the stone benches on this square, once a popular meeting place with Romans, where street artists ply their trade and illegal souvenir vendors play hide-and-seek with the police. The most important structure on this square, which is surrounded by baroque buildings, is the Fontana dei Fiumi, or Fountain of the Rivers, smack dab in the middle: Bernini’s masterpiece symbolizing the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube, and the Rio Plata. The Pantheon, temple of the Roman gods, is just a short distance away. This temple, first built by Agrippa, son-in-law of Augustus, in 27 BC, was rebuilt in the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (120 AD) Then, in 608 AD, it was given to the church and dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all the Christian martyrs. This space’s sole source of illumination is the light that seeps in, as if it is pouring down from of heaven itself, through the monolithic dome, a masterwork of ancient Roman architecture. Standing under the center of the dome and looking up at the sky and seeing the clouds is an incredible experience, like being awash in holy light! The gigantic doors of its dimly lit interior open onto a vibrant square, the Pizza Rotonda. And the obelisk, brought from ancient Egypt, that stands in the center is again surrounded by a fountain with jets. Promising to return here in the evening to one of the very inviting-looking restaurants, we continue our stroll towards the banks of the Tiber and from there to the Vatican, an independent state in the heart of Italy. Sacred city of the Popes, the Vatican was built on the ground of St Peter’s Basilica. St Peter’s Square, a vast expanse that appears endless, was conceived of as a meeting place for all Christians when it was designed in the 17th century.
To come to Rome and not visit the Trevi Fountain is unthinkable of course. Built on a small square, this baroque fountain stands in complete contradiction with our mental image of Anita Ekberg in the film ‘La Dolce Vita’. But our problem right now is not that but coming back to Rome! Tossing a coin over our shoulder without looking back, we make a wish for our dream to come true, like all other mortals...