Ancient Heart of the West
Rome. Caput Mundi – Capital of the World. Where to start? You can spend years here and still not see it all. So many ages, so many cultures, so many people. The cascade of tourists on the Spanish Steps. The cords of pilgrims visiting the holy places. The riot of traffic pushing to get to somewhere. The soft clatter of the carrozza, Rome’s calesa, transporting passengers through slices of time. The splash of the coins thrown into Fontana Trevi as another traveler vows to return. Every building, every street corner, every piazza here is so full of history that books have been written about each one
I am standing on the Tarpeian Rock, overlooking the Forum. From this very place the Romans threw their traitors down to die on the hard ground below. Before me, the Palatine Hill, where Rome’s founder Romulus settled many centuries past. Right there, the great road up which Cleopatra paraded Egypt’s wealth for the all powerful Julius Caesar. Just to my left, the steps from which Mark Antony cried “Friends, Romans, Countrymen! I come not to praise Caesar but to bury him!” but eight months later. To my right, the cracked, bare columns of the Temple of Saturn, once Rome’s Treasury and crammed to bursting with gold. Behind me, at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, the Mamertine prison where St. Peter was held before being martyred on the orders of Nero.
All around me the wreckage of Empire, dashed to pieces in the bloody creation of other empires – Vandal, Goth, Saracen and German. The history of Rome, pagan and Christian, is one of violence and greed, destruction and inspiration. Through these streets ran the soldiers of Carlos I of Spain in their frenzied quest for treasure – the very same who fought with Magellan against Lapu-Lapu, with Cortes against the Aztecs and with Pizarro against the Inca.
So much lost that the great Forum became a pasture for cattle, the Colosseum a high-rise village for vagrants and the Imperial Palace on the Palatine a ghostly ruin rudely mocking the vanities of man.
Yet look at the vibrant life and the splendor of Rome now! Reborn and rebuilt so many times, this is the Eternal City. She never gives up. 2,758 years old last April and going strong. The very fact of her existence through so much time draws people here from all over the world. Every aspect, detail and facet of Western civilization is here. No other city compares. You could spend a lifetime in Rome and still not discover everything – and believe me, some people do try.
Article and Photographs Copyright © Carl Ottersen