Writings of a Wanderer: Rome Romances with History

My husband and I visited Naples, Rome, Florence, and Venice during our 10-day Italian honeymoon in October. Rome romanced us with its power, its art and its history.

While riding a bus through the cobbled streets of Rome, I thought of Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday.” At the end of the movie, she looks at the man she loves and declares Rome her favorite city in Italy. After visiting the city with my husband, I’m as smitten with Rome as Hepburn’s character.

The historical powerhouse scatters monuments throughout the city, and boasts a capitol rivaling a palace. The Vatican Museums feature some of the world’s oldest and highest quality art work, including rooms filled with wall-sized tapestries, expansive maps, and ancient Egyptian artifacts. A trek to the top of Palatine Hill reveals views of the city and Circus Maximus. A stroll through the Roman Forum provides a close-up look at arches, columns, and temples. The awe-inspiring Colosseum reminds visitors of Rome’s power and its history.

The Vatican Museums

The gray walls of The Vatican stretch for miles, transforming this city-state within a city into a fortress. A line of tourists snakes along the sidewalk and around the corner. My husband and I march past the line (we reserved tickets online a month in advance) and cross into the Vatican Museums. Guards greet us with metal detectors, reminiscent of airport security.

Once inside, we wander through long corridors where we see rows of Greek and Roman statues. Busts of popes and emperors, and sculptures of gods, goddesses, and warriors fill room upon room. Black and white mosaic tile floors prompt memories of Pompeii.

On a terrace, we photograph the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the distance. We wander through about a dozen museums on our way to the Sistine Chapel. The Galleria delle Carte Geografiche, one of my favorite museums, displays frescoed maps of Italy, drawn in the 1580s by Ignazio Danti of Perugia. The colorful maps of Italy’s regions fill both walls of the nearly 400-foot room. Another gallery offers detailed tapestries stretching from the high ceiling to the floor. The Museo Egiziano shows an impressive display of ancient Egyptian art and artifacts, including mummies, sarcophagi, and marble statues of gods and goddesses.

After several hours of exploring the Vatican Museums, we arrive at the Sistine Chapel. Security guards hush the hundreds of tourists and remind everyone, “No photos, please.” Voices echo throughout the chapel, and vibrant paintings — restored in the 1990s — illuminate the dimly lit rectangular room. As soon as I step inside, I feel in awe of Michelangelo and his glorious artwork. The beautiful forms on the ceiling and walls capture my gaze and my heart.

The Colosseum and Roman Forum

The next day we explore ancient Rome’s Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and Roman Forum. Traffic dances around the enormous oval-shaped Colosseum while tourists flock to its entrance. The Colosseum, originally named the Flavian Amphitheater, boasts a circumference of 1,640 feet. From the outside we notice different style columns supporting each level. Tour groups stroll by while men dressed in gladiator costumes pose for pictures in front of the stadium. Inside the Colosseum, we see the damages of time, and learn about the structure’s past. Gladiator contests and wild animal fights entertained up to 87,000 spectators, who were divided by gender and social class throughout the Colosseum’s three levels. On the interior of the upper level, we examine display cases filled with replicas of gladiator costumes as well as recovered artifacts, such as weapons, game pieces, and pottery.

Next to the Colosseum stands the Arch of Constantine, the last triumphal arch built by the Roman Empire. Its size and its battle scene sculptures amaze me. After trying to fit the entire arch into a photograph (not an easy task), we wander around Palatine Hill. Expansive ancient dwellings reside on the Palatine’s green hillsides, now overlooking modern Rome. A terrace provides a view of Circus Maximus, an oval dirt track about the size of a football stadium. The former chariot-racing arena appears to be under excavation.

We spend a couple of hours walking through the ancient Roman Forum, where we see the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the House of the Vestal Virgins, and the arches of both Titus and Septimius Severus. We view the Basilica Aemilia, which housed Rome’s administrative offices, and the Temple of Saturn, which held the city’s treasury. Our day ends at the Roman Forum, the place where Rome ruled the world.

The next morning, on our way to the train station, we stop at modern Rome’s capital. We marvel at the hundreds of white steps leading up to a huge building topped with Italian flags and sprinkled with statues of winged men riding horses. Elementary school children on a field trip join hands and form a circle as they sing and dance around a bronze statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. I smile at the thought of modern and ancient Rome coexisting so well.

As we ride away on the bus, I look at the man I love and declare Rome as my favorite city. As Audrey Hepburn says, “Rome. By all means, Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live.”

My next column will feature Florence. Until then, enjoy a photo gallery of Rome.

Journalist Lauren Brooks lives in Bellevue, Washington. She is a CSU, Chico alumna who graduated with a B.A. in journalism in spring 2006. She can be reached at lmbrooks.work@gmail.com.

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Lauren Brooks

lives in Bellevue, Washington. She is a CSU, Chico alumna who graduated with a B.A. in journalism in spring 2006. She can be reached at lmbrooks.work@gmail.com.

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