Rome – Sites
But what of Rome itself? We ‘did’ Rome two years ago when we visited the Forum and the Palatine and the Capitoline Museums, but there were plenty of other bits of Rome I wanted to see, so one morning I decided to bunk off the lectures, as none of them inspired me.
I began with the Railway station at Termini, another piece of grand architecture by Mussolini with a huge bus station in front – the archaeological finds and plans from under the bus station are all displayed in the National Museum. The university (and my B&B) were in this area, and I wanted to see the stretch of the Servian Wall that lies to one side, the early wall probably built in the fourth century, perhaps following the sack of Rome by the Gauls in 390 BC. Mussolini left the stretch of Wall still standing to one side, and there it was, in glorious sunshine, protected by railings.
But there was more to see, and the most fantastic sight is surely the McDonald’s restaurant in the lower level of the station, where the remains of the wall run diagonally across the restaurant. The diners seemed totally unaware of their surroundings: did they see it so often that they had become blasé? Or were they simply not aware of it? But it’s an amazing site
I then went to visit the baths of Diocletian on the other side of the bus station. These have long been under restoration, but they are now fully open and in amazing state of preservation. It is always a great surprise to see the great baths that were erected in Rome at the height of imperial power Concrete was the great Roman invention, and in the vaulted rooms in their baths they certainly made the best of their abilities.
Another major site that I also wanted to see was the Pantheon, the great circular temple erected by Hadrian, its rotunda larger than the dome of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, itself the greatest dome of Renaissance Europe. I soon realised I was approaching by the noise: the square in front of it was absolutely packed – I think I’ve never seen such a mass of people milling around admiring the façade. I had only seen it by night before, but I was worried that I would never be able to get in; entry was free, but there was a steady flow of visitors in and out, and the interior was is so large that it managed to take all the crowds and indeed a small symphony orchestra playing to one side.
After the Pantheon, another very different site I wanted to see was the Monte Testaccio, the huge mound that formed the rubbish dump of ancient Rome, where the amphorae that brought wine, olive oil and fish sauce to Rome were broken up and dumped, so that over the years they have formed a veritable mountain. I took a taxi to visit the area that had long been seedy but was now ‘coming up’. I found the mound all right, but it was surrounded by small cafes and garages and effectively blockaded off, so you can’t visit unless you are a very important person – and I’m afraid I don’t qualify- or is there an entrance I didn’t find? I suspect they are worried that visitors will take away sherds but it is so vast that even if every visitor were to take away a sherd, I don’t think it make any real difference, not for a thousand years!
On my way back I passed the protestant cemetery where Keats and Shelley are buried, and then a fine stretch of the Aurelian wall, begun by the emperor Aurelian (270 – 275) when Rome was once again threatened by invading barbarians.
At the end there was a pyramid of Cestius, who died in 12 BC: an inscription records that it was built in 330 days. It was gleaming white –it has just been restored – but it was abutted by the Aurelian Wall to which it formed a sort of bastion. I photographed it and the adjacent gate as dusk was falling.