Day 7 – July 4, ’13 – Rome
It’s been a long-cherished dream to visit Rome; but unlike most long-cherished dreams this one does not disappoint when you finally fulfill it! I guess Rome has been a story in the making for so long that you can easily call it one of the masterpieces of the man-made world – a living, breathing museum.
What makes Rome fascinating is that it has maintained relevance over two and a half millennia (with only a few quiet centuries in between). That’s astounding and perhaps unique in the history of Man. From warring tribal factions with Pagan rituals and barbaric rites, to the Republic and the Empire; to an espousal of Christianity (a decision that changed world religion for all time to come); to an artistic and scientific Renaissance the like of which the world has never been blessed with – Rome has found a way to hold our attention just that much longer. Whether Rome will play a leading role in the coming half a millennia is however anyone’s guess really.
On my flight to Rome; I was lucky to be seated next to a Catholic priest from Mumbai, visiting Rome for the umpteenth time. The most fascinating thing he told me was that Christianity has seen the swiftest decline in the last decade in Latin America! For all obvious reasons I felt that that continent continues to be a Catholic stronghold; but obviously the challenges faced by the Church in terms of lack of the faithful is global! All my wishes lie with the new Pope (himself Latin American) – hopefully he will help re-connect with the Youth.
But what can I say about Rome? If I were to describe it in one word – that one word would have to be GRANDE!
I mean the scale of the city is tremendous. The Vatican is as imposing as any religious shrine I’ve visited. (Maybe our Muslim friends might be able to shed light on Mecca – but I’ve never seen anything quite so magnificent). St Peter’s Basilica is designed to show you God is all His Glory! The statues are so massive; you are immediately dwarfed and sense something bigger at work. One of the few times today that Art elevates you to Divine realms. Simply Magnifique! But then, my guide informs me that to finance the construction of St Peter’s and other Vatican buildings – the prostitutes of Rome in the 16th century were taxed! And worse still, ‘Forgiveness of Sins’ was sold by the papacy in exchange for vast sums of money!! In fact, the faith paid for this when Martin Luther visited Rome as a spiritual hopeful but was disgusted – and set into motion the Reformation. (And subsequently Christianity has always been divided between Catholics & Protestants).
The Vatican museum is the world’s 2nd largest museum (after the Louvre) and houses priceless treasures; so beautiful that you could spend a lifetime in awe! I’m amazed at the sculptures – so lifelike it puts digital photography to shame. Like every Ancient philosophy – the Greeks yearned for Balance in everything they did. Men were respected if they were Soldier-Philosophers! In other words – excellence in Body & Mind. And in their Art; balance found its greatest expression. Sculptures were supposed to be a tight interplay between rest and motion – and by Jove; they nailed it! It reminds me of Asana – motion arrested and at ease. The sculptures itself are enough to fall in love with Rome!
The Sistine chapel is rightly called a labour of love – that too by a man who preferred sculpture to painting. Displaying a Yogic perseverance, Michaelangelo painted in 4 years the entire ceiling – enriching the world in that process. Enough said – you simply must see it. The Creation of Man will make you speechless, meditative.
Next stop then – the roof of Rome. The top of St Peter’s offers a panoramic view of the city. Kudos to the modern metropolitan city to decide against any building being built higher than St Pete’s.
Finally I’m out of Vatican to see the Pantheon – literally, Temple of all Gods. This is Roman pantheism at it’s best. In fact, later the building was gifted to the Pope in the 7th century AD – perhaps the reason it’s still preserved. (In that sense, we find that all Ancient civilizations have lost touch with their roots – the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and also the Mayans have traded pagan religions for Christianity & Islam. With perhaps the exception of India – where millennia-old temples are still used to worship the same gods! Incredible really). All architects (my sister is one) rave about the Perfect Order and how the Pantheon is perfection itself – even a novice like myself can truly appreciate the Pantheon’s sublime symmetry. In comparison the Colosseum is just that – colossal. Not refined ala the Pantheon but colossal and demanding your respect because such a massive structure was built nearly 2 millennia ago!
Which brings me to my favourite monument in Rome – the Fontana de Trevi. My word, what awesome-ness! I think the running water; and the fact that you are making a wish and throwing coins into the fountain makes the monument come alive. You are part of the Art. It simply takes your breath away. Such a magnificent art-piece and thankfully it’s right there amidst the public to play with and not stashed away in a musee. The finest art must belong to all of us and we must be a part of it, right? No bullet-proof separation please.
I’ve been moved beyond words by this beautiful city. Tomorrow I visit a park to jog and do yoga; and also a couple of yoga schools. And the wife WILL shop! The next day onward to another marvel on water – Venice. Till then, Ciao!