By Antonio Malara
I perfectly remember the first time my parents took me to visit Rome. For some strange reason that I don't remember, I had begun to have an obsession with the Colosseum and I insisted so much begging my family to take me and my sister to visit the capital of Italy. As I have explained in other posts, in reality our parents have always taken us around to visit the most beautiful Italian cities but in the case of Rome we were very young and had no memories. Finally towards the beginning of the nineties, my father was convinced and thanks also to a friend of his who lived in Rome and had offered to accompany us around the city, we planned the visit. It was a one-day stop, but thanks to our "guide" we were able to see all the most important things. Personally my interest was in the Colosseum which was then totally open to the public. I remember that I succeeded in my intention which was to take parts of the walls of the historic structure. That visit to Rome, although it was short and despite I was about twelve years old, it always remained in my mind. Every time I have returned to Rome, I have done so by taking inspiration from that visit of which I have always remembered incredible details. Years later, fate led me to travel many times to Rome at the turn of my twenties. Mostly I went there to participate some contests but also for simple weekends because in that period I was starting to like Rome. I don't know why but slowly my love for this city vanished and I haven't been there for over fifteen years. In the last period I have visited Rome more often and for a specific circumstance; I was forced to stop in the capital on return trips from abroad. In fact, many times I have not had a flight connection to return to my city and I have taken advantage of it to stay a day and wander the streets of Rome. In this post, I will talk about the time I stayed for one night in Rome on my way back from Seville. It was 2019 and on that occasion I was with my travel partner, a girl from a foreign country and I spent an entire day in Rome with her.
Our city tour started around 10 AM from Termini station. Maybe because I started in this way the first time I was in Rome, but my exploration of the city has always started from via Cavour in the direction of the Colosseum. I did the same that time too and after a few blocks we found on our left the rear part of the “Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore”. This structure has always made an impression on me, because it overlooked a large sloping square and had a staircase leading to the entrances. From that street, we could see the two domes and the round part of the altar, however for being a rear part of a structure, I have always found it to have an ambiguous charm. We stood there for a while and then moved on. Writing this post, I realized that to this day I have never seen the main facade of that basilica.
The next destination was the "Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli", there was a work that I have always loved; Michelangelo's Moses. The church was in a difference in level compared to Via Cavour and to get there we had to climb a staircase that passed under a large building through a tunnel. The church itself was not particularly beautiful, it looked like a residential building but with five large arches at the entrance. Once inside, we immediately rushed to see the Moses, although I had seen it many times, it always had a good effect on me. More than twenty years ago, I had read the analysis that Sigmund Freud had made of the statue, he had managed to understand that the pose of Moses was the reaction to an episode he had witnessed. Now I don't remember the details, however I have always looked at the statue in these circumstances so I have always seen it as a dynamic, non-static work of art and this because I knew the analysis that Freud had made. Completely forgetting my partner I started taking photos of the Moses and then explained Freud's story about the statue. She didn't show particular interest because for her Rome was not represented by that statue.
Fortunately, after leaving the Basilica and only after ten minutes of walking we found ourselves in front of the symbol of the Eternal City; The Colosseum. We got there from the upper part, from the road where is possible to see the structure from a commanding position. That is one of the perspectives that everyone chooses to take photos that can depict the Colosseum in its entirety. We then went down to street level and started walking around looking for an ideal angle for photos. I have always criticized the large arterial road that goes around the Colosseum and in my opinion it is absurd that that area is open to car traffic, I must say that even today they have not wanted to find a solution and isolate that monument so as to be able to celebrate it all days in the same splendor it was centuries ago. With more motivation thanks to the enthusiasm that my partner had assumed in the meantime, we toured the monument up to the "uncovered" part, that is to say where the external parts have collapsed and it is possible to see the internal sections. I must say that the "uncovered" part where there is also a questionable closing section built in the last century, has a better view. This is because the western part from the Arch of Constantine onwards sees the presence of the large archaeological site represented by the Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum and dozens of other sites. Although it was full of people, it wasn't difficult to find good perspectives to take pictures, however I have always preferred the other part of the Colosseum, the tall and complete one. We didn't have time to enter and see the “Fori Imperiali” but from one of the adjacent streets we could see part of some structures, mostly columns scattered here and there.
Moving from the Colosseum we went to see two structures that were adjacent; “Altare della Patria” and the “Campidoglio”. The first was a monument dedicated to the fallen of the First World War and today in general it is a bit of a symbol of Italian patriotism. Honestly, I've always appreciated it from an architectural point of view, it's as imposing as a Greek temple and very beautiful to see. Unfortunately, it cannot be fully appreciated up close but you have to move away and observe it from the green area in the center of Piazza Venezia. We stayed there for a short time, in that case both my travel partner and I, it's not like we felt a particular patriotic spirit to make us stay more than five minutes under the monument.
The Campidoglio was the city hall of Rome and inexplicably I had never been there before. It intrigued me because I always saw a beautiful staircase leading up to the building and I wanted to see it live. In fact, the stairway made of very deep steps had a particular charm, two statues were placed at the end of the ramp, then the square and the city hall building. Even the structure, which was very linear, was striking for the stairways which went up by the sides of the building. In the center was the clock tower, I don't know what function it had, especially nowadays.
Through the streets I remembered best I took my partner to the next destination which was the Pantheon. Rome seemed born from the imagination of a child who was given buildings and he put them at random both from an urban and from a style point of view. The Pantheon was a very beautiful, peculiar, gloomy and mysterious structure and if it hadn't been for the nearby residential buildings, it would have been scary. Compared to a Greek temple, it has the series of columns also in depth not only in width. The fact that before reaching the real entrance, one had to cross those columns, gave a sense of disquiet. It is very difficult to look abstractly at the monuments of a city like Rome, always crowded with tourists and noise. But when I silently look at the photos I take, everything changes and the Pantheon perfectly represents this thought that I have described. That day I would have liked to go in and see the Pantheon inside but obviously there was a line that was "only" hundreds of meters long.
From there, always in a few minutes, we moved to Piazza Navona, the square whose shape recalls one of the circuses of ancient Rome. This place has always attracted me more for a matter of comfort than beauty itself. Except for its obelisk, mysterious like all obelisks, the square was one of the few places where there were restaurants and lots of people but without that claustrophobic feeling. Obviously we also stayed to take pictures of the fountains with the large statues but after a while we continued our journey.
On the road to the next destination, we passed in front of "Palazzo di Montecitorio", where is located the Italian chamber of deputies. There too what fascinated me the most and that I wanted to see again was the Egyptian obelisk outside the palace. Like the monolith in 2001 A Space Odyssey, Rome had these obelisks as “time observers” scattered around the city. In a few minutes we arrived at the most famous fountain in the world; the Trevi Fountain. Probably an objectively beautiful work and also positioned in a strange place. There too, the famous imaginary child who played with the monuments had wedged the large fountain in a place where it would fit by a miracle. However, the tiny access roads to get to the Trevi Fountain are also what makes that place special. In fact, if you get there with a person who has never been there, it's nice to see her reaction when she is faced with that show. In fact, walking along one of the small and dimly lit streets to access the fountain, a person would never expect to be faced with such a great monument. That day the fountain was also overcrowded and full of noises. Arriving from the left side, we first observed it from above and then went down. It was a challenge to get some decent photos given the multitude of people there plus the municipal police who were constantly calling people back saying don't do this or don’t do that. An incredible chaos where I certainly wasn't able to immortalize the structure as I wanted, however my travel partner was happy and this gave me motivation.
From the Trevi Fountain to "Piazza di Spagna" it took a few minutes, the place was as I had always remembered it, that is, very crowded, both around the Bernini Fountain and along the Trinità dei Monti stairway. We immediately headed up the steps and started taking pictures from below with the church and the obelisk in the background. The novelty of that period was that the municipality of Rome had forbidden people to sit on the steps, thus preventing people from stopping, both for refreshment and to have their photos taken. This prohibition was supervised by the municipal police who went up and down the stairs forbidding people to sit down. That time I managed to get along with my partner with a look and when we reached the last flight of stairs, without saying anything, she sat down and I started taking several photos of her. I love this type of complicity which unfortunately is not frequent in couples and even in friendships today. From the first moment I saw the first policeman make a person get up from the stairs, I understood that I had to take pictures of my partner sitting on the stairs, otherwise I would have felt like a loser. The view of Rome from Trinità dei Monti was always a classic and always a pleasure to enjoy, even if in the end it wasn’t a breathtaking view. Trinità dei Monti was another cliché of Rome, something that is done but that leaves nothing striking inside. Then we moved to via Condotti, the street of luxury shops and even in that case an overrated icon. Even if the view from Via Condotti on Trinità dei Monti was very particular for the perspective on the staircase and the church, the road itself has nothing special. It's narrow, dark, sloping and except for the decorations rather than the design of some shops, it's never been interesting. Let's say that in Italy the two most popular luxury shopping streets, "Via Condotti" in Rome and Via Monte Napoleone in Milan, were so anonymous that one wonders why they are so famous. That day we found a street parallel to Via Condotti more interesting, precisely Via della Croce because it was full of restaurants. We stopped in the most promising one and tasted an excellent carbonara, we were in Rome after all.
After lunch, through via Nazionale, we headed to "Piazza del Popolo". This was a destination that I always reach when I go to Rome, despite the fact that I don't particularly like the place. The square was very large and dispersive and personally I was attracted only by yet another obelisk. I probably also pass by Piazza del Popolo to exorcise the scene seen when I was young in the film "My Own Private Idaho" by Gus Van Sant. There's a very dramatic sequence filmed there that has River Phoenix waking up in a distraught right in the middle of the square. So probably unconsciously every time I go there it’s like that the scene never happened in my mind. After yet another selfie with an obelisk, we set off for one of the farthest destinations.
Crossing several streets and walking along the Tevere river, we arrived at "Castel Sant'Angelo", the residence of the Pope and another building with a strange design. Protected by a wall and four towers placed at the corners, this building developed inside the walls and was round in shape. Completely in stone, what has always struck me about this building has always been the upper part with a mix of styles. From large arched windows, we move on to simple doors where the balcony is just a few centimeters in depth. Moreover, the lower part was let's say more rustic and rough than the upper part but in general it always seemed to me a building made up of layers and over time. In other words, it did nothing but increase the mystery around an entity like the church which in fact lived on intangible things, therefore not of this reality. Probably the most beautiful view of the building was from the Sant'Angelo bridge and that day along the entire bridge there was a red carpet placed in the center of the road. Obviously that carpet gave a special touch to the photos we took there. At the same time I surprised my partner by making her turn suddenly only towards the end of the bridge, in this way she had the most beautiful view of the Castel Sant'Angelo without imagining it before, a surprise that gave her obvious joy.
But just a few minutes from there the most important, most mysterious and probably the most beautiful place in Rome awaited us; St. Peter's Square. Technically Vatican City, therefore a country in itself, the most important Basilica in the world was always as beautiful as the first time. There too there was an obelisk in the center of the square which in turn was surrounded by a line of people that started on one side of the colonnade and ended on the other. It was the line to enter and visit the Basilica. For the rest, we could easily get close to the entrance and I must say that we were able to enjoy the time in peace admiring the facade of San Pietro and the famous dome with great calm. To be honest, the Basilica must also be visited inside, I have personally done it several times and once I even climbed the dome, a very beautiful experience. In addition to this, the Vatican museums should also be visited, which I have never done. It goes without saying that that day we simply limited ourselves to looking at the Basilica from the outside and neither of us had any intention of queuing in that circular line. After resting a bit in a bar with some drinks, we walked to the last destination planned for the day, a place that I had never visited before.
Through many ways and returning through places we had already visited, we first headed over the Garibaldi Bridge to admire the “Isola Tiberina” and from there we went to Trastevere. This was a very popular and let's say trendy district of Rome. There were a lot of restaurants there and at the same time it was full of street artists. A peculiarity was that in addition to the tourists, in Trastevere there were also many Romans, in short, a neighborhood where you could also find the locals. The narrow streets were very beautiful and well-kept and I immediately liked that atmosphere, the neighborhood had something that was not found in other parts of central Rome. After stopping for a while in Piazza Santa Maria, we set out to find a restaurant in the midst of that incredible choice. The surprise was that despite the variety of restaurants, almost all were booked by dinner time. At that point we decided to have dinner very early and anticipate the return times. It was an excellent idea because in doing so we were able to take a further walk through the streets of that neighborhood which had impressed me positively. We returned to the station on foot, passing by and seeing again the “Altare della Patria”, which was certainly more impressive at night. Before arriving at the station we also passed in front of the Quirinale, the residence of the president of the Italian republic, the intersection of “Quattro Fontane” and finally "Piazza Repubblica". The way back was one of the routes I usually took when I went to Rome to participate to a contest. I took that route when I wanted to go to Piazza di Spagna rather than towards the Colosseum. That night my partner was impressed by Piazza Repubblica and she admonished me that it would be nice to see it during the day rather than at night. So she took it as a good omen to go back. Fate is known to be mocking, and while I have returned there two more times, she didn’t back again yet. We arrived at the station on what was the longest walk of my life since there were step-counting apps, tired but satisfied.
Returning to Rome after a while was a bit like being a tour guide for me. In fact, my aim was to take my partner around and show her as many things as possible in the short time we had at our disposal. For the rest I had no personal goals and also from a photographic point of view I have to say that I neglected the city. This because I focused more on my partner's happiness and most of the photos taken that day were for her. It was a sort of sacrifice but pleasant because in the end it gratifies me to make others feel pleasure, I'm not so selfish. I found the city more or less the same and tried to enjoy those places that I had never seen before during my previous visits. It was 2019 and since then I have been back twice always returning from other trips. In 2021 I was there for half a day and I regretted not having brought the camera with me, I was alone and I could focus on photography, plus that year I also went on a different tour exploring new places. Rome with its contradictions and its mysterious charm continues to be a destination that I want to explore calmly and to dedicate some "definitive" photos to. I don't have a scheduled date yet but in the future I want to carry out this project and dedicate a series of different photos to the capital of Italy and former capital of the world, photos able to capture my vision and not the global one.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Fujifilm XT-3