In the movie “The Great Beauty”, the 2013 Italian film by Paolo Sorrentino, a tourist, after taking photos in Rome, collapses and dies. The message is clear: See Rome and die!
Like the protagonist in the film, my abode while in Rome (in my case, the Palatino Hotel) was almost overlooking the Colosseum. A flight of stairs opposite the hotel led up through an archway between walls covered by vines to the top of the hill. From there, you looked down on the ancient stadium, constructed for gladiatorial events two millenia ago.
At one stage in the movie, the ageing protagonist, Jep, thinks back on his life, which has also been the life of the city, and realises he has spent most of it searching at parties on the rooftops and in the gutters for what he calls la grande bellezza – “the great beauty”. He actually finds the underbelly of the city: gangsterism, triviality, hypocrisy and decadence.
We could walk in any direction for hours, to be overwhelmed by ancient beauty. Ten minutes’ away to the west was the Roman Forum. You had to pay twelve euros to wander around in here. It was well worth it, and there was less chance of being relieved of your wallet by pickpockets in here.
Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome, were said to have been suckled by a she-wolf, after their mother was forced to become a vestal virgin. Roma was named after Romulus, who favoured the Palatine Hill on which to construct the town that became Rome.
I took many photos and videos on my i-phone while wandering around the ancient ruins in the Forum, visited on 15th October, 2015 one day before our 40th wedding anniversary; which we celebrated in Rome and in Paris, two of our favourite cities. The following photos I found online:
The Garden containing Statues of the Vestal Virgins was beautiful and full of pathos. It harks back to an ancient cult of which little remains today. The virgins were chosen from aristocratic families to watch over the eternal fire that represented the city’s life force. One of their more macabre tasks was to prepare the mixture containing salt to be spread over sacrificial bodies.
As in all cultures, but particularly as regards “the Eternal City”, there is an underbelly, symbolised by the ruins of the Colosseum, where unspeakable acts of horror were committed at another time.