12 September 2018

All roads lead to Rome

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

The medieval  map section of the Vatican Museum

One of the several painted ceilings of the Vatican Museum

The gateway to the Holy See!

A three-hour drive takes us from Arezzo to Rome. Rome, at first sight, reminds one of Delhi. Wide open boulevards, neatly laid out with a further space between the road and the buildings. Shielded by tall trees. Once in the older part of the city, it feels even more like Delhi. Every few hundred metres there is a monument, ruin, church or ancient building. It’s too hurried a visit to soak up on any of this. In any other city, each one of these monuments would have been a major attraction. But this being Rome, they are worth only a dekko from the large glass windows of the bus we are travelling. We are in a rush as we are heading to the Colosseum or the Colosseo. We have a pre-booked guided tour there and we are running late. Out guide is wondering if we might miss it. We get off the bus and wait patiently. There is a long queue for the tickets. But that is for the tourists who are not on the pre-booked tour. If everything goes right we should be able to jump the queue and head straight into the Colosseum. And just like Delhi, everything does fall into place. We are able to walk in the massive Colosseum. Whatever one's idea of the magnitude of the Colosseum is from photographs or Asterix comics or movies, pales into insignificance in front of the real thing.
How does one fit 100,000 spectators into a space to watch their favourite sport? Build a stadium of course! Why should one be interested in seeing a stadium? Why indeed the Colosseum has nearly a million visitors every year? At its simplest, the Colosseum is indeed a stadium. But it is a gigantic one at that. Built more than 2000 years ago, it’s a marvel of architectural design and engineering of the Ancient world. It is also a symbol of the Roman Empire and its wonders. It’s also a symbol of the flagrant power of the Roman emperor. But unlike other monuments of the same age, this is dedicated to the people of Rome, and is not for the personal convenience of the Emperor, although it does magnify and embellish his power spectacularly. It’s where gladiators fought in a death-defying blood sport in front of cheering crowds of citizens of Rome. Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant! (Those who are about to die salute you!) That’s what the gladiators shouted to the Caesar (or so Asterix comics would have us believe!). What greater display of power an emperor needs! But in no other civilisation of the time, there were similar displays or facilities for the common citizen. In that sense, the Colosseum is also a symbol of people's power. One gets daunted merely by walking on its gigantic stands. Imagining the gladiator's fight seems too gory and too much of an effort! We move on to another of those Great Roman sites, or to be precise Vatican site - The Vatican Museum. If one thought that going into the Vatican would have any illusion of moving into another country, one is mistaken indeed. There is no physical border or sign that one has crossed over from Italy to the Vatican or the Holy See. Instead, there is a large hall which serves as the entrance to the museum. While the museum is incredibly large, being the personal collection of the successive Popes of the Catholic Church, the main attraction remains the Sistine Chapel. It’s a large hall. And yet, it seems small because of the sheer number of people packed inside it at any given time. Talking and photography are not allowed so there is a constant hum of sotto voce whispers. It is incredible the way paintings have been done on the ceiling and the large murals on the walls by none other than Michelangelo. That it is awe-inspiring is to state the obvious. On exiting the Sistine Chapel there is a large cathedral and then one can see the balcony of blessings from where the Popes hold the audience to thousands every week. By the end of it, one feels overwhelmed by the volume of visual feast one has encountered in just two of the sites of this eternal city: Colosseum & the Vatican Museum. But that is not enough. After all, one lifetime is not enough for this eternal city on seven hills!
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