I must admit Rome was never among my top 10 destinations for travel. I don’t like the so-called “ancient” cities. They are usually turned into old rusty museums and there’s barely any fresh air for me to breathe properly.
What’s the value of a ruin? I first asked myself this question when I visited Athens, many years ago. When I climbed to see the Parthenon and I saw there was some construction work going on, I thought that I came too early. Maybe the right time to visit would have been few years later. To my surprise, people told me they don’t intend to rebuild it but to prevent any further destruction. Huh? I guess Phidias will roll in his grave if he learns about it. After all postmodernism is a relatively new obsession.
The same thought hit my head when I saw the Roman Forum. It almost made me cry. It’s hard to recreate its lost beauty in one’s head without being brutally distracted by its sheer contemporary ugliness. Most of the buildings are simply erased, the remains of those that “survived” complete demolition consists of a column or two.
Of course Rome offers much more than ruins. It’s been the center of the world for so long that it became a giant messy Lego masterpiece. Buildings were cursed, sanctified, destroyed, moved. Their parts were reused, recycled, and reinvented over and over again. As a result, no single piece really feels genuine. Just like words in human language change meaning and purpose redefined by society, so the blocks morph in shape and color as ideologies and customs pass by. It’s a sad and pleasant thought at the same time.
Sad – because you realize that although Rome wasn’t built in a day, it also wasn’t destroyed in a day. Most of its flesh was left to die slowly and painfully. Pleasant – because you know that although some of its shapes were irreversibly lost, what really matters is the city, not a single column or an arch. Because every time Rome lost an arm or a leg, it was able to grow another. In fact, if most of the ancient legacy wasn’t destroyed, the Renaissance would have never happened. It was, above everything else, an attempt for a glorious recovery of the past. So glorious that it even surpassed it.
If there’s anything consistent about Rome, it’s that pale orange glow that fills the streets every time the sun appears behind the clouds. There is too much rust in this town and it stains every ray of light, no matter the direction it comes from. It’s beautiful.