Rain falls outside. It is mid-november, I am in Rome, the original eternal city. I’m here, once again, for the usual no-good reason, a meeting, but of course on either side of this meeting I was sure to include a day or two when I could wander the streets of Rome and visit the many galleries and churches I have yet to visit. Despite having lived in Italy for two years I have only been here twice, and only for perhaps three days in total. There are many things I have not seen, many streets I have not walked down.
Since my arrival the day before yesterday at midday I’ve made a quick circuit of all the principal sites, just to remind myself that everything is still there. Each time I have visited Rome I have always found the occasion to spend an hour or two in Fori Imperiali , a vast archaeological site in the centre of the city. It is one of the most amazing places I have ever visited in any corner of the world. There, in the centre of Rome, you will find the ruins of the ancient city, half destroyed temples, houses reduced to a skeleton of stones. Solitary doric columns standing amidst a terrain vague of enormous marble blocks in long grass. When I was there a cold, persistent rain was falling and the site was almost empty. More than two millenia have passed since these buildings were built, two millenia those ruins have stood out there in the elements. Of course one naturally thinks, today, shouldn’t all this stuff be taken inside? But how can you put a whole city inside a museum?
Not all of ancient Rome is in ruins, of course. There is the pantheon, a vast domed structure of ancient brick and stone with a gaping hole in the centre, an eye on the heavens, built around two thousand years ago and still standing. The building survived the collapse of the Roman Empire perhaps because it had been fortuitously consecrated as a church. The vast dome is completely unsupported; exact details of it’s construction have been lost down through the centuries. It would be a one and half millennia until anyone would build anything to surpass it. Walking in the narrow streets nearby, one is filled with a strange feeling, glimpsing here or there an edge of the coupole at the end of a narrow side-street. A glimpse that telescopes back down the centuries, arriving here, in a Rome before everything in the world we know today existed.