Hidden histories around the Colosseum

8 January

I don’t blame people for coming to Rome for the sole purpose of seeing the Colosseum. Just for your tourist ears, it is also known as Anfiteatro Flavio, which is the surname of the Roman emperor who commissioned its construction. I should probably get around to writing about this iconic Roman stadium. Maybe later on.

I still admire the Colosseum as I wander past it, but I do not overstay my welcome. I love the idea of standing there as a reassuring presence; a warm hug (yes weird phrase, given social distancing) that fills me with memories of my teens when I saw it for the first time. It was my backdrop for this particular walk through some of the older streets of the city. I use the term older loosely because I do not know my stuff well enough to say otherwise. I found this self-guided walking itinerary on the website Roma Segreta (Secret Rome…but you obviously worked that out…genius, Skye) and used parts of it to plot my path.

The more you walk around the streets, the more you become aware of your insignificance as an individual in the passage of time. We are mere speckles. Roman history is a striking example of how the future generations really impact how much is retained from centuries that preceded. To keep it simple, Rome has a lot of old stuff built on even older stuff without a care in the world. Particularly, during Medieval times, the notion of preserving the past architectural structures was not deemed as important.

At the “Torre dei Conti”, where I started my roving, the Medieval Pope Innocenzo built the tower for his family in 1238. It stands as an imposing block right before the Colosseum. Cleary a thrifty resourceful kind of fellow, as it was slapped on top of one of the four exedres (see here – a kind of semi-dome) of the Temple of Peace (therefore, Pagan). When you look closely at the base, you can still delineate the remains of the temple. I noticed the military guards looking on, clearly intrigued as I snapped pictures of a relatively unassuming building. Around Rome, the military blocks and guards main roads as a safety measure. While somewhat startling to tourists, you realise that, in the absence of crowds, they must be rather bored keeping watch for their shifts. My housemates reassure me that a lot of military men are unintelligent specimens and not worth talking to, and they will often give a cheeky wink at you as you walk by. Not complaining!

I slipped around the side of the Tower and weaved my way to Via della Madonna dei Monti. This is a well-worn street that dates back to the Roman Empire, connecting the Roman Forum to the slums of the lower-class Suburra with two claims to fame: the birthplace of the people’s senator, Julius Caeser, and the namesake of a global Netflix hit about modern-day corruption of the city. Back in the day, the area was a hotspot for prostitution and depravity (much like the Salaria road in modern Rome where prostitutes find their next client). Today, it is a fusion of historial periods.

I paused at the houses between number 83 and 95 that date back as far as the 1500s and 1600s. A primo impatto, there is nothing remarkable about their grubby grey exterior. It is simply the fact that they mark the existence of urban life from hundreds of years ago. You cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the richness of your surroundings: So many lives lived and lost. We are currently surviving within a pandemia globale, but the world has seen many horrendous tragedies over the millennia. There is an anachronistic air on Via della Madonna dei Monti that transports your imagination. I cannot help but imagine JC (not Jesus…Julius Caesar) running down the streets as a young boy running some errand, yet to discover his mighty fate.

Further along Via della Madonna dei Monti is the namesake church “Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Monti” . Rome has hundreds of churches and each has their little peculiar tale. Even if you are not Catholic, it is easy to be taken in by their charm. This one’s tale is no different: once on the site, there had been that Monastery of Clarisse, which was then turned into housing and a humble hay house. In 1579, builders were knocking down the barn when they heard a voice telling them to not harm the child. When they ripped down the bricks, they found a stunning fresco of “Mary and Child”. If you want, you can still see this magnificent testament to the past with alleged healing properties. It sits atop the altar of the church to this day.

The final stops of this wander were on the hunt of medieval towers. Tower? Rome? Yes, they still exist; however, as the world went on past the Medieval days they decided to build around the towers so many are not visible at first glance. If you see an old-bricked building rising up into the sky like a mini skycraper butted against some renaissance palazzo, it is most likely Medieval (like the Monkey Tower).

I also managed to get locked inside a park with basketball courts overlooking the Colosseum on the way home, but that story is for another time.

Un bacio x



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