They say Rome was not built in a day. Walking through the cobbled stones of the Eternal City made me realise how really true that old proverb was.
Mr R and I were in Rome for the bank holiday. We spent Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday basking in the glorious Roman sun, walking endless miles to make every moment matter and eating endless gelato’s to cool down.
To make a long story short, we did the usual sights – The Colosseum, breathtaking in its scale; The Pantheon, remarkable for its engineering, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill – unbelievably beautiful, even centuries later. We walked so many miles, we lost count of the cobblestones beneath our feet that have stood the test of centuries. The fountains dazzled, the sculptures were enormous and so life-like in their detail. Soft waves of clothing seemed of silk and not stone.
We were lucky enough to manage to get in for the Easter Mass celebrated by the Pope at St Peter’s. That was probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience, as was visiting the Sistine Chapel and ooh-ing and aah-ing over Michaelangelo’s genius and the grandeur of St Peters.
My most memorable memories of the trip, however, are of the places that we encountered unexpectedly. Rome is so full of hidden treasures not on the tourist map. Possibly because there is so MUCH history in the city, it may be impossible to fit everything on a map. Serendipitous discoveries made our day. Turning a corner and finding the almost Spanish St Silvester’s church was one such discovery. The orange colored walls (not SS bright orange, but a more subdued Mediterranean wash) enclosed a quiet courtyard. You forget that there’s a busy road right outside. A noticeboard at the entrance told you about the services. And there was a poster of Samaritans which reminded me of Bombay and my friends there. Being Good Friday, a quiet Way of the Cross was taking place inside. Mr R and I joined in, feeling remarkably soothed afterward.
One of my favorite places to visit was the church of San Giovanni in Laterno, the mother church of the world. This fantastic church is built on the site of the first ever church, and is even older than St Peters. The sheer weight of history stays squarely on your shoulders as you marvel at the larger than life marble statues, intricate in their detail; the fabulously ornate ceiling makes you gasp in wonder. The altar reputedly contains the heads of St Peter and Paul – thankfully those were not visible to the eye. It’s a glorious piece of architecture, made even more spectacular by the history and significance of the place.
Not even the deep exhaustion caused by walking endless miles on cobblestones prepared me for the experience at Santa Scala (Holy Stairs).
Right opposite San Giovanni in Laterno, is the church of Santa Scala. Legend has it that in c.326 AD, St Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine brought to Rome the 28 steps that are traditionally the steps walked up by Christ on his way to trial before Pontius Pilate.
Devout pilgrims still mount the steps on their knees, praying. Mr R and I, in a fit of devotion followed suit.The rate of progress is very slow and is, to put it mildly, suitably punishing. Although the stairs are nowadays protected by wood, there are holes cut through above marks which are supposed to be Jesus’ blood. By the time we reached the top, both Mr R and I had suffered enough to compensate for any recent sins. It just put into perspective what Christ must have gone through prior to his Crucifixion. If this was intolerable, what must that have been like?
We finished the exhilarating weekend with an attempt at shopping, not realising that Italy shuts down on public holidays, including Easter Monday. Well, lesson learned for next time.
We spent our last few hours tracking the secret of the keyhole in the door of Knights of Malta. The guide book told us of this mysterious place at the top of the Aventino hill. Apparently, a looking through a keyhole would reveal something surprising. So we huffed and puffed our way up, having got off the right bus stop thanks to the help of an elderly Italian gentleman with whom Mr R conversed in his fledgling Italian. We found the keyhole easily enough – there was a queue waiting to have a dekko. A couple of carbineri stood alongside, enjoying the pleasant afternoon sun.
The guidebook was right. At the keyhole, I looked into a wonderfully formal garden, tall hedges, resplendent in dark green, beautifully framed. And right at the end, as if God made this happen, was an unexpected sight. The sheer ingenuity of it all made me laugh. Brilliant!
Go take a look yourself. If you’ve been there, don’t tell anybody and spoil the surprise!!
Even after four full dawn-to-dusk days, we still haven’t had our fill of this wonderful city. Rome is certainly one of the best places I have ever seen. They say throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain guarantees a return back. We threw three. That should be surety enough.