I love Rome. Of the 8 or 10 big cities I’ve visited in Europe it’s my favorite. Maybe it’s the Roman people, elegant and exuberant, maybe it’s the tiny streets of the old city, maybe it’s the timeless architecture thrilling at every turn, but really it’s all these. We were here 17 years ago in January and pretty much had the place to ourselves. After the crowds in Florence and Pompeii we were a little worried that the city had lost its charm. But Rome manages to maintain her grandeur despite the people. For one thing it’s big, not only the size of the city, but the size of individual monuments.
After a good lunch in a quiet trattoria on a small side street we walked to some of our favorite haunts. Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain in Piazza Navona with its Egyptian obelisk on top, dwarfs the hundreds of people at its base in the square and the majestic Pantheon is so massive inside and out that the people are barely noticeable. I love the Pantheon, perhaps the best preserved building from antiquity. Sitting before the immense portico one realizes just how impressive the ancient city must have been.
I like to imagine myself a merchant from some far flung corner of the empire coming here for the first time. Perhaps I have just become a citizen hoping to expand my business. I walk into the piazza filled with people. Acrid smoke from sacrifices rises before the massive columns of the portico. The square is lined with shops filled with activity. I have arrived at the center of the civilized world.