Just back from spending the last three days in the eternal city – Rome – as you an imagine three days is nothing to explore a city that has been continuously inhabited for over 250 centuries, let alone if that city was and still is one of the most important capitals of power.
Instead to taking a stab at trying to see everything in the shortest possible time (as is usually the case with every trip I’ve done) I decided for a much more focused and planned approach this time around. I started reading up some Roman architecture guides and history books from a month before the trip and decided to focus on seeing some of the keys projects build during the Ancient, Renaissance and Baroque periods of the cities history – didn’t even try to see any of the Modern, Fascist or Contemporary stuff (anyway the interesting ones are too far from the centre) – however getting an overall feel for the city and its general layout and geography was the primary aim of the trip.
Below I share few of the hundreds of photos I took over the 3 days and for convenience sake I have ordered them more or less based on when they were constructed.
The first settlement in
It is impossible to understand this city without trying to make sense of the ruins that lie here.
Build along the Via Sacra (Scared route) pictured above, the forum grew from the Ancient period thru the Republican era and till the fall of the
Though a lot of the building were and still are being reconstructed/conserved a large amount of the Forum has to be imagined and without the help of a guide or some books very little (if any) of this area would make sense.
However, even if you had only one day in
For if all roads lead to
In the bottom right corner of the above picture is my favorite structure in the Forum, the remains of the house of the Vestal Virgins. This beautiful house with a central courtyard was were the virgins lived, they were given the task to taking care of the scared flame that was believed to keep the city safe from disasters.
Right next to the Forum towards its east sits the most familiar site build by the Romans – the Coliseum. This gigantic building was one of the largest ancient structure build anywhere and is more than 2000 years old.
The building was a Flavian amphitheatre that was named after the colossal statue of Nero that stood next to it. It could house over 50,000 spectators and is the blue print of today’s stadiums.
Over the 2000 years of its existence it has seen fires, wars, blundering and even a few huge earthquakes. So if you think it’s not that impressive, it’s worth thinking what contemporary buildings and cities would look like 2000 years from now!
Very little of its original inside remains, although small pieces of it that have survived help give us a complete picture it’s grandeur.
In the above picture on the right above the stage you see a small set of marble seating – it is believed that the whole amphitheatre was made up of such seats – and today you can see a partial recreation of the long gone wooden central stage which sits on a labyrinth of routes used by the Gladiators and wild animals. The stage it self was covered in Sand to soak the blood of man and animal and the Latin word for Sand is ‘Arena’.
Besides the Coliseum there is one other ancient building that has stood the brunt of time – the Pantheon. And no doubt this building has been far more successful at stay closer of its actual design. This building is the unsurpassed ideal model of a rotunda and it’s structure is based on a simplest possible dimensions: its overall height is exactly equal to its diameter, and the dome, a perfect hemisphere is of exactly the same height as the cylinder that it sits on.
Unlike most other ancient buildings the interior of this building is more impressive and important that it’s external appearance.
The only light source to the huge interior space is a circular opening (known as the ‘Oculus’ which in Latin means ‘eye’) in the centre of the 43.5m coffered dome.
It is almost impossible to find a better example of building where the play of simple geometry has created such an impressive structure!
So like I was saying before if you had only one day in Rome you should spent whatever is left of it (after seeing the forum and the Coliseum) here in the Pantheon.
Next I share a snap of the Piramide Cestia, this structure was build around 11BC by Gaius Cestius as his own tomb in an age when
This 37m pyramid – which was later included in the Aurelian city wall – is one of the oddest structure you can find in
The Tempio di Vesta (pictured below) build around 200BC was the oldest complete structure I saw in
Though a modest circular temple, its building material (Pentelic marble from
Another point of significance of this small building is its use of marble; this was the first building in
Below is the building that is believed by most historians as the first true Renaissance building in
This structure is in an area of
The next Renaissance structure I saw was not actually a building but a plaza designed between three facades – Piazza del Campidoglio – designed by Michelangelo. This plaza was built on the smallest of the legendary seven hills on which ancient
The hill – Capitol – was the most important being the religious and political centre during the Ancient times. However after the fall of the empire this site like most of
Michaleangelo’s designed the square in the shape of an oval set into a trapezium created by three almost identical facades and a grand stair to the rest of the city.
This grand stair re-orients this ancient space away from its actual access through the Forum towards the rest of the city.This move by Michelangelo is understood as a clear statement: the Ancient heathen square was to be honoured anew with a reversed orientation now towards the Christian city.
In this last section I will focus more on the Baroque plazas. Coincidentally the plazas I have chosen below were designed by the same architect/artist, one of the most important figure of the Baroque period- Bernini
I shall start with Piazza Navona – this can be considered the chief Baroque
Though the design of this square which took many decades to be completed cannot be attributed to any one designer most of the fountains on it were designed and fitted out by Bernini.
The next square is by far the most significant work by Bernini and the most important site of Christendom – Piazza di St Pietro.
For the design of this square Bernini borrows a lot of ideas from Michalangelo’s square on Capitol Hill for instance its Oval shape. The square with its surrounding four columned colonnades was compared by Bernini and his contemporaries as the out stretched arms of St Peter.
No other architectural structure - I have seen so far - has embodied so strongly the idea of architecture as a mere frame for the city, for the people, for the theater of life.
One can almost argue that the beauty of Bernini’s design lies its minimalism – not in the build or decorative sense, but minimal in its intend of being a structure completely open and porous (accessible from all sides) yet so powerfully complete and giving all focus to St Peters Basilica.
I end by post on my trip to
In this church Borromini made a lot of use of Stucco (a material which was uncommon in such structures at the time) to achieve his preferred softly moulded shapes. Besides this it helped him work with much lesser budgets than his arch rival – Bernini (who built a similar sized church – S. Andrea al Quirinale – some 5 mins walk away at over five times the cost of this structure).
This photo of the oval dome of the church shows clearly his typical thinking about geometrical shapes. He did not want to add one shape to another but wanted to combine different ones into a new enriched shape having many elements, so that only fragments of the original shapes are still noticeable.
Here in the dome he decorated it with crosses, hexagons and octagons intersecting like a honey-comb, but these only create a complex background that reinforces the tranquility of the clear oval shape of the dome. Further, to make the dome look more elevated he adopted a perspective design to the honey-comb. Through the intricate design of the dome and other parts of this small church – the designs of its façade, monastery courtyard and crypt to name a few– Borromini is today remembered for adding many new layers to the Baroque movement.