Roma caput mundi, “capital of the world,” the Romans used to say.
Living in Italy, I grew up with the myth of Rome instilled in my mind. At school—I also did classic studies—we spent hundreds and hundreds of hours studying Roman history, learning how this small village in Central Italy became the centre of one of the greatest and most enduring empires the world has ever seen.
I had great expectations for Rome and she didn’t fail me.
As soon as I got out of Termini train station, my first thought was to go to the Coliseum, Rome’s most iconic monument. After a few steps outside the station, I realized that that city was not like anything I had seen before. It was a special place. Fine buildings, fountains, ancient ruins, churches, avenues, sculptures… wherever I cast my sight there was something beautiful drawing my attention. Dazed by all those inputs, I reached the Coliseum and it knocked me out.
I had seen images of it thousands of times, but in person, that massive, ancient arena literally stunned me.
Sitting on the terraces inside, I thought of the thousands of men who had perished there, surrounded by the roar of the crowd.
Generations of men vanish quickly and only their works remain to testify their existence. This feeling of the frailty of human life is more intense in the Roman Forum, where the great monuments of Ancient Rome are now ruins scattered in a patch of grass. Walking in this part of the city, a sensitive soul cannot help being overcome by a sweet melancholy.
At a stone’s throw from the Forum are outstanding monuments like the Altar of the Fatherland and the Capitoline Hill with its famous square designed by Michelangelo.
Many years have gone by since that trip to Rome, and I can’t remember exactly which itinerary I followed, what I did and saw.
What I do remember is an endless stroll. I walked until sunset, literally drawn by an uncurbed desire to explore that magical city. I recall the wide and elegant squares encircled by mansions, palaces and embellished by marvellous sculptures and fountains: Piazza Navona with the famous Fountain of the Four Rivers, Piazza del Popolo with the Egyptian obelisk and the twin churches, Campo dei Fiori, Piazza di Spagna… yes, I remember climbing up the charming Spanish Steps, adorned with flowers, up to Trinità dei Monti, and from there enjoying a superb view over the roofs, the pastel-coloured buildings, the green terraces and hundreds of church domes. Because Rome is also the capital of Christendom.
I was alone that night, beside me there was no girl to seduce. I was the seduced one.
My first day in Rome ended at the Trevi Fountain. Staring at a starry summer sky, with my back to the fountain, I tossed my coin in the water, as millions of people do every year, expressing the wish to return to Rome someday.
Luckily, I’ve since come back to Rome many times after that day. One can’t get enough of Rome, its beauty doesn’t belie and doesn’t wilt.
After all, it is the Eternal City.