A MORNING IN THE FORUM

New Years Eve was wonderful, after a huge dinner and the traditional pigs trotter and lentils, up on a balcony above Termini. At midnight the whole city seemed to erupt with fireworks, but especially a display around the piazza Populi. But Rome really blazed with beauty today. Moving to a flat in Trastevere, with wonderful views over the dozing rooftops, I felt like a local, walking this morning across the two little bridges that take you over the central island, where the Tiber becomes a torrent and Rome was supposed to have begun. Then passed the wonderful arch of Octavia, a gift from Julius to his sister, that exemplifies a city made of astonishing fragments. With marble slabs pinched from the forum, it used to be the old fish market and butts the Jewish quarter. To the right the monumental theatre has blended with medieval houses and up through the stones, you rise towards the Capitoline hill, sight of Victor Emmanual’s great Wedding Cake monument. To the right the steps climb to the great equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, looking both stoical and philosophical, and then you come out overlooking the forum, or rather one of them.

“With Italian workmen,” said the pretty Italian girl inside the forum, ‘it’ll take them thirty years to finish!” She was talking about how so much is closed off, thanks to restoration grants from places like New York. I mentioned Berlesconi and she looked rather contemptuous. The best thing then is to go straight up to the Farnese Gardens and look down. From there you can see into the House of the Vestal Virgins, that lines the Via Sacra, running from the Curia, the Roman Senate, next to the great arch of Septimus Severus and the Temple of Saturn. The scale, of such a power house of the world is really rather tiny. In must be no more than 1000 metres from the Senate, straight through temples, especially the great Temple to Venus that first made Italy the country of love, to the Colosseum. So the ancient city was finely balanced between Law and power, and bread and circuses. Between faith and blood.

One of the most impressive buildings though is hardly even there – the vast Basilica of Maxentius. I thought Basilica was a church, but of course it was actually a kind of Bourse, for business and the courts. Since so many ancient Basilicas were later occupied by churches, they took the name. Of course Christian Rome still wrestles with ancient Rome, trying to cap it at every turn, but only here, and following the physical and historical contours of the city do you see how Papal Power came straight out of Imperial Roman Power. Of course the Papacy still maintains the title of the chief Roman priests – Pontifex Maximus. DCD

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