Rome - The Eternal City

Text & Photos by Farah S. Kamal

Rome’s history and architecture, and of course, pasta and bruschetta, make a trip to the city fascinating beyond imagination. I grew up reading and watching movies about Italy’s hot-blooded capital. Coming face to face with Rome, the third most-visited city of the world, I embarked upon the most awaited trip of my life. I had a two-day stop there and decided to explore the historical towns and squares, exploring and photographing the vast collection of ancient architectural structures, ruins, monuments, fountains and other works of art. Rome is like a museum that may appear loud and overcrowded with the influx of tourists – high-end cars, shopping arcades, cafés and boutiques, and tall glittering neon signs. Amidst all this, harmoniously exist the historical architectural wonders that the city is famous for. Isn’t this simply mysterious and breathtaking at the same time? I asked myself, fascinated by the history and architecture at the historic city centre where the Navona/ Pantheon/ Campo are all at a five-minute walk of each other, making it the prettiest and most picturesque area of the city.

Admiring the stunning 86 feet high and 161.3 feet wide white marble sculpted baroque architecture known as the Fontana di Trevi, or the Trevi Fountain, I remembered the scene from my favourite 1960 movie, La Dolce Vita, that was filmed here. There was a big crowd of people in front of it trying to throw coins over their shoulders and into the fountain hoping for their wishes to be granted. Legend claims that you should throw three coins into the fountain. The first coin guarantees your return to Rome, the second will ensure a new romance, and the third will ensure marriage. Approximately 3,000 euros are thrown at the landmark every day. Used my long lens, I was able to capture a few spectacular shots of the scene to avoid pushing through the crowd, and then continued walking leisurely towards Piazza della Rotonda to check out another iconic landmark of Rome, the Pantheon. Crowded tourist places can be interesting spaces to be in, as they give much time and opportunity to observe and learn; people are strangers, yet mysteriously bond through mutual appreciation and passion for the sights before them. I often strike conversations with people around, I love listening to their stories, and photographing them as they interact with their environment and each other. “Rome is known as one of the most romantic cities in the world, and we are struck by its beauty,” said a young couple visiting from America while taking a cute selfie at the Fontana del Moro, overlooking the magnificent Pantheon. The Pantheon dates back to 25 B.C., built as a Roman temple and rebuild somewhere in 125 B.C.

Walking west of it, I entered one of the liveliest parties ever. A bolt of lightning hits one on entering Piazza Navona. Overlooking the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone and the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or Fountain of the Four Rivers as the centrepiece, an enchanted mass of tourists makes the square seem like a festivity in full swing. I took a seat at a café facing the square and enjoyed some gelato, while observing life and listening to a street performer nearby playing the violin. The first glimpse at the arches and columns of the Colosseum left me petrified, looking down at the hypogeum from the second floor, I could almost hear the cry of gladiators: Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant ("Hail, emperor, men soon to die salute thee"). It was early Sunday morning of my second day in Rome, when I decided to embark for a guided tour of the ancient city. The entry to spaces was surprisingly easy and I managed to avoid long lines. This mighty amphitheatre was designed in 72 A.D. to hold an audience of 50,000 on-lookers for the notorious gladiatorial games. I have seen them in many movies featuring the Roman period, however, the thought of the gladiators who fought and killed each other and animals here just for entertainment was rather disturbing.

I continued walking through the tall and beautiful Arch of Titus and entered the Roman Forum. This is the centre of Roman history. The summer temperature was not ideal to walk here, that too, on the uneven cobbled stone paths where once Julius Caesar walked and chariots raced. But admittedly, I enjoyed photographing the huge stretch of complicated ruins, remains of temples, churches and buildings that were all around, every stone carrying a unique tale of the grandeur of the Roman Empire. My day ended with a dinner where I was served at least five different pasta dishes and each was unique and delicious in its own right. The conversation with the chef in his open kitchen and the tips he gave me for cooking great pasta were definitely a valuable takeaway. Later in the evening on my way to Milano from Rome, I found myself connecting the dots. Having extensive experience of Western culture, I could see that modern Italy like the rest of the Western world has adapted many ideas and even artefacts from ancient Rome. •