Sunday and there’s no rushing to Ostia today. I’ve sketched out a walking tour, so we’ll see what happens. On the airport train, I met a pleasant American Couple who live and work in the Emirates; they recommended Ostia Antica as a day trip. I’ve been passing this place on my way to the swimming pool every day and I’ve worked out that it’s a site of archaeological significance. There’s enough of ancient Rome sticking out of the ground here in the city and I’ve seen the sites at Carthage (Tunisia) and more in Morocco.
The Campidoglio is, like many buildings in Rome, sandwiched between a church and ruins, with the Vittorione towering nearby. There’s a magnificent square, designed by Michael Angelo with an equine statue of Marcus Aurelius who is much loved here. The two parts of the Musei Capitolini flank the Piazza and the third side is a civic building housing a wedding hall. It’s early and the crowds are light here. Everyone it seems is heading for the Coliseum.
Getting into the museum is a test. On one side there is only an exit; on the other, a ticket office and two doors along, the security entrance which checks all our bag. Here, there is a magnificent collection of sculpture – not overcrowded like the British Museum. Each piece has space to breath and be appreciated. Some of the rooms are furnished with frescos painted on the walls. A modern addition incorporates ruins of an ancient temple and prides a huge space for another copy of Marcus Aurelius on horseback. – it’s impressive. Famous works – eg the Dying Gaul – are stunning and Caravaggio’s cheeky painting of St John the Baptist, is sexy. The model, obviously one of his pretty boys is smuggled into respectability with a saintly label. I go below to see the gravestones but miss the connection to the other side of the square. I exit and briefly consider giving the other side a miss, but there’s no problem and I’m allowed back in an take the tunnel under the square to the other side. Just as well as there are more treasures to be seen, including the famous view of the square from above.
I’ve passed Teatro Marcello several times on a bus; now it’s time to photograph this very ancient Roman ruin, reclaimed in the middle ages and converted into the Orsini palace.
The Vittoriano towers white and sharp over the whole area. It’s a 19thc classical re-invention which seems oddly out of place. The Victorian age was one of energetic expansion and so-called improvement, not always achieving the desired result. I reference numerous English churches which were vandalised in this way by the Victorians.
I notice from the other side of the road that people – not tourists are going through a door in the Vittoriano. I like going though open doors and especially if it’s free. This one leads to a temporary exhibition about Italian identity – how the nation was formed. It begins with the language – developing from a Latin base (like other European languages) with a situation where people spoke a variety of similar languages and dialects. Television is credited with consolidating the National dialect, though many retain their local versions alongside. Italy had become a mixture of republics, the Papal Sates and the vast kingdom of Naples to the South. This exhibition charts all this through the wars, Garibaldi, Mussolini and the post war referendum offering the choice of Monarchy or Republic. Some how the flimsy plywood display units showing the gaps and the back of the display, make this raw and moving. At this point I have to comment that in spite of all the reports and predictions of a collapsing economy and infrastructure, everything seems to run smoothly in Rome. There are beggars here – more dramatic and dirtier than anywhere else. Some pose as semi religious-characters. They have little impact on the trains and busses, which run on time at affordable prices. The refugees hide away in the park that was Nero’s palace trying to keep clean washing themselves and clothes in the ever-flowing water fountains.
Upstairs in the Vittoriano, the marble staircases seem empty and pointless and the other areas are closed off. I wander onto the huge balcony surrounding the building and offering great views of the city. I can hardly see for the glare of sunshine on the marble, but have difficulty finding a seat free of pigeon shit.
The next stop is the Pantheon – once a Roman temple – now a church constructed inside the ruins. There’s a queue but it moves fast. The place is crowded; buzzing with conversations which surge and die between announcements calling for silence. A recording is employed to cut through the buzz – the amplified voice, strangely at odds with its message. I sit down on a pew next to a woman tourist who has fallen asleep. The husband wakes her with his cap, brushing her eyeball with the rim as it sweeps past her. She’s not happy about that but goes back to sleeping. Light from the open circle at the top of the domed roof shines a shaft of light at one part of the wall. It’s dark and mysterious.
Outside, as I cross the Piazza, an African notice my green shoes and before I know it has put a friendship bracelet on my wrist – a gift. I’ve come across this before in Myanmar. He then offers me a small wooden carving, but want’s a contribution towards his family. No. I’m not playing that game and as I march off, he reclaims his free bracelet. I’m after a Coffee Granita, shavings of iced coffee layered with cream. It’s fantastic, though I think I could have done without the whipped cream.
As I round the back of the Pantheon, to inspect the ancient Roman brick-work there’s a Bernini carved Marble elephant with an obelisk on his back – wonderful.
After a late afternoon nap, I return to Naumachio and try their mixed grill. Perfect. I’ve been observing a group of women who have clearly been here for the Games. One of them has a rainbow on her tee shirt and the same small blue ruck sac as I, from the Gay Games in Paris. As I’m leaving, I say hello and have a great conversation. They are badminton players from Ireland. The evening closes with my now routine gelato from my local gelateria.