PictoJournal©: Roman Holiday

Travel article on Rome, Italy.

Text by Anu (Arundhathi) and Photos by Suchit Nanda [http://photos.suchit.in/Travel]

Rome - The name evokes emotions much before one even thinks of stepping into its 2,700 years of amazing history. Pretty much everyone enters Rome with a wealth of information, imagery and anecdotes of its famed monuments and the protagonists of its history. Perhaps this is the key to the charm of a city that seems to attract every visitor to feel part of its complex reality and its millennial history. Years ago, a dear friend of mine had invited me to holiday in his home in Rome. What's more, he had also presented me a beautiful pictographic book on Rome to tempt me to visit & explore this fascinating city and to build my own depiction of it in an exciting and evocative voyage.

As soon as we drove in to Rome we parked our car at the friend's home and by and large used the metro & buses for all sight-seeing, as driving here is hairy in the extreme and parking a nightmare. In Rome, it pays to just to get off the roads as the historic centre is relatively small and quite manageable on foot. As we arrived on a pleasant October evening we stepped out instantly to get a feel of the city and to grab some authentic Italian pizzas and gelatos. On our way back, as we strolled through the streets all I could find myself doing was humming Dean Martin's 'On An Evening In Roma'. Though I was walking with my family yet I found myself just floating on my own, humming to myself, looking around, soaking it all in.

Next morning we set out for the eternal symbol of Rome, the Colosseum. An architectural marvel of antiquity, Colosseum is an amphitheatre built for entertainment with gladiators and wild animals. Romans erected it in 8 years (72-80 AD). The 70,000 spectators that it could hold entered through the 80 arches at street level and could see the hunts with wild animals, executions of condemned criminals and gladiator combats. The underground section at the centre of the arena was used to keep the animals in cages. Until one is inside the Colosseum, its scale just isn't apparent. Everything is huge. This entire journal is an understatement for what we saw, the heights of history, art and romance, one of the zeniths of past civilizations in the world. Walking through the corridors of the Colosseum I couldn't help noticing its ambiguous and almost paradoxical attraction as on one hand it seemed to represent the best of the Roman civilization in the grandiosity of its architecture and on the other it seemed to convey its darker side in the cruelty of the shows that were offered here.

Treading along a few streets, almost completely by accident we stumbled upon the Pantheon, the sheer size of it completely took my breath away! Pantheon nearly resembles the fascia of a Greek temple while the interior is designed as a sphere inserted in a cylinder; the diameter and the height of the dome are identical, both measuring 43.30 metres. The Pantheon is also the burial place of the Italian royal family and of Raphael. It is amazing to observe the manner in which Rome has grown through the centuries around the Pantheon, incorporating and preserving it at the heart of its existence. Pantheon, built 1,800 years ago, we were told is also a popular meeting place for both Romans & tourists, allowing people to perceive the presence of the many generations who have done the same in the past.

I believe in terms of historical sights Rome outshines every other place in Italy. Along every street there seems to be a 2,000+ year old wall, church, monument or pile of rubble. The old adage states that 'Rome wasn't built in a day' and I'd like to also add that one needs minimum ten days to see it all. Actually one can spend one's whole life in Rome and still won't be able to see everything there is to offer. Though Rome is a vast city, the historic centre is quite small. Most of the major sights are within short distance from the central railway station, Stazione Termini facilitating one to walk from the Colosseum through the Forum up to Piazza di Spagna in few hours. All the major monuments are west of the train station and it is pretty easy to walk around with the use of a map. But even if one is lost in this city, one can turn around any corner and see something that's two thousand years old right on the face. That's exactly how we came across the Trevi Fountain. A few moments ago, while walking on an adjacent street we heard some sound of water in the proximity. Just one turn around the corner, this magnificent fountain appeared as if a curtain was lifted in front of our eyes. Designed in the 18th century and built over thirty years, the Trevi Fountain is the celebration of water as a symbol of life, health and change.

Our next stop was another legendary meeting place for both Romans and tourists, Piazza di Spagna, famous for its theatrical staircase. The 138 steps in the staircase are animated by terraces and curved sections that create the effect of a waterfall precipitating into the square below. The Fountain of the Barcaccia represents a sinking boat placed in a low basin. At the top of the Spanish Steps is the Church of Trinità dei Monti. The streets that host the most significant fashion shops leaving a mark on the history and the culture of Rome depart in rays from Piazza di Spagna. In the 17th century, when Palazzo Monaldeschi became seat of the Spanish Embassy, the square got the name Piazza di Spagna. That twilight was very lovely! We walked down the Spanish Steps and spent few hours just admiring, relishing the moments and trying to capture every magical moment on our cameras.

The city's Metro service is convenient for many of Rome's sights and a bus ticket is also valid for the city's Metro and train services. One needs to buy one's ticket from a news stand or vending machine before getting on a train or a bus. Besides, one can pick up a cab from one of the city's many taxi ranks or phone one any time of day. But taxis are notoriously expensive and if one calls a cab, the meter is turned on as soon as you call, rather than when you are picked up. One can't miss noticing the speeding scooters with more women riders than men on the modern Italian roads. It's interesting to see them wearing big sunglasses covering more than half of their faces.

A few minutes of walk brought us to the Roman Forum, the most important archaeological area in Rome, extending from the Capitol Hill to the Palatine. As far back as the 7th century B.C., the Forum was the centre of political, commercial and religious life. This was where the political, religious and commercial activities of ancient Rome took place. It's truly amazing how much history this city has and how much is still preserved!

Entire day, we walked around Roma, taking in the sights, threw coins in the Trevi Fountain, hugged a column at the Pantheon, walked through the Piazza Navona, and had a nice Italian feast in an Italian ristorante! A narrative on Rome won't be complete without mentioning its pick pockets. Like many big cities Rome has a lot of pick pockets and thieves. Just have to be extremely cautious especially when in the public bus, on the streets or at the train station. The best way is to keep money in unusual places like in belts or in body pouches. Budget the expenses for the day, spread it in different pockets and use each pocket one by on as the need arises. I'd recommend all to carry an international credit card to avoid carrying more than a handful of Euros, for some small cafes and pizzerias will only accept cash but ATMs are widespread and easy to use. Banks and post offices are the most reliable places to change traveler's cheques and generally offer the best rates; Credit cards are widely accepted in Italy. One has to climb the famous capitol steps designed by Michelangelo to get an idea of the extension of the Roman forum and what it has been used for. In antiquity it was the centre of religious life in Rome and the site of several very important sanctuaries and temples. Today the Capitoline Hill is the centre of the municipal government of Rome, which is housed in renaissance palaces. The site is an important monument to renaissance art and architecture. From here we admired the sculptures of Castor and Polux with their horses. The 'Piazza' where these sculptures sit was also designed by Michaelangelo... The Capitoline Picture Gallery contains over 200 paintings from the 14th to the 18th centuries. The square is dominated by a copy of the bronze equestrian statue of Marc Aurelius and the elegant plinth was designed by Michelangelo. A new passageway connects Piazza del Campidoglio to the terraces of the Vittoriano which offer a breathtaking view of the city, is now completely open to the public free of charge, including the Museum-Sanctuary of the Flags of the Armed Forces and the Museum of the Risorgimento that are housed in its interior.

The icing on the cake was the evening double-decker bus ride that we did on the last day of our stay for a panoramic view of Rome. Unquestionably a pleasant way of to feel and get a sense of the essence of the "Eternity" of Rome: the historical continuity between the past and the present in an urban space in which monuments and buildings built in different periods coexist side by side.


~ Anu & Suchit Nanda, Sept, 2006
Many more pictures can be seen at: Rome, Italy, Travel Images

Fact File:

• 1600 Mts. to 1800 Mts. Temperature - Min. 0 c - Max. 25 c.

• Rome's mild climate makes it comfortable to visit year-round; however, spring and autumn are without doubt the best times to visit, with generally sunny skies and mild temperatures (although late autumn, November, can be rainy). July and August are unpleasantly hot; from December to February there is briskly cold weather, although it's rarely grey and gloomy.

Getting There and Around:
• Also known as Fiumicino, Leonardo da Vinci is Rome's main airport, 26 Km southwest of the city. One of the most convenient ways to get into town is by the Stazione Termini direct train, which usually runs hourly from the airport. Rome is also well connected by road and one can drive or take a bus.

Text copyright Arundhathi. All pictures copyright Suchit Nanda. All images shot with Nikon D200 DSLR camera with lens: Nikkor 18-200mm VRII, Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 ED VR, Nikon 50 mm f/1.8 and Tokina 12-24 mm.

This article has been printed in Asian Photography Magazine October 2008 issue and can be seen here.