Terrace with a view to Ancient Rome, Italy

A breathtaking panorama


I am on a terrace above Piazza Venezia and the view in front of me looks like a postcard. In the background is the Colosseum, in the center is the Roman Forum and in the foreground are the twin domes of the two baroque churches, placed around the statue of St. Peter, which stands atop the Trajan’s Column that commemorates the emperor’s victory in the Dacian wars (now Romania). Below, on the street, vehicles, microscopic as toys, go around the square dominated by the Palazzo Venezia: the latter, with the balcony from which Mussolini harangued the crowds, looks more square than usual. It faces the white Vittorio Emanuele Monument, dedicated to the king, which seems to sending a knowing wink to the Pope in the Vatican, whο once was the ruler of Rome.

The Trajan's Column and the Vittorio Emanuele Monument on Piazza Venezia

The Trajan's Column and the Vittorio Emanuele Monument on Piazza Venezia

In front of a panorama of this genre, a painter would take his brushes, a writer would take his pen, a musician would compose a symphony. I really love this place and I come often. Every time it seems to me the first time because I feel overwhelmed by new emotions and, thanks to my mental magic wand, I create different compositions by deleting and rearranging what I see.

So, I go back to the ancient times and I imagine the Trajan’s Column in the center of a small courtyard, between two libraries, one Greek and the other Latin, while the Romans, dressed in their togas, climb on the roofs to browse the marble bas-reliefs carved on its surface. Today the column has a solitary appearance and at night is the meeting point for cats - the famous cats of Rome who adore the ruins. Another place much frequented by cats are the Trajan Markets, the largest shopping center, as we would say today, of its era, which included 150 shops, while next to them more grandiose buildings, exedras, temples decorated with statues and basilicas adorned with precious marble, composed the complex of the Imperial Forums which extended up to the Colosseum.

Forum Romanun

Forum Romanun

Meanwhile time goes on and the scenery turns showing me a bucolic landscape. I am in the Medieval era. Flocks of sheep and herds of cows grazing in front of the Trajan Markets; gardens to meet the needs of the medieval lifestyle, and low houses built haphazardly over the top three floors of the semicircle that form the Markets. One of these houses, which had to be more decorous than the others, is still in place, and my eye dwells on it. It looks like a painting. This fragment of medieval architecture with a lovely Renaissance loggia added later belongs to the Knights of Malta,and was donated to them by the Pope at the time of the Crusades, when they were called the Knights of St. John.

The House of the Knights of Rhodes and Malta - Casa dei Cavalieri di Rodi e di Malta

The House of the Knights of Rhodes and Malta - Casa dei Cavalieri di Rodi e di Malta

I feel overwhelmed by a wave of tenderness while I admire this aspect of Rome, that the historical vicissitudes make it appear unruffled and fragile. The gigantic marble monument of Vittorio Emanuele obstructs the view of the Capitol and I'm not sure that the Romans were happy when it was built in 1911.

So I prefer to erase it and bring out the beautiful garden of Mr. Gorizio, who lived there in the Renaissance era, famous for the gay receptions he gave in which the Roman intelligentsia participated. Michelangelo, Raphael, Bembo, and Castiglione mention those banquets, reminiscent as the happiest moments of their lives. In his garden, on the slope of the Capitol overlooking the Trajan Markets, were lemon trees as well as sculpted nymphs and sarcophagi, according to the Roman tradition. There was also a shady grotto with a fountain and an inscription that invited to drink, to wash and keep your mouth shut. I doubt, however, that the talkative guests had stuck to the last rule, unless they preferred to write verses sitting under the trees, as was usual in the Renaissance.

The Campidoglio

The Campidoglio

All this area that I have just described and was extended to the Colosseum, as time went on became covered with houses. The visitors to Rome on the Grand Tour did not see the crisp panorama of today. For this to happen, an entire neighborhood had to be destroyed on the orders of Benito Mussolini, who in addition to promoting the excavation and restoration of the ruins, opened the big road which bears the pompous name of Via dei Fori Imperiali, and where today large military parades take place.

Pagan Rome, papal Rome, Mussolini… The Eternal City on which the golden hues of the setting sun shine, contemplated from a terrace, sparks a unique emotion.  

Read more in the book: Feeling Rome

Saint Peter's Basilica at sunset

Saint Peter's Basilica at sunset

Barbara Athanassiadis