Throughout my backpacking trip, a few themes have inexplicably developed. These are images or occurrences or references that appear over and over again, enough for me to notice and document. The least obscure, and perhaps stupidly obvious, of these themes involves time, clocks, age, and the unyielding authority of these constructions. In Rome, the power of time was omnipresent.
These ancient ruins, colossal and grandiose, intricately decorated, precisely sculpted, represented power, wealth, victory, and accomplishment in their heyday. Now, all that remains are carefully maintained mounds of rock, leaning columns, empty brick boxes hundreds of feet high. Men cut grass on riding mowers around crumbling, millennia-old temples to ancient deities. A woman, suspended forty feet up in a cherry-picker basket, carefully scrapes mortar and re-connects bricks to a top-heavy, teetering once-wall. Construction workers place modern-day scaffolding on the remains of a dusty Roman palace, now sagging on an eroding grassy hill. Once the most powerful empire in the world, the Roman legacy succumbs to time as a handful of laymen are paid minimally to try to keep the last stone piles from being reclaimed by the earth.
My days in Rome were filled with directionless exploration and staring in wonder, trying to comprehend how some of these massive structures still stand at all, how they were created so long ago, how many hands have touched these stones over time, how much the world has changed since they were built by emporers and slaves. Eventually moving away from ancient ruins, I walked through countless churches, each more splendid than the last. I found my way to famous, as well as seemingly forgotten, fountains, exquisitely groomed parks, bustling city squares. The sun shone hotly every day, making it warm enough to walk in a t-shirt and justify at least one gelato each afternoon.
My least favorite part of Rome was the Vatican. It was packed with tourists – we literally stood shoulder-to-shoulder while examining the infinitely high ceilings and gilded chapels – and the staff was pushy and rude. Any aura of peace or humility was promptly squelched by one million gawking and chattering foreigners shoving past each other and snapping photos. I found the sunset much more marvelous than anything inside the Vatican walls (though I bet if I’d made it to the Sistine Chapel when it was open, I would have appreciated the art equally to the evening sky!). (Don’t gasp at my failure to make the Sistine, Grandma, I just couldn’t get there in time both times I tried…)
Saturday, I folded my clothes (some of them freshly hand-laundered in the hostel sink) and re-stuffed my backpack, hopped an evening train to the airport and said farewell to Rome, to Italy, and to the first leg of my adventure, thanking Europe for an incredible two months of both world- and self-discovery.
More Rome Photos: