When in Rome, do as the Romans do. In other words, drive like a lunatic and take four-hour lunches. And it seems, scrawl in marker pen over every available surface, no matter how sacred.
I digress. I deliberately re-read Angels And Demons before visiting the Eternal City. I (misguidedly, I confess) had hoped to retrace Robert Langdon’s steps and be guided by the angels on my lofty quest. However, I settled for an open top bus and took what I could find.
My hopes of glamming it up a la Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday were scuppered due to a small misunderstanding over setting my alarm in the morning. I don’t remember Gregory Peck at any point shouting at Audrey for an error of judgment and maintaining a three-hour stern and crackling silence just because she hauled him out of the shower and gave him four minutes to get dressed and on a coach. No, I do not.
Five hours is not really sufficient time to acquaint oneself with myriad churches and fountains, so I settled for Basilica di San Pietro and St Peter’s Square, peered off the top deck of the bus at the bridge of angels and the Castel Sant’Angelo, and excitedly told Mark about the secret passageway between Castel Sant’Angelo and the Vatican before the audio guide got chance. He just looked at me with narrow eyes, he hadn’t forgiven me yet, then.
The main objective of my trip had been to see the Trevi Fountain and nothing had prepared me for its size and composition. I had envisaged it as a grand and beautiful fountain in a square, or a park. Not a huge engraved building akin to Buckingham Palace. Completed in 1762, the fountain forms part of the Aqua Virgo viaduct system, and centres around Neptune.
This picture’s not mine – there was no way I could get far enough away to get it in a frame. The sculptures and detail that made up the enormity of the vast baroque fountain only served to make it the more remarkable. It easily took half-an-hour to fight our way to the front of the fountain, where we cast our coins into the water to secure our return to the city.
Next stop was The Colosseum, the iconic symbol of Imperial Rome. The building, again, is awe-inspiring, and it’s not difficult to imagine the gruesome gladitorial contests, executions, mock sea battles, animal hunts and dramas that it hosted. It is estimated that more than 500,000 people and more than a million animals died in the Colosseum Games.
The building remains partially ruined, a legacy from devastating earthquakes and stone robbers, but is still breathtaking in its architecture. And there is no shortage of plume-helmetted faux gladiators on hand for a photo opportunity should you wish to reanact your own battle.
The cobbled streets (havoc on the heels), roaring roads, impatient motorists and general sprawling nature of Rome do not make for a relaxing visit, and five hours in no way did justice to the imposing city. But it was terribly blighted by the constant vandalism – sadly not confined to Rome as we later discovered. It is very sad that you can live in one of the most revered and spectacular cities in the world and yet not show it the respect that it really deserves. It seemed everywhere was marred by ugly marker pen; something that is no doubt too costly to clean away as frequently as would be desirable.
I’m hoping that fountain’s true to its promise and I’ll get to return for a longer stay some day soon.