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Is Rome still "The Eternal City"?

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Message Carlo Ungaro
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Rome . September 10. 2012

 

 

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"I hate Barocco!

 I hate Scirocco!

 I hate Rome!".

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So went a  little doggerel, very popular in Italy five or six decades ago. It was repeated, "ad nauseam" by young, heavily brilliantined, Roman boys who  thus  hoped to demonstrate their cosmopolitan nature, while, of course,   their vey parochialism was being revealed by their belief  that  they were being inscrutably clever.

There are, in fact, moments when, in the more "modern" part of Rome -- i.e. the so called "Roma Barocca" of the Popes, of Borromini, Bernini, Michelangelo and of other such gigantic  figures --  that grandiose, yet wonderfully harmonious stile can appear oppressive, especially, perhaps, in the days of the hot, humid African wind called "Scirocco".

 A short walk away is an older, perhaps even more captivating part of the City,  where the Pantheon rests, perfectly at  ease in spite of its great age, in that Fifteenth and Sixteenth century Rome  which is in many ways more enchanting, albeit less spectacular.

It is, however, precisely   the "newer" part of Rome, the reign of the "Barocco", which brings home the fact that this, indeed, has always been and still is the "Eternal City". The appellation of "Roma Caput Mundi" was applicable for many centuries after the Roman Empire had formally ceased to exist and even after the end of the Holy Roman Empire (1805). Being the "World's Capital" for  over twenty five centuries could not fail to leave its mark, and this  has attracted the cream of the world's  political and cultural life  through the ages, particularly in the course of the past  five hundred years or so, down to the present day.

It is enough to spend some time at the Caffè Greco (often patronized by Hans Christian Andersen), at the beginning of Via Condotti, and to reflect that, within a radius of about a quarter of a mile there lies more history -- visible, living history -- than most other cities can offer in their entirety.

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Keats lived in nearby Piazza di Spagna, while further up the erroneously labelled "Spanish Steps"  lies Villa Medici, site of the French Academy since 1803,  where Hector Berlioz received the greatest disappointment of his life by not being awarded the coveted "Prix de Rome".

In the other direction, on the Via del Corso, is the apartment where Goethe spent some years of his life, and following this, which for centuries was Rome's principal avenue, a very short walk leads to the incredibly beautiful Piazza del Popolo in which, through the  main gateway to Rome, the Porta del Popolo,  many made their triumphal entry, as conquerors, liberators or guests. Among these -- as we are reminded by an inscription on the main gateway  -  was Queen Christina of Sweden,  a Catholic convert  in self imposed exile, who  was to spend the last thirty years of her  life in Rome, a popular and  equivocal figure, being at the same time a self-avowed  lesbian  and carrying on a long, tempestuous and very public affair with one of  Rome's most prominent Cardinals..

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I am a former, now retired, senior Italian diplomatic officer. I have spent many years (over 25) in Central Asia (sixteen in Afghanistan).
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