Monday, 2 January 2012

Augustian Rome.

We started the day local with a visit to Santa Maria Maggiore, over the road from our lodging, sitting proudly atop the Esquiline Hill. The church is built on a ancient temple dedicated to Juno Lucina, the goddess of childbirth. As power moved from the emperor to the Pope so, a basilica was raised and the ground recommissioned in honour of Virgin Mother. It's one of the seven chief pilgrimage churches in Rome. In the apse is a gorgeous 13th century mosaic featuring the Coronation of the Virgin, by Torriti.

For all the beauty. The building left me feeling cold. It's affluent and lavish in the extreme - but the pilgrims today, shuffling around looking in at the sumptuous Cappellas, housing ancient Popes beneath Baroque fancy, seemed somewhat underwhelmed and anxious to move onto more familiar sights.

We left and walked on towards Nero's Domus Aurea built by the tyrant in AD64, mostly on land destroyed during the famous fire which had failed to interrupt his music lesson. So hated was Nero that after he died the people of Rome quickly filled in the mansion and grounds, to try and eradicate all memories of his reign. They did such a good job that it took another 1500 years for the house to be rediscovered. Sadly for all it's epic history - today it was closed!

We crossed the road, past the Collesium and onto the Palantine, where we spent the rest of the day walking from ruin to ruin trying to piece together the history of the Roman empire from it's earliest foundation to Republic to Empire. Legend suggests that Romulus and Remus disagreed over which hill to build the city on. Had the Gods chosen to create Reem rather than Rome building might have begun on the Aventine Hill to the South. As it is the Palatine is the spiritual home of the city.

On the North West flank of the hill is the relatively modest house of Augustus - Julius Caesar's nephew, who eventually revenged his uncle's murder, destroyed Anthony and Cleopatra's love locked ambitions to take full command of Rome and become the first real Emperor. The house contains some spectacular frescoed rooms. It's a strangely intimate, almost poky, dwelling for the most powerful leader in the Western world.

We crossed the Horti Farersiani to seek a vantage point overlooking the Forum and spent some time in this elevated position understanding the layout of what was once the very centre of civilisation. Here the Via Sacra winds it's way past the temples of Venus and Vesta, of Saturn, Castor and Pollux. The huge footprint of the long destroyed Basilica of Constantine and at either end the arches of Septimus Severus and Titus stand proudly, acclaiming returning triumph.

We finished the day winding our way through these monuments, each step evoking a long forgotten world whose power and influence continues to echo through the ages. The American senate, the Westminster village, our systems of law, economics, defence and justice can all be traced back to the administrative principles that were drawn up here all those centuries ago.


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