Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A great article on Rome

I know that today is St Augustine’s day, and after yesterday’s post on his mother, St Monica, you might have expected one on the great Bishop of Hippo. I was, in fact, going to write something on St Augustine when I came across an exciting article that I really must share with you. 

(If you want to, you can go HERE to an earlier blog post - from 2011 - on St Augustine and the grace of God.)

I love the city of Rome and its people. I’ve been there three times for study purposes. But I’ve also stayed there in hostel accommodation when I’ve hardly had more than a penny to my name (proving that it can be done!) just so as to keep exploring the amazing ruins and layers of culture and civilisation, more and more of which are opening up all the time. 

Well, if you like the study of history - and Roman history in particular - you will appreciate this article as much as I do. I know that I’ve said before that my favourite church in Rome is St Clemente. The photos of that church in the article are breathtaking. The beginning of the article follows. Go to the link to read the rest.


The new Mayor of the city of Rome, Ignazio Marino, just announced his intention to destroy one of the city’s central roads, the Via dei Fori Imperiali, and turn the area around the old Roman Forum into the world’s largest archaeological park. Reactions have ranged from commuters’ groans to declarations from classicists that this single act proves the nobility of the human species.

The road in question, running along the Forum

This curious range of reactions seems the perfect moment for me to discuss something I have intended to talk about for some time: the shape of the City of Rome itself. We all know the long, rich history of the Roman people, and the city’s importance as the center of an empire, and thereafter as the center of the memory of that empire, whose echo, long after its end, still so defines Western concepts of power, authority and peace. What I intend to discuss instead is the geographic city, and how its shape and layers grew gradually and constantly, shaped by famous events, but also by the centuries you won’t hear much about in a traditional history of the city. The different parts of Rome’s past left their fingerprints on the city’s shape in far more direct ways than one tends to realize, even from visiting and walking through the city. Rome’s past shows not only in her monuments and ruins, but in the very layout of the streets themselves. Going age by age, I will attempt to show how the city’s history and structure are one and the same, and how this real ancient city shows her past in a far more organic and structural way than what we tend invent when we concoct fictitious ancient capitals to populate fantasy worlds or imagined futures. (As a bonus to anyone who’s been to Rome, this will also tell you why it’s a particularly physically grueling city to visit, compared to, say, Florence or Paris.)

Sigmund Freud had a phobia of Rome. You can see it in his letters, and the many times he uses Rome as a simile or metaphor for psychological issues, both broadly and his own. He fretted for decades before finally making the visit.  Part of it was a cultural inferiority complex . . .


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