Stout & Large do Rome - Four
While the Pantheon was spared the indignities of lapsing into irrelevance, the next day’s first location, the Forum, had no such luck. Once the centre of power of the largest empire the world would see for nigh on two millennia, by the Middle Ages it was known simply as Campo Vaccino – Cow Field. The cows have gone now, but it is still difficult to map the bones of the temples and arches that clutter the brown grass in the centre of the city with the gleaming marble edifices that would have once dominated the area. Even more so given that what does dominate the area now is the massive lump of white marble called Il Vittoriano; a nineteenth century monument to the glories of Italian nationalism that the Third Reich would have turned its nose up at as being a bit too over the top.
We mooch about the ruins and the Palotino – the Palatine Hill on which the Emperor’s Palace once stood – trying to imagine what it was like and, in all honesty, fail as our northern European brains start short-circuiting in the heat. It afflicts the locals too. One of the many men dressed as centurions who loiter in the vicinity tries to attract out attention by shouting out after us whether we’re brother and sister. We think about stopping and snogging right there and then and giving him a Luke n’ Leia moment, but it’s too hot. Much better was the restaurant the night before when we watched the whole ‘his surname is Stout and mine is Large’ schtik being translated into gestures by the owner of the place much to the assembled guffaws of the Italians there.
So, we amble along to the Colosseum as our giant, blonde ancestors probably did in slightly less salubrious circumstances (ie chains) and have a right old goggle.
It is seriously impressive – a decaying but still grand amphitheatre that would seat 50,000 baying people – and one of those sort of places that you are glad is in Rome and not London where it’d probably be renamed the Carling Colosseum or something. You can’t wander out into the middle – the flooring is gone, and instead you have the ruined walls of all the corridors, chambers, cells and pens that would have stored men, armour and beasts before their allotted date with fate – which at least leaves the locals spared the thousands of ‘I’m Spartacus. No, I’m Spartacus’ or even ‘Wotcher Julius, old boy’ lines. So, instead you climb the sides and marvel at the tales of naval battles, beast hunts and bloodshed that are the dark heart underpinning the whole spectacle of Roman civilisation and achievement.
And that is where it ends. Dinner and lunch follow: one quite posh and featuring one of the best steaks I have ever had and only marred by a gratuitous outbreak of Celine Dion that had to be firmly quashed; one of the paper tablecloths and chipped glasses variety, but which did things with truffles and pasta that would qualify as indecent in most countries. And that was the heart of Rome for me: not the Vatican, not the Forum, not the Colosseum, but sitting across a table from the person you love, eating, drinking and laughing, and just marinading lightly in three millennia of history as the modern city buzzes and bustles around you.
And that is that: Touristi ite Domum. Write it out one hundred times.
And, oh yes, I almost left my bag in the taxi on the way back to the airport too...