(The Forum – image by Kate Bailward)
Fountains and monuments aside, the thing that I was really excited about seeing in Rome was Roman ruins. On Sunday, therefore, I was up early and heading towards the – er – flea market at Porta Portese. Ahem. Oh, all right, I know it’s not particularly cultural, but I figured I could do with a bit of a break before heading over to the Forum and the Colosseum, which were the real stars on my agenda that day.
Sunday is a good day to visit the Roman area of town, as the Via del Fori Imperiale is closed to traffic. All along the road are people walking, chatting, laughing, pushing pushchairs, and taking photographs. Above all, however, they are gazing in awe. It’s true architectural porn. Everywhere you look there are marble columns, foundations, statues, carvings, arches – you get the picture. As you walk around the Forum you see, tantalisingly small in the distance, the Colosseum. Then you reach the Via del Fori and start the long walk directly towards it. At points it seemed as if I would never reach it, but eventually there it was, looming over me. In full tourist mode by now, I abandoned all shame and took a photograph or six of myself in front of it, arms outstretched, giggling like a loon. A middle-aged Italian gentleman walking past me was most bemused by this strange activity, but I really didn’t care. This was the big (literally) reason that I had come to Rome, and, unlike the Trevi Fountain, it was surpassing all my expectations. Like the Pantheon, the ancient rawness of it is mesmerising. There is nothing prissy about this building: it is about power and cruelty. The sheer size of it is breathtaking. It’s fair to say that I was somewhat overawed, and I only wish I could do it proper justice in either words or pictures.
Feeling very small and not a little dazed, I backtracked into the centre of town, ignoring the street hawkers trying to sell me tripods and Colosseum snowglobes. I kid you not. For all the wonder of Rome, there is an awful lot of rubbish as well. Piazza Navone is a case in point. I had imagined a wonderful Continental Christmas market, selling all manner of beautiful things. In fact, it is 20 or so stalls all selling movement-activated cackling witches on broomsticks. It’s a bit like being in a bad version of Macbeth, with 300 rather than 3 crones. Then, in between every tat-seller’s stall, there is a ciambelle stand. Ciambelle are giant ring doughnuts which can, if you so wish, be slathered in Nutella before being deep fried. Delicious though they sounded, I decided to plump for piadine instead. I’m learning to love chocolate, but melted cheese still beats it any day.