(Oculus at the Pantheon)
I’m quite glad that the first I saw of the Pantheon was the back of it. It just made it all the more fascinating. Yes, the front is hugely impressive, with its enormous columns and Roman inscriptions, but the back is just so much more ancient-looking. And the bricks are tiny. It’s not a small building, so it’s quite awe-inspiring to think of just how much hard labour went into building it. None of these enormous marble blocks that you see everywhere else – just teeny, tiny bricks. Strangely, I found the outside of the building much more interesting than the inside. The oculus is fabulous, of course, and throws some beautiful light reflections onto the inside of the dome (made me think of space invaders, a bit), but it’s the outside of the building that really made me gasp. It’s not that it’s that big compared to some of the other buildings in Rome, but it just seems to diminish everything around it. The porch area (can one really call something of that size a porch? – well, I’m going to) is unbelievable. There’s marble! There are giant wooden beams! There’s gilding! There are Roman inscriptions! Over the three days that I spent in Rome, I kept coming back to the Pantheon. I only went inside once, on that first day, but the sight of it from outside never ceased to stun me, every time I walked into the square from a different direction. Just – beautiful. Not in the delicate and artistic way that the Trevi Fountain, for instance, is beautiful, but in a far more intrinsic and ancient sense.
By this point it was lunchtime. Having been walking pretty much solidly for 5 hours, my feet were killing me, and I needed a sit down. A word of advice: however comfortable you think your footwear is, if you’ve been wearing it for 10 hours on an overheated coach, while sleeping, and then walked about a million miles, it won’t be that comfortable any more. Trust me on this one. I could feel blisters the size of Vesuvius coming up on the balls of my feet. (Of course, when I got back to the hostel later on, all ready to stick pins in them, there was nothing to be seen. Ain’t that always the way?) I therefore flopped myself down at the nearest pizza place in the square, to eat and ogle. No, not the men; the building. Tsk.
At the restaurant, I managed to intrigue the waiter by having pale skin and red hair and yet ordering in Italian. However, I then completely lost the advantage by not understanding when he asked, ‘Dove sei?‘ Dammit. Really must remember the BASIC VERBS. *rolls eyes* In my defence, of course, I’m not used to the Roman accent. (Yeah, that‘s it …) Lunch was – well, it was pizza with ridiculously ramped-up prices due to the location, but it wasn’t really the food that I was interested in anyway. It was more than enough for me to be able to sit in this amazing place and watch the world go by. I might not have been there with an amore, but I had fallen in love nevertheless. Yes, the Eternal City had worked her magic on yet another unsuspecting straniera.
After lunch, I continued on with a skip in my step. For about 500 yards, anyway, before my feet started hurting again. The next obvious destination seemed to be the Trevi Fountain, and so I headed off in that direction. As I walked along Via delle Muratte, I could hear the roar of the water becoming ever louder, building my excitement. Finally I stepped out into the piazza and saw the fountain itself, surrounded by people taking photographs, and throwing coins over their shoulders. It was – well – strangely disappointing. I’m not sure if it was tiredness, or having been so impressed by the Pantheon, but I just wasn’t that taken with it.
Once I started to look at it in detail, however, that changed. It is beautiful, intricate, and very impressive. My reaction to it, though, in contrast to the Pantheon, was cerebral rather than visceral. I can appreciate it, but I don’t think I could ever love it. It will be far more ancient magic than this that brings me back to Rome in the future. My coins therefore stayed in my pocket, to be saved for more important things: like fiori, carciofi, cioccolatte calde and – er – Marmite. But that’s a story for another day …
(All images by Kate Bailward)