Thursday, 31 October 2013

My week in Rome - Ancient buildings

Goethe (1749/1832) - the famous German writer of the world classic books "The Sorrows of Young Werther" and "Faust I" visited Italy between September 1786 and May 1788, and stayed in Rome for one year. His artistic and architectural interest was mainly the Classical antiquity, he rarely interested in the art of the Middle Ages or the modern era of his time. He wrote to his friend Eckermann on the 9. October 1828:

"Ich kann sagen, dass ich nur in Rom empfunden habe, was eigentlich ein Mensch sei. Zu dieser Höhe, zu diesem Glück der Empfindung bin ich später nie wieder gekommen, ich bin, mit meinem Zustand in Rom verglichen, eigentlich nachher nie wieder froh geworden." 

"I can say that I've only felt in Rome, what it actually means to be a human being. This height, this feeling of happiness, I never reached them since. I actually never - compared to my time in Rome - became happy afterwards again." 

It might be a bit exaggerated to apply this quote to myself, but I guess I can empathise with what Goethe meant, when describing his time in Rome, this beautiful place full of ancient history.

So, last week I visited Rome with my family from Germany. We have a family tradition to visit historical cities, but haven't been able to do it the past few years. Rome was heavily anticipated

I had a little head start from watching the BBC/HBO series Rome, the partially historically accurate telling of the story of Caesar and Octavian, the later King Augustus (spoiler alert).

So apart from the Coliseum and Vatican City, I didn't really know what to expect.

On the first day we visited Ostia Antica. It is like the ruins of the ancient city Herculaneum at Pompey, which has survived the centuries. You walk through ruins, which are in an incredible good shape - a bath house, a theatre, a market place, a granary and all situated in a beautiful park of stone pine trees.

Another highlight of Rome for me was definitely the Coliseum and the Forum Romanum.

The Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre in the world, it was build in AD 70 and only took eight years to complete (with the aid of copious slaves) and was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as animal hunts or dramas based on classical mythology. It was used in the medieval era as quarry for the building of houses in Rome. I was definitely impressed how huge the Coliseum really is, and that thousands of people can walk around it 2000 years after it was built.  

The Forum Romanum was the centre of ancient Rome, a marketplace with temples, government buildings and monuments. All that remains now are ruins, but it is still an impressive place in the middle of modern Rome. 

One of the things that also really inspired me, was the Bocca della Verité (Italian for "Mouth of truth"), found at the entrance hall of the church Santa Maria in Cosmedin. It's a flat stone sculpture showing a face of an old man. It's 2000 years old and might have been an ancient Roman fountain or perhaps a manhole cover.
Since the Middle Ages it's believed to be a lie detector.It was thought that if someone would put his hand into the mouth of the sculpture and tell a lie, the hand would have been bitten of. 

There is so much more to tell. The impression of standing in St. Peter's Square, surrounded by an arcade of collumns, topped with marble stone figures was amazing or the Pantheon, a catholic church, which was a temple for the gods in the ancient times of Rome. The dome has an oculus in the middle, which lets in the sunshine, but also the rain. The rainwater is lead out of the building by a clever drainage system of pipes in the corners of the church, leading into a water basin outside. 

What surprised me is the trend to fake reliefs in the 17th century. Inside the Vatican Museum, you could see that many of the ceilings (like in the picture below) look like marble cornices, but they are in fact painted, including the 3D effect of shade and light. 

The trip to Rome left me with admiration for ancient architecture, but also awareness of the hidden humour in art and culture of the past centuries.

I was always fascinated by the pantheon of Roman and Greek gods, and plan to make a series of dolls based on the 7 Roman muses. 

I have one more post on Rome prepared, which will show more of my photos of the city, featuring the Italian life, and some quirky stuff...

Anyway - I hope you enjoyed this unintended historic lesson. :)

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