Saturday, July 21, 2007
A Brief History of Rome
This week I saw the place where Julius Caesar was killed.
“Et tu, Brute?” Remember? Shakespeare, junior high English Lit class?
This is something I had never contemplated seeing. I am one of those people who have shown scant interest in history. My world has existed mostly in the single dimension of the present. Of late, though, I've seen my error. As if I've been as blockheaded as a flat earther. Which I have been. Regrets and ruing are setting in.
My awakening began when I arrived here in Italy and found myself in constant company with a man for whom history is a passion. How enthusiastic Franco was about sharing what he knew. How sad was his disillusionment in his audience.
My attention span then for anything historical ran from about fifteen to thirty seconds. Second thirty-one, and my gaze usually drifted away to fixate on passing dogs, cats, pigeons or tourists, or trees and flowers. Or interesting signs, or clouds. My verbal responses ranged from hmmm to uh huh.
In time, I progressed to articulating an actual question. Regrettably, it rarely rose above the feebleminded, “How old is it?” That phase continued for about two years, during which time Franco's conversation became increasingly sprinkled with muttered allusions to the plight of Job. Finally, a snail like pace of improvement took hold in my mental register.
So this last Thursday evening when we were in Rome listening to a tour guide who is an expert on the history of the city, my attention held steady, relatively speaking, a fair amount of time.
I did wander away briefly to watch the dozens of cats that live in the temple ruins at Largo Torre Argentina where the tour began. Then I wandered back to Franco.
“Julius Caesar was killed here,” Franco said.
“Really? Huh (old habits die hard). What else did he (tour guide) say?”
“He said that previously it was believed that the place where Julius Caesar was killed was in the Fori, (Roman Forum, not far away). But now scholars are saying it was here.”
“Why do they think it was here?” (Perhaps I spent more time than I realized watching the cats).
“Here there was a smaller meeting place for the Roman Senate, one that wasn't used as often.”
“How do they know this?”
“Sources,” Franco shrugged.
The Tour Guide
Claudio Bottini is the name of our tour guide. He is conducting a series of evening tours through historical sites of Rome this summer for employees of one of the companies where Franco is a consultant. Bottini has a degree in archaeology. Although he has a corporate day job, he is also a licensed guide in Rome and leads private tours in his evening and weekend hours. His love for his subject is deep. No bored recitations, sighs or droning here. The narrative was enthusiastic, comprehensive and entertaining. And even with my less than perfect Italian, I found his enunciation so precise that I understood much of what he said. Bottini also speaks English. I think he is excellent. He can be reached at (011 39) 388 063-5468, for information or guide services.
Our particular tour this week began at Largo Torre Argentina, the site of some of the most important Roman ruins in the city. It ended two hours later in the Piazza della Minerva (photos, Italian text), the square, a stone's throw from the Pantheon, with the famous elephant obelisk designed by the artist Bernini. Along the way, we stopped by several places I have passed dozens of times before without knowing what they were.
One place, on the narrowest of side streets, is the rear entrance of the Palace of the aristocratic Porcari Family. Stefano Porcari wanted to restore a republic form of government to Rome, and led one of the various uprisings against the papal state. It failed and the nobleman was executed along with a handful of his followers. Our guide Bottini told us the failed revolutionary's story and pointed out the small stone plaque placed on the palace wall in memoriam.
History, kind of interesting. Hmmm.
by Rebecca Helm-Ropelato
Copyright © Rebecca Helm-Ropelato