John was waiting for me at the Forum Romanum, near the Tempio di Cesare (Temple of Caesar). The day was waning fast. Still fresh in my mind was the Autobiography that I had read a few months ago: ‘I, Claudius’ by Robert Graves which had inspired me to travel to this splendid city.
You simply cannot follow the tour books every time you visit a place, for the area, will be – much to the visitor’s surprise – constantly renovated, pathways can be rerouted or sometimes closed for maintenance.
‘These people!’ exclaimed John. ‘I was lost inside the Forum for more than 2 hours not knowing the way to the Capitoline Hill until I found you. I asked many people who either couldn’t understand me or wouldn’t answer my question. ‘You see, there used to be a stairway behind the Arch of Septimius Severus leading up to the hill and now, I suppose, they’ve removed it‘.
‘Well then, let us move on. We need to visit the Capitoline Hill before it gets dark’, said John picking his backpack from the ancient rubble. ‘From one hill to another!’.
‘Where’s Helena?’ I asked John, ‘is she at the Forum?’
‘Nope, she headed back to the hotel’, said John, ‘She was tired by the time we left the Colosseum’.
After a long jog around the Forum, we came to the Via dei Fori Imperiali street just outside the Forum to the east. There was time enough to walk around the huge rubble littered stretch. Making our way left to the Via di San Pietro, we reached the base of the hill. Less than a kilometre from here was the piazza designed by Michelangelo himself. Well, there’s more history there for the keen-eyed; the summit traces its history to the beginning of the Roman rule; it was the first stronghold of the ancient Romans who came to Rome seeking refuge some 800 years before the Julio-Claudian dynasty ruled the area.
What makes it even more interesting is that the name Capitoline was derived from caput (the Latin word for head), getting its name from a human skull that was found while workers were digging for the Temple of Jupiter (built by the last legendary King of Rome before the Senate took control of the provinces).
For the first time since I left Bengaluru, I felt a sense of loneliness growing stronger with every step. I had never come this far from home and I was dearly missing it. There fell a deep silence for some time. ‘You need to visit Bengaluru the next time you come to India’, I told John looking up at his face. ‘It is beautiful just like Rome but greener and merrier.’ I was comprehensively lost in thought for a long time now, suddenly realising that I’d spend 25 years of my life in the city that looks so much like Rome, with those narrow streets, the lush green environment, and the cultural diversity. However, Rome is different in one aspect, unlike Bengaluru it has managed to preserve its aboriginal language even though the city is inhabited by people from different parts of the world. (In fact, this difference distinctly categorises the two cities). I felt very remorseful for the damage that had been done to my city (‘It was better before capitalists laid siege to the city’s beautiful landscape inviting thousands of non-native workers eventually damaging the city’s rich culture‘, I thought).
‘We made it!’, said John catching his breath (perhaps the old man took little notice of my eloquent story or perhaps my muffled voice died before reaching his eardrums). ‘Heads-up, boy, we’ve reached the Piazza. Look, there’s the statue of Marcus Aurelius, beautiful isn’t it?’. We had reached the Piazza del Campidoglio (the square which was designed by Michelangelo and the exact spot which served as a Roman citadel some 2000 years before Michelangelo).
‘What?’ I said coming back to my senses (I was instinctively following John).
‘You seem to be lost. What’s wrong? ‘, asked John. ‘What’s on your mind?’
‘Nothing’, I said ‘Except, however, Rome reminded me of home.’
‘Ah I see, you’re homesick.’ said John. ‘I know that feeling, I felt the same way the first time I left my little hamlet, sort of alienated and lonely when I came to see the world outside, but trust me, the world is far bigger than home and that, my boy, is why you need to travel. You’ll be stretched, tested, and measured, …and judged. Once you get through all of it, you’ll never be the same again. Trust me, I’m not the man I was 10 years ago.’
‘Yeah,’, I said ‘I’ll be alright. It only lasts for a few minutes.’
‘Well, the museums!’, said John ‘Come along’. The man’s wildly excited, I thought, smiling to myself.
‘Built in the 17th century, this is the oldest museum in the world’, said John. ‘The pope donated artefacts of ancient Rome and the collection has been growing ever since’.
As we entered the courtyard to our left – the Palazzo Dei Conservatori – we were confronted with life-size marble statues of ancient Roman Gods and Kings; the walls were littered with ancient artefacts and the floor with huge figurines. With a wide range of ancient relics ranging from paintings, stone figurines, and wall hangings, spread across two identical buildings, the museum is indeed magnificent on the inside as is on the outside.
The buildings and their corridors took me back to the mediaeval ages; back to the time when they were built. And the well-maintained relics made me realise the true splendour of the city’s past, its rich heritage, and its pivotal role in shaping and nourishing some of the world’s biggest religions (Roman Paganism and later Christianity), artists, and military generals of the highest order at its culmination.
You can see – as is shown in the pictures – the eye for perfection that the Romans possessed. Unlike the statues, busts that you can find in the Orient or the Americas, these are extremely lifelike models of great generals, mythical creatures, and lords of Europe marked with perfection.
The Capitoline Picture Gallery was particularly beautiful. Located on the second floor of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, this gallery contains a vast collection of paintings and artworks painted during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It took us nearly 3 hours to effectively tour the museums (I’ve included a few pictures below to briefly memorialise the visit).
‘No wonder Augustus found a city of bricks and left it a city of marble’, added John.
‘Indeed, it is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.’, said I. We were flabbergasted when the tour ended. And this is just one of the many amazing museums in Rome.
‘Well, what can I say?’, said John. ‘I’m not new to this place, I’ve been visiting here since the 1990s. And this hill has something new to offer every time I visit. Right! I think we need to get moving. Where do you stay in Rome?’
‘Close to Termini station’, said I (the old man didn’t seem to take notice of it anyway).
‘Well, it is time to part our ways,’ said John. ‘I expect to take a bus from here. How long is your stay in Rome?’.
‘Until tomorrow’, I said.
‘Then I presume that this will be our last meeting’, he said. ‘I might stay back at the hotel tomorrow. I don’t think I can walk another lap until I’m completely rested. Anyhow, good luck, Badari, have a pleasant stay in Rome. See you! Do remember us’. and started walking in the opposite direction.
With that, I left for the hotel, jotting down my adventures as I went. I took a bus from the hill to Termini station. The day was noticeably longer (of course, I was farther north from the equator than my hometown and days here are longer than normal days in the southern hemisphere during this time of the year). It was nearly 8 o’clock when I reached the hotel.
‘Is there an Indian restaurant nearby?’ I asked the landlady doubtfully. Italian foods certainly didn’t befit my appetite.
‘Bene indiano ristorante…go via Marghera…dunque lato destro…straight via Milazzo left (Well, restaurant. Go straight on Via Marghera, take a right and the first left onto Via Milazzo)’, she said consulting the receptionist (Her English was no better than my Italian). ‘Nuovo Delhi’, added the receptionist.
Following their directions, I reached the restaurant which I found to be perfect in every way. The atmosphere, the music, and simply the smell of Indian food was great.
‘Buongiorno’, said a Punjabi (of course, he was wearing a turban).
‘Buongiorno, can I get the order to take away?’ said I (our conversation wasn’t entirely in English).
‘Yes’, said the man.
‘Gobi paratha and Channa masala,’ I said looking at the menu. The wait was long and I thought of starting a quick conversation in the meantime ‘Just for curiosity’s sake, where are you from?’.
‘I’m from Nizampur’, said the man.
‘Have you migrated with your family?’
‘No, sir, but my family visits me regularly.’, he said.
Meanwhile, my order arrived hot in custom printed paper boxes, suddenly awakening my senses (I was starving). ‘That would be 14 euros, sir’, he said.
– Immortal Chiron