I’ve wanted to visit Rome for a long time — since high school when I learned about it in Mr. Thompson’s Latin class, really. But I’d never been — there aren’t a ton of reasons to get there for work, and I’d never been on holiday either.

But a couple of weeks ago, I got a chance to go for a few days of vacation there, prior to a visit to our Paris office and attending the Monaco Media Forum. Thanks to my mom being kind enough to visit, Kathy was able to go as well, so we got to spend a fantastic 4 days together exploring Rome.

I have a lot of different reactions to Rome — but the main one is that it feels like 4 or 5 different, distinct cities that all happen to be located in the same place. There’s Ancient Rome, of course, and Catholic Rome (and the Vatican) — and Renaissance Rome (including the home of the Medicis) and modern, International Rome. These are all related to each other, naturally (for example, the Popes underwrote much of the Renaissance work) — but just felt really distinct to me — a little more than I expected. (There are also some interesting monuments to Italian nationalism built earlier in the 20th century, celebrating people like Vittorio Emmanuel II, first king of a united Italy.)

In some parts of Rome, the various periods collide in interesting ways — the Pantheon, for example, has functioned more or less continuously since being built by Agrippa in the first century BC (and then rebuilt in the 2nd century AD) — it’s now a Catholic church, but also is where Vittorio Emmanuel is buried, not to mention Raphael — and is of course, despite being nearly 2,000 years old, the largest concrete dome in the world.

I found the Pantheon to be incredible — there’s something about the proportions of the building that make it feel incredibly stable — there’s a rightness to it that’s incredibly compelling. (I think the iconic status of the place plays into that, but it’s not just that.)

And the Roman Forum and the structures of the emperors on the Palatine hill were amazing, of course. There’s something about being able to walk through the forum, to walk through Domus Augustana (the villa that the Flavians built), and just try to imagine what it looked like, what it felt like, how life must have been. I’d always heard the aphorism: “Augustus found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble,” but not really internalized what that meant — as you walk around the Palatine & the Forum, you get a sense — many of the buildings have small holes in them — where the metal hooks had been that had previously held the marble facing for buildings (and that metal was eventually melted down to make ammunition, centuries later, naturally).

The permanence of the ancient buildings is astounding, and — especially taken with the incredible Colosseum, and the remnants of the aqueducts nearby — really hammers home the point that this civilization, for all its obvious faults, really knew what it was doing. Their level of building, planning, administration, and just general control of civic life was unprecedented, and incredible.

Of course, the next question you’re faced with is this: what the hell happened? We know, of course, with hindsight that what happened was invaders from the North, and the middle/dark ages, and the plague, and a shift of power to Constantinople in the East. But, really, it took a thousand years after the fall of Rome to start to approach the level of competence of the Romans again.

What a remarkable thing. I think most of us think of history as a more or less one direction proposition: progress. (We can debate for a while whether, you know, tending to virtual fish & farms is, strictly speaking, but you know what I mean.) And maybe the progress is of a technological sort, or maybe it’s geographic, moving from civilization to civilization.

But you never think the whole world (give or take) will take a gigantic, centuries-long, step backwards. We all read about it in school, of course, and understand it intellectually, but being there, seeing it and thinking about it just left me breathless.

Anyway. Fantastic trip; hope to get back to see more than just Rome, and spend more time in the city itself, too. Will hold onto my camera better next time, too.

I’ve put up a set of pictures of Rome, plus out the window from my hotel room in Monte Carlo, up on Flickr. (Taken with our smaller Lumix LX-3 camera, which is fantastic.)


  1. Nice shots of that Fiat 500!

  2. Great post, John!

    “most of us think of history as a more or less one direction proposition: progress. (…)
    But you never think the whole world (give or take) will take a gigantic, centuries-long, step backwards” is just spot on, relating to climate change.

  3. Great summary of something I have never understood my whole life. All through my life I have noticed a very tainted version of the impactual effect the Roman and Italian people have had on our western world. If it was not for them we would be very far behind in our current development stages that we see in Architecture,Engineering,Political sciences,Culinary areas,Fashion,Music and Religion good or bad depending on your faith
    but either way you slice it you can not deny the overall effect this Great country of Italy has had on Western civilisation.The Anglo perversion is rather incredible and actually quite impotent when you compare the Roman devotion to the rest of the world with exception to the Orient.To this day I still notice that if you want the best product not taking in to account the price because you will pay a tidy sum you will end up with either Italian or German engineered goods.After the fall of the Empire we slid into the Dark Ages which was a result of the lack of skill prevalent in the Anglo, Northern European zones. There were some good
    developments in that era but nothing like what we would have seen if the Empire did not fall. I ask then why is it Italian people do not get respected like they should for there overall contributions to western civilisation.

    I need enlightenment. Thank you.