The Eternal City?
I have come to Rome this fall having thoroughly dissected and studied the city, its culture, its language and its very being for nearly half my life. I’ve taken countless classes and tests, written dozens upon dozens of papers and analyses. But, of course, the Rome I’ve studied is the Rome of 2000 years ago. The Rome of Julius Caesar, of Augustus, of the poets Catullus and Horace, of the historians Tacitus and Polybius, and the philosophers Seneca and Cicero. You know, the people who spoke that dead language that you dreaded studying in high-school. The one you stopped taking as soon as you finished your language requirement or realized Spanish was not only easier, but more applicable. Latin. Ew…
I am one of those rare people who actually enjoyed inflicting pain upon myself and continued Latin and Classical studies into college, and have declared as a Classical Studies major. And so, the decision to study abroad in Rome makes perfect sense. But the Rome I’ve studied so thoroughly is clearly not the Rome of today—the ruins of old physically situated meters below the modern city. And the Romans I’ve learned about are certainly not the current Romans who inhabit the city, as trendy Gucci and Prada products have long since replaced the typical toga.
People call Rome “The Eternal City”, and have been for thousands of years (thousands! That’s SO old!). The notion seems simple enough—Rome has limitless layers of history and yet constantly remains relevant in the modern world. But what I want to do as a study abroad student here is to really understand this concept. As a lover of Classics who doesn’t think that modern society is that bad either, I’m interested in seeing how the two intersect and pop up.
One of the first aspects that struck me was the physical aspect. Sure, they don’t use the Forum Romanum for selling your various daily wares, and the Circus Maximus is a dog park best known for a Metro station, but now and then you stumble upon something like this:
It’s really nothing special for a Roman. A building in the piazza using ancient columns for its structure, and the ancient Roman street clearly visible from below. But that’s actually really wild to me. It’s all so seamless—history and modernity all blended into one. Every day when I walk outside my apartment in Trastevere and into Piazza di Santa Maria, I look up at the beautiful Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of the oldest churches in Rome. Many of the materials from this building were from the nearby Baths of Caracalla, an early 3rd century structure. The city’s very structure is a combination of really old things, taken from even older things, with new things built all around them. Very general, yes, but you get the picture.
I’m sure I sound super nerdy going on about this recycling process, but it’s something I’ve been fixated on. We just don’t see this in the United States, and I’m pretty sure we don’t see this anywhere else in the world, either. Rome, and the Roman state, was essentially the founder of our western civilization. And the Rome of today hasn’t just tossed that fact by the wayside, nor has it become a city of novelty, outdated and entirely dependent on events that took place 2000 years ago to thrive. Rome is simply just chugging along, proud but driven forward, a conglomerate of thousands of years of history and modern trends. It’s as if the city itself is humbly shrugging, saying, “Oh, yes, I guess there are modern apartments that originate from the Middle Ages above the Augustan-age Theater of Marcellus. But it is Rome after all.”
It’s one of those things that I hope I never get numb to, something that never ceases to impress and amaze me. Rome is indeed ageless, an eternal city with an eye carefully looking back at its many pasts, but also one towards the future.
Michael Tolan is an student blogger from Carleton College, studying abroad with API in Rome, Italy.