2 places in Rome that are known for all the wrong reasons.

9 Jun

In the last few months I have become an Ancient Roman history geek. It’s not that I’m uninterested in other time periods. On the contrary, I am fascinated by Renaissance Art in Rome, its humanistic phase, and even more so by Italy’s complex role in World War II.

But when I started making plans to spend much more of my life in Rome, I realized that my actual knowledge of Rome’s history and influence on the world was embarrassingly spotty. Although on many trips to Rome in the past I had adored experiencing the ancient art & architecture, I had no narrative to connect it all together. I was vaguely aware there had been an Empire, a Holy Roman Empire, a Republic…but had no idea which came first and what defined each era. I knew Rome fell; was it because of depraved emperors like Nero, and the guy from the movie Gladiator? I committed to doing a deep dive into Rome’s history, chronologically. And when you’ve got 2,700 years to get through, that is a major undertaking. So at the moment I am still firmly in ancient Rome’s decline, about 313 AD, in the historically significant reign of Constantine.

What a surprise it was when I became truly captivated with the drama, intrigue and lasting impact of each stage of Rome’s history. That ancient Rome’s influence, for better or worse, lasted over 2,000 years in the future is remarkable; and ranges from engineering innovations, to the names of American cities (Cincinnati) to current geopolitics (Israel and Palestine).

(I want to give a big shout out to a terrific podcast called The History of Rome, which has been my guide and inspiration throughout my ancient Roman education)

According to Alessandro, I now know more than most ancient Rome history teachers. I’ve decided that since he is weary of me pestering him about things like naming 5 misunderstood Roman Emperors or who built the Pantheon (yes, but who RE-built the Pantheon?) that I would use my blog to set the record straight on my pet peeve of 2 Ancient Roman historical sites that (I believe) are famous for the wrong reasons.

#1: Largo di Torre Argentina


OK, guilty. The first time I visited Rome I was entranced by this sunken piazza close to Campo di Fiori; not because of the ancient history that it contained, but because of an affectionate troop of cats who sunned themselves on its ruins. Yes, this place is often visited due to the establishment of well-known sanctuary for Rome’s homeless cat population. Don’t get me wrong, I love cats and think this is a wonderful initiative.

But seriously – THIS is the actual place where Julius Caesar – probably one of the most galvanizing and influential people of Roman history and therefore Western history – was assassinated by his friends and colleagues. Most people assume that he was killed in the senate house in the Roman Forum. But it was under renovation at the time, so the senate was meeting at Pompey’s theatre.

#2: Milvian Bridge

This bridge over the Tiber was a star of a 2007 movie. It featuring a lovestruck couple who secured a lock to a lamppost on the bridge, and then threw away the key into the river, symbolizing their lasting bond to each other. This movie has inspired so many couples to do the same that the lamppost collapsed, and the mayor had to install posts and chains that couples could secure with their locks of love, and this romantic ritual has been completed on bridges throughout Europe. Even enterprising vendors have gotten into the act; on our stroll across the bridge last night, we saw people selling a huge array of locks._

I’m a big fan of romance, but I was surprised that the plaque next to the bridge did not even mention the fact that a battle occurred here in 312 AD that changed the course of Western history. Emperor Constantine finally defeated his rival Maxentius, thus becoming the first Christian Emperor of Rome. Up until this point, Christianity had been a marginalized, often brutally persecuted sect. Constantine’s victory ushered in a new religious order that changed the course of history.

Perhaps in the end, despite my penchant for ancient Roman history, it’s a positive development that these 2 places, with their history of bloodshed, are now better known for a compassionate sanctuary, and for the mementos of star-crossed lovers. May these 2.0 versions of these ancient sites be a compelling force in influencing the course of our future.


2 Responses to “2 places in Rome that are known for all the wrong reasons.”

  1. cymmat June 9, 2011 at 8:10 pm #

    I love your blog. You have such an amazing way of telling a story.

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