Nikita Chawla writes about her recent visit to the two renowned Italian cities which are epitome of art, architectural beauty & renaissance heritage
What? Michelangelo painted that roof for free? Four and a half years of labour for nothing?” I was standing in the biting cold outside St Peters Basilica and couldn’t believe what my Bangladeshi guide was telling me. “Yes. And he did it all by himself.” As I look at him with disbelief, he assured me the ‘contract’ was out of his consent and not a punishment of sorts. Turns out the maestro artist later fled to Florence where he gained repute and recognition only to return 4 decades later and finish his pending work in the Vatican…
Centuries worth of art and beauty are packed (read crammed) in the Vatican and one day of standing in the darshan line does justice neither to the eyes nor the work my master artists of the world. The smallest city in the world is a poetic dialogue with history and architecture and through the course of the long walk I couldn’t help but notice the irresistible irony depicted in provocative and bewildering ways, rejecting all Dogma. The architectural installations, the effective juxtaposition of archaeology and contemporary art (drawn, painted and sculpted) acted as a strong communicative symbol and creative force of mans emotion and will power. I realised there are different ways of interpreting antiquity and in the perceptual horizontal of certain works; an impalpable dimension is introduced where the form of the contemporary questions itself and the whole course of events. Overwhelming and a tad heavy to digest? Yes but also rewarding and unforgettable experience to say the least.
St Peters Bascilica
The queues (both outside for the tickets and inside the holy Vatican) are long and unforgiving. It doesn’t matter which day of the week you pick, the Vatican is never offseason and is swarmed with 30K visitors every single day. As we proceeded down the narrow passage ways, we were told they lack ventilation and a few of our tour members got claustrophobic and politely exited and waited outside.
Michelangelo’s handiwork was the last stop and after tolling for so long I wasn’t going to miss it for anything. They say good things come to those who wait and it was certainly worth the while. However, all the neck craning made my head heavy and shoulders weary. I couldn’t fathom how he climbed up almost 7 floors with buckets of handmade paint 6 days a week four years in a row. Photography is strictly prohibited and silence is enforced (The echo of human voices has already done some irreversible damage to the Italian heritage).
Rome like an Italian
They say Rome wasn’t made in a day and isn’t meant to be seen in one. It takes a lot of time to merely soak in the sheer amount culture, art and architecture. Multiethnic neighbourhoods, embellished staircases, lavish houses of architectural interest with a series of decorations and timeless work of mosaic make it a feast for the eyes.
The most internationally recognised symbol of Rome the Colosseum was inaugurated in 80 AD with a grand opening of 100 days of celebration! Today what’s left are the ruins of this colossal amphitheatre which could at one point accommodate over fifty thousand people in one go. It reminded me of movies like the Gladiator and bloody scenes of bull fighting. Despite centuries of neglect (marble and semi precious material was stolen during the dark ages and used as a quarry till the 18th century) it has remained pretty much intact. The ruins they say, are the will of God (Actually the result of an earth-shattering quake back in the day) I gazed at the architectural marvel from the Palatine hills adjacent to the colosseum. The gaze liberates the vision and there is little reason to be surprised that traces of prehistory creep in amid the spacecrafts, stone crushers, outsized beach umbrellas, mirages, places for congregating and tottering buildings.
Here are some wise words from a frequent visitor to the Italian soil that struck a chord with me “Girly, even if only a small part (let’s say the zip) of a jacket or bag is manufactured in Italy and nothing else, be assured the product will bear a made in Italy tag!”
This means that barring food a ‘made in Italy’ doesn’t mean it is homegrown. I became more cautious with the purse strings as I didn’t want to take home fake genuine made in Italy products sourced from our neighbours back home. Nevertheless, I explored the Trastevere which literally means across the Tiber and once I crossed over to the other side I felt the sharp difference. The vibe changes from artsy and high fashion to hip and bohemian with plenty of boutiques selling jewelry, perfumes and handicrafts. With a gelato cappuccino in hand (It’s a blessing to be able to savour both loves at once) I aimlessly strolled down the cobblestone streets of the bustling mercato flanked by ochre buildings lost in my own thoughts. As dusk fell the street slowly transformed into a pub scene with locals and tourists alike thronging the various bars that lined the lanes.
If you are pressed for time and have to choose one place besides the Colloseum and Fontana di Trevi to visit, make it Piazza Navona. It is one of the most popular public places in Rome and it’s not hard to see why. It is lined with restaurants, gelaterias, souvenir shops and the Museo di Roma inside the Renaissance Palazzo Braschi all transporting you to Baroque Rome. Artists making portraits for 20 euros and caricatures for 10, a violinist and his troupe performing, tourists snapping selfies, children blowing bubbles in the air all make for a jovial time and pretty sight.
Right at the end of the square lies Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi featuring 4 exquisitely carved figures each presenting one of the 4 great rivers of the world. The square is connected to one of the most picturesque streets of Rome- Via dela Pace and those who walk it are rewarded by the breathtaking beauty of Santa Maria Della with its white portico gleaming in the sun.
Fontana di Trevi
I visited the Trevi Fountain last thing before my flight out and fell in love with the baroque masterpiece. I threw a coin into the famous wish fountain and the romantic in me couldn’t help but fondly remember the magical moment from La Dolce Vita where Marcello Mastroianni wades into the water after Anita Eckberg for that long-drawn kiss. You see, Renaissance and romance go hand in hand and no place does it like the Eternal City. In Shelly’s words “The fountains alone justify a journey to Rome”. Adding on to that, throw in a little budget for shopping and nightlife and Rome crowns every girls bucket list!