By Gorden Gaskill
No Place Like Rome 朗読
No other city on earth is like Rome, or ever was, or ever can be. A great world metropolis 2000 years ago, still a great world metropolis today, Rome has conquered first by the sword, then by the Cross, finally by her charm.
No matter how you approach her, almost the first thing you see is some awesome reminder of her ancient glory; a massive stretch of wall built about 400 B.C., a great road with a surface laid down before Jesus was born, a mighty aqueduct 2000 years old which still brings cold, sweet water into the city.
One small square, Piazza della Minerva, illustrates how Rome slices confusingly through the centuries of conquest and capture, of paganism and Christianity. Here a lovely Christian church, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, was built about 1300 A.D. over a temple to Minerva built about 50 B.C. In front of it stands a small Egyptian obelisk made in perhaps 1000 B.C., brought to Rome about 10 B.C. and reerected in this square about 1650 A.D.2
Somebody once said that Rome is a lovely lake of time, but it is all too easy to drown in it. A tourist, one story goes, told by the hotel clerk his room number was 450, asked groggily, after a day of sight-seeing, "B.C. or A.D.?"
No other city has been so studied, analyzed and written about, yet nobody really knows who founded Rome, when or why, or even what her name means. Likeliest of many theories is that the name comes from an aboriginal word rumon, meaning " the town by the river," from Rome's location on the Tiber.
As to its founding, legend pinpoints the date as 753 B.C. although recent excavations indicate that the site was inhabited much earlier. Legend also names its founder as Romulus, one of the twin boys left exposed to die by jealous relatives but who, suckled by a she-wolf, lived to found Rome on the Palatine Hill. Some say it was no real wolf at all but a peasant wet nurse who, because of her loose morals, was named " The Wolf ".
It is this mixture of legend and history which has given Rome the golden patina that so charms visitors. Every stone is a story, every legend a delight, and there is no end to them. One day, for instance, while looking up a telephone number, I noticed that the name " Proietti " took more space in the directory than any other --- nearly five full columns. I wondered why, asked and found a typical Roman story.3
In the Middle Age Romans often abandoned unwanted children to die, a practice that pained Pope Innocent 3, who, more than 700 years ago, established a hospital with a section devoted to foundling. Near its entrance gate was a crib-like container on a large wheel, which turned horizontally. The mother would put her baby in the rib, ring the bell, and nuns inside would spin the wheel, bringing the foundling inside. All such foundlings were legally named " Proietti," meaning " the exposed ones." Thus any family bearing the name today had, almost certainly, many centuries ago, a foundling boy as an ancestor.
Another tale concerns a pet monkey and the baby boy of a family which, some 300 years ago, lived in a downtown palace. One day the monkey playfully picked up the infant and scampered to the inaccessible top of the palace tower. The horrified family vowed to keep a light burning forever in front of an image of the Virgin Mary if the child was returned safely. He was, and through the years the palace has changed hands many times, but each owner still keeps a little light (today an electric one) burning in the tower.
Just the fountains of Rome ---some 1300 of them --- have fascinating stories to tell. The water of one is considered sure to produce a boy baby if a mother-to-be drinks it. Another is supposed to help out any man who has love-affair troubles. a third does the same for girls.4
Whole books could be written about Roman doors. Or bridges. Or steps. _The most famous steps in Rome are the so-called Spanish Stairs, a favorite rendezvous. The three flower kiosks at the bottom can be used by a Roman girl to convey a subtle message to her waiting date. As the girl comes down the steps, if she passes the kiosk on the left, it means "yes." If the one on the right, "no." If the one in the middle, "maybe."
An authority has estimated that if a person devoted all day every day to sight-seeing in Rome, he might get around to seeing everything worth-while in about five years. One of the most famous sights --- often called Rome's most perfect building --- is the Pantheon, built in 27 B.C. to honor the seven planetary gods. Reconstructed in 120 A.D. (and used today as a Christian church), it has an enormous dome of unsupported brick and concrete which was the model for Michelangelo in designing the Basilica of St. Peter. For all its world fame, the dome of St. Peter's is actually 142 centimeters smaller in diameter than the Pantheon's.
Perhaps the best-known sight of ancient Rome is the Colosseum, a mighty amphitheater probably so name because a colossal bronze statue of Nero once stood near it. Rome was already more than 800 years old when the Colosseum was started --- in 72 A.D. Dedicated eight years later, the structure is an engineering marvel still not entirely understood. It "floats" on a huge substructure which rests on marshy ground that was once a lake for Nero. The Colosseum held an estimated 60.000 spectators, protected from the sun by an awning so huge that 120 Imperial sailors were assigned to man its masts and rigging.
Among other leading tourist attractions in Rome are the catacombs. Nobody knows how many there are ; new ones are turning up all the time. So far, nearly 50 have been discovered, and their known tunnels stretch about 950 kilometers. Contrary to popular belief, the catacombs were dug not as places of secret worship for persecuted Christians but as openly recognized burial grounds. Roman law made any burial ground an inviolable sanctuary, so, in the time of severe persecution, Christian services were sometimes held in the catacombs. Certain emperors disregarded the law of inviolability, however, and ordered their police in after the Christians. In one horrible case the police stood by as hundreds of Christians entered a catacomb, where they thought they would be immune from pursuit. Then the police blocked up all exists and left the Christians to die.5
Once called the New Jerusalem, Rome has far outstripped the real Jerusalem as the holy city of Christian pilgrimage. For 15 centuries, pilgrims have been coming here, and some still walk the whole way, hundreds and even thousands of kilometers, sometimes carrying a heavy cross, in penance or devotion.
As a symbol of their devotion, many of the pilgrims climb, on their knees, with a prayer a each step, the 28 marble "Sacred Steps" connected with the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Tradition says that these steps were brought to Rome by the Emperor Constantine's mother, and are the same ones Jesus mounted to face Pilate. (Stains on them are said to be of Jesus' blood.) The church grants an indulgence of 1000 years to anyone who thus climbs them and receives Holy Communion as well. So many do it that the steps have been covered with stout walnut planks, which have had to be renewed three times in the last 200 years. In all history only one person has been said to get halfway up, change his mind, and walk down. Legend says it was Martin Luther.
Since it was because of St.Peter that Rome became the capital of world Catholicism, he is the city's patron saint. Many churches and relics keep his memory green, but Rome's greatest tribute to St. Peter is the vast basilica which rises in what is now the State of Vatican City and is the center of all Catholicism. Started in 1506 and completed 176 years later, this huge edifice can hold nearly 100.000 people. It is built over what tradition says was the tomb of St. Peter, and recent excavations indicate that he was indeed buried here. In the tomb was found a skeleton (headless) of an elderly man on which exhaustive tests have been made to determine whether it belongs to the supposed head of St. Peter in the possession of another church. The result of the test have not yet been made public.6
Aside from the ghosts of the Caesars and the lure of Holy Rome, visitors are usually charmed by the Roman people themselves. Everyone has his own story of how helpful, friendly and gay the Romans are. On my own first day in Rome, for example, three friends and I had bought some roast chickens, bread and a flask of red wine. Finding no place to eat it, we sat down on the steps of a deluxe apartment building and fell to. The porter came out, stared at us, shook his head sadly, vanished --- and returned with a tray and four glasses, saying; "But, signori, it is a pity to drink wine from a bottle!"
Romans are a curious mixture of the very newest and the very oldest. Polybius, a Greek historian, wrote more than 2000 years ago that "the Romans are without rivals in their enthusiasm for progress." Today no city in Europe is so quick to adopt modern gadgets, and critics often sigh that Rome is becoming "Americanized." Such things as jazz, juke boxes, pinball machines (banned recently by the police) and blue jeans are seized on avidly here. Rome was almost the first city in Europe to make a success of the American supermarket idea and the drive-in theater.7
Yet the people of Rome hold with the old things, too. They still use an eloquent sign language which, scholars say, is probably directly descended from the pantomime gestures of the theaters of Imperial Rome. And one of the most intriguing survivals is connected with the giant obelisk which stands in front of St. Peter's. The story goes this way:
Pope Sixtus V decided in 1586 to put the obelisk there, but most European engineers thought it impossible to raise such a heavy object. The Pope made elaborate preparations nevertheless, and on the appointed day his engineers had 800 workers, 150 horses and 46 cranes ready. So that the orders of the master engineer could be instantly heard everywhere, the Pope threatened death to anyone in the vast crowd of on-lookers who made the slightest sound. To show he meant it, he erected a scaffold in the square and had his executioners ready.
The great obelisk was raised slowly and got about halfway up when the ropes began to stretch. There were breathless moments when it looked as if it would fall back. No one dared say a word --- except a sailor named Bresca, who shouted out, "Pour water on the ropes!" The engineers did so, the hempen ropes tautened and the obelisk was saved.
The jubilant Pope offered Bresca any reward he wanted, but all he asked was the right, for himself and his descendants forever, to provide to St. Peter's all the palms used there on Palm Sundays. It was granted, and the Bresca family, which still provides them, has made a tidy living from this odd monopoly.
For untold centuries it has been pointed out that Rome's name in Latin and Italian, Roma, is, when spelled backward, amor --- love. And there is an old challenge which says nobody can stay six months in Rome without falling in love with her. Many foreigners have yielded to this challenge: having come to Rome in government service or for corporation, they have resigned at the end of their tour of duty rather than be transferred elsewhere. The poet Longfellow called Rome "the only city that completely satisfies." A retired foreign diplomat who lives in Rome sums it up. He says the world is divided between those who think Paris is the world's most charming city and those who know that Rome is.