Rome is the most inexhaustible place I have ever been. A friend asked me yesterday how long it would take to exhaust Rome. Instead of just providing a rote answer, I tried to do the math. How long would it take to see all the classical ruins? all the churches, or for that matter just all the Baroque churches; all the museums; all the obelisks; all the historic districts; all the fountains (there are more than 2000); all the little quirks like water clocks, hidden passageways, vistas from atop high buildings, statues of obscure figures?
What if you just wanted to see the entire Rome footprint of the Baroque sculptor and designer Bernini? How long would that take? Or all the paintings by Caravaggio? Or everything that can be traced to Michelangelo.
Every time I come I go to certain places unhesitating, almost unthinkingly: St. Peter’s Square, the Borghese Gallery (home of the mother lode of Bernini sculptures), the Pantheon (again and again and again). And every time I come I make enquiries about things I have been reading. This time, for example, I have been visiting Fascist and Mussolini sites. (I admit to having a soft spot for the bombastic neo-emperor of Rome. He was not the Italian twin of Hitler. In fact, he privately regarded Hitler as a tramp and a clown. The books I have been reading say that Mussolini’s footprint in Rome is second in importance to that of the Baroque.)
I wander around the great city like a flaneur–a melancholy wanderer, with no particular goal in mind. I log 8-15 miles on my feet per day. When I need to rest, I find a nameless little cafe and order espresso or cappuccino. The other day, I sat on the pavement of St. Peter’s Square and just let the sun warm me as I cooled off from all the hiking. At sunset over Michelangelo’s great dome, once the largest in the world, I took this photograph from where I sat.
So the question is, why is there a pagan Egyptian obelisk at the center of St. Peter’s square? Explain that? S/he who can explain that has figured out what the humanities exist to explore.