Do all roads lead to Rome, or does Rome lead you everywhere?
We are told the first instance is true, but it’s only when you’re Rome it hits you – this is where it starts, not where it ends. I was standing in a city older than times. Rome was there when there wasn’t an Europe. Rome was there and it was everywhere. We all know how far the Empire extended, up to London even – the name of the city coming from the Londinium. From the Iberian peninsula (Hispania) to the British Isles (Britannia) from North Africa (Mauritania) to the East (Mesopotamia) Romans conquered land and annexed it to its great empire.
Great, indeed. Romans were practitioners of religion, polytheists, but never let the admiration for its gods to blind the pursuit for knowledge and arts. They were also advanced engineers and architects, and left us a priceless legacy in all matters, when looking at economical and political spheres.
But just because something is “great”, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. We’re still talking about a society where women were not allowed to vote, with vast and strong inequalities between classes, that used and abused of slaves, where there wasn’t such thing as justice and education was reserved to only a few.
The great colosseum was place of spectacles of pure cruelty. Men condemn to death penalty were forced to fight until death with another man. The gladiators were rarely voluntary warriors. And worse was when they were made to fight wild animals, most times without even a weapon or clothes, ending up completely dilacerated. And thousands would watch. This was netflix in those times. And sometimes there was entertainment for the children, with magicians and acrobats acting between scenes.
When visiting the Colosseum, the weather had suddenly become moody. There was the distant roar of thunder, and it set the perfect mood. I was glad for the dark skies and the occasional thick drops of rain. It gave me the frame my mind needed to ramp up my imagination. I could almost smell the sweat and the blood of a day of killing.
I wondered what would it be to a part of that crowd. The crowd sitting or standing where I was now photographing. Would I be excited and even enjoy the killing? Would I be horrified and yet curious? Would I not attend at all? Who was I on those times? Was I proud of my Empire? Was I proud of being part of a society promoting such spectacle?
These were other times. But just because we don’t make the killing of people the evening show in Western Europe, that doesn’t mean we became less evil. Doesn’t mean society has evolved to a better place. And that was what I was thinking while stumbling upon so much history in this city. Most importantly I thought about how long these columns, these amphitheatres, these flourishings, these remains of walls, corridors and fountains have been there for. And wondered for how much longer would they still exist as I wonder so many times how much longer the planet will survive to the hands of our species. As well as I question the understanding of generations to come of how important it is to remember the past and take care of such memories – as they often represent lessons that could help preventing us from committing the same mistakes, if not crimes.
Walking in the streets of Rome is the same as walking inside a museum and a good museum always tickles our brain. It makes us reflect. Perhaps even learn, taking in our own thoughts, or own ideas. But what I always find about museums is that they seem to not only belong to a different time, but also to a different world. And even though metaphorically we could think so – it was figuratively a different world – in reality, materialistically, it was the same world. Those cobbled streets I was stepping in were the same other stepped in so many centuries ago. Those same others that were humans like me, only perhaps speaking a different language, wearing a different garment. But intrinsically, we are the same. I kept wondering about this, thinking if they had the same struggles, the same dream, what were their fears and their desires. Who would I be? A women struggling for freedom, stuck in a place where education was forbidden, where I wouldn’t be considered a citizen with the right to vote? Would I be as I am now, and still desire for more, even fight for more? Would I be brave enough to be ostracised and perhaps killed in a society who would not accept women to have free will? Or would I have had the luck to be born into a noble family, close to the emperor? Would I be mistress or a respected wife? Would I be instead a well read priestess writing about History that was being made in parchments, in carefully drawn latin calligraphy? Or would I be a witch, sought in secret by powerful men and women looking for a different way to get what they wanted, or to cure any odd illnesses?
Who knows. I do want to believe we are living the best times. I have rights as a woman, death is not the evening show, slavery is mostly gone in our society, we can almost talk about a fair place to live – my generation hasn’t known war or hunger. There is still so much to achieve, but overall… I still wonder. Am I happier now than what I would ever be as a Roman peasant from 27 BC?
Needless to say this was my favourite part about Rome. Wondering thought its ruins, its streets. Forgetting about real life, thinking about potential pasts. What can I see… I am a sucker for History, for fantasy. Who doesn’t enjoy the marvels of travelling through time?