Rome’s puzzling magic charm | Sunday Observer

Rome’s puzzling magic charm

 The Colosseum – the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world
The Colosseum – the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world

While I was studying Roman civilization my attention was riveted on Rome, the Eternal City that casts a spell over all who are drawn to her. Although I have never been to Rome, I feel a certain familiarity with the city through my association with its history, civilization and the superb legal system. In these troubled times, however, many people seem to be leaving Rome never to return. They say Rome has become unlivable. But that is only one side of the story.

I have met a couple of people who had lived in Rome. They say many Romans have gone for good. Even wealthy tourists do not wish to spend their holidays in Rome. As the city does not have a stable economy, there is a shortage of job seekers coming to Rome. The universities are reported to be in turmoil and many foreign students prefer to go elsewhere for higher studies.

There was a time when everybody loved to live in Rome. Today the number of such people is dwindling. Zurich, London, New York and Sydney have become popular destinations. There are many reasons for this situation. For instance, the postal service in Rome is reported to be in a mess. The economy is paralyzed by frequent strikes. Even writers who wished to work in tranquillity have moved to other cities.

Serious crimes

According to media reports, the rate of serious crime has shot up in Rome. Money laundering, jailbreaks, robberies, rapes and murders have brought a black mark to the once prosperous city.

But the beauty is while there is an exodus, there are a large number of people who want to visit and stay in Rome for various reasons. Why do foreigners come to Rome in droves? They know that in the 1950s Rome was an ideal place to meet people. There were artists on the streets doing their paintings. The market was full of goodies and the food at hotels was excellent.

About 70 years later, Rome has changed drastically. But there is an elusive appeal. Those who have visited Rome in recent years say there is a peculiar charm about the ancient city. Foreigners who have been mesmerized by the city are unable to define their feelings. Although they complain of postal and train delays, arrogant bureaucrats, unbearable noise, traffic snarls, filthy streets, and beggar menace, Rome has its own fascination for visitors.

Beauty

The beauty of the ancient city is one reason for the attraction. They include the domes of baroque churches, fountains, weathered stones, mossy ruins, and distant wooded hills.

Above all, it is the Roman culture and civilization that attract the people. For instance, the Colosseum is a major attraction.

City fathers have taken measures to protect it from decay. They have not only repaired the Colosseum but also ordered that vehicles passing it should slow down to a funeral pace. However, visitors complain that the 180-year-old Milvian Bridge has not received such a treatment. The bridge is said to be something irreplaceable.

It was in its vicinity that the Christian Emperor Constantine defeated the Pagan Emperor Maxentius. Lord Byron has immortalized an ancient prophecy in the following poem:

“While stands the Colosseum,

Rome shall stand;

When falls the Colosseum, Rome shall fall;

And when Rome falls – the world.”

Come February 14, we remember Valentine’s Day. Valentine was supposed to be the protector of sweethearts. In 1867 more than 70 followers of Giuseppe Garibaldi fought in an attempt to liberate Rome from Papal rule. It is said that their ghosts appeared on propitious nights, and young men charged the Papal troops with bayonets, crying “Viva L’Italia!”

Garden of Lucullus

If I happen to visit Rome, I will not miss the Pincio which is said to have been the garden of Lucullus, the greatest gourmet in history. There the Emperor Claudius had his 26-year-old wife Messalina murdered, to punish her for an indiscriminate love life.

The magic charm of Rome has puzzled men in all ages. American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: “When we have once known Rome, and left her where she lies like a long-decaying corpse … left her in utter weariness, no doubt, of her narrow, crooked, intricate streets … left her, sick at heart of Italian trickery, which has uprooted whatever faith in man’s integrity … left her, half lifeless from the languid atmosphere … left her, crushed down in spirit by the desolation of her ruin and hopelessness of her future, left her, in short, hating her with all our might.

“When we have left Rome in such a mood as this, we are astonished by the discovery, by-and-by, that our heartstrings have mysteriously attached themselves to the Eternal City, and are drawing us thitherward again, as if it were more familiar, more intimately our home, than even the spot where we were born.”

It is believed that Rome had been founded in 753 BC by Romulus, son of Mars, the God of War. Rome’s first settlements were on the slopes of what was later called the Palantine Hill but gradually the six surrounding hills were also included within its walls. This explains why Rome is often called the “City on Seven Hills.”

Dense population

Rome was by far the largest city of the ancient world. Hundreds of thousands of people lived there closely packed together. Such a dense population was made possible by the excellent water supply. The early Romans had no desire to become conquerors. They wanted peace so that they could get on with their farming and trading activities. But tribes from the hills and mountains were attracted by the rich soil and pleasant climate in the valley of the Tiber. They then tried to seize land or steal animals and crops. The Romans were forced to fight back. They soon discovered that attack was the best method of defence.

We cannot write anything about Rome without mentioning Julius Caesar who became the virtual ruler of the Mediterranean world in 45 BC. He proved himself to be a wise ruler. He introduced a method of collecting taxes in a fair way. He also tried to help unemployed Romans by setting up colonies where they could buy land cheaply and settle down to farm it. He planned many more reforms, but he did not live to carry them out. He was brutally murdered by a group of senators in the Senate House on 15 March 44 BC.

With all her social and economic problems, Rome’s puzzling magic charm still remains.

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