One piece of intelligent advice I was given when I was younger was this,
“Whenever you go to a new city, old or new, always look up.” When I was given this piece of advice as a teenager I, naturally, shrugged it off as a piece of pointless verbal vomit given for the sake of wisdom. How wrong I was, and as an example of how wrong I was, Rome would set me right.
Firstly what a beautiful city, I need to get that out of the way before I carry on. The buildings, the roads, the inhabitants, every aspect of Rome is almost perfect. Almost because it suffers from the one flaw most capitals suffer from; Tourists. However I digress, let me return to my actual train of thought. Looking up is important, very important, because it lets you see what the city would look like if consumerism wasn’t the focus of most national tourist boards. Every person who walks around take’s things in at eye level, its perfectly natural, and often things are ignored or purely not seen. However using this advice I have taught myself always to look up when walking around somewhere new, especially somewhere as vast as Rome. The city sits stuck in time, depending what area you happen to be staring at when you stop. The city proper is stuck around the early 1900’s, wide spacing road separates huge building blocks, like in the USA. Each covered with numerous windows, each covered with sets of aging double blinds or rusting metallic grates. Suddenly out of no-where appears a building set out of time, white marble covered with religious or historic figures, with deep inscriptions written in Latin or Italian etched beneath them. This is one of the buildings from much further back, now being incorporated into the modern world. Huge houses, theatres or government buildings are now museums, court houses or governmental buildings. These pop up throughout Rome, magically appearing and disappearing as I pass on an aging tram, or clattering ATAC bus, speedily taking in what I saw and attempting to memorise it for my walk back later. Then we have Ancient Rome, the Coliseum, the Roman Forum and ruins of ancient interest. The ruins sit off a major road, or between tram tracks, locked behind a modern looking fenced, policed by smart dressed but casual Police Officers. Beautiful but haunting, knowing that what my eyes perceive is merely a small percentage of what once stood here.
Then I look up, as I walk around I look up and see what real Rome looks like. At eye level its stalls, stands, bright signage and graffiti. Human bodies, pushing, shoving and heaving their way past each other. The amount of human traffic this city has passing through it, it’s a wonder that it can cope. I hear Italian, German, French, Russian, English and a couple of languages I cannot understand. Tour guides parade around holding extendable sticks with various flags on the ended, followed by a steady line of people, a Shepard guiding it’s flock. When you look up, you see the real Rome. You see the beautiful roof top gardens, little outhouses with glasshouse’s growing fruit. The untouched years of natural weathering, the lack of neon lights and advertisement boards show that the residents really care about the city they live in. Rome is a vertical city, people live on top of each other in those huge building blocks, saving space and recycling everything. It is a modern city though, full of the requirements of every day life, just don’t look for a corner shop, they don’t exist in Rome.
The Vatican has an obvious influence over Rome, chapels & churches are everywhere, and they are beautiful. Built to perfection, some standing proud, some hidden away, but all accessible. As I was walking around this beautiful city, with my mother at my side, the statement we said the most was “How beautiful!”. Both of us were brought up as Catholics, so Rome was perfect. The part that shocked me the most was how ignorant the citizens of Rome are, granted that’s easy coming from someone who speaks bare bones Italian in the capital of Italy. However I think its more of a “Respect” thing more than anything else. Every religious representative that I met in the city not only made eye contact, but smiled as well, often greeting us with a “Buongiorno”. It was the religious buildings the most that almost drove me to tears in sheer awe and admiration. Those buildings are built to impress and impress they did, the architecture and the art work is out of this world. The Vatican museums themselves are something to behold, apparently if you were to view each item on display for 1 minute, it would take you twelve years to view the entirety of the Vatican museums. Wow.
It was the religious aspect that has given me the biggest problem; its created a crisis of faith. I have found myself drawn to find out more about my religion, to look at it as both a faith I can believe in, but also as an historicist. I have read the bible, I had to as a child & teen at schools and I consider myself quite well taught within my religion. When I was a teen I found myself rebelling, like we all do, against the norm. I stayed within a group of friends who thought the same as I did, not only Anti-Religious but Atheist in nature. I often point out the flaws of religion to those around who are religious, but in the build up to Rome and after coming back I find myself drawn to it again. Whilst in Rome I walked from St. Peters Basilica to the cathedral of St John Lateran, the first home of the Catholic church. It is awe inspiring and, sadly, I did this journey alone, but for me it was like a mini-pilgrimage. I walked past modern, old and ancient Rome, every time I saw a church I realised that some of these structures are as old as ancient Rome. These guys where persecuted by several Roman Emperor’s, some murderous enough to force the hand of Catholics to invite death or turn from their religion. Now I won’t preach, one thing I am not is someone who forces my religious beliefs onto others, in fact I don’t like forcing religion on anyone. It’s just driven me to ask the question: Should I turn back to my religion or should I carry on walking away? Am I questioning my faith because I am awe inspired by the beautiful city I have walked in, or is it something that is deep down, in my soul, something that has always been there?
Before you all start judging me, and waving your flags of righteous atheism or anti-religion, remember I was a catholic for years before ANY of my current friends knew me. I know my bible better than my life long catholic grandmother and better than some Protestant priests (which is a fact; it actually happened). I also know how bad religion can be, but like anything, the bad can be seen in anything. Atheists who ram anti-religion down the throats of people are equally as bad as religious people who ram religion down the throats of people. I won’t pray for god to save my dying child, I’d take them to a doctor. I’m not saying I’d be a “Blind Faith” person, especially after a conversation I had with a work colleague recently. We spoke about how someone shouldn’t just believe something because they are told to, they should explore what’s wrong and inaccurate with said religion, so that you can have faith in what you believe in. Basically: Try to break it and if you can’t, have faith in it. It is a simple, but amazingly strong view for someone as young as that to have on faith. They are proud of their religion, but they debate to break it and, if they cannot, they believe.
Now I know that the last statement will promote the shout of “Genesis. Bang, ruined.” but having actually read into Genesis there was Catholic theologian named “Augustine of Hippo” that explained Genesis in such a way that he was often known to be accepting of science, and this was around 400AD, yet he was never accused of heresy. The Church does realise that it’s words are often taken as literal, when really they could mean so much more, or something else completely.
Anyway, I appreciate your in put on this subject as, with my crisis of faith, I am unsure what to do. I am sure that something will guide my hand, lets just hope that I make the right choice.