History, as we all know, plays an important role in the shape of an individual as well as ethnic groups, nations, religions, etc. Thus, it is no surprise that Roman citizens take great pride in their history. Roman history, unlike American history, is extremely lengthy and quite eventful. Accordingly, both the Italian and Roman government have taken great measures to preserve the various artifacts, ruins, statues, and traditions of the past. For example, there have been stalls in new public transportation routes and upgrades due to this commitment to preserving Roman history. This has led to sometimes-unbearable traffic and taxes raised, which has led to many complaints and protests from the constituents. However just the same, some methods of preservation have lead to great economic successes such as turning old historic cathedrals and churches into renovated theatres and other new businesses. In addition, tourism consistently is a source of great revenue for Rome and for Italy.
Speaking of tourism… when my partner in crime and fellow world traveler Luqman and I chose Rome as one of our stops on our fabulous STA "Around the World" trip, we knew that there would probably be lots of tourists when we arrived. However, we both did not realize that it would be to this extent. Rome is constantly inundated with tourists, tour groups, exchange students, and other foreigners. This is not just during peak summer tourism because we arrived in Italy in their so-called "dead"/ "low" season, and there are tourists everywhere! In fact, I don't know if I've encountered more Romans or tourists since we've been here. I think I have heard more foreign languages than Italian being spoken.
Everywhere I look, I am constantly reminded of Rome's extensive history. Every hundred feet, I have found myself running into an important monument or site. Our hotel is in fact literally just a couple hundred meters from the Pantheon. The Pantheon as many of you know is a very well known Roman monument, and it was the start of our Roman adventure.
The beginning of our adventure started off with a LONG nap due to not getting any sleep and extreme jet lag. When we woke up, it was in the late afternoon/early evening and so we both realized that if we wanted to see any of the sites, they couldn't be any museums or churches because of the late hour. Thus, we set off down the narrow, cobble-stoned streets to explore centro storico (historic center).
Before I continue on, let me comment on these Roman streets as well as the driving. The streets are very narrow. They are so narrow that Luqman and I cannot walk next to each other. And ladies, no this is not because Luqman's burly muscles are that massive. Thus, if a car is coming in your direction, you really don't have all that much space to move over although it is imperative for you to do so because Romans do not joke with their driving. I don't know if it is typical or of I just have the propensity to get in the way of speeding cars, (Luqman would probably say it is the latter), but I swear I have almost been hit like 500 (okay that's a bit dramatic, it's probably more like 490) times since we've arrived here. Unlike America, the pedestrians clearly do not have the right of way and you must use the crosswalks and obey the signal lights…your life depends on it!
Okay back to our day of exploration….
We woke up famished and decided to find a place to eat. I looked through my tour book and found an appealing restaurant. As we were navigating our way to find the restaurant, we came across a bookstore that had front displays of books written by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. There were Italian translations of books written by both as well as books by other authors about these two current Presidential candidates. This made me realize the significance of this Presidential election. I thought to myself that although American history is nowhere near the length of Roman history, this election truly is of great caliber and history in making.
As we continued walking, we came across Piazza Navona, which is one of the many, and I mean many, we're talking like more than 600 (okay again, that's kind of dramatic, more like 590) piazzas in Rome. It was once the main city market area and was also used as a space to stage and perform mock naval battles. There are three well-known statues in this public square. The Fontana del Moro, designed by Giacomo della Porta in 1576, is a depiction of a Moor holding a dolphin, surrounded by Tritons. There is also the Fontana de Nattuno which shows Roman god Neptune fighting a sea monster. He is surrounded by sea nymphs. Lastly, there's the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, translates into English as the Fountain of the Four Rivers, which is a giant creation that depicts the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Plata Rivers. At the time it was constructed, these represented the then-known continents of the world. On top of this fountain is one of many Obelisks that adorn many Roman piazzas.
We took some photos and continued on to find the restaurant. We walked a couple more blocks and found the restaurant only to find that it was closed. Undeterred, we walked back towards our hotel to find a place to eat. After a couple of blocks, we found a restaurant called Montecarlo, that had a reasonably priced menu. I say reasonably because the Euro is quite stronger than the dollar right now, thus Europe is not easy on this Korean's wallet! Luqman and I both enjoyed some delicious Italian pasta dishes, (his- spaghetti noodles with a salmon sauce, mine- gnocchi [potato pasta] with a cream sauce) and then continued back to our hotel.
Being that this was our first night in Rome, Luqman and I didn't quite know the direct route back to the hotel, thus we wandered the streets trying to find our way back. While we were wandering, we literally ran right into the Pantheon. We marveled at the enormity of this ancient Roman building and the fact that it was still standing. We continued on our path back to the hotel, and then found ourselves in the presence of another obelisk, this time it was at the Piazza della Minerva. This piazza was originally built in honor of the Roman goddess Minerva, who was the goddess of wisdom and patron of arts, trade and the art of war. The obelisk in this square is on top of a statue of an elephant, which was designed and built to honor the papacy of Alexander VII. The elephant was picked as a design to symbolize strength and wisdom.
After taking some pictures with the AMAZING night shot option on my AMAZING camera, we finally found our way back to the hotel. As I drifted off to sleep, I reminded myself to call my mom to let her know I was okay. I knew she would be upset that I did not call her back yet. I sighed because I thought about the lecture she would probably give me. I started to become annoyed, but then I reminded myself of this thought: family, like the city of Rome and its relationship to preserving its history, links to the past, but instead of deterring growth, plays a key element that helps progression to the future.