Postcard from Rome, Italy: Palatine perch facilitates time travel

If zip codes were used in ancient Rome, Palatine Hill is the one you wanted during those B.C. years. The twins purportedly were born there, and Romulus settled right there in the neighborhood after disposing of his brother Remus.

The legendary she-wolf-nursed founders of Rome gave the city its birthdate a while back. Rome celebrated turning 2,771 on April 21, 2018 – kind of a humbling experience after experiencing events heralding San Antonio’s Tricentennial this year.

Anyway, Cicero (106-43 B.C.) resided there, as did the first emperor of the Roman Empire, Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.D.). While Augustus’ abode was relatively humble, subsequent emperors erected more elaborate quarters.

The great fire of year 64 left fiddling Nero (37-68 A.D.) some major cleared real estate on the hill available for construction of his new palace, Domus Aurea, or the Golden House, so named because many of its walls were covered with gold leaf. Recent archaeological digs have revealed remnants of the emperor’s over-the-top revolving dining room.

That’s obviously an oversimplified, superficial glimpse of the history of Palatine Hill. But we were really in search of a way to sense some of Rome’s ancient past above the hoards swarming into the Coliseum below. The crowds thin out, and much of the spacious hilltop turns into almost a pastoral setting for contemplating the vestiges of ancient civilization.

Now let us, by a flight of the imagination, suppose that Rome is not a human habitation but a psychical entity with a similarly long and copious past – an entity, that is to say, in which nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away and all the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the later one. This would mean that in Rome the palaces of the Caesars and the Septizonium of Septimus Severus would still be rising to their old height on the Palatine….

Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud, 1930

Analogies often distract me, and the above one does as well. Sorry, Dr. Freud, but you left me on the hilltop without traveling down your desired psychical paths.

Derailed, I flew off to pondering that Palatine Hill is indeed a place where phases of development from 2,000 years ago still exist in the midst of a city creeping toward 3,000,000 people. A peaceful place where your imagination easily can time-travel deep into multiple layers of the city’s past and then fast-forward to view today’s Rome spreading out all around you.

Postcard from Ravenna, Italy: A sleeping beauty awakened

Honorius (384-423) was only ten years old when his father died. Sad fact on its own, but his father was Theodosius the Great (347-395), Emperor of the Roman Empire. With big shoes to fill, he needed to grow up quickly. The rule of the empire was divided, with his older brother reigning over the eastern half and Honorius presiding over the western half.

Pesky barbarians kept trying to wrest control of his empire, and Honorius decided to move his capital to Ravenna in 402. The new capital was viewed as easy to defend, surrounded by fortifications built by earlier emperors and marshland. While the capital could be defended, its location left much of the rest of Italy vulnerable.

In 408, the Roman Senate bought their way out of danger by paying the Visigoths 4,000 pounds of gold to leave Italy alone. But having run through that the Goths returned to sack Rome itself in 410. Britain and much of the rest of the Roman Empire were left without Roman protection. And, although Rome was regained in 414, Honorius is remembered for the defeats suffered and the unraveling of the empire during his reign.

Perhaps tired of being cold, the Goths returned with a vengeance under the leadership of the King of the Ostrogoths, Theodoric the Great (454-526). Theodoric made Ravenna the base for his new Arian kingdom, welcoming more than 200,000 of his followers to settle in Italy. While this was bad for much of Italy, Ravenna flourished under the attention.

Two decades after Theodoric’s death, Justinian I (483-565), the Byzantine Emperor, was able to wrest control of Ravenna and much of Italy from the Ostrogoths. Ravenna continued to benefit from royal attention.

After the 8th century, Ravenna was no longer a star. This lack of attention and imperialistic investment turned her into somewhat of a sleeping beauty, extremely beneficial for preserving the city’s early Christian monuments. Eight of its 5th and 6th century buildings are recognized on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as demonstrating “great artistic skill, including a wonderful blend of Graeco-Roman tradition, Christian iconography and oriental and Western styles.”

The mosaics inside these monuments are Ravenna’s main attractions, but we are going to ease into those. This first postcard from Ravenna is simply a random combination of photos of the city to whet your appetite.

Threw in a little bit of food from lunch to make you hungrier for Ravenna. We stumbled across a nice restaurant with street-side seating, La Gardela. As ridiculous as this sounds, the zucchini fries alone were worth the train ride from Bologna.

Okay, it’s not fair to totally hold out on the mosaics. Peek if you must at this UNESCO preview.