These Three Mortal Things

Rome is struggling. Not in its position as a tourist destination but as a living, thriving, healthy, growing urban entity.

Nolli map fragment - Piazza Navona and Pantheon in the top left quadrant.

Nolli map fragment - Piazza Navona and Pantheon in the top left quadrant.

From the article:

"The Eternal City is facing crisis, with its administration engulfed in corruption scandals and debt, its roads scarred by pot-holes, the main airport partially closed and a growing immigration crisis.

For generations, the Italian capital has rested on past glories rather than built on them but now its multiple problems have come to a head.


"Rome is on the verge of collapse," Giancarlo Cremonesi, the president of the Rome Chamber of Commerce, told Reuters.

"It is unacceptable that a major city which calls itself developed can find itself in such a state of decay."

A survey by the European Commission two years ago placed Rome last out of 28 EU capitals in a ranking for the efficiency of city services.

Despite great food, superb coffee and an enviable climate, on an index of quality of life, the capital came second to last, with Athens at the bottom.

Its Renaissance churches, cobbled streets and vibrant piazzas still wow tourists from around the world, but beyond the historic centre, the city is a mess and life is a struggle for locals."

I imagine the average tourist passing through the city for a few days likely won’t notice much of the contemporary decay. In addition to the food and the people, the shambolic conditions of much of the city exist as congenital components of its charm. As a Rome neophyte in my 20’s I couldn’t help but be delighted by the explicit proximity of the ancient, the twisting streets, 7 hills, run down aging buildings, glorious ornamented structures and new construction.

Rome’s current malaise described in the Telegraph reminds me of Lord Byron and the Venerable Bede:

 “While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand;

When falls the coliseum, Rome shall fall;

And when Rome falls – the World.”

Are current events in Rome cause for concern?

From ancient times through the mid-20th Century Rome managed to episodically assert itself in a massive way as a place where innovation, creation and change was possible. Testament to its primacy in the ancient world lay in the ruins of ancient Rome’s civilization. Rome largely missed the Renaissance but charged forward with the next generation of artists and architects and established itself as the center of baroque creations. In the 20th Century (although vey short-lived) Mussolini attempted a new Roman dominance in altering the city in an attempt to assert itself as the 3rd Rome. 

The Coliseum (still standing) - The Ancient

The Coliseum (still standing) - The Ancient

Borromini's Saint'Ivo - The Baroque

Borromini's Saint'Ivo - The Baroque

EUR - The Fascist

EUR - The Fascist

The lifeblood of any city rests in its ability to move forward and evolve. It’s about adaptation and not trying to preserve a specific period of time in perpetuity. The new must manifest itself while not entirely obliterating built history and sense of Place. As the past 2,500 years have shown us the evolution of Rome unfolds on a different time scale than the rest of the world. Byron saw Rome as

This long-explored, but still exhaustless, mine

Of contemplation;

A wellspring of introspective thought persists among the piazzas, churches, and winding topography. Spend 30 minutes in and around the Pantheon and you'll understand. Rome has been and remains a slow space not susceptible to the frenetic pace and on-demand culture of the typical western 21st Century lifestyle. The continuous existence of Rome requires a long view and beseeches civilization to be patient. Hopefully we are not at the beginning of the end of Rome but just awaiting the current Rome to shed its chrysalis of corruption and contemporary decay and emerge anew. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to see it in my lifetime. Maybe not. Considerations of the significance of a single lifetime diminish when evaluated against the lifespan of the Eternal City.