THE ETERNAL ROMA by Noreen Haider

I identify myself as a traveler and nothing makes me happier than to experience a new city or to take a vacation in some of my favourite cities in the world and enjoy seeing them again. There are so many beautiful cities in the world that have their special charm ; the picture postcard perfect beauty of Paris where each tuft of grass is manicured carefully, London throbbing with life and activity, the almost magical Marrakech, straight out of the pages of ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ with its souks and snake charmers and New York with its high rise buildings and maddening traffic. But even if you are a well travelled person, nothing prepares you for the splendor of Italy and the utter grandeur of Rome when you see it for the first time. Many years ago when I went to Rome I was totally blown away.

Rome is a actually a magnificent open air museum and numerous times and ages exist in it, all at the same time.There is no other city in the world that can be compared to Rome it gives you a new perspective of time and space and takes you on a time travel. Every single part of Italy is beautiful, with the elegant cities and rolling green mountain landscape in the north, the breathtaking natural beauty of the lake resorts, the romance of Venice and the rustic beauty of the South with colourful houses on the seashore. Every inch of Italy is filled with natural beauty and one can never be quite sure as to which part is more beautiful.

But Rome is extraordinary because it is the ultimate showcase of the zenith of human creative genius. So much of art is displayed at each and every corner you turn that it overwhelms you. It is a blend of ancient and modern and very magnificent old building stand proudly alongside modern architecture. The city is the custodian of thousands of masterpieces of arts and crafts in museums and galleries that are filled with them. But once you start exploring you realise soon enough that the greatest artwork is Rome itself.

Each cobbled road, every piazza, fountain, statue and building is a treasure. You can take a walk for half an hour along a road and see a thousand year old house where people are still living or old church with beautiful stained glass windows or a magnificent statue of a deity half covered with moss standing inside a garden, almost forgotten. Rome is an adventure and a mystery where treasures are found at each bend and you never know what you might find next . Then there are the famous buildings which attract millions of tourists from around the globe. The breathtaking Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, perfectly preserved for two thousand years, Piazza Venezia with the impressive Altare della Patria, and the Galleria Borghese with some of famous sculptures of Italian Masters Bernini and Canova and of course the Vatican museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica, each place unrivaled in its grandeur.

Rome is the Eternal City, built by the great and mighty Caesars who ruled the Roman empire which spanned over almost the whole of Europe, Northern Africa and the Levant. Walking inside their city, you can still feel their presence in it. When I stepped into the colosseum for the first time I felt as if I was transported back in time. I could almost see the arena filled with spectators looking at the royal stand where the Mighty Caesars must have perched on their gilded chairs surrounded by the ladies of the royal household in their flowing stolas and decked with jewels. I could imagine the Gladiators fighting with wild beasts and hear the roar of the crowd. It is hard to understand how the society full of artists could enjoy the bloody games so much but then, I guess, that is also a part of the mystery of Rome and we can only partially understand some dimensions of it.

The old architecture from the time of the Roman Empire is remarkable but what we see in Rome today is the collective effort of the architects, engineers, artists and painters for more than two thousand years. The signature design of Roman architecture can still be be seen around the world in many cities. With so much of history preserved in one place, it would take several lifetimes to see all that Rome has to offer. It is because of the presence of such brilliance that Rome can reduce you to insignificance and overwhelm you completely. No other city in the world has this power.

But having said all that about Rome, it is not just the buildings and artwork that makes it such a huge tourist attraction. The most important reason is that the successive Italian governments and people have done a tremendous job of creating the environment where it is possible to see, experience and enjoy this city. As a tourist I do not have to be conscious about anything but the spectacle in front of me and enjoy myself without feeling insecure, or having to worry about my attire. I have even travelled there alone many times, without having any trouble at all. This sense of security and freedom is the real secret of the success of tourism in Italy.

The city offers accommodation and meals for every budget. From cheap bed and breakfast places to five star hotels and expensive fine dining and shopping. It has bustling places, full of tourists and quiet neighbourhoods with cobbled streets and small shops and of course pizzas and pastas for everyone. Rome cannot be understood or experienced. It can only be seen as an artwork where each observer has his own interpretation of it. It can be appreciated and admired from a distance. With its unrivaled magnificence it is undoubtedly the most precious city in the world.