Rome, Remains and Ruins

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The Forum

When I first visited Rome with my family, I was impressed by a number of things, but the Forum wasn’t one of them. I was indifferent. I loved most of the scenery, but when presented with ruins, I quickly tired of them. Last summer however, back in Rome, I felt what can only be adequately described as ruinenlust. Ruinenlust is a German word for the pleasure that ruins evoke, although they use ‘lust’ in a different sense to us, with the definition more akin to joy. When it comes to ruins, Diderot put it best;

‘The ideas ruins evoke in me are grand. Everything comes to nothing, everything perishes, everything passes, only the world remains, only time endures…Wherever I cast my glance, the objects surrounding me announce death and compel my resignation to what awaits me’

Always a sucker for brooding over time running out, perhaps my newly acquired fascination was due to the opportunity I was afforded to indulge in reflecting upon the tragic human condition and bemoan my own eventual demise, all in the name of history! Ruins are strange in the sense that they make you feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things but also simultaneously, acutely self-aware. This was especially poignant for me while visiting the Museum of the Imperial Fora and Trajan’s Markets. At the time of visiting (August 2015) it hosted a temporary exhibition, L’eleganza del cibo: Tales of food and fashion which explored the link between two of Italy’s greatest staples. It was here that I came across one of my now favourite quotes, ‘Food nourishes the body. Fashion feeds the mind’. The location of the exhibition meant that it transcended its confines to take on an additional meaning. The location of the modern art alongside the museum’s permanent ruins of a bygone age was visually and emotionally potent. The juxtaposition emphasized the contrasts between the two subjects but also highlighted the universality and timelessness of culture.

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L’eleganza del cibo: Tales of food and fashion
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L’eleganza del cibo: Tales of food and fashion
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Head portrait, reworked as Constantine
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L’eleganza del cibo: Tales of food and fashion
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L’eleganza del cibo: Tales of food and fashion

Rome lends itself well to philosophical reflection because of the extent of the remains within its walls. It doesn’t have just one centre piece, but is often described as a ‘living museum’. It’s called the Eternal City for a reason. There is such an unbelievable amount of history in one place. A place which was the seat of one of the biggest empires in history, and its legacy is scattered across the city. It’s hard to process this. It’s odd to stand there and look at ruins, and imagine them through the ages. To think of what they represent and the people who originally built them, millions of lifetimes ago. To think that they too had their own hopes, fears and dreams. It is pretty incomprehensible. While walking around Castle St Angelo, I was having a similar conversation with one of my best friends. She said that sometimes she forgets that history actually happened. Great battles and events seem like stories, so that when she comes face to face with the ruins, it’s hard to take them in.

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Castle St Angelo
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View of the Vatican from Castle St Angelo
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View from Castle St Angelo ft our seagull friend

There is an expression that goes, when the Colosseum falls, Rome will fall and when Rome falls, so will the rest of the world. Perhaps then, it is apt that a great deal of Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage is set against the grand backdrop of Rome. My favourite part of the poem is when standing in the Colosseum, he calls himself a ‘ruin among ruins’ (and my friends call me a drama queen?!). He also talks a lot about the cyclical nature of life, especially in these famous lines:

’There is the moral of all human tales;
‘Tis but the same rehearsal of the past.
First freedom and then Glory – when that fails,
Wealth, vice, corruption – barbarism at last
And History with all her volumes vast,
Hath but one page.’ – Canto IV

Whilst this thought can be depressing, it can also carry a message of optimism. He realizes that even the greatest empires do not last, and that cruel ambition is foolish as it never ends well. Ruins are captivating in the same way that horror movies are. Death is all too often ignored in our society, it’s something that particularly people in the West try to avoid discussion of. Surely the more comfortable we are with recognizing death, the more we adequately we will be able to deal with it. We’re all desperate to leave a legacy, yet it is likely that one day there will be no evidence that we ever existed. There is a saying that people die two deaths: one when their heart stops beating and the other when their name is said for the last time.

Perhaps then, it is comforting to look at ruins, and imagine something of our own civilization being appreciated, future generations analyzing and imagining our lives. It’s not all doom and gloom though. When you realize that one day no matter what you achieve you will just be dust, it’s a lot easier to care less about trivialities. So go and see the Forum, the Colosseum, the Baths, the Olympic Stadium, the Catacombs, the Castles and the ruins. They will make you more introspective at best, and may trigger an existential crisis at worse, but not to worry as by the time you’re downing glasses of white wine at Campo Di Fiori, you will feel so immortal that you will have forgotten all about it.

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The Colosseum

Best Summer Nightlife Spots in Rome

When I first began my time as an au-pair in Rome, I felt quite isolated. August is one of the quietest months of the year as many locals have time off of work and travel to the coast. I didn’t mind wandering around sightseeing alone, but I wasn’t confident enough yet to go and explore the nightlife by myself. I had to be more social if I was going to get a flavor of Rome by night.

Through a mix of going on bar crawls, utilizing the au-pair group on Facebook (most cities have one), Tinder (don’t judge me, it is actually a good tool to ask the locals about night life, I promise) and trial and error over the month, these were my favourite places that I discovered. Make sure you double check online because not all places are open all year round and as I was there from August to September, it was during the transition from the Summer to the Winter season. 

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1) To meet locals: The Magick Bar
The first thing that someone asked me while there, was how on earth I’d found out about it, as it’s supposedly a bit of a well kept secret from tourists. It’s a quirky open air bar overlooking the river, but you might have to fight to get seats as it can become pretty crowded. People usually go there to pre drink before moving on to one of the clubs. The drinks are quite expensive but they are very strong (for a lightweight like me, anyway). Bear in mind that European measures of spirits are double that of a single British one. A good rooftop bar is Apartment Bar. I tried to go there with a friend, but we accidentally went on a bank holiday to find it shut. I heard rave reviews about it though so you should definitely check it out.

2) For an international crowd & casual atmosphere – Piazza Risorgimento / Campo di Fiori / Piazza Navona
In Rome, it is very common for people to congregate and drink outside, especially on balmy summer nights. Piazza Risorgimento is a nice square in Trastevere, a popular location, especially for a more international crowd as there are universities nearby. The general area has lots of bars and the drinks are cheap and cheerful. The west bank of the Tiber river is also host to a string of bars, and late night stalls. Campo di Fiori is also a popular spot and is one of the places that is often frequented on bar crawls, but I personally found it slightly too touristy for my liking. The bars in the Piazza Navona area are also very popular.

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The Tiber River

3) To go clubbingShariVari Playhouse
In Rome there didn’t seem to be much of a clubbing culture – in comparison to London and what I was used to. Instead, the nightlife was a lot more relaxed. However, this isn’t to say that there aren’t any decent clubs, and ShariVari was definitely one of my favourites. The interior decor is very elegant, and there are rooms to cater to all music tastes. The drinks are a little overpriced so make sure you pre-drink sufficiently.

4) Open air clubs – Il Bosco Delle Fragole or Rebel Rebel
The first thing that you should know is that both of these places are incredibly hard to get back from, especially the latter, so make sure you have transport prearranged. Taxis are nowhere to be seen. I went to Rebel Rebel one Saturday and had resigned myself to walking home, until an hour into the journey, someone kindly offered to give us a lift. Luckily, I was with a friend, I definitely wouldn’t have risked it if alone, and our decision was still questionable but the prospect of walking any further in heels was a bleak one. If you have that sorted then you’ll have an amazing time. Both tend to play house, commercial or electronic music. If you go on to their Facebook pages/websites before hand you can put your name on the guest list so you can walk straight in. They don’t start getting busy until post-midnight.

5) Fancy aperitifs – Dukes Roma or Bar Necci
Dukes Roma is very sophisticated. I went there with my host parents on my last night in Rome, and probably wouldn’t have ventured there on my own as it’s quite pricey. Alternatively, the vintage cocktails in Bar Necci can definitely give them a run for their money. It’s in the district of Pigneto which is rather trendy at the moment. Pigneto to Rome is currently what Hoxton is to London. It was established in 1929, but considering its notoriety it wasn’t too crowded at all. This might be because the bar is quite difficult to find so make sure to check the whereabouts beforehand/use google maps.

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Mouthwatering watermelon mojito in Bar Necci

6) A Beach Party – Signita miracle beach
You’ll need a car to get here as it’s quite far out, and for this reason unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to go. Apparently, some people sleep on the beach if they have no way of getting back, but as a woman on my own, I didn’t really want to do this. It was extremely popular though, and people told me to go time and time again so for this reason I think I’d be doing it a disservice if I didn’t include it in the list.

7) A Speak Easy Bar – Jerry Thomas
On my last night in Rome, I was told one of my Italian friends had the password to get into Jerry Thomas. We went as a group of about five, down an alley way where we knocked on an unassuming door. We were told to wait. A few of the others sauntered off after a while, but Alisa and I were determined to get in. Eventually, as there were only two of us we were permitted entry. There is a reason why it is on the list of the top 50 bars in the world. Classy, intimate and decadently decorated, you are immediately transported back to the 1920s. It is obligatory to purchase a membership and there are certain rules you have to follow, such as no flash photography or talking on the phone. Since then, I’ve found out that you can apparently also ring up and book a reservation if you do so well in advance (although I don’t like to admit this because then I don’t feel as special).

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