Tuesday, December 06, 2005

To Honor Caesar on the Ides of March

Ides of March, 2005 - Early the next morning, we went straight to the Forum to place purple roses on the altar at Julius Caesar's temple, which marks the exact spot where his body was cremated 5 days after his murder. When we arrived, we found some beautiful flowers already there, and two elderly gentlemen paying their respects. They kindly climbed over the barrier and laid our bouquet on top of the altar. As they left, one saluted, and with tears in his eyes, said, "Ave, Caesar!" We then proceeded to lay another bouquet at Caesar's statue on the Via Dei Fori Imperiali, not far from the King Victor Emmanuel Monument.

We then walked up the Capitoline hill and found a sign directing us to the "carcere" where Vercingetorix was executed. Supposedly it was also the cell that housed St. Peter. There was a stone to which Peter was supposedly chained and angels appeared and caused his chains to fall off.

"...according to legends already circulating in republican Rome, the carcer was built as a prison by Rome's fourth king, Ancus Marcius and then the lower chamber, the "tullianum", was dug below the carcer during the reign of the sixth king, Servius Tullius, and took its name from him. Archeological and physical evidence clearly contradicts the legends. The tullianum chamber clearly existed before the upper carcer. It originally was circular and probably was constructed as a cistern around the still flowing spring in its floor (the Latin word tullus means spring. When the upper chamber was added to convert the building into a prison, the lower structure was truncated, and entry to it was blocked except for a hole in the floor of the upper chamber, through which prisoners were lowered. The time of the construction of both chambers is questionable, but it is clear from literary references that both levels already existed by the middle of the Republican period. It is probable that the floor of the tullianum was at or slightly below ground level when it was built around the 4th century BC and that, after the ground level had risen somewhat, the carcer was built above the truncated tullianum, also at or near its own contemporary ground level in the 2nd century BC. The carcer is about a dozen steps below today's street level. The attraction to this place for most visitors is that this is the prison where St. Peter was supposedly kept while awaiting his execution in Rome, and thus would have been the scene of one of his angelic visitations. According to the legend, Peter was freed from his chains by the angel and was fleeing south down the Appian Way when he met a man he recognized as Jesus, who was heading into Rome. After a short conversation, Peter decided to accompany the man back to Rome to accept martyrdom. The church of "Dominus, Quo Vadis?" marks the spot on the Appian where Peter asked the man, "Lord, where are you going?" The chains, centuries later, were miraculously conjoined with the other set of chains that bound Peter when he was imprisoned in Caeasarea Maritima in Palestine, and they are in the church of St. Peter in Chains on the Esquiline Hill. So goes the legend, despite the fact that many scholars accept the possibility that Peter never visited Rome. Whether or not Peter was ever an inmate of the Mamertine prison was the subject of heated theological and ideological debates, mostly between Protestants and Catholics, up to the early years of the 20th century, and research sparked by those debates revealed several interesting facts. Among them, it became clear that no ancient Roman would have recognized the name "Mamertine" -- that was a Medieval name attached to the site, probably to tie the prison to Roman legends surrounding Peter. The ancient Romans, in their usual prosaic style, simply called the site "carcer", which we usually translate as "prison". The Latin word, apparently derived from Etruscan, originally meant an enclosed space or pen, but it is clear that later Latin usage almost always referred to this particular structure in the forum, just north of the Sacra Via and near the Senate's meeting hall, the Curia.

The "carcer" was, in fact, the only prison of ancient Rome, and it was never designed as a place of long-term imprisonment for the punishment of common criminals -- immediate corporal punishment, exile, or the arena was their fate. Betrayal of the state (for example, opening the gates to surrounding enemies) might get you thrown off the Tarpeian Rock. Being an enemy of the Emperor, or just owning a property he coveted, might get your name on a list of proscribed ("written down") persons that anyone could kill on sight. Imprisonment in the carcer was reserved for important state prisoners -- often foreign leaders who had been unwilling exhibits in triumphal parades -- while they waited the few hours for their almost inevitable executions. For them, the carcer was a short-term "death row", a holding area, and not a place of long term imprisonment. The actual killing would be carried out precisely at the moment when the victorious Roman general would dedicate captured treasures in the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill. The death of the prisoner was also dedicated to the god in a long-lasting holdover of rites of human sacrifice. Jugurtha, a North African successor of Hannibal was executed in the Carcer as was Vercingetorix, or, if a public spectacle was deemed advisable, in front of the Senate building.

Cicero also had some of the Catalinian conspirators "incarcerated" (that is, put in the carcer) before unconstitutionally and unceremoniously having them executed there. Cicero himself was executed years later after making himself an enemy of Octavian (later Augustus). Technically, he died after being proscribed by the Second Triumvirate: Octavian, Marc Antony, and Lepidus. But he did not rate immurement in the carcer." - The Carcer--Mamertine Prison.

We then wandered around trying to find the Wax Museum I had read about on the web. It actually turned out to be our first disappointment.

Although I had read that the founder of the Rome Wax Museum had been inspired to create it after visiting Madame Tussaud's in London, he apparently was not willing to hire the quality of sculptors that Madame Tussaud used. The figures did not have real hair and were very stiffly posed, giving the impression they were a collection of mannequins and not "real" people. To add insult to injury, their costumes looked like they hadn't been cleaned or replaced in decades so they were extremely faded and dusty.

We grabbed a bowl of pasta then decided to catch the Metro down to Fermi and tour the Museum of Roman Civilization. This part of the city, known as EUR, was a model community Benito Mussolini designed as the city of the future. However, it was never completed.

"In 1936 the Italian government made a successful application for hosting in Rome the next World Exhibition which was due in 1941. The Exhibition was soon postponed to 1942 to celebrate the XXth anniversary of the Fascist regime. The area chosen for the exhibition was some three miles south of the walls, near the river and the road to Ostia. The architect Marcello Piacentini was asked to coordinate the development of a plan having the objective to create a new quarter of Rome and not only to build the temporary pavilions required by the Exhibition.
Marcello Piacentini was renowned for the neat design of the new Railway Station of Florence, but the government wanted to emphasize the monumental aspects of the new quarter and Piacentini and the other architects who cooperated with him had to meet this expectation. The new quarter was soon known as E.U.R., the acronym of Esposizione Universale Roma...The Fascist regime emphasized the links between the expansion of the Roman Empire and its own aggressive policies and it poured money into redesigning in a spectacular way many areas of the city, mainly to the detriment of medieval or Baroque monuments; for sure the regime had something in common with the ancient Romans: a passion for erecting large buildings...

The first building to be completed was aimed at hosting the offices for the Exhibition. While the building had a very neat and modern design the mosaics and the reliefs which embellished it were evocative of Ancient Rome. The black and white mosaics replicated a pattern typical of Caracalla's Baths and the reliefs portrayed ancient monuments (in the image above: the Arch of Titus, Trajan's Column and the Pantheon). Mussolini himself was portrayed as if he were a direct descendant of the Roman consuls and emperors. He had a peculiar way of speaking with his fists pointed against his hips as shown by the position of his left arm; the right arm is raised in the so called saluto fascista which had replaced the traditional shaking of hands. What at the time must have looked very impressive, today appears a flattering description of Mussolini's ability to ride a horse without holding the reins.

The Exhibition never took place because of WWII and the few buildings which had been completed were occupied by families who had lost their homes because of war events. In 1951, when the post war emergency was gradually receding, the Italian government decided to complete the quarter by relocating public offices and by inviting companies to build their headquarters in the new quarter. The quarter was renamed Quartiere Europa retaining to some extent its original name and the streets and buildings were in some cases renamed too in order to cancel references to the past regime. The assignment to Rome of the 1960 Olympic Games gave a new impulse to the completion of the monumental parts of EUR including the stela to Marconi." - EUR: A XXth Century New Rome

We got down to Fermi and got misdirected and wandered around for over and hour. When we finally found the Museo della Civiltà Romana it was only about 1:45 p.m. but the guard told us the museum was already closed to anyone that didn't already have a ticket. This was our second disappointment. I guess I would have to wait for another future visit to photograph the reconstruction (scale 1:250) of the City of Rome in the IVth century.

So we caught the train back to Rome and decided we'd better head back to the hotel to give our karma a chance to recover.

However, Fortune was not yet done with us. Our other friend from England, my co-moderator of the Imperial Rome discussion group, was due to arrive at 5:30 p.m. and I had reserved a car that he had volunteered to drive for us to Pompeii, Florence, Ostia, and Tivoli.

Although I booked the car online, I had to go down to Termini to let Hertz verify my credit card and Richard had to supply his drivers license information. Pat and I started out at 5:10 and got to Termini about 10 minutes later. I had written down the address for the Hertz car rental agency but we soon discovered that assigning street numbers to buildings in Rome is as haphazard as their road signage. The numbers got larger then smaller then larger again and the block of numbers that included 34, our destination, appeared to be missing.

After several aborted attempts to get directions, we finally found a shoe merchant who kindly took the time to walk out of his shop and point the way. By then, we were almost an hour and a half late. Richard had had time to walk to the hotel with his luggage and return to Termini and was hovering rather worriedly by the counter when we finally arrived.
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