Walking the streets of Rome

Arriving in the eternal city on the train from the airport I check into a small hotel in Via Filippo Turati and begin walking. As with most historic cities,  the neighbourhood around the main railway station is on the fringe, but nevertheless there’s a lot to see. Close by is Sta Maria Maggiore, one of the the four great basilicas of Rome that was founded in the fifth century and contains considerable mosaics from that period, although as is often the case they are hard to see. On a nearby side street is S Prassede, with its wonderful mosaics of the ninth century in Byzantine style…that period generated a surprising amount of building and art in this city. In another direction is the great church of Sta Maria degli Angeli, a reworking by Michelangelo of the vast baths erected by the emperor Diocletian in about 300 AD, with those characteristic small red bricks of ancient Rome. You enter through the caldarium, then the tepidarium, and finally emerge into the enormous main area (the ancient Romans surely built for scale more than beauty) which contains, among other things, the meridiana, a line on the floor laid down early in the eighteenth century on which  a ray of sunlight that enters the building through a hole in the wall falls and depending on where it falls indicates the time of day across the year.

In terms of remains from earlier periods Rome is obviously the richest city in the West. And these three buildings are not ruins, like so much of what you see in other parts of Rome, but in active daily use now. Whether measured by the length of time during which it has been performed and the frequency of its performance across this period, the cumulatively enormous number who have participated in it, and the scale of the buildings on which it has been enacted, surely the Eucharist is the most important cultural statement of the West. Why can’t I read a good book about the roles it has performed across time?

Meanwhile, people are sleeping rough, there are many beggars, and the footpaths are full of Africans selling goods they have laid out on rugs.

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