ROME, ITALY (2004)

After being abandoned on the banks of the river Tiber, twins Romulus and Remus were saved and suckled by a she-wolf. As adults they decided to found a new city but disagreed on its location. Romulus settled the argument by killing his brother and naming the new city after himself – the story of how Rome got its name is as famous as it is fabled, but how did the city end up with the nickname the Eternal City?

Roman writers and poets were no strangers to boasting about their city’s glorious accomplishments and illustrious history. In his epic poem The Aeneid, the poet Virgil wrote the line imperium sine fine – an empire without end. Written between 29 and 19BC, it refers to the everlasting empire that Aeneas, a mythical Trojan hero, was prophesied to have a hand in creating (ancient Romans claimed Aeneas was an ancestor of Romulus).

However, according to scholars, it was the poet Tibullus who made the first explicit reference of Rome as the Eternal City in the 1st century BC. ‘Romulus aeternae nondum formaverat urbis moenia, consorti non habitanda Remo’– Tibullus, from Elegies.

THE COLOSSEUM: A GRAND AMPHITHEATER Located just east of the Roman Forum, the massive stone amphitheater known as the Colosseum was commissioned around A.D. 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty as a gift to the Roman people. In A.D. 80, Vespasian’s son Titus opened the Colosseum–officially known as the Flavian Amphitheater–with 100 days of games, including gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights. After four centuries of active use, the magnificent arena fell into neglect, and up until the 18th century it was used as a source of building materials. Though two-thirds of the original Colosseum has been destroyed over time, the amphitheater remains a popular tourist destination, as well as an iconic symbol of Rome and its long, tumultuous history.

Measuring some 620 by 513 feet (190 by 155 meters), the Colosseum was the largest amphitheater in the Roman world. Unlike many earlier amphitheaters, which had been dug into hillsides to provide adequate support, the Colosseum was a freestanding structure made of stone and concrete. The distinctive exterior had three stories of arched entrances–a total of around 80–supported by semi-circular columns. Inside, the Colosseum had seating for more than 50,000 spectators, who may have been arranged according to social ranking but were most likely packed into the space like sardines in a can (judging by evidence from the seating at other Roman amphitheaters). Awnings were unfurled from the top story in order to protect the audience from the hot Roman sun as they watched gladiatorial combats, hunts, wild animal fights and larger combats such as mock naval engagements (for which the arena was flooded with water) put on at great expense. The vast majority of the combatants who fought in front of Colosseum audiences in Ancient Rome were men (though there were some female gladiators). Gladiators were generally slaves, condemned criminals or prisoners of war.

FONTANA DI TREVI (TREVI FOUNTAIN) is arguably the most magnificent fountain and easily, one of the finest exemplars of Baroque architecture and sculpture, I have ever set my eyes upon! I was totally mesmerized by its beauty, its splendor, and the nuances of its amazing, intricate sculpture, and stood for over 15 minutes gazing at it, transfixed and utterly spellbound in awe and reverence – this for me, was Divinity manifested in stone!

The Trevi fountain depicts Oceanus, the Roman God of water, in the center niche, flanked by Abundance and Salubrity. Below the gods are a number of hippocampus and tritons adding symmetry to the fountain. At the top of the fountain sits the Papal Coat of Arms, suspended by angels. Designed by Roman architect NICOLA SALVI and completed in 1762, the Fontana Di Trevi, which stands 85 feet tall and is almost 65 feet wide, is the largest Baroque styled fountain in Rome, made immortal via films like Frederico Fellini’s ‘LA DOLCE VITA’, and of course, ‘ROMAN HOLIDAY’ – the timeless classic starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, which is where my father introduced me to Rome and its enduring charm, joie-de-vivre, mystery and magic, as a kid growing up in India, that has forever stayed with me!

VATICAN CITY The Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican or simply ST. PETER’s BASILICA, is an Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City, the papal enclave within the city of Rome – we went to Rome, Florence, and Venice back in 2004. Designed principally by Donato Bramante, MICHAELANGELO, Carlo Maderno and BERNINI, St. Peter’s is “the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture”, and ‘the largest church in the world’, and has often been described as “the greatest of all churches of Christendom”.

Matter of fact, St. Peter’s is one of the trifecta of churches that attracts the most devotees from across the world: 1. ST. PETER’s BASILICA in ROME, 2. The CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE in JERUSALEM, and 3. The CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY in BETHLEHEM. As a Hindu lad who went to a Catholic school growing up, and has been deeply influenced by Jesus Christ, the Rabbi, who inspired faith in millions of people across the world, I consider myself immensely blessed to have paid obeisance at all three of these sacred churches, considered places of pilgrimage by Christians from around the World!

Designed and built by Bernini between 1656 and 1667, during the pontificate of Alexander VII (1655-1667), ST. PETER’s SQUARE is made up of two different areas. The first has a trapezoid shape, marked off by two straight closed and convergent arms on each side of the church square. The second area is elliptical and is surrounded by the two hemicycles of a four-row colonnade, because, as Bernini said, “considering that Saint Peter’s is almost the matrix of all the churches, its portico had to give an open-armed, maternal welcome to all Catholics, confirming their faith; to heretics, reconciling them with the Church; and to the infidels, enlightening them about the true faith.

Please plan on investing at least a day to take in the breathtaking beauty, the opulence and the magnificence of ST. PETER’s BASILICA and ST. PETER’s SQUARE when in “THE ETERNAL CITY” that is ROME.