Saturday, January 21, 2012

First Impressions

To get it out of the way early, the architectural atmosphere of Rome is beyond belief. To an American with a very American sense of time's scale (Reaching back to the 18th century), Rome shatters my sense of what old really is. Rome proper and its surrounding neighborhoods are constructed through and through of the most remarkable collection of Renaissance palazzos (the American equivalent lying somewhere between the city blocks of 19th century Manhattan and the row houses along the narrow streets of 18th century Beacon Hill); their size is incredible and their age is awing. These large collages of 200 to 500 year old buildings flow one          

The view from our living room window (left), and other various scenes around the streets of Rome

 into the next along the narrow back streets, meandering along with unpredictable cadence. On the broad avenues that cut through and link these dens of aimless medieval streets, grand palazzos line the busy streets, creating a symmetry and order containing the miscellany of winding streets that hide behind them reaching from the southern bend in the river to the northern. For an American it is hard to initially conceptualize the scale of time that is experienced even in the most insignificant streets and alleys of this city. Being a part of a culture with a historic identity that spans between a fairly

Piazza di Santa Maria (left) and night scenes around Rome

modern period in world history, most Americans have limited regular interaction with architecture that pre-dates the 19th century; as a culture we come into very little contact with highly developed and sophisticated architecture in our country dating any earlier than the 1700's. This may be why it came as such a shock to suddenly fall into a city where a building built in 1700 or 1800 is considered new.
       As we first rolled our suitcases down one of the hundreds of narrow cobbled streets to our apartment in Trastevere, a medieval neighborhood on south bank of the Tiber river, we got our first glimpse of the Roman aesthetic. Let it suffice that I've yet to find a street in this city that I find plain.

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