Our Visit of Rome’s Landmarks (Continued)
By Tommaso Gambino
Today we find ourselves in the very spacious Piazza Navona, built in the 15th century above the Stadio di Domiziano (80 AD). Its original use was dedicated to athletic events and was a gift to the Roman people from their emperor. It’s now surrounded by Renaissance buildings and distinguished by its famous centerpiece, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. (Fountain of the Four Rivers). Legend has it that the sculptor, Bernini, designed a look of terror on the face of one of the fountain’s figures – that figure faces an adjacent church that was designed by his rival, Borromini. Thus, from the figure’s expression, it would appear that the church is about to collapse on the fountain. Was this an act inspired by professional jealously?
Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi
The atmosphere is always carnival-like with street hawkers selling many objects of amusement along with artists, singers and musicians rounding out the cast of characters. There are many choices of restaurants, bars, and pastry shops with one of the most famous gelateria, the Tre Scalini being my favorite. This would be a perfect time to enjoy a delicious gelato and take in the on-going spectacle. We now must choose from so many of the landmarks that comprise this area of the Centro Storico. One of the most famous is the Fontana di Trevi and it is not that far away.
Let us quickstep past the imposing Pantheon completed by Emperor Hadrian in 126 AD that now serves as a church. We can briefly take a look at this imposing structure, pay our respects and move on.
Next come the Via del Corso, a shopper’s paradise, and then Via Sabini, which lead finally to the famous fountain, a baroque masterpiece, designed by Nicola Salvi in 1762. It is the largest in the city of its type and size. The original site was as suspected, an ancient Roman water source dating back to 19 BC. The building material, white travertine, is like that used for the Colosseum. The magnificent structure stands at 87 feet tall and approximately 70 feet wide with a spill rate of close to 3,000,000 cubic feet of water daily. As the famous song, Three Coins in a Fountain, recalls, tossing a coin over the shoulder into the fountain’s large pool guarantees your return to Rome. The money collected is donated to Caritas, an aid agency, assisting the homeless.
Fontana di Trevi
Continuing with the theme of goodwill toward others; we shall next visit La Stelletta, a non-profit that assists mentally-challenged students.
Their laboratory is nestled into another ancient piazza of the Centro Storico not far from the Fontana. Here was organized a place for the children as an after-school activity center. All involved pooled their resources, energy and talents in 1985. The children produce ceramic pieces of a high quality and beauty, all by hand. The items are identified by the artisan. Producing these crafts gives the children a feeling of accomplishment and personal self-worth. My favorite among the many is Francesca. Her prodigious artistic production of ceramic pieces keeps me coming back and buying yet another few more to add to my already large collection.
As summer is upon us, I will take this opportunity to wish you all a pleasant summer vacation. I will be back with you in September to continue our odyssey.
Rome's Famous Landmarks
by Tommaso Gambino
Becoming familiar with Rome’s famous landmarks is a rite of passage. Unlike most major world cities, many of Rome’s points of interest date back several thousand years, and some are still in use today. An example of this is enjoying opera in the Baths of Caracalla, built in 212 AD.
Opera performance at the Baths of Caracalla
Andiamo! Let us begin our tour at the Colosseum, originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre. It is arguably the most identifiable structure of the world capital. Construction began in 72 AD by Emperor Vespasian and was terminated in 80 AD by his son, the Emperor Titus. Enormous amounts of travertine slabs, tufa blocks and brick made up the building material. The capacity accommodated approximately 50,000-70,000 spectators. Admission was gratis along with food for the events. This was offered as a gift from the emperor to the people of Rome (the famous “panem et circenses” bread and games).
We now leave the Colosseum and cross over to the Arch of Constantine, (315 AD) built to celebrate the famous victory of Ponte Milvio that ushered in Christianity. A few more steps and we cross under the Arch of Titus commemorating the Roman conquest of Jerusalem (70 AD). Once through the arch, we find ourselves entering venerated land, the Roman Forum, the center of the known world. Gazing down over the myriad historic structures along the Via Sacra, one can easily feel a sense of awe. It was here that the Romans met to carry on commercial, religious, political and social activities. It was from this site the Romans conquered the then known world and developed our western civilization. To the left is the House of the Vestal Virgins, the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Temple of Julius Caesar and to the right the Temple of Romulus, the Basilica of Constantine, and the Temple of Antonius and Faustina. Finally, there is the Curia and the famous rostrum from which one can imagine Mark Antony delivering his famous oration in Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar:
“Friends, Romans and Countryman lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar not to praise him.”
The Roman Forum
It’s all very impressive and moving to relive one’s history in the places where it took place...
To be continued -- see you in 2 weeks at Piazza Navona…
FAMOUS SONS OF ROME
In order to better appreciate the full impact of ancient Rome on our civilization of today, we need to visit a few of those Romans who changed the world completely and forever by their participation in critical historical battles. There were innumerable emperors, consuls, generals and other actors for us to choose from who had a significant impact on the course of Western civilization.
Our first great Roman is General Publius Cornelius Scipio (236-184BC) the victor of the seminal battle of Zama (202BC) It was here that the fate of the Mediterranean world was decided. Known as the Second Punic war, the armies of the fearsome Carthaginian General Hannibal (247-182BC) charged the Roman line with 80 war elephants in the lead. The clever Romans maneuvered the beasts into human alleyways and confused them by making loud noise. The battle raged all day until the Roman cavalry attacked to the rear of the Carthaginians.
By nightfall, the Roman Eagle was triumphant and Scipio, in honor of his victory, was named Scipio Africanus. At this point in time, our history would become Roman and not Carthaginian.
No story of Rome can be imagined without the imposing personality of Julius Caesar (100-44BC). His soldiers considered the great general and politico a god. They would often shout out while going into battle “Caesar leads: we fear nothing”. Likewise, the masses adored him. Among his myriad accomplishments one stands supreme. That was the crucial battle of Alesia that took place in Gaul near modern day Dijon, France, (52BC). The heavily outnumbered Roman legions (60,000) fought the barbarian hoard (300,000) led by King Vercingetorix (75-46BC). The decisive Roman victory marked the end of primitive Gaul and the beginning of the Romanization of what is now the France of today.
Another exceptional game changer was the Emperor Constantine (272-337AD). After the Apostles, he was arguably the most historic mortal responsible for the success of Christianity. Until his appearance on the world stage, Christianity was considered nothing more than a minor exotic eastern sect. What Constantine did, by the edict of Milan 313AD, was to elevate the religion by giving it state status.
“In hoc signo vinces” (in this sign you will be victorious) Legend has it that Constantine saw a cross in the sky above the battle he was about to enter against his rival for the throne. (Ponte Milvio 312AD). He believed that it was God that gave him the victory and hence Constantine’s grateful elevation of Christianity to an official state religion. The net result is that we have now in the world approximately 2 billion Christians, 1 billion of which are Roman Catholics – a truly remarkable outcome.
We have visited the exploits of only three of the great Roman history makers. It is astonishing, considering that there were hundreds of emperors, orators, philosophers, poets, architects, historians, physicians, astronomers, engineers, and religious and military leaders of the first order that impacted our world. The Italians sprang from this extraordinary civilization, forged by these outstanding individuals. Bravi!
We will see you in two weeks for some sightseeing in Rome. Be sure to wear some comfortable shoes!
Trastevere-Beyond the Tiber
The 13th district of Rome is named Trastevere for a reason. It is literally located beyond the Tiber River from what was once the center of ancient Rome. Its bohemian personality points to the unconventional life style of many of its residents. Mixed in with the working-class locals are artists, writers, musicians, students, educators, professionals, politicians, and aristocrats. There is an “embarrassment of choice,” when it comes to nightclubs, trendy bars, restaurants and trattorias. This extensive variety satisfies the taste of most pleasure seekers the world over.
Mangiamo a Trastevere! (let us eat in Trastevere!) Notwithstanding the nightlife, it is really all about the food, especially the Roman cuisine. As promised, a favorite local-place of mine awaits us.
Street leading to Trattoria Da Enzo
Da Enzo, is an appealing trattoria with a wide experience of traditional Roman cuisine. The popular locale was opened in 1950 and is still going strong. Much effort is put into creating dishes with quality ingredients. One of the best guanciale, a meat product prepared from pork cheeks and used in cooking pastas, comes from Central Italy. The Ricotta hails from near Rome’s vicinity in the province of Lazio. The olives chosen for the olive oil used in the cooking are grown without the use of pesticides. The results show. Delizioso!
My favorite dishes are the Burrata (Buffalo milk cheese, Stracciatella and cream) and the Coda alla Vaccinara.
Coda alla Vaccinara
The choices and selections are genuine and served up by a youthful, happy and friendly staff with great flair. It’s as if friends had invited you to their home. The tables are closely arranged in the limited space adding to the camaraderie. Often you are able to taste the dishes of the accompanying table, as the locals are often happy to share their choices. It is a blast and great fun.
Waiter at Da Enzo
Caveat, Da Enzo is very popular and hence rarely takes reservations. So, a bit of patience is needed. A hint is to get to the trattoria at 7:30 pm as first seating commences at 8:00 pm.
Waiting in line at Da Enzo
Address: Via Dei Vascellari, 29, Trastevere, Rome
The next posting is in 2 weeks, and we shall visit with 3 ancient Romans that changed the course of the known world.
Ciao, Tommaso Gambino
SPQR-The Legacy of Ancient Rome
The overwhelming achievement of the Romans was their development of the foundation of our western civilization. The Pax Romana (Roman Peace) allowed for the elevation of the human spirit. Refinement, love of letters, law, art, science, religion, principles of life were established and enjoyed. How to live and behave with the ability to travel and conduct commerce in a lawful manner was spread throughout the vast empire. Many of these characteristics are still with us.
For example, the Roman twelve tablets written in 450 BC codified specific crimes and punishments. There were diverse Roman courts that dealt with different statutory offences that is common in the contemporary west of today. Rome applied the system of checks and balances over 2,500 years ago in their political structure. The American government was founded on this principle. Furthermore, the US Senate is modeled on the ancient Roman version.
The inscription SPQR (Senatus Populusque Quiritium Romanus - Senate and the People of Rome)
The Mediterranean Sea, known then as Mare Nostrum (our sea), became a safe conduit for transporting products and sharing ideas over a vast area. It took only seven days to sail east from Rome to Egypt and likewise seven days to sail west from Rome, caput mundi (world capital) to the straights of Gibraltar. Myriad coastal cities dotted the shoreline with storied names such as Alexandria, Constantinople (now Istanbul), Carthage, Ephesus, Ostia, etc.; many of which are still active today.
Carving of a trireme – an ancient Roman warship
“All roads lead to Rome,” and many are still in use. Via Appia, Via Flaminina and Via Aurelia are but a few of the 53,000 miles of famous roads that carried the life-blood of the Empire. It took six bumpy days to travel from Rome to Naples as compared with a leisurely 2 1/2 hour drive today on the modern Autostrada del Sole. The roads fortunately had rest places called missiones that were standard and spaced every 15 miles. Here the ancients could rest their weary bones after a long day of traveling.
A Roman road
Latin, was spoken on the shores of the river Tiber as well as on the shores of the river Thames. Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian are merely modern versions of vulgar Latin and are spoken all over the world. Over 60% of English is derived from Latin roots. The same poetry was read and the same rhetoric heard. A single coin was in use, and a common set of laws governed all. The current European Union is an example today of a political and economic union that in some ways reflects the Roman empire with its principles of many peoples united under one common market and set of laws. The Romans also adopted much of the Greek school of philosophy, art and sculpture, thereby ensuring that it’s been handed down to us rather than being lost and forgotten in the dustbin of history.
Thus, mighty Rome was the mother of us all, having given birth to our western civilization. The majesty and glory that is Rome shall last an eternity.
Our next posting, Trastevere-Beyond the Tiber, will appear in a few weeks. Bring along a good appetite as we shall visit a favorite trattoria.
A Morning in Rome
by Tommaso Gambino
Rome is located in a physically beautiful setting, situated on its seven famous hills. It enjoys a mild climate, allowing for an uplifting feel to everyday living. The light is very special, being bright, crystal clear and stimulating. It makes one feel younger, more vital and in contact with life itself. One senses a feeling of wellbeing, leading to a joie de vivre. There is a spell produced that appeals to the human spirit and enhances every thing one does. It is magic! This grand setting encourages an innate psychology and distinguished character that is essentially Roman. This feeling is self-evident in the early morning, as the Mediterranean sun splashes ever-changing hues of pink and rose colors on to historic buildings, cupolas, towers, arches and fountains. It is a call to the human spirit. It is akin to a mother’s embrace, affectionate and long lasting.
Our morning starts in Trastevere, a bohemian part of Rome with a smart salute from a carabiniere. Emerging onto the ancient Via della Lungara, one must weave past the inevitable Vespa scooters as they wiz by before entering Café Settimiana. This bar was partially built along the ancient Aurelian walls constructed in the early 3rd century AD. “Caffe!” shouts Ferruccio, the proprietor and within minutes the best espresso imaginable is served with great fanfare. The locals mix often with the many notables arguing about the latest scandal adding to the chaos. Energized, one is swiftly out the door onto cobblestoned alleyways to Piazza Sonino and bus number 56. Crossing the storied Tiber River, the route continues past renaissance palaces, baroque buildings and innumerable fountains en route to Piazza Barbarini. Myriad Romans hurry off to work while conversing loudly with their companions.
Shop owners are opening their gated stores and the food market is in full swing filled with lively people buying fresh condiments for their evening repast. “Prova! E` dolce! E` fresco!” (Try, Its sweet! Its fresh!). Copious fruits and vegetables are colorfully on display, such as tomatoes, zucchini, parsley, eggplants, grapes, cherries, lemons, melons, etc. One must observes the swirl taking place, absorbing the energy and becoming part of the scene. Church bells chime out and signal the time to leave and continue on for another delicious espresso.
I hope that you enjoyed taking some quick steps together over the cobblestones of the Eternal city. We shall continue our odyssey on April 1, with SPQR-Rome’s Legacy.
Ciao e Buona Pasqua a tutti!
Post by Tommaso Gambino
In 2018, the Friends of Italy Society of Hawai`i, will happily invite you all on a bi-weekly blog odyssey to Italy. Together we will endeavor to discover, share and enjoy our common heritage and interest in Italia. Our postings will begin with a visit to Rome. We’ll be in the company of some of the great actors that shaped our western civilization. We will visit Rome’s history, culture, architecture and local points of interest. We will also look forward to experiencing the spirit and life that is contemporary Rome today.
Like many of you, I was raised in a typical Italian American family. As most of us do in our younger years, I soaked up my surroundings and imagined that the rest of the world was like my neighborhood; filled with Italian-Americans sharing space with the occasional Anglo-Americans and some other hyphenated groups. As I grew older, I wondered how and why my Italian culture was different from the others. I asked myself: “What does it mean to be Italian?” It was an enigma!
The beginning of solving this personal puzzle was to gain exposure to Italian culture, history and to discover my long-lost heritage. I began my pilgrimage to find my hidden persona by studying at the University of Perugia in Italy where I became fluent in Italian. With the language as key, I started to discover.
As a student, I hitchhiked, months on end, up and down the peninsula surrounded by the divine Mediterranean Sea. I became familiar with a spectacular country and its people whose history covered over three millennia. The extraordinary snow-capped Italian Alps that defined the top of the famous boot, along with the rolling Tuscan countryside and sun-drenched south was my playground. Through my exploration of the country and as a direct consequence of acquiring knowledge of my heritage; I began to feel an attachment to my newly found brethren. I had a sense that I had arrived home. My personal puzzle had been solved.
I welcome all of you to come along with me on our odyssey. Bring your walking shoes; as in two weeks’ time, we will enjoy–A Morning in Rome.”
Friends of Italy Society of Hawai`i
Board members Andrea and Zach had the chance to talk live on air with Pinoy Power Radio Host Sunny-Aloha Miller. In case you missed it, catch it here!
Festa Italiana Hawaii will take place on Cooke Street and in Wade Warehouse in Honolulu's lively Kaka'ako District. The event will occur both indoors and outdoors, providing attendees the opportunity to vai in giro - walk around - Cooke Street to enjoy a variety of food vendors and entertainment of Italian variety. Inside Wade Warehouse there will be an elevated food and wine experience allowing attendees a unique opportunity to indulge in a selection of carefully curated wine and food selections provided by top tier Chefs from Hawaii and Italy.
Open from 6pm to 9pm.
For those who aren't familiar with the Italian-American Podcast, it's a wonderful place to go to share experiences, discover the colorful stories of others and to learn more about the vibrant Italian-American culture here in the US.
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