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Looking at Rome from Below

“However, Rome is my city”, claimed Ennio Flaiano. “Sometimes I can hate it […] but Rome is unknowable, it reveals itself over time and not entirely.”

Rome is eternal and decadent, it is a tangle of contradictions, it is a place capable of arousing diametrically opposed feelings. In fact, there is no person in this city who, at least once in their life, has not cursed its chaos while admiring its theatrical aspect. 

“However, Rome is my city”, claimed Ennio Flaiano. “Sometimes I can hate it […] but Rome is unknowable, it reveals itself over time and not entirely”.You will never be able to fully understand it and that is why you will continue to love it: here you will always see something new, an unprecedented detail that you missed the last few times. In this regard, I can assure you that this text is not intended to be a guide to discovering the hidden places of Rome, it does not presume to believe that an itinerary is enough to get to know it. The magic, in my opinion, lies in the discovery. In these ways, many will agree, it is nice to get lost, to not have the faintest idea where you are and forget where you came from.

Imagine being there, blissfully disoriented in the downtown streets, on a sunny Wednesday in mid-April. You are in Rome, you look around, you feel confused and blinded. You understand that all that beauty deserves to be contemplated in an infinite time: the days would not be enough, not even the years. Everything then, completely absorbs your attention, steals your eyes and fills them; you have no more space to admire everything else and something hidden will always remain. Perhaps you will see an extra detail the next time you pass by, or perhaps you will take that road every day without ever noticing, for example, a particular incision above that small window. So I invite you to stop. Observe what surrounds you and with a zoom backwards you widen your field of view. Allow yourself to move the camera a bit as you like.

In front of you a beautiful glimpse, you capture it and make it yours; then go ahead but stand still with your feet. You turn to look to the right, you roll your head to the left and finally you turn back. A squawking of seagulls makes you raise your head, look up and there it is, the wonder: above those squares, those expanses of cobblestones and those glimpses that know of conquest, rises a stratosphere of cornices and balconies, which divides the earthly world from the firmament.

It is an important task, that of separating the ground from the rest of the atmosphere, being the junction point between what can be touched and what we must instead leave to the imagination, to faith. When I look up, between one alley and another in Rome, the world changes. The creation of man blends perfectly with the dazzling and ethereal vault of heaven; there, in that perspective, we have the freedom to dream big, not to put limits on our thinking.

Stuccos, statues, engravings and frescoes on churches and palaces faded by time. Is there a better setting than this? A beauty that exists above our heads, out of our field of vision but not far from us. We have to strive to see it, get out of the habitual way in which we observe things and activate a peripheral curiosity: how much else is beautiful around us that we are not looking at?

It may seem absurd to spend so many words on frames of buildings, but those who usually walk with their noses upwards know what I’m talking about. It is worth appearing a little childish and, rather than always sticking to the more common gray road, it is also nice to walk following that blue path outlined from the top of the buildings: your feet on the ground but your head in the air. Sure you can stumble over a few holes or step on the “needs” of a dog, but isn’t life all about taking risks?

The point is that we are used to thinking that the facades of a building are its most important part; certainly it is the most ornate and to which the most attention has been paid, but this does not mean that it is the only one worthy of interest. It is not our fault, but unconsciously we tend to consider only what we find in front of us, because it is more evident. But if, for example, we looked at the world with the eyes of swallows, everything would change and in our head, Rome would be a beautiful interlocking of roofs. I have always found the concept of “showing oneself in order to hide” fascinating: nothing is more hidden than what is in light. And so, even the upper part of the city, the most exposed, remains the most hidden.

As our steps become more and more relaxed, we realize that slowly, gently and without warning, the sunlight gradually becomes more subdued. The shadows become horizontal and Rome is colored with a golden orange. It seems to breathe the stillness.

The buildings frames, the columns, the friezes and the balconies in bloom are the only ones that get to enjoy, for a little while longer, till the very last minute of the day, the warmth of the sun. The shadows formed by statues give new faces to each building. On the streets, people have already prepared themselves for the dark, but up there, in the stratosphere, there is someone who can savor the last sun of the day.

Looking at Rome from below means giving lightness to a city that has its own majesty as its burden. An important name that carries with it much of the history of humanity, art, culture and knowledge. A burden that often requires a light ground on which to rest, a calm and carefree gaze devoid of expectations and pressures. The beauty of Rome lies not only in the monuments you can see, but also in the different angles with which you can look at it; it lies in knowing how to take a walk with your head in the clouds and your eyes lost in the rooftops of Rome.

Darkness has fallen, the city lights up and Rome welcomes another exciting contrast: the cold colors of the night meet the yellow light of the street lamps. The air is mysterious and welcoming, austere but inviting. Above the buildings, a few lanterns are lit, others are broken; on the top floors, wide open windows resemble urban fireflies that have lost sleep. Somewhere, hanging, there are still some Christmas lights: there are those who choose to never take them off, so then you have to put them back on. You can hear the silence in the streets of Rome, some noise of dishes and laughter, on the balconies someone is still enjoying an aperitif, someone else gets intoxicated at the sight of the illuminated domes. The hours go by but no one cares, at this moment, up here, time has dissolved.