A Walk in Rome

I went for a walk in Rome today, because you never know what you might find in a city like this. I crossed the Tiber, whose now calm waters whisper historical reminders to appreciate the Golden Age in which we live. No one realizes they’re living in a Golden Age until it ends, poor buggers.

Across the bridge I turned toward a grand church on a shadowy lane, open to the kind of stunning experience that is quite normal here. The tall doors were locked up tight though, so just kept strolling down the lane past galleries, cafes, and facades that remember more than I will ever read.

The next church’s façade wasn’t as grand, but I was in no hurry. Inside was exactly that typical astonishing moment. A baroque slap in the face. An elegant drowning. I wouldn’t go so far as sublime suffocation, but I could be wrong. Now, later, with a cup of tea and the internet in hand, I see that the church was begun in the early 1500s, took a couple centuries to build, and had a couple restorations that pulled it forward from harmonious Renaissance simplicity into baroque opulence. At the time my heartfelt “wow” was sufficient.

Just minutes away from where I stood in silence, the halls of the Vatican were already packed with thousands of people, but here I found just two. One man read a pamphlet and looked at a side chapel, the other seemed to be walking the circumference. I checked the chapel nearest me and found the tomb of a king. As you do, in a city like this.

The Italian and Spanish languages occupy a marshland in my mind whose borders and solidity vary, so it took me a minute to realize that the verbiage about the king’s remains being relocated was in Spanish, instead of Rome’s native tongue. This was Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli, Spain’s national church in Italy. The man walking his loop sneezed. I blessed him as he passed. We discussed the cold air inside and the warmer springtime outside.

The second side chapel

He kept on, and I examined the second side chapel, amazed at the difference in artistic style between the two. The walker came around again, and mentioned the tomb of two popes. Surprised by a king, I had ignored the grander double tomb on top of it, one of whose occupants was one of history’s great knaves, perhaps astute leaders, and certainly a man of great consequence.

Here was the man (and his uncle) who negotiated peace between two warring kingdoms, during which he gave dispensation for their heirs to marry despite being first cousins, and in so doing basically created Spain (the cousins being Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile). He was soon elected pope, so this was also the man who oversaw the church’s reaction to the discovery of the New World and all the sanctified atrocities that would occur there. Then it was also he who drew the line of the Treaty of Tordesillas, giving the eastern “half” of the New World to Portugal and the western to Spain, leaving Brazilians perpetually a linguistic step off from their neighbors.

King on the bottom, popes on top (because Rome is good at symbols)

This was Alexander VI (aka Rodrigo Borgia and father of the infamous Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia), eventually to be played by Jeremy Irons in the show you’re now considering for tonight’s viewing.

I went for a walk in Rome today, because you never know what you might find in a city like this, where history and our human stories are sunk into every river, watch from every window, and may show up when you go for a walk.