The Sun, rising above the very top of St Peter’s Basilica, cast its rays across the ground below it. Despite it being 7:30am on a day in early February, the temperature prickling at the edges hinted at the heat to come. With Sun, of course, comes shadows and these began to spread down the Via della Conciliazione, providing a cool respite from the Sun that would – in time – provide a welcome heat. As St Peter’s Square came near, a new shadow became apparent. Not a shadow provided by a source of heat but a shadow provided by the evil of terrorism. By the small entrance in the fence, granting a visitor unlimited access to Vatican City, was an Italian army truck, two Italian soldiers standing guard outside.
Like a plague, the taint of terrorism has gripped the City by the jugular. Tourists taking pictures at attractions such as the Pantheon or the Trevi Fountain must ensure that their camera angle is sound, so as to avoid capturing a surly looking soldier in the background. This is not the first time that Rome has started to becoming restless (most notably the Years of Lead in the later twentieth century) but this is the first time that fear is almost discreet.
The army also stand guard outside the Church of St Louis of the French, just off the Piazza Navona; hardly surprisingly when one considers the high level of terrorist attacks that France has been forced to confront. At the back of this church is a memorial to Fr Hamel, the Catholic Priest murdered in his church by Islamic terrorists late last year. Professor Mary Beard remarked at the end of her latest documentary series that the Roman Empire did not end: it simply trans-mutated into the Christian religion. With the woefully underreported murders of Christian people by Islamic State taken into account, a logical next target for them would be Rome. After all, its very existence cloaked in Christian tradition. The City does not feel at threat for no reason.
It is not simply terrorism that has made the Eternal City carry with it a sense of mortality. Virginia Raggi is the youngest – and the first female – Mayor of the City of Rome. She is also, as one Irish-born man who has lived in Italy for 27 years explained to me, ‘a disaster’. Currently under investigation for two cases of ‘abuso d’ufficio’ (misuse of office), what should have been a cultural landmark has turned into a cultural disaster.
With political unrest comes political posters, and Rome is no stranger to these. Posters promote the Partito Liberale Italiano (Italian Liberal Party), a party with an extremely turbulent history. Whilst these admittedly remain in tact, posters criticising the Pope that were put up across from San Giovanni dei Fiorentini have been viciously torn. ‘Ma n’do sta la tua misericordia?’ – where is your mercy? – they asked; a criticism of the Holy Father’s approach to the Order of Malta, and his blatant shun to the four Cardinals who issued a dubia requesting he clarify a potentially counter-doctrinal expression in Amoris Laetitia. The Bishop of Rome, along with the Mayor of Rome, is under heavy criticism.
Local politics is not the only place where the political order is threatening to exploit the cracks in the façade of Roman life. An Englishman in Rome – especially this Englishman, who continues to strongly fight for Brexit – immediately notices the way that the EU flag has managed to manifest itself next to every appearance of the Italian flag, on government buildings to a few public sights. I mentioned this to the aforementioned Italian that I met, who told me that this causes a great deal of anger. ‘People feel that their identity is being taken from them’, he told me. This sounded familiar, and so I gently probed this further. His response came with a laugh: ‘It’s not really a question of whether Italy is going to leave Italy, but whether Italians will vote to leave or whether they’ll be kicked out.’ Most political commentators are focussing on France as a representation of the cliff edge the European Union finds itself on: I cautiously propose that we should turn our attentions – instead – to Italy.
It was the Emperor Augustus who claimed ‘marmoream relinquo, quam latericiam accepi’ (‘I found Rome a City of bricks and left it a City of marble’.) Whilst it most certainly has not been degenerated to a City of bricks, it is with hesitation that we should call it a City of marble. At the current moment, the City is being kept on life support. There’s no need to for us to panic just yet: modern medicine can work miracles.
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Rome: The Eternal City is Painfully Mortal | Daniel Clark Reviewed by Student Voices on 21:07 Rating: