A taxi driver, talking quickly on his cell phone in Italian as he whizzes down the busy street, passes by the ancient Colosseum. He comes dangerously close to other vehicles. People drive recklessly in Rome, using rules of the road that only natives understand. Inside the Colosseum, tourists look around in awe. They can’t believe how enormous and ancient it is. They can’t believe that people thousands of years ago flocked there to watch animals and people fight to the death in bloody battles for entertainment. Visitors take pictures with their digital cameras. They talk to each other quickly in foreign languages as they gaze around the circular arena.
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The Colosseum isn’t the only place for people to see. They can use audio headphones and follow guides around the Vatican Museum. Guides, like taxi drivers, are everywhere in Rome. Sometimes it’s hard to understand the tour guides because of their thick accents and the muffled sound systems. The guides don’t always pay attention to whether or not their whole group is with them, so the tour groups sometimes get smaller and smaller as people get lost in crowds.
It’s strange waiting to get into the Sistine Chapel, and going through metal detectors first. Security guards search women’s bags. Visitors are expected to wear modest clothes that cover their knees and shoulders. People are not allowed to talk in the Sistine chapel, but they do anyway, despite the guards saying, “SHHHHHH!” every couple of minutes. The guides protect the silence of the sacred, ancient place.
The disruptive tourists take their chaos, and their money, all over Rome. The Vatican is the center for international monotheism, but even that has become a tourist destination which advertises its main attraction, in the form of a picture of the pope, a couple stories high. There is a gift shop where people can buy ornaments or memorabilia. Some might say that Rome has become a sell-out. It has taken the centuries-old grandeur of ancient times and turned it into profit-oriented tourist attraction.
But visitors want to see the churches, so they pay. People are pretty inspired by the Churches. Whatever their religion, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or Hindu, they are impressed by those huge, ornate cathedrals. People sit in the pews, light candles for loved ones, or just wander around. They stare up at the domed ceilings, admire the glossy marble pillars, and shake their heads in wonder at the detailed paintings on the ceilings. They talk about the amazing beauty that people created out of fervor for God.
People walking along the streets of Rome also notice a very different kind of art: graffiti. People spray paint all kinds of colorful pictures and words on the walls. In addition to the graffiti, the wear and tear of time is evident everywhere. In the Forum, visitors walk around and look at the dozens of crumbling stone structures that used to be homes and shops thousands of years ago. Real humans used to work, play, and live there. The spirits of these ancient Romans can almost be felt there. Their triumph is in the walls of the ruins.
Everything is beautiful there. There’s a lot to tell about. But the Trevi Fountain is my absolute favorite part of Rome. It’s elegant and elaborate. Stone gods and horses rule the water, which flows down fancy waterfalls. You can watch hundreds of people each day stand at the edge of the fountain and toss coins behind their backs, into the water. They wish to return to Rome. I do, too.
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