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2016年4月12日 (火)

waiting for its next incarnation

Then I walk back over the bridge, through the old Jewish ghetto iron on labels, a sorely tearful place that survived for centuries until it was emptied by the Nazis. I head back north, past the
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Piazza Navona with its mammoth fountain honoring the four great rivers of Planet Earth (proudly, if not totally accurately, including the sluggish Tiber in that list) arctic tank. Then I go have a look at the Pantheon. I try to look at the Pantheon every chance I get, since I am here in Rome after all, and an old proverb says that anyone who goes to Rome without seeing the Pantheon "goes and comes back an ass."

On my way back home I take a little detour and stop at the address in Rome I find most strangely affecting--the Augusteum. This big, round, ruined pile of brick started life as a glorious mausoleum, built by Octavian Augustus to house his remains and the remains of his family for all of eternity. It must have been impossible for the emperor to have imagined at the time that Rome would ever be anything but a mighty Augustus- worshipping empire. How could he possibly have foreseen the collapse of the realm?

Or known that, with all the aqueducts destroyed by barbarians and with the great roads left in ruin, the city would empty of citizens, and it would take almost twenty centuries before Rome ever recovered the population she had boasted during her height of glory seo company? Augustus's mausoleum fell to ruins and thieves during the Dark Ages. Somebody stole the emperor's ashes--no telling who. By the twelfth century, though, the monument had been renovated into a fortress for the powerful Colonna family, to protect them from assaults by various warring princes.

Then the Augusteum was transformed somehow into a vineyard, then a Renaissance garden, then a bullring (we're in the eighteenth century now), then a fireworks depository, then a concert hall. In the 1930s, Mussolini seized the property and restored it down to its classical foundations, so that it could someday be the final resting place for his remains. (Again, it must have been impossible back then to imagine that Rome could ever be anything but a Mussolini-worshipping empire.) Of course, Mussolini's fascist dream did not last, nor did he get the imperial burial he'd anticipated.

Today the Augusteum is one of the quietest and loneliest places in Rome, buried deep in the ground. The city has grown up around it over the centuries. (One inch a year is the general rule of thumb for the accumulation of time's debris.) Traffic above the monument spins in a hectic circle, and nobody ever goes down there--from what I can tell--except to use the place as a public bathroom. But the building still exists, holding its Roman ground with dignity.

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