Rome Diaries - Week 64

Updated: Nov 17, 2021


From 2006 to 2011 Paulist Father Tom Holahan served as vice rector of the Paulist church in Rome. During that time he had the opportunity to spend time exploring the historic sites of Rome as well as the hidden ones. The blog features excerpts from this travel diary. A new selection appears each week.

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November 4, 2008

The four-story Fountain of Moses recalls the three stately arches of Trofei di Mario, built in the 3rd Century to distribute water from the Sabine hills to the Esquiline neighborhood. The fountain’s notoriety lies not in its architecture (which was admired) but in the squat statue of Moses that arrived in 1591, five years after the facility was opened to the public. But time has a way of burnishing even the less than beautiful. Its location is perfectly placed to catch the afternoon sun, the triple cascade of waters memorializes not just Moses, who tapped a rock at God’s command and released a torrent, but the great urban planner Pope Sixtus V (Felice Peretti) who restored this ancient aqueduct (Aqua Alexandrina built in 226), renamed it after himself and built the fountain complex. A billboard-sized entablature above Moses and bas-reliefs from Exodus proclaims all this, but today everything is covered by scaffolding for a complete renovation and a modern billboard for a luxury car takes the top spot. The ad has a twisted way of praising the vehicle declaring, “If your neighbor doesn’t like it, then we’ve done our best work!” (Evidentially the neighbor is trying to hide his jealousy.) It’s another way of praising notoriety as good in itself, a bit of a compliment for this loved-to-be-hated fountain. I’ve always wondered about the windows in the fountain and the blank wall that runs down the street beside the fountain. Some say it was originally a warren of clothes dyeing and washing shops which required a good flow of water for their trade. Now, as part of the restoration, I hear that the property has been turned into an exclusive six room hotel. The only hints of life inside are a locked door marked “98L,” a buzzer with no name and a security camera.

December 3, 2008

While chatting in a café with three priests from Scots College, I ask one if he “sides with the British” because he orders tea while the rest of us decide on a cappuccino. I get a quizzical look. To explain myself, I tell the story of the Boston Tea Party; evidentially this story of tea dumping by Americans is not in every history book. Then I’m told a story of Italy’s own method of protest. When the pope imposed a salt tax in the Papal States in 1539, a Salt War resulted. Perugia, capital of Umbria, was at the center of the conflict, but Terni was closer to Rome. To this day, when you order bread “tipo Terni.” you are ordering a salt-free bread first made there five hundred years ago in protest. Taxation, food and countermeasures seem to go together and never seem to be forgotten.

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