Rome Diaries - Week 87

September 2nd, 2009

Ponte Nomentano, the picturesque bridge over the Aniene river that is just three miles from the walls of Rome, was the site of many decisive events. Built in the 2nd century B.C., the bridge was partially destroyed by the Goths in 549. Now it is safely tucked away behind some pine trees, just below the modern Via Nomentana. From Monte Sacro, on the far bank of the Aniene, the vista of ancient Rome can be seen just above the trees. Augurs, observing the flight of birds from here, used to inform Roman officials what the future would bring. Perhaps because of this, rebel plebeians took their stand on Monte Sacro against the patrician class (494 BC). Pope St. Leo III conferred with Charlemagne here in 800. During the state visit, the pope was formally acknowledged as head of the church and, by agreement, Charlemagne was crowned by the pope as Emperor of Rome, to the chagrin of Constantinople. In 1805, the youthful and still unproven Simón Bolívar stood here and, viewing Napoleon’s latest conquest, vowed to end colonial rule in South America. Later, Bolívar would become one of the many sources of inspiration for Italy’s own liberation. I exit the city bus just after Via Nomentana crosses the Aniene, unable to catch a glimpse of the bridge from the bus. Wandering through a derelict park, I spot a crumbling mausoleum, commonly known as “The Devil’s Chair,” a sure sign that the ancient road, which was strewn with burials, is not far. A busy restaurant, Ponte Vecchio, provides my first picture of the bridge -- on its sign -- but has no actual view of it. Further down a winding street I come to the stones of the ancient Via Noumentana and the famous bridge itself. The street is situated just as it should be: at right angles to the bridge, the better to expose and delay an on-coming enemy. (Since the bridge is “pedestrian only,” cars line the street right up to the hairpin turn.) After I make the turn into the bridge, it comes into view, completely surrounded by greenery. Could Charlemagne have seen it this way? I walk across the stone pavement and observe a tribe of ducks splashing along the muddy banks of the river. A niche shrine to Mary is hidden in the corner of one tower and a nearby ledge holds a prayer book and flowers. As I turn back for a final view, I see Pope Niccolò V’s coat-of-arms above the archway; he restored the bridge in the 15th century. For some reason, the best spot for a side view picture is cordoned off as a military zone, which now has me wondering – is this pedestrian bridge still of strategic use? In Rome, you never know.


Via Nomentana. From Monte Sacro, on the far bank of the Aniene, the vista of ancient Rome can be seen just above the trees. Augurs, observing the flight of birds from here, used to inform Roman officials what the future would bring. Perhaps because of this, rebel plebeians took their stand on Monte Sacro against the patrician class (494 BC). Pope St. Leo III conferred with Charlemagne here in 800. During the state visit, the pope was formally acknowledged as head of the church and, by agreement, Charlemagne was crowned by the pope as Emperor of Rome, to the chagrin of Constantinople. In 1805, the youthful and still unproven Simón Bolívar stood here and, viewing Napoleon’s latest conquest, vowed to end colonial rule in South America. Later, Bolívar would become one of the many sources of inspiration for Italy’s own liberation. I exit the city bus just after Via Nomentana crosses the Aniene, unable to catch a glimpse of the bridge from the bus. Wandering through a derelict park, I spot a crumbling mausoleum, commonly known as “The Devil’s Chair,” a sure sign that the ancient road, which was strewn with burials, is not far. A busy restaurant, Ponte Vecchio, provides my first picture of the bridge -- on its sign -- but has no actual view of it. Further down a winding street I come to the stones of the ancient Via Noumentana and the famous bridge itself. The street is situated just as it should be: at right angles to the bridge, the better to expose and delay an on-coming enemy. (Since the bridge is “pedestrian only,” cars line the street right up to the hairpin turn.) After I make the turn into the bridge, it comes into view, completely surrounded by greenery. Could Charlemagne have seen it this way? I walk across the stone pavement and observe a tribe of ducks splashing along the muddy banks of the river. A niche shrine to Mary is hidden in the corner of one tower and a nearby ledge holds a prayer book and flowers. As I turn back for a final view, I see Pope Niccolò V’s coat-of-arms above the archway; he restored the bridge in the 15th century. For some reason, the best spot for a side view picture is cordoned off as a military zone, which now has me wondering – is this pedestrian bridge still of strategic use? In Rome, you never know.


September 14th, 2009

On this day, the Church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme brings out its world renowned relics of the True Cross, obtained by that earliest of Christian pilgrims, Helena, mother of Constantine. This year, however, fear of swine flu will reduce some of the fervor – no one will be allowed to kiss the reliquary. I also hear that on September 19th, when the Cathedral of Naples brings out its vial of the blood of San Gennaro (St. Januarius), which liquifies on that date, the faithful will only be allowed to touch it to their foreheads.

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