The most spectacular Roman remains from the Imperial period were in front of my office, but the walk to the trattoria in the opposite direction was an immersion in ever more layers of the complexities comprising Italian history from Rome’s earliest days until the present. On the way I passed a monumental equestrian statue in fascist style dedicated by Mussolini to a semi-legendary Albanian named Scanderbeg who united Albania for a time in a fight against the Turks in the 1400s. The dedication in 1940 was apparently meant to compare Scanderbeg to Mussolini, who annexed the poor and helpless country the previous year. Next were the minimal ruins of the Servian Walls, begun in the sixth century BC when Rome was still relatively small and at the mercy of nearby tribes.
Separating the two buildings, the Porta San Paolo, originally a gate in the Aurelian walls on the road leading to the great church of St. Paul Outside the Walls, stands alone in the middle of a traffic circle. Originally it was the entrance to Rome from the port at Ostia. The walls were fortifications begun around AD 271 at a time when the Pax Romana was beginning to crumble. Now it was suffering from a different sort of assault, traffic from six roads coming together in a bumper car scenario as frustrated drivers tried to get around the gate.
A plaque on the part of the wall broken to let the traffic through commemorates the liberation of Rome by American and Canadian soldiers on June 4, 1944. Past the gate where the wall starts again, the quiet Protestant Cemetery holds Keats’ bones and Shelley’s heart. When Glenn and I visited we saw other plaques commemorating the Italian Resistance along with many of Rome’s feral cats wandering around deserted gravestones.