Valentia Edetanorum

Ilustración sobre las guerras sertorianas en Hispania. Pinchar en imagen para fuente

El humo oscurecía el sol, que había iniciado su descenso por occidente. El procónsul Cneo Pompeyo Magno observaba la moneda que tenía entre las manos; una pieza de plata, con una cornucopia grabada en el anverso. Cerró el puño, apretando las mandíbulas, mientras intentaba dominar la rabia. Nada estaba saliendo como había planeado; creía que en poco tiempo borraría de la historia a Cayo Sertorio, y sin embargo se le resistía. Unos meses antes, en la batalla de Laurión, tuvo que engañar a las parcas cuando estaban a punto de cortar el hilo de su vida. Escapó de noche junto a pocos fieles, para refugiarse en los cuarteles de invierno en la Galia Narbonense. Él, un procónsul enviado por el Senado de Roma para librar a la República del último de los seguidores de Mario, estaba siendo burlado por Sertorio, que campaba a sus anchas en Hispania, respetado por las tribus iberas, fuente casi inagotable de valientes guerreros. El rebelde contaba con el apoyo de sus ciudades, como lo había hecho hasta ese día Valentia. La batalla tuvo lugar delante de sus murallas; tras una jornada de sangre el legado de Sertorio, Herenio, cayó derrotado. Sin embargo, mientras observaba los cuerpos de los suyos aniquilados a los pies de la Porta Saguntina, a Pompeyo le sabían a poco las diez mil bajas del enemigo.

Estudió una larga fila de prisioneros, que esperaban maniatados su fin. Tras una señal, sus legionarios se dedicaron con saña a la tarea; reconoció a uno de los condenados, un optio que con ocho soldados y algunos hispanos, acabaron con la vida de toda una centuria.

— A éste empaladlo y cortadle las piernas —dijo Pompeyo, lanzando con disgusto la moneda que tenía aún en el puño. Prosiguió su marcha hasta un templo cercano; reconoció, cincelado en la tapia que lo delimitaba, medio derruida, el bastón y la serpiente símbolo del dios Esculapio. Bajo el porticado del peristilo se amasaban mujeres, niños y ancianos, que se habían refugiado allí buscando protección. En medio del patio destacaba una figura inmóvil, un sacerdote. Vestía una toga que tiempo atrás fue blanca, pero que ahora estaba manchada con churretones de sangre reseca y fluidos corporales de los heridos que durante las últimas horas habían buscado amparo en el templo del dios. Era un hombre maduro, de pelo y corta barba gris; su rostro estaba marcado por profundas arrugas. Se apoyaba en un bastón, y fijaba con sus ojos pardos un punto indeterminado por encima del hombro de Pompeyo. Cuando éste se acercó, se dio cuenta de que en realidad los ojos del sacerdote fueron una vez negros, pero que ahora estaban cubiertos por un ligero velo blanco.

— ¿Qué quiere de mí el procónsul?— dijo el sacerdote, con voz tranquila y relajada. El romano se sorprendió no sólo por su tono de voz y por la pregunta, sino por el hecho de que en realidad sí que quería algo de aquel hispano, quería saber.
— ¿Por qué os habéis aliado con el traidor Sertorio?
— Es mejor que Galba.
— ¿Mejor? Es un rebelde, no se somete a la autoridad del Senado de Roma. Vuestra ciudad es una colonia latina, vuestros fundadores eran soldados itálicos, debéis obediencia al Senado.
— Ellos fueron la simiente de un pueblo nuevo. No debemos nada a Roma. Obedecemos a nuestra conciencia.
— No, a un loco que no se separa de una corza blanca.
— Es un don de la diosa Diana. Le hacen llegar mensajes a través de ella. A veces los dioses nos eligen como mensajeros, intermediarios.

Pompeyo se ajustaba, nervioso, las muñequeras de cuero. No sabía por qué estaba perdiendo su tiempo escuchando al sacerdote. Por una parte tenía ganas de reservarle el mismo tratamiento que al optio rebelde, cuyos alaridos se sobreponían al fragor del saqueo. Hubiese bastado poco, una mirada a su escolta personal, que lo acompañaba como una sombra, y el hispano se habría callado para siempre. Sin embargo, no podía evitar seguir interrogando al anciano.

— ¿Te hablan los dioses?
— No. Veo cosas que aún no han sucedido. A medida que estos se van apagando— dijo, señalándose los ojos— las imágenes brotan en mi cabeza.

El procónsul sabía qué quería preguntarle ahora, pero antes de hacerlo el sacerdote le respondió.

— Veo al gran Pompeyo regresando triunfante a Roma, acogido como un héroe. Veo más batallas, más conquistas, el triunfo, la gloria, magníficos edificios llevarán tu nombre… Pero también veo traición, muerte, tu cabeza rodando cerca de un gran río, al otro lado del Mare Nostrum…
— ¡Cierra la boca! ¿Escuchas?— llegaban hasta ellos los sonidos de la muerte, los gritos agónicos del optio, las súplicas de los condenados, el fuego devorando las casas. — Ya he escapado de la muerte una vez, volveré a hacerlo si es necesario. Sin embargo, es tu Valentia la que muere.
— No lo hará. ¿Ves ese niño?— continuó, señalando un bebé que lloraba en brazos de su madre—cuando será muy anciano volverá, con otros, para reconstruir la ciudad, por mandato del heredero de tu peor enemigo. Llegará un tiempo, cuando el senado de Roma no será más que un recuerdo, en el que vendrán otros. Echarán raíces en esta tierra y dejarán de ser extranjeros, como los soldados que trazaron estas murallas hace más de cien años.

El sacerdote volvió a su mutismo. Pompeyo deshizo su camino, regresó a la explanada en la que habían ajusticiado a los prisioneros. Fijó su mirada en los restos del optio, que se había convertido en una ensangrentada masa amorfa. Un ayudante le acercó su caballo. Montó con agilidad, e impartió las últimas órdenes.

— Destruid la ciudad, arrasadla, que no quede rastro de ella ni de sus habitantes. — Recapacitó por unos instantes — Excepto el templo de Esculapio y quienes estén en su interior.

Esqueleto de la edad republicana encontrado en el yacimiento arqueológico de la Almoina, Valencia.

When in Rome… Early walks

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Castel Sant’Angelo
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L’Altare della Patria
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A surprise on the other side of Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II – A wreck
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The Tiber and Ponte Principe Amedeo Savoia Aosta

When visiting Rome, a friendly advise. Dedicate one morning to an early walk, from 6 to 7 am

When in Rome… Palazzo Massimo alle Terme

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“The boxer” – Museo Nazionale Romano (Palazzo Massimo alle Terme). IV cent B.C. My pic

For a lover of Ancient Rome entering this museum is like opening the gates of paradise. Furthermore, of an uncrowded one. As I wrote in the previous post I’m quite fond of peaceful spots and this is one indeed. Palazzo Massimo alle Terme hosts an extraordinary collection of Roman statues, mosaics and frescoes discovered from the XIXth century during works in the city.

The boxer

My favourite statue is “the boxer”, a greek bronze from the IV century B.C., probably work of Lisipo, and discovered in the Quirinal Hill when excavating the Therms of Constantine.

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In this close-up you can see the details (check out this vid for more close-ups) with which the artist has portrayed the fighter. The wounds (the blood is represented using copper) in his face, the swollen eyes, the broken lip, the mashed ears. The athlete is resting, it is not the usual image of victory; maybe he’s gathering his strength to continue the fight, or has been defeated and turns to an unknown referee, waiting for mercy or the victory veredict. Waiting, as the statue had for hundreds of years. This picture, taken when the statue was discovered in the XIXth century, touches me deeply.

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Livia’s triclinium

In the third floor of the museum you can see the frescoes and mosaics that decorated the rooms in some patrician villas. My favourite place is the reconstruction of the “summer dinner room” in the Villa of Livia Drusilla, wife of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus.

The villa was in the Flaminian road, ad gallinas albas (“where the white chickens”). When Livia married Octavian, a prodigy occurred. An eagle dropped a white chicken in her lap; the bird had a twig of laurel with berries in its beak. Following the soothsayers advice, the chicken and its offspring were raised in the villa, and a forest of laurel oaks was planted around its perimetre. The leaves of these trees were used as crowns in the imperial triumphs, and the withering of the plants was considered an ill omen. It is said that before the death of Nero, the whole forest and all the chickens in the villa died.

It has always fascinated me how superstitious the romans were. The days were divided in favourable and ill-fated ones. No public activity could take place during the second ones and a serious military defeat or a disastrous event turned some days from fasti to nefasti. For instance, July 18th was the day of the Clades Gallica (the Gallian disaster), to commemorate the defeat, near the river Allia, of the Roman army against the gauls in the year 387 BC.

Soldiers are an extraordinary race of men: tough as shield leather, superstitious as egyptians, and as sentimental as Sabine grandmothers.

Robert Graves, “I, Claudius”

To come back to the Museum, what makes this room special (I usually sit for half an hour in the central couch and I like to hear the Ah! and Oh! of people entering) is the illumination.

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Lights increase and decrease in intensity to reproduce the real light during different hours of the day, from dawn to sunset, that Livia’s dinner guests witnessed a couple of thousands years ago. The effect is absolutely marvellous; the paintings in the dining room were ripped off from the original walls, transferred and reconstructed in this area. Although I have seen several times the process of tearing off frescoes it keeps son sounding like magic to me.DSCN1605 DSCN1602DSCN1603There are many other masterpieces in the Museum. The remaining bronzes of Nemi’s ships, reproductions of famous greek sculptures…DSCN1655

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Yes, the Discobolo himself, for instance…

A beautiful Antinous…

DSCN1617… right beside Hadrian…

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An edition I made a couple of years ago of the above pictures to celebrate the anniversary of Hadrian’s death (July 10th 138 AD)

… and some quite known mosaics, as these one representing the four teams of the chariot races: green, red, white and blue. The charioteers conducted the horses with the reins, not only with the hands, but also with the movement of their body check this relief. They were taller and bulkier than nowadays jockeys, for instance. One of the main dangers during the races was to remain trapped under the horses or the chariot while tied to them, that’s why they had a knife between the leather strips of the bodice. If they were quick enough they could save themselves cutting the reins, but it’s no wonder that charioteers, even if well paid and adored by the masses as modern football players, often died very young.

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All this and many more in my favourite museum in Rome. Another of my favourite pieces is this ivory mask. The pic is not mine (click for source) as it is very delicate is held in very particular light conditions. It was recovered by the Carabinieri group specialized on Art smuggling.

When in Rome

A few days ago, the NYT published a very critical article about Rome and her many problems, starting with the dirt. I will not deny something that is obvious. When I cross the city in bike, two words come out from my mouth quite often: “che schifo” (what a filfth). Rome is more a cynical step-mother than a caring one; she is a little bit mignotta, or like Anna Magnani in “Mamma Roma”, insulting you while laughing and singing.

This is a city of contrasts, where the “che schifo” can be followed with the blink of an eye by a “oh che bello!”. A couple of days ago, at 7.30 in the morning, all the backstage doors of the “Teatro dell’Opera” were open because they were moving the set to Caracalla’s for the summer season and we had to stop the bike while some pieces of the stage were loaded in a truck. I turned my head and I saw this:

While the workers and technicians were moving and fixing the stage, the whole theatre was lit. I opened my mouth and gasped like a red fish out of water. I felt absolutely happy during those two minutes. Coming back home that afternoon I thought to write about my favourite spots of the city.

I advice friends who want to visit Rome to come if they can between end January and early February. It is not the best time of the year if you’re looking for warm weather or clear blue skies, but it’s the only low season period in a town invaded by hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. The ideal months to visit the city in the best weather conditions are May or October, but get ready to feel a little bit like a sheep on a flock. Or maybe don’t; my favourite spots are usually the less crowded ones. My intention is to write several posts about them but most probably this will be the first and only post on the matter.

The Caravaggios

Rome is the city where you can see some of the best known Caravaggio paintings for free. Three of them are in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, France’s National Church in Rome. Fortunately the Spanish consulate is at only five minutes walk, therefore everytime I have to make some bureaucratic paperwork I carry with me a few coins (for the lighting), and I can watch this:

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Michelangelo Caravaggio 040” by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Or this:

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Michelangelo Caravaggio 047” by Caravaggio – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Another two are in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo (St. Peter’s Crucifixion and the stunning St. Paul’s conversion):

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Caravaggio-The Conversion on the Way to Damascus” by CaravaggioWeb Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

And in the church of Sant Agostino, the “Madonna dei Pellegrini”, or Pilgrim’s Madonna. In the same church where is buried the famous courtesan Fiammetta Michaelis, lover of Cesare Borgia. Roma mignotta, saints and sinners, virgins and whores

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Michelangelo Caravaggio 001” by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

 

When in Rome…

 

Via Prenestina 1

Rome's hidden treasures
Rome’s hidden treasures

I have been asked many times by Italian friends why on earth do I live work in Rome. When I’m in a particularly bad mood I answer: “Stendhal’s syndrome screwed me”. When I feel poetic I put examples like this. My husband has sent me by whatsapp these pictures of an old Roman road that has appeared during some works. As usual, here in Rome, when you dig a few meters Ancient Rome pops up and reminds us that the new city is built using the old one as foundation.

The North entrance of the ancient Domitian's Stadium, under Piazza Navona
The North entrance of the ancient Domitian’s Stadium, under Piazza Navona

 I guess that what differenciates normal people of me, Ancient-Rome-Nerd, is that when they see a disorganized pile of old bricks, I observe old Romans, as through a viewfinder. To me the remains of the old consular road (I presume Via Prenestina, this site is just a few meters away of the modern one) are not just stones. I can see as clear as they were in the picture the farmers transporting in their carts the vegetables they are to sell in the city, a messenger of the Imperial post service hurrying to deliver on time the letters he carries to the Palatine Hill, some slaves buying groceries in the shops in one side of the road.

This reminds me that, some years ago, a very famous Italian stylist (Valentino) got the necessary authorisations to make some kind of super-huge party near the Colosseum, and he had the “brilliant” idea (authorised by someone as bright as he) to “complete” the columns in the Via Sacra with new, white, plastic-polyurethane ones. Fortunately I have not found pictures of what they did (the kitsch effect was completed by night as the columns were iluminated inside). Anyway, the plastic shining bright white columns remained for months, as “tourists liked them”. I  found that simply disgusting.

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A view of the Via Sacra with the remaining columns of the temple of Venus and Rome at the right side and the Arc of Titus as background

Because, when you don’t have enough imagination as to see those columns forming part of the temple of Venus and Rome you can always watch this video, or buy a ticket to Cinecittà and admire the spectacular reconstruction of the city which was used as set for my admired HBO’s “Rome”, without disturbing the archeological area.

The calendar and the foro seen from the Subura area
The calendar and the foro seen from the Subura area
The Temple of Saturn
The Temple of Saturn

But I was talking about my Stendhal’s Syndrome. The modern city of Rome stresses so much that I have to pump it up continually and repeatedly. Tonight I will have an extra dosis, and I will endure and resist the next public transportation strikes or the disastrous state of modern roads and sidewalks for several months. I have booked a night visit to the Vatican Museums. Which reminds me that I have to take as many notes and pictures as I can of the Borgia apartments.