Andy Fuller | January 12, 2019
Rome has a knack for reinvention. It’s evident in the layers you find throughout the city, some more visible than others. They tell a story of a resilience wrought by experience. Sometimes those layers are literally stacked on top of each other, like those at an archaeological dig site somewhere in the city. Other times the layers exist side by side in a juxtaposition of old and new.
For example, take a taxi (or even better, hop on a Vespa) and drive the Via dei Fori Imperiali, “Road of the Imperial Forums.” This large six-lane highway extends only about a kilometer from the Altar of the Fatherland monument to the Colosseum. Its route runs through the ruins of the famous Roman Forum, where the business of ancient Roman civic life was carried out. Here throngs of hatchbacks, tour buses and those ever-present motor scooters race over and between sites of incredible significance not just in local history, but in the context of world civilization.
Via dei Fori Imperiali was constructed by Prime Minister Benito Mussolini in 1932 and is remarkable for another reason: It’s one of the few straight shots you have in the Eternal City, a clear line of sight from point A to point B. Indeed, Rome has a knack for something else, and that is an urbanism highlighted by winding narrow streets, many of them cobblestone, punctuated by openings with café-dotted piazzas and a basilica or three. Americans would view these streets as slightly wider-than-normal sidewalks. But they help to give Rome its charm and show something of the layers of reinvention themselves; some of these streets boast shops with some of the finest couture of the 21st century even if they were built before anything wider than a few goats or an occasional chariot passed through them.
Yet even the streets built after the automobile are shaped by the past by routing around, through or under it. Such is the case for Via Casilina, which runs parallel and at times under an ancient aqueduct as it winds through Rome’s east side. It is perhaps fittingly analogous as an address for the Citadel of Charity, a complex operated by the global poverty relief organization Caritas. The people who live in one of the two apartment buildings at the Citadel have traveled winding roads of their own, and are eager for reinvention. Here a handful of nuns manage the apartment buildings, a general store and a small church. Most who live here are poor Italians who would otherwise be homeless. Less frequently but no less willingly, the Citadel welcomes refugees.
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