Is There A Limit To Ancient Roman Obsession?

Mackenzie Patel

Short answer: no.

I visited Rome for the third time this week (before my photojournalism program in Berlin), and it was a smorgasbord of concrete ruins, pizza, and vino rosso. I keep returning to this city because its main attraction—the history associated with the Ancients—is too compelling to “check off the bucket list” and forget. Ancient Rome is one of my defining features, one of those bizarre ticks that makes a personality out of a human. This fascination began in 2011 when I visited Rome for the first time; returning home, I binged-listened to podcasts about Roman history, taking notes in a little black notebook. There was an innate chemistry between us, what with my dorkiness and Rome’s millenniums-old grandeur. 3D apps were downloaded, books were purchased, and parties were thrown to celebrate the “anniversary” of my Ancient Rome obsession.

My second trip comprised of visits to the oldies but goodies: the Colosseum, Forum, Capitoline Museum, and Pantheon. Returning after the initial fixation was surreal, like finally marrying that celebrity I’ve been drooling over since tweendom. The history of Gibbon, Tacitus, and Livy flooded back, their words breathing inside crumbled stones and faded inscriptions. I snapped hundreds of photos, although pixels cannot replicate the sweaty ecstasy that the Column of Trajan gives.

And this third trip? It was punctuated by beer afternoons and wine evenings, by mornings of warm milk and midnights of Facebook messaging. Traveling through Rome and the surrounding countryside for the third time gave me a level of appreciation no Rick Steves book could replicate. It’s not just about checking famous monuments off my list anymore. I’ve already seem the Colosseum twice and taken a kitschy Trevi Fountain photograph. It’s about relaxing into the Italian lifestyle—learning the transportation ropes, seeking out obscure ruins, and stressing little—that makes me feel like a true Roman. This trip, I sought the ruins that didn’t make the “Top 20 Attractions” post on TripAdvisor. However, these ruins are worthy of more than their second-page-of-Google status. The Aqueduct Park, Hadrian’s Villa, Baths of Diocletian, Circo Massimo, Domus Aurea, and Temple of Minerva at Assisi were flooring and the opposite of basic.

As for the Baths of Diocletian, I didn’t know a deserted brick complex could make me feel so happy and alive, contrary to its long-dead users. The Domus Aurea took history buff to new level: I was able to explore underground, partially excavated ruins—unattractive hard hat and all. This hands-on experience only intensified my love of the ancients, for I was immersed in their life, their architecture, and their rituals—also, the Oculus Rift technology inside the Domus Aurea visualized my 2011 podcast sessions. It showed patrons what the palace looked like in Nero’s time; out of body, vibrant, and straight out of a Mackenzie daydream, I nearly started crying.

After three visits, a normal person would call it a day and seal the Roman Travel Guide. However, I’m not done exploring this crown jewel of a city—not even close. I’ll venture in the countryside more, exploring the villas and random ruins some Emperor commissioned. It’s incredible that I’m not tired of Rome yet, tired of the emotional people and lack of order within these pulsing, messy streets. It’s dirty. It’s overcrowded. But it’s mine.

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