In the summer of 1969, my grandfather Giuseppe Pisaturo flew from Boston to Rome.
And took his family with him.
To show them the Old Country he had left as a young man.
That was the first time I saw the Roman Forum. At age 14.
As a bookworm with four Italian grandparents, I had been fascinated by the Forum for a long time.
But once we were in Rome, I had to get permission to roam there freely.
It went something like this:
“Ma and Dad, I want to spend the day at the Forum. You can drop me off in the morning, and pick me up in the afternoon.”
Ma: “Don’t let him go, Jimmy! [my father]. What if they take him?”
Dad: “Let him go! He’s old enough to see the world.”
My day in the Forum was my first day as an adult.
Here is a photo from that summer.
I bet I have a guide to the Forum in that very stylish leather case!
(Sorry you couldn’t come with me, Yvonne.)
What I saw that summer was only one of many versions of the Forum that have existed since the founding of the city.
First it was a malaria-ridden swamp.
Then a gathering place for citizens of the Roman Republic.
Then the temple-filled, marble-clad majesty of Empire.
And then, after the sackings and neglect, it fell into ruin.
And became a grazing area for animals.
For much of its later history, the Forum was just a heap of rubble.
Look at the Church of San Lorenzo in Miranda.
Which was built into the remains of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina.
Why is the door up so high?
It was at ground level when the church was built.
Sitting on top of the rubbish heap that was the Forum.
You get the same picture by looking at artists who portrayed the Forum during later centuries.
I had the chance to examine Étienne Du Pérac’s Topographical Study in Rome in 1581.
In the Special Collections Room at the Boston Athenaeum.
(Thank you, Ginny!)
Look at Plate XIV below.
You can see the same church on the far right.
And the words Campo Vaccino on top of all that dirt.
Here’s the caption that goes with the engraving:
“In order that one may see the insecurity of the goods of this world, God has permitted that this place, once the chief place of the Romans, and adorned as we have seen, should now be reduced to this condition, and should be a resort for cattle, the cattle market being held here, for which reason it is called Campo Vaccino.”
(That’s where we get the word “vaccine”. Edward Jenner coined it when he discovered the cure for smallpox – by using cowpox.)
The Forum you see now is the result of massive excavation.
And lots of modern additions.
The Senate House, or Curia, on the far right, is only the latest of several versions.
When I saw it in 1969, I thought that was the original.
And the place where they stabbed Julius Caesar.
Neither is the case.
History is a very messy business.
My last journey to Rome was in 2018.
(These photos are from that trip.)
I went there a month after my mother died.
When I saw her for the last time, she said: “I will never see Italy again.
I want you to see it for me. And say goodbye.”
As I strode the Seven Hills.
During a flower-filled May.
And walked the Appian Way.
I said goodbye for her.
But for me, it was arrivederci.