ROME, Italy—The perceptions of Rome that I had as a child came more from films than within classroom walls.
The violent images from Gladiator, Spartacus, and Ben-Hur were always more vivid in my mind than facts and dates about ancient Rome found in my history textbook.
The breezy, romantic comedy feel of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday (and later on, Hilary Duff in The Lizzie McGuire Movie) cemented the idea of modern Rome as the “eternal city,” more so than my fifth-grade classmate’s tri-fold poster board presentation about Rome’s demographics and landmarks in Geography class.
St. Peter’s Basilica at night is none of these things. It is neither bloody nor violent, nor is it a whirlwind of romantic feelings, bright and cheerful. It is loud and quiet at the same time. It is illuminated, yet the space feels dark. It is sacred, but standing further down the street where more and more shops begin to appear, it even begins to feel slightly commercialized. This is the first place I have been while in Rome, and it doesn’t quite fit into any of those impressions from my childhood.
Later, as I see Rome in the daylight for the first time—view the ruins of the Roman Forum, climb the steps of the Colosseum, and sit on the Spanish steps where Audrey Hepburn once sat—my own experiences begin to blur with my favorite film moments.
Amidst all of this, however, Piazza San Pietro, as the Italians call it, remains its own vivid image, holding a place in my mind among all those pictures cast towards me from the cinema screen that are slowly being replaced by pictures I take with my own camera.