Saturday, March 17, 2007

Porta Salaria

Salarian Gate, Rome
Buses, scooters and Smart Fortwos roll through a breach in Aurelian's wall as wide as any made by the 19th century artillery that ended the last vestige of the Papal States. Their drivers meet only a little less resistance than the Italian army did when they blasted through, a few hundred feet to the east.

The Salarian Gate didn't survive the onslaught, and when they cleared the rubble, it revealed the tomb of an 11-year-old poet laureate. In 94, Sulpicius Maximus won a poetry contest held in honor of Jupiter Capitolinus, but the light of his fame burned too briefly to prevent him from being lost under a pylon two centuries later. His monument was whisked off to the Capitoline Museum, and a replacement for the old gate was erected soon after. It, in turn, gave way to the march of progress in 1921; room had to be made for bigger things than salt merchants' carts.

Now there's an enormous gap that would have horrified the city's ancient defenders. It's flanked by a wine bar called "Friends." Young, well-dressed modern Romans congregate inside, smiling and talking. At midnight, they may raise toasts. None are to Sulpicius, and none are to the people whose homes, buried in another midnight meters below the men's room, were set ablaze by Alaric's army of Goths when someone opened the gate sixteen centuries ago.

It's the sort of place where one can almost feel the archaeological strata, like free-weights on a barbell. Like Alaric, though, we were only in Rome for three days. Diesel fumes egged us along, and locals gave us sidelong glances, as if wondering why we weren't buying nine-euro hot dogs down near the Forum. We let Sulpicius say his piece and moved on.


Kate Marie said...

Very nice, David.

And I envy you your three days.

David said...

Thank you!