Travelogue Part 3: On Ruins

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If there is one thing Rome has an abundance of, it’s ruins. The city is covered with them. Walking along almost any street can bring one to the remnants of some ancient structure. This was a bit of a shock at first. The US is such a young country and while we have our fair share of history, it is not as visible to the naked eye as it is in Rome. There, the ruins tell stories at every turn; stories of an eternal city that has symbolized power and consistency throughout centuries.

On our very first tour, we visited the Colosseum and Roman Forum. During this tour we learned about how past Roman emperors and popes reused resources from other monuments and temples to create new sculptures and buildings. This surprised me. I couldn’t help but wonder why someone would want to destroy valuable parts of a structure to build a new one. It saved money and resources but mangled something important in the process. This was not the mindset of past Roman dignitaries who did massive recycling over the centuries. They took marble, gold, bronze, and similar resources to build their massive temples, churches, and statues. That habit is very different from the Rome of today. As archaeologists excavate the city they try to preserve as many ruins as they possibly can.

Our Colosseum tour guide taught us that Rome and lasagna have something in common: they are both made of many layers. As time went on, the ground level of the city rose and thus buried temples, statues, and streets. The Romans continued to build on the new ground level, creating a historical lasagna of sorts.

I live in a country where buildings hardly last for decades, let alone centuries. I was awestruck seeing these structures that had stood for millennia. Rome had much to teach me and one thing I learned was how little people have changed. Yes, we have different values and norms now, but underneath all of that we are basically the same. Our goals and challenges have not changed. It is amazing to feel so connected to ancestors who had once seemed unreachable.

All of these realizations washed over me, reminding me of my own mortality. In the second century CE, the Romans were building and expanding with no end in sight. America hadn’t even been discovered by the Western world. Now, we are digging up artifacts of these people long past and trying to learn as much about them as possible. There is no way they could imagine what our lives would be like today, just as we cannot imagine what humanity will be like in the next two millennia. Will we venture out of earth to explore the universe? Will our planet actually become uninhabitable? Will we find other planets to support life?

When we look back on Rome we see gladiator fights, fierce loyalty to gods, and fearless conquerors. When future generations look back on us, what will they see? A people with their noses in a screen and their minds consumed with trivial matters, or a people who is curious and kind and accepting? What will they think of us? I can only hope that our legacy is a positive one.

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