One of the principal reasons we like to travel is to experience and learn about other cultures, in particular through art and history. Nothing opens one’s mind and expands one sense of and appreciation for other people more than actually going and seeing where and how they live.
Art and history are so intertwined in Italy that it is difficult, and probably pointless, for me to disassociate the two. It is seemingly impossible to consider either one without invoking the other.
The architecture of Italy is fascinating because it reflects both art and history, form and function, in very visceral, immediate way. When one enters the Pantheon, for example, one is compelled to consider simultaneously it’s obvious massive structure, profoundly classic design, and the astonishing constructional detail that goes into each square foot. And then comes the appreciation for the fact that it was completed in 125 A.D. under the authority of the emperor Hadrian. Considering that, still today, it holds the record for the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, and remembering that the building utensils of the time were mostly primitive hand tools made by other primitive hand tools, one is quickly overtaken by a sense of awe. The intricacy and intelligence of the design, and the surpassing beauty of the richly colored carved marble components is incredible. Incredible because of it’s age, because it has survived and continues to thrive some two thousand years later.
Throughout Rome, one sees ongoing restoration and preservation. Italy truly understands and values it's historical significance, to be sure. Just as we observed in Vienna a few years ago, there is an army of workers whose perpetual function is to protect, restore, and preserve the historical and artistic treasures. Something is being worked on all the time.
More than once I marvelled at the careful and precise methods employed by construction engineers and contractors to simultaneously provide for the installation of modern necessities such as indoor plumbing, ventilation, cooking facilities, and reasonable access while at the same time retaining as much as possible the original look and feel of an ancient building.
One of the things that impressed me so much in all of these ancient structures, was the quality of the maintenance. Looking closely at one of the Pantheon's massive pillars, for example, one sees careful patching and repair work in places. But this is repair work that is most often several centuries old, performed by unknown contract artisans, long dead, using classic technique.
The same type of maintenance, repair and restoration was evident in the statuary rooms of the Vatican museums as well. The Vatican museums were fabulous, by the way. That is a "must see" if you go to Rome, and I will probably have a separate post on that at some point.