Thursday, January 11, 2018

Rome Journal: The Ara Coeli Steps

"tourist descending Ara Coeli staircase"
(photogaph by Hallie Cohen)
Rome is filled with a lot of expensive or actually priceless real estate. At the intersection of the Via del Teatro di Marcello and Piazza D’Aracoeli are the Ara Coeli steps. At the top of this foreboding looking stone escalator lies the Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli. The steps date from l348 and were purportedly built as expression of thankfulness at the end of a plague epidemic. Supplicants expressed their gratitude by ascending them on their knees. You don’t need to suffer any plagues to be thankful for climbing the steps today, though you’re likely to be huffing and puffing once you reach the top. What's notable however is the sturdiness of the edifice that's been created. Like Mont Saint- Michel one would guess that the intention of such features of architecture is to demonstrate the immortality of God despite the vicissitudes of the surrounding environment. There’s nothing precarious about the Basilica even though it sits atop a promontory overlooking Rome. In fact, it feels far more sturdy than many of the edifices at sea level. Back in the 50’s Robert Rauschenberg photographed Cy Twombly’s lower torso descending the steps. Could this be a statement of the fact that art has to do with earthy matters?

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