Pasta outside Castello San Angelo

The Barilla pasta magnets on currently displayed proudly have prompted this week’s post.  They’re a new addition to our kitchen after we were given them during the celebrations of international pasta day last Sunday.  I imagine that for anybody else reading this, your own celebrations were fairly low-key, but for those of us in Rome, Milan and Naples, Barilla saw to it that we were fed bowl upon bowl of free pasta.

In Rome, the celebrations were held in the Giardinni San Angelo next to Castello San Angelo.  To look at this castle, you’d struggle to find any suggestion of the work of ancient Romans, and as far as I know, you’d eventually have to give up on the fruitless quest; there are no signs at all.  However, originally the castle was built as the tomb of Hadrian.  His statue still stands in the gardens and his name is given to the nearby piazza Adriana, but the building itself has been drastically altered.

The original building was designed by the Emperor himself who had always held a considerable interest in architecture.  It was a grand, white marble structure, and if the Pantheon is any guide (another project the Emperor was involved in) it would no doubt have been a fabulous building. It was known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian until the sixth century, but before we look at why the name was changed, it’s time for some background.

After the Roman Empire in the west had fallen, Rome had become something of a ghost town.  The papacy continued to operate from there, but otherwise the city’s halcyon days of political and cultural significance were behind it.  Hobbes described the papacy of the time as “the Ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave.”  Pope Gregory I began to change all of that, however, and under his guidance, the city was successfully portrayed as a destination for pilgrimage.  With the tourist trade dollar flooding in, Gregory began to claw back the glories of old Rome.

However, none of this rejuvenation could happen until the plague that was coursing through Rome had ended. That supposedly happened after Gregory saw a vision of St Michael above the Mausoleum and the name was changed accordingly.  After that, pope after pope added to and reinforced the building to make it the Vatican’s defensive stronghold.  During the 1527 sack of Rome, one pope remained holed up in there for months.  It was this period that saw the Castle become the building we recognise today.  (And incidentally, it was also in this period that Hadrian’s remains were removed elsewhere and later destroyed in a fire).

As we sat next to the castle munching on our trofie al pesto, I noticed an inscription explaining that the park we were sitting in had been created by another figure from Italian history, namely Mussolini.  Whilst you see his building work etc on a daily basis over here, it came as a surprise to see something carved in stone explicitly naming him as responsible for the Gardens.  Rather than rewriting history, however, the inscription was left as it was; as yet one more layer of history serving as a backdrop to contemporary Rome and all of its pasta-based events.

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