25 ROME SILENT BEAUTY In looking at these photographs, we rather have the same feeling we might experience before certain Metaphysical paintings by Giorgio de Chirico, which the great painter himself chose to call “Piazze d’Italia” (Italian Squares): visions of solemn quietness and the magical suspension of time, when the artist had the impression of seeing the world as he never had before, almost devoid of human presence. In these images made about one hundred years after de Chirico’s own experience, we seem to perceive the same state of mind as that of the Master, albeit weighed down by the fear of contracting a dangerous, invisible disease that has forced everyone to stay indoors. The photographer accepts the challenge and wanders around the empty city to record its solitude and apparent abandonment. Ultimately, the images do not really express a feeling of desolation, which was indeed at the basis of the creative impulse. On the contrary, those who see the photographs experience a feeling of supreme beauty and inner peace, almost as if the author had carried out a heroic act to free us from fear and restore our serenity. It is the gaze of the photographer who is the sole inhabitant of the city, represented with no human presence. The viewer does not see any sign of the cataclysm that has swept over the city of Rome, all of Italy, and the entire world, truly and seriously threatening people’s lives. The viewer sees the consequences of what actually took place. Gone is that throbbing, chaotic activity that constantly drives the lives of the people spread across an immense space, for the city of Rome is truly immense in its territorial expansion. And it is reasonable to think that there is room for everyone, even though there are very few crucial places where the everyday life of its residents is combined with the often uncontainable pressure of masses of tourists, responsible at times for effects that are not always positive for that civil cohabitation that even this city would find it easy to cultivate. The feeling that the Roman resident has before these photographs is that of a sort of reappropriation, above all when thinking of the time when the comings and goings of the city’s visitors was so great it was hard to see it for what it was, an incredible, stunning urban context, in some ways a unique one in the world. This uniqueness is movingly expressed in the photographs, addressed to both the expert in Roman history and traditions, and to the person who knows nothing of such things. In ancient times Rome was called “caput mundi” (the capital of the world) because it was at the top of an Empire that vied in terms of size and importance with the ancient empires of the Persians, the Chinese, the Ottomans, and emulated in its splendor and magnificence the legendary kingdoms of the Mayas and the Incas. But eventually and inevitably the Roman Empire fell apart, overwhelmed at first by the warring peoples from Northern Europe, and then by the unstoppable rise of Christianity and the papacy. Hence, over the course of the centuries, the city of Rome became a place where no one, ruler or subject, ever felt entitled to erase the signs of its previous history, as instead occurred in many other parts of the world over time.