Call it Rome!

If there is one city in the world I would want to see through the eyes of an architect it would be Rome. With all these ancient, medieval, renaissance, baroque and modern structures scattered all over the place. Intertwined or next to each other – marks of three millennia.

So of course I jumped at the opportunity to spend a long weekend in Rome with a bunch of Canadian architects and their professors who spent up to forty years researching, learning and teaching there. All over the city and especially in the Forum! The most important excavating site of Rome!

The Waterloo University of Toronto was celebrating the 40 year anniversary of their Rome Program, where they send their architecture students for a semester to study and research in Rome. I was invited as one of my climbing partners and friends from Shanghai studied Architecture there. Living on different continents by now, we seize every opportunity to meet when we are ‘close’ to each other. And if you are thinking continents, Rome and Hamburg are pretty close by.  

The most impressive and special part was the tour of the forum by Professor Eric Haldenby. He is the founder of the Rome Program, he has spent his working life on and in Rome; teaching, learning and researching the forum – essentially living for it. And he is an exceptionally gifted story teller.

Professor Eric Haldenby – just a bit too faraway for me

Even when he was talking about different sub-types of stones, I tried not to miss a word of what he said. The ancient forum came alive in front of my eyes, he painted the construction site that it actually was in our heads, while trying to follow the political implications of that time. I was astonished to learn the forum didn’t look the way that it is usually shown. If you watched “The Roman Empire” on Netflix you’ve been fooled. During the time its set, all these buildings were still in the progress of being built. What got me most was one building which only had one entrance in the front. No back exit. No side exit. Growing up in a time where every hotel room has to have a map to the nearest emergency exit, where you do fire drills at every school to practice getting out in time – I started to feel physically uncomfortable by the mere thought of a place like that.

The Forum from the outside

Sky above (the usually closed part of) Forum

We were there at a special time: A part of the forum was open which had been closed the decades before was open for public – so Eric was also thrilled to finally go there.

Probably one of the more extraordinary places I have had lunch – inside the Forum

I felt bad that we only got a short version of the “famous 10 hours version the students get each year,” and visiting the Pantheon the other day, I was utterly frustrated I couldn’t get close enough to Eric to fully understand his insights on the Pantheon that he was sharing on the busy Piazza della Rotunda.


We also got a share of the modern architecture when we went to a Schubert, Chopin and Weber concert at the Auditorium Parco della Misica and also at the museum of modern art with this flying-birds merry-go-round.

The prettiest merry-go-round I’ve ever seen at the MAXXI

The most impressive fusion of modern and ancient architecture that I experienced was in the rooftop restaurant at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni – where modern glass and ancient stone complemented each other with such perfection, I even forgot to take pictures.

The baths were still impressive

The last day was spent walking on one of the oldest roads of Europe, on cobble stone, where some ox-carts left their traces 2000 years ago.

Isn’t that cool? Traces made by ox-carts like two millennia ago?!