April 8, 2011 – Rome has a lot of throw-away beauty. The poor guys just don’t have the travel brochure space to promote every bit of their considerable stockpile of awe-inspiring architecture, both present and ruined. As a result, the city has quite a few generally overlooked monuments and structures astounding enough that were they located in other cities, they would have long been incarnated onto the shiny backs of coins, cipher’d surfaces of license plates, and stormy centers of snow globes.
I mean, only Rome could forget to tell me about an impressive edifice like the Victor Emmanuel Monument. It’s not like I didn’t ask. I researched the city for weeks prior to my trip, and never came across this gigantic, statue-bedecked monument to Italy’s first post-unification king in all the press of churches and ruins and monuments and palaces and fountains and statues and museums. Of course, I might just have a hole in my Google.
However, walking around the hyper-publicized Coliseum and Forum area, you can’t help but notice on the distant skyline a stark, black, gigantic charioteer with tall wings and a team of four horses. And then, a few lateral steps later, a second one across the roof from the first. And then you stop looking for fear that the four horseman of the apocalypse are coming and you neglected to wear clean underwear.
Up close (or as close as you can get to them), the large black roof statues become less ominous as they form the crown of an almost overpowering milieu of monuments, statuary, and architecture. Completed in the 1930s, the white, blocky structure was apparently controversial in its day since it didn’t look Roman, it dominated an area full of architectural and archeological treasures, and because they had to demolish a historic area to fit it into the landscape.
These days, the Victor Emmanuel Monument features armed guards, doubles as an unknown solider tomb complete with eternal flame, and, if you take the glass elevator to the top, offers a stunning 360-degree view of the city. Or so I hear. Like I said, I didn’t know about these details until too late, and my entire experience with the edifice was drunkenly stumbling across its brightly lit exterior sometime near midnight after a late dinner of lamb brains and Chianti. Which is how I imagine most things on this planet are discovered.