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How I Celebrated Rome’s Birthday 25 Years Ago

Gregory DiPippo

Apart from events like birthdays and wedding anniversaries, I suspect people very rarely know exactly where they were and what they were doing on any given day one year ago, never mind a quarter of a century ago, but I do remember exactly where I was on the evening of April 21, 1997. This day is traditionally marked as the anniversary of the founding of Rome; and in 1997, it was a jubilee anniversary, 2750 years from the conventional date of 753 BC. On that day, I was on the Capitoline Hill, waiting for the unveiling of a copy of the great statue of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius that dominates the central piazza of the hill, in front of Rome’s city hall.

In the early 1980s, it was discovered that the original, which had been outdoors for over 18 centuries at that point, was suffering badly from exposure to the elements, and so the decision was made to bring it into the Capitoline Museums, and replace it in the piazza with an exact copy. This is an aspect of the field of art restoration and preservation at which the Italians excel; the copy is incredibly precise, made by measuring every bump and notch of the original with lasers. Once the copy had been made, it was set up in the piazza, and the official unveiling of it planned for Rome’s 55th jubilee.

A crowd had gathered in the piazza, waiting for the mayor to come out at 5pm, make a speech, and announce the unveiling; when I arrived at about 4:30, the statue was completely covered by a large tarpaulin. Then, in classic Italian fashion, 5pm arrived, but the mayor did not. The minutes passed… 5:10 … 5:20 … 5:30… The crowd became restive, and like all restive Roman crowds, filled the air with a great many sarcastic and highly uncomplimentary remarks about the mayor. 5:40… 5:50…

Rome can get very windy around sunset, especially in the spring, and every once in while, a gust of wind would shake the tarp quite strongly, and the crowd would start to cheer, hoping that it would do what the people in charge of the event could not decently do until the mayor arrived. Then finally! a powerful gust of wind ripped the tarp almost completely off; the crowd cheered, and mostly left. The mayor finished whatever had been keeping him until then and came out about 10 minutes later, to the sight of an almost empty piazza. Evviva!

(Image from Wikimedia Commons by Burkhard MückeCC BY-SA 4.0)

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