Lest you think my labeling the Gianicolo "one of my favorite spots in all of Rome" is hyperbole, I submit the purplest piece of prose I've ever penned, a veritable love letter to the view from up here at night that I wrote back in college, when I was about to leave life in Rome behind for a second time.
Stand against the burnt red cat's-tongue stucco. Press your knees into the rough wall that encircles the crest of green rise called Gianicolo.
Let the breeze bite your face. Fill the linings of your nose with the bad cologne from the self-absorbed couple pressed against each other nearby, and the cloy of sleeping flowers in the park below.
Listen to the Fiats behind you creak as they sway with erotic love. Smile at the winking yellow man-stars from the low suburban slope across the valley, and the fluid car headlights that flow alongside the Tevere.
All of Rome belongs to you.
You can look out over the skyline and mark every place that you own. Every dome of every church that belongs unreservedly to you. Each famous point of reference with which you share the perfect affinity of witness, contemplation, and creation. Places you have created for yourself—not the landmark, but rather just the right opinion on it. A few descriptive phrases, wrestled by your brain to perfection, jealously guarded inside your mind.
You own every single spot you have visited, every marvel of Rome to which you have paid awed or indifferent homage. From the twin domes at the triumvirate end of Piazza del Popolo to the twin spires of Trinità dei Monti crowning the Spanish Steps. Even the white, puffy scar of the Vittorio Emanuele monument. The beautiful and the ugly, beloved and detested. Dirty, sunken ruins and shiny, belching traffic.
But you also own the Via Appia Antica that shoots, arrow-straight, a ROMAN road, south out of the city, past generations of pious Christians whose greatest sin in the eyes of their world was to exist. They have had their revenge, made your city their capital, and spent centuries sprinkling your Rome with temples where people can worship their frescoes and confetti-marbled floors. Deep green, burgundy, old white, with gray mortar.
You possess the pale curve of the Colosseum that peeks out, thin, delicate and proud. You catch it with your eye, the owner's eye. You know how to pick its broken marble shell out of the complex sprawl and introverted jumble of your city.
You reign over the wide, noble hemisphere of the Pantheon, worshipped by its many gods, perfect in their architecture, symmetry, and devotion to the human race.
You also own the diminutive dome of Santa Maria Del Popolo, distinguishable only to your trained gaze, a treasure of art and dignity. Caravaggio and Raffaello, Pinturicchio and Bramante all find peace inside, their artistic legacies resting together in this mildly touristed spot at the edge of your city's walls.
Yours alone are the myriad medieval buildings of the Jewish Ghetto, of Trastevere. You own every convoluted alleyway that carves its worn worm path through the exquisitely special mundanity of a settling, dusty Metropolis.
You lay claim to each and every unidentifiable dome that punctuates the panoramic spill, simply because it exists and rises above the five story skyscrapers of your Rome. These churches thrust their perfect and perfunctory hemispheres above the sprawl, all for you.
They do it for you.
Your dominion knows no bounds as you posses fully the city, turning it over and over like a sweet candy on your tongue. An echo from an age thousands of years gone winds its shadows along the broken and dusty remains of the Foro Romano, brick and marble jerryrigged back together by Mussolini's iron staples and megalomaniacal fancy.
The echoes remind you that you once reigned over the entire western world. Your presence was felt and feared even beyond the Pax Romana that you ruled through the Caesars of antique millenniums. The Forum columns that still stand do so for your victories, your triumphs, your Rome.
You gather it all to your sweating breast and love it with the throb of your heart, for it is your city and yours alone. Your blood pulses for it as strongly as it does for your parents, your own children, your most intimate lover.
You guard it jealously and refuse to admit that anyone else could possibly lay claim to your vicoli, your tiny restaurants, your marble street signs embedded in sixteenth-century palazzo walls, your stray cats, your opera, your dripping laundry, your cobblestones, your art, your history, your Rome.
And Rome responds.
As you kiss its choked air, caress its broken curves gently with your eyes, fill your mind with nothing but its well-worn and perfectly marred beauty, Rome responds.
It, too knows your mind. It, too loves your heart. And it, too owns your soul.