Breaking Dawn in Rome
I hear a buzzing in my ear. I squint my eyes opened slowly in confusion, and turn to find the object perpetrating the offending noise. It’s my phone. My alarm is what woke me from my slumber and it sure worked, I’m alarmed to find that it’s 5.30am. And then recollection strikes. For weeks I had been planning on waking up early and heading into the centre of Rome to view the sunrise, and apparently, last night I had committed to the plan. After several mental repetitions of ‘you can do this, it’s only waking up’, I lift my heavy limbs from their comfortable slumber and move on towards the confronting reality that lies beyond my bedroom. It’s cold and dark out there.
There’s something to be said for waking up early. Of course, there’s something to be said for staying in bed beyond 5.30am in the well-worn snug sheets that whisper promises to always keep you warm. But if you can break free from their tender embrace, pour yourself some of the life juice we call coffee and drag yourself outside before the sun wakes up, there are some sights to be seen, sights you won’t see at any other time of day. And in Rome it’s no different.
As I wait for the bus, under the moonlight, while the sun is still snuggly sleeping and there are only street lights to illuminate the few but prominent, shady characters around, I start to wonder if I’m crazy for trying to get into the historical centre before sunrise. But as I clamber onto the bus (careful to select a seat closer to the driver, away from the rebellious back seat passengers), I relax and remind myself that I am about to see something that not many people ever see. A quiet Rome. A Rome without the throngs of tourists that most people capture in every frame of their holiday happy snaps. I am going to see Rome before it’s woken up, while it still has sleep in it’s eyes. My excitement wells.
I change transportation in Trastevere and wait for the tram that eventually carries me over the Tiber River and into the heart of the city. The tram comes to a halt at Piazza Venezia, the area of Rome renowned for the imposing Vittorio Emanuele II Monument that commemorates the first king of Italy. While beloved by some for it’s prominence and the eternal flames that burns at the tomb of Italy's Unknown Soldier, killed during World War I, it is loathed by others for it’s connections to Italy’s fascist period and the way in which it obscures the view of some of Rome’s most important historical architecture. I, personally, have always been fond of the ostentatious monument, affectionately referred to as the ‘wedding cake’, but at this moment as it blocks a potentially fantastic view of the distant Colosseum I can’t help but wish it out of existence. I wander down the road to capture the beauty of the ancient roman Amphitheatre ahead of the rising sun, with the evening street lights still glowing and guiding the few morning cars safely down Via Dei Fori Imperiali. I witness the affect of the slowly rising sun saturating the ancient roman structures in a soft orange hue, and attempt to capture the serenity of the scene with my amateur photography skills, but to no real avail. It’s impossible to replicate the feeling and vision this sight evokes without experiencing it first hand.
I make my way back towards Piazza Venezia and head down the popular shopping strip Via Del Corso, and although I expect it, I’m still amazed and filled with awe when I realise that I am indeed the only tourist on the street. I witness shutters opening on the various stores to accept deliveries and construction workers already well into their working day, but shoppers? Tourists? None. But why would they be here? It’s not yet 7am. Having realised, somewhat disappointedly, that I have no idea how to best capture the sunrise (the elusive sun having thrown me by rising from behind my preferred vantage point), I decide to spend the early morning wandering the streets and making my way to some of the cities most popular landmarks. My first stop, the Trevi Fountain.
Walking down the street with my oversized camera hanging comically around my neck, I begin to realise what a strange sight I am to the early bird workers. Their gawking and incredulous stares are my first indications that perhaps, it is not entirely common to see a tourist, such as myself, acquainting herself with Rome so early in the day. As I wander down the tall narrow streets and eventually luck my way to the Trevi Fountain, I understand just how out of the ordinary my presence is.
I look around and all I see is the large monumental fountain. Usually it is the hoard of tourist that first take your gaze but right now, it’s the fountain that captivates and engages. I expect to hear the sounds of loud bustling chatter from the hundreds of people, who at any given moment, stand gawking at the infamous piece of architecture, but those expectations are met only by the sound of rhythmically flowing water escaping from the different orifices of the largest baroque fountain in the city. Beyond the rushing water all I hear is the deliveryman pushing his trolley loaded with goods across the cobble road, and a nearby bar setting up for what will be a busy morning. The sun makes its way higher in the sky and lightly kisses the top of the fountain, bathing it in a soft yellow glow. And there’s no one here to witness it but me and a couple of locals as they pass by to start their day.
I move along to my next stop, the Spanish Steps, a sight usually renowned for the hoards of people that find respite on the 135 broad steps that this monument boasts. In the summertime, ice cream consumption on the steps peaks, and on every one of my visits, I've found countless weary travellers sitting down, gleefully holding the obligatory Italian treat in their hands. But as I make my way down the luxurious Via Dei Condotti, passing the lavish stores and their mouth-watering window displays, I look up to find an almost completely abandoned Spanish Steps, a sight that will soon be obscured by eager visitors. As I watch this scene, I witness the city coming to life. A student settles in to study, a jogger exercises down them, and then a few tourists make their way over and take in this uncommon sight with me.
I walk halfway up the steps, and look back down to catch a glimpse of the morning light starting to illuminate the streets ahead. I sit and watch as the sun rises higher before deciding to trudge on up for a broader view. Walking along the road that travels between the Steps and the Villa Borghese, I find the view that only the birds see so frequently, Rome, cast in shadows and light as the sun makes it’s begrudging way higher into the sky.
At the top of the Villa Borghese, one of the best lookout points to take in Rome, you can see the distant dome of St Peter's Basilica, the top layer of the grand 'wedding cake' in Piazza Venezia, the Obelisk standing central in the Piazza Del Popolo and everything in between. With the sun rising from behind the gardens, I feel it gently warm my back as it’s brings Rome into a new day. While there’s no denying that my legs are exhausted, my eyes are desiring to draw the curtains and I’ve never been more ready for a second coffee, I can’t help but be convinced that there certainly is something to be said for waking up early.