When I tell Romans I have been a resident of their city for the last 16 years and have no desire to live anywhere else, they’re often a little baffled. “But why?” they ask, looking a touch sorry for me. “We’re all trying to get away.”
It’s true that Rome, which has never been an easy place to make a living, is struggling these days. The economy is stagnant, I’ve never seen so many homeless people and beggars on the streets, and many Romans look visibly frustrated. It’s no wonder that populist parties are riding high.
So why be here? Leaving aside the city’s superficial delights, like its superb climate and wonderful food, my own answer is simple:
I am aware of no other great city whose past has been so well-recorded for so long. We have some idea—and often a very good idea—of what Rome was like, and what happened there, during each of the last 25 centuries. Nor, in any other great city, has so much survived physically from its past, through buildings and objects. If you know where to look, you can find souvenirs of the events that shaped Rome, allowing firsthand connections with great moments hundreds or thousands of years past.
I can give a few examples. In a modern hall at the back ...