Any visitor of the ancient ruins of Rome sees that many of our contemporary understandings of the buildings are ancient: they built stadiums, public spaces, courts of judges, public facilities such as aqueducts, sewerages, public baths, and even seven-story malls. We invented less, but we consider ourselves more sophisticated than ever. I felt humble under the 2000 years old Pantheon’s dome and understood both the human and monumental scale of forums.
Besides that, the incredible short promenade through the Roman Forum is a walk-through of the built environment of the most modern and democratic Western society base: the Senate (the germ of the parliamentary system), the basilicas (courts of judges), the forum itself being the place of public debate and constructions of spiritual conscience of the people (temples). At one of the ends is the incredible Coliseum, and the entire path is seeded with triumphal arcs that mark the victories of a proud and powerful society and its members.
Ancient Rome was a triumph of human society. Despite some of the practices and cruelties that such a young society developed with an apparent lack of morality, it is the cast-in-stone evidence of where human endeavor and innovation can lead us. At the same time when many of our ancestors did not well-passed the stone age, an amazing sophisticated society blossomed and established, giving us, more than 2000 years later, concepts that allow us to have a real civilization.
This old city is also the base of the humanist Renaissance centuries later. This old city is the inner core of democratic systems. This old-established incredible democratic situation: millenniums before the French Revolutions, both plebeians and aristocrats bathed in the same public baths.
Don’t understand me wrong: at the same time, this was one of the cruelest, most corrupted, and inequitable societies. But they constituted rules that would terrify our politicians running for public positions now. Even the most humble citizen-elected his representative to different levels of public positions. No office could be held for more than one or two years, and almost every high-ranked person had to prove his abilities during tough military campaigns.
Writing those words allowed me to better understand Rome’s legacy. Despite the first impression that it is the result of ancient architects, it is not. Not the architects built this city, but the public order that asked for forums, baths, temples, courts, blocks of flats, and triumphal arcs. The Roman engineers didn’t build the sewerage and aqueducts; they answered to the public demand.
The open-mindedness, pragmatism, solidarity, and innovation built this city. The large domes are not just a use of concrete, but the will that built them.
We want beautiful, efficient, and healthy cities. It is not the architects and planners that can provide us with such places but the will of the community.
It is our role to determine what our habitat will be like. But we need goodwill, open minds, and common sense. The architects? They will be glad to follow the rest!