Bart Och - Travel Journalist

I woke up early though it must have been past midnight by the time I fell asleep. A bunch of house parties in the neighbourhood reminded me of the time I lived on the high street in Romford, a small town just outside of London. Weekends there were always loudly intoxicated and, for the most part, sleepless. I didn’t care for it at first because I would often be working till late and then, after the shift, go to one of those pubs. And it doesn’t bother me here in Rome either. I am usually quite exhausted from all the walking because we simply don’t use public transport; the nearest metro station is about the same distance as the city centre. Then, it would be a shame to commute beneath the cobbled streets and miss all the beautiful monuments in between each more recognisable landmark: opulent churches and bustling plazas with active fountains where people chow down on their fast-thawing gelatos and thin-crust pizzas and sip Aperol on ice served in old fashioned glassware. Envious and hopeful that “an ice cream a day keeps the doctor away” (is it only appropriate to say so in Italy?!), I fervently partake.

But, every morning, all I can hear is the chirping of birds outside, the roadway noise in the distance, and cats begging to be fed, which I find mostly adorable and occasionally annoying. Today, I can also hear church bells ringing – the familiar call for Mass I have been used to since childhood. I don’t mind it either like I didn’t mind the sound of Azaan in Istanbul or the honking of cars and motorbikes in Mumbai. There are, evidently, many churches in Rome. In fact, the city has over 900 of them. And if you include private chapels in historic buildings, the number grows closer to 1600! With this many churches to see, it isn’t an easy pick, even for Italians. Usually to get away from the heat and the noise and not necessarily to attend a religious ceremony – though I sometimes happen to walk onto one unexpectedly – I spend far too much time in all kinds of churches rampant with gold and breathtaking art.

I love churches. I love all kinds of temples! They are peaceful hideaways where I, and many other people, find solace. I am always in awe of those structures erected for one purpose only: to help us connect with the divine. Though I don’t think anyone needs a church, a mosque, a synagogue, or any other temple to pray and talk with God, I believe they all make it a lot easier to do so, if not for the fact that they are almost always incredibly quiet, indifferent to the tumult outside the walls.

The biggest church in the world, the basilica of St Peter’s in the Vatican, towers over the densely-populated city. I saw it way back in 2010 when I came to Rome for the first time. I climbed all 551 steps from the base to the top from where I had the most iconic view of the eternal city. Now, as I am writing these words, I am looking at the magnificent sloping dome from my window – a sea of burnt orange barrel clay roof tiles between us.

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