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Scattering the Ashes – part four

One of my reasons for deciding to go to Rome was because it was the first place that that Christopher and I went on holiday together, in 1990. We spent a week exploring the city and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves seeing many of the sights. So I felt that he would really approve of me scattering some of his ashes there. The question was, where and when would I get an opportunity to do so, as the study-tour was so packed with things to do, and Rome was extremely noisy and busy. I carried a small pot of his ashes around in my handbag for a few days looking for a suitable opportunity, and my chance came on the Thursday.

The group spent the morning doing a walking tour of the area around our hotel – the Campus Martius. We saw some impressively big Roman buildings that were still largely intact – the Pantheon, the Ara Pacis or Altar of Peace of Augustus (in a very incongruous extremely modern museum building designed by the American architect Richard Meier and only opened in 2006), and several temples some with their column tops sticking out of the ground and their bases well below the present ground level.  But one aspect of the tour, which I think you could only get if it was led by a trained archaeologist, was walking around the streets and seeing how the present day buildings and road layout are a direct result of reusing the foundations of 2000 year-old Imperial Roman monumental architecture.

Temple to the deified Emperor Hadrian, incorporated into a later building

So for example we stood on a curving street with a distinct slope to it, and realised that the houses were built on the foundations of the curved outer wall of the Theatre of Pompey, and the slope to the road was due to it being built directly over the rake of the seats in the audience. We went into a bar on the ground floor of a medieval pallazo and looked at the 1st century AD Roman brickwork in the walls. And we stood  in the centre of the Piazza Navona and imagined it as the Stadium of Domitian.  We had some free time there to grab a coffee, but it’s probably the most fashionable and expensive part of Rome and even after over twenty years the memories were still strong of Christopher and me bring ripped off to the tune of £5 each for a coffee and ice-cream. Goodness alone knows what they would charge now! I sat on a bench and had a drink of water from the bottle in my handbag, and some biscuits that I had liberated from the breakfast buffet at the hotel….

We had a free afternoon to further explore on our own, and that was my best opportunity to scatter the ashes. I wanted to scatter them into the River Tiber, but the embankments were so built-up and busy that I didn’t think it was appropriate. I would have attracted unwanted attention (cremation is very rare in Italy and scattering ashes is not at all the Done Thing) and probably missed the river entirely, leaving his ashes scattered in the dust and vegetation of the embankment walls!  So I asked our guide lecturer, who lives and works in Rome, what she would advise. She suggested the Isola Tiberina, a small boat-shaped island in the middle of the River Tiber. It has a walkway around it right down at river level, and was remarkably quiet and peaceful for somewhere right in the middle of an extremely busy and chaotic city.

Scattering the ashes in the middle of Rome

The picture above shows the spot I chose. I went down to the bottom of the steps and scattered the ashes directly into the river. I took the photo immediately afterwards, and you can see how quiet it is – there was no one around at all. The bridge in the background is the Ponte Cestio, or Pons Cestius, dating largely from the 1st century though heavily restored.