Thanks to the generosity of my daughter and her husband I was able to visit Italy for the third time in 2008. My oldest son was my traveling companion.
We had ten days to take in the wonders of Florence and Rome and all the surrounding towns and it wasn’t until the very last day that we happened upon the famous Baths of Caracalla. I had no idea that it would prove to be one of the most fascinating of all our adventures.
We were having lunch in a small café after having visited the Coliseum and our waitress asked if we’d been to the baths yet. When we said that we hadn’t she informed us that it was just a short walk from there and we decided to go.
When the buildings came into view we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. The Baths of Caracalla complex was built in 212 AD and, despite the fact that it is now in ruins, it still retains the feeling of those bygone days. It was so eerie to be walking through rooms with inlaid mosaic tiling on the floors and the remains of marble statues everywhere.
We read that libraries, gymnasiums and even cafes were part of the elaborate layout and they even installed a system of burning coal and wood underneath the ground to heat the buildings and the water.
But the strangest thing that we saw was a fresco of the Madonna with Child on the wall of one of the less ruined baths. It was amazingly well preserved but totally incongruous in that setting. Obviously it had been painted at a more recent date and we were sure there was a story attached to it.
When we finally had our fill and were leaving we asked the curator to tell us about the mysterious fresco. He just shook his head and said that it was indeed a mystery, and one that has baffled scholars and art critics for years.
(I guess it’s honorable to stick to facts but you’d think they could have made up something to satisfy us !!)