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Everywhere in central Rome is sentient:

the Coliseum; St Peter’s Square;

the Spanish Steps; Castel Sant’ Angelo –

a towering, cylindrical building,

originally the Emperor Hadrian’s

mausoleum then a bolt hole for besieged

popes and, finally, for centuries,

a prison, and place of execution,

before becoming a museum.


We are approaching the castle this New Year’s Day

across the Ponte Sant Angelo, with its

ten sculptured, twice life-size, Baroque angels.

Beneath the Angel With The Crown Of Thorns

are three Roma children, a boy and two girls,

the latter dressed in long multi-coloured skirts,

their hair hidden by tightly wrapped scarves.

While the older girl begs,  the other two

are lighting some kindling they have brought.


The Castel Sant Angelo is the setting

for the final act of Puccini’s ‘Tosca’.

While Napoleon’s army is advancing –

so Rome will be sacked yet again –

Tosca, a famous soprano, stabs

the lecherous Scarpia, Chief of Police.

She thinks she has tricked him into saving

her lover – but the bullets the firing squad

discharges in the prison yard are real

and Cavaradossi, a painter, dies.

In her grief she sings, ‘O Scarpia,

avanti a dio!’, then runs up the steps

to the parapet – where we are standing –

and throws herself over the ramparts.

We can see the snow on the Apennines,

the Tiber flowing fast and olive below,

and, on the bridge, two armed policemen chasing

the children, whose small bonfire is blazing now.




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In a letter published in The Times in May 1936 – the ...