Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Selfie with Galla Placidia

Myself in Barcelona. In the background, the remains of the temple of Augustus. A place where Empress Galla Placidia surely walked in her times, during the 5th century AD. You cannot see her in this photo, but I felt like she was there.

I am not into ghost summoning, of course, but sometimes I think I can hear ghostly voices of people who lived in remote times in my head. One of these voices is that of Galla Placidia, Empress of Rome and queen of the Goths, who lived an adventurous life some fifteen centuries ago. After so many years, her voice has become faint, indeed. But, paying attention, one can still hear it.

Because of the vagaries of life, it has happened to me to go to Barcelona, in Spain, several times during the past few years. And Barcelona is a place where Galla Placidia lived for some years with her husband, the Gothic king Athaulf ("The Wolf") with whom she had a child whom they named Theodosius. It was the name of Placidia's father, Emperor Theodosius "The Great," the last Roman Emperor to rule on both the Eastern and the Western part of the Empire. And by naming the child Theodosius, Placidia's plans were transparent: to create a new state that would have seen the former enemies, the Goths and the Romans, to live in peace with each other. A beautiful dream, but beautiful dreams are often short lived. This one vanished into thin air when the young Theodosius died as a child. He was buried in a silver coffin in Barcelona, then brought to Italy, and finally put to rest in the Imperial Mausoleum in Rome, possibly in the same year when Placidia herself died, in 450 AD.

So, Placidia was in Barcelona, called in her times Colonia Julia Augusta Faventia Paterna Barcino Even though she left little or no physical traces there, it is curious how she left an impression in my mind; an impression of presence. This impression came to me for the first time a few years ago. I was walking in the busy "La Rambla" avenue, full of tourists. It came to my mind that I had read that there was this Augustan temple in Barcelona, even though I had never seen it. At that time, I didn't have a GPS map on my phone, so I walked at random. Not completely at random; I had a vague idea of where that place was supposed to be. And I found it.

I remember how I felt when I went through a small door in front of an anonymous building that led into a large room where three columns of the ancient temple of August are still standing. It is not a really remarkable place, but I remember how happy I was when I found it. It was a place where Placidia had walked. She had seen these same columns. It was like if Placidia herself was there, welcoming me in her palla dress, smiling while wearing her double ringed pearl necklace. 

It was a curious sensation of elation that, now, I feel everytime I happen to be in Barcelona and I find the time to go to visit the great columns of Augustus temple, in the small road called "Carrer del Paradis." I did the same this May 2017 and I took a selfie of myself with the columns behind. You can't see Galla Placidia in this picture but perhaps you can imagine her being there, too.

1 comment:

  1. I share your feelings: in the University Museum here in Cambridge there are two wonderful things from the Ancient
    World: a large bust from Hadrian's Villa, and a caryatid from the entrance to the Temple of Eleusis: things to look upon and dream. Hadrian must have viewed that bust many times.....