When in Rome
Walk the streets of Rome and you’ll encounter the words of the ancients, the Renaissance, and contemporary proclivities all battling for your attention. But most of all, you’ll realise that buggery is everywhere, writes Colin Fraser.
“If you want to pick up a boy, pick one up at the market! Everyone knows boys you pick up on the streets aren’t to be trusted.” Wise counsel from Caesar’s mother to one of her staff, more concerned by petty theft than matters moral. Romans, at least according to HBO, were okay with homosexuality as long as it didn’t get in the way of running the state, winning a war or ensuring continuation of the family line. A pleasingly open attitude regarding most sexual matters prevailed, and at parties, positively encouraged. They took the ‘What?!” out of whatever, a line of thought that has threaded its way through history and can be readily found in every gallery, every church and every street corner in the ancient capital. It’s not too much of a stretch to claim Rome as one of the gayest cities in the world.
While their scene is not as transparent as Berlin or Madrid where bars are bigger and beastlier, Rome has something other capitals can’t compete with: history. A wealth of gay endeavour is sitting out in the open, positively begging for attention and adoration. Walk the streets of Rome and you’ll encounter the works of the ancients, the Renaissance, and today's proclivities all battling for attention.
Every statue on every monument glorifies the male form: rippling chests, brutal legs, firm buttocks and so on. What is possibly the first known depiction of bear sex – not ursine copulation but hairy men getting it on while a slave boy watches – lavishly decorates Ancient Rome's Warren Cup. Unfortunately, this cultural icon has been squirreled away by the British Museum, but you get the idea. Down the road, a frieze at Pompeii’s Suburban Baths reveals several instances of same-sex threesomes and foursomes.
Pitch forward a thousand years and the Renaissance turns on the detail of its gay practitioners as they perfected the practice. Leonardo da Vinci called Rome home while Michelangelo busied himself next door designing St Peters and The Vatican. This is the gay motherload – a cathedral of architectural glory, a Chapel that reduces grown men to tears. The irony that a church which readily wages war against homosexuality should keep the best for itself is not lost.
Today The Vatican is better known for the camp pageantry surrounding the faith, and that of its (agreeably handsome) Swiss Guards, or the moral flexibility of scandals like one which recently embroiled a Nigerian chorister and rent boys. But that's not the sum total of gay Rome. Here is a city that loves to entertain. Bars, clubs and restaurants are everywhere offering everything you could want, if you know where to look. And, for better or worse, it's home to a vibrant porn industry. You could say that buggery is everywhere. And when in Rome...
GAY SURVIVAL GUIDE
Rome just about has everything a gay traveller could want in a city: rich history, cultural charms, superb cuisine, stunning architecture, beautiful fashion, vibrant gay scene, mild temperatures and good-looking inhabitants. One of the most popular destinations in any traveller’s itinerary, Rome is a must for any gay European sojourn.
BEST TIME TO GO
Spring (March to June) and early autumn (September and October) are the best times to visit Rome, advises Lonely Planet. At these times, you’ll be greeted with mild temperatures and clear skies. Summer (June to September) can get hot – temperatures reach the high 30s while in winter (December to February), expect an average of 10°C to 15°C. For more info, visit www.lonelyplanet.com.
British Airways flies Sydney to Rome via London.