Last week, I had to go out to report and shoot video in Rome during the most surreal Holy Week I have ever experienced.
Three of us — cameraman Mark, driver Alfredo and I — decided that our first stop would be Saint Peter’s Square; all of us were wearing our protective masks.
Along the way, all we saw were police cars with officers checking on anyone venturing out of their homes, empty public buses, the odd deliveryman on a bicycle and a few people aimlessly walking their dogs.
The eerie feeling of seeing a lifeless Saint Peter’s Square during Holy Week is hard to describe. Tens of thousands come here from all over the world at this time of the year. The concept that even Pope Francis and the Vatican very quickly adapted to life in lockdown Italy is hard to grasp.
Yet, no one here is taking any chances after the country has witnessed more than 20,000 deaths due to the coronavirus.
If someone had told me at Christmastime that the pope would soon be holding all services without an audience, and that this would go on for a long time, I would have laughed in their face. After this Easter, however, it begs the question: What will next Christmas be like?
The other big question that comes to mind is what is going to happen to all of the pope’s foreign trips? Will the 83-year-old Pope Francis ever be traveling abroad again, or will we have to wait for the next pope?
After Saint Peter’s Square, we moved on to take a look at what the rest of the city looks like. We went to the Spanish Steps, the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, Circus Maximus.
We were able to take in the incredible beauty of these landmarks in a way that we have never experienced, because not even in the month of August, when the city normally empties out, have we been able to see these places with not a soul around. At that time of the year, the Romans may be gone, but the tourists take over.
We were torn between the feeling of the uniqueness of this moment and how heart- breaking it was to be experiencing it. Empty piazzas, empty streets and that silence that allows you to hear your own breathing.
Is Rome not the city of the crazy traffic and noisy cafes on every street corner? Well that’s certainly gone now. Everything shuttered due to the outbreak.
At the Trevi Fountain, we were able to hear something we had never heard before in our lives -- the sound of the water! That is now possible because gone is the sound of the laughter and chatter of the tourists from all over the world who take their photos in front of the fountain and make their wishes as they throw in their coins.
At the Colosseum, visited by more than 6 million people every year, we heard the birds chirping. They must be wondering what happened to all the humans.
The Colosseum has remained standing since the Roman times and one must assume it would continue to stand for many decades if all of humanity were suddenly wiped out. Best not to think about that.
The reality that hits you is that the genius and intellect of man created and built all these architectural gems for everyone in the world to enjoy. The unique opportunity to see them deserted and devoid of life provides a clear understanding of the seriousness of the coronavirus emergency, and makes you strongly desire for all this to end very soon so that the throngs of admiring crowds can return.