February 21, 2012

Baths of Caracalla, Rome. October, 1984

Look closely and you’ll notice that this is another in a series of jumping pictures. Easy for the jumper to get lost in all this faded grandeur though. These public thermal baths were built in the early 3rd century during the reign of the emperor whose name they bear, and they remained in use until the 6th century sack of Rome by the Ostrogoths. But you knew that. At one time they encompassed several swimming pools (with polished bronze mirrors that directed the sunlight into the water for warmth), boxing gymnasiums, even libraries. Early images of the vast structure provided the inspiration for the design of Manhattan’s Pennsylvania Station (before the late 20th-century Ostrogoths sacked that architectural wonder, too.) Since 1937, the baths have provided the setting each summer for musical events, most notably and appropriately for performances of Verdi’s Aida. And, for better or worse, the site provided the location on July 7, 1990, the eve of that year’s FIFA World Cup Final, for the first of many concerts given by The Three Tenors (Domingo, Pavarotti, Carreras) and the marketing phenomenon that came in its wake (and the subsequent antitrust action by the US Federal Trade Commission against some 3.10 business dealings that were judged, well, operatic.)

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