Roman TripAdvisor, or a Comical Disregard for History

When I was in Rome, I searched TripAdvisor for tips on where to go when in Rome.

Primarily, I was searching for cafes, restaurants, places to work with WiFi. You know how research has the tendency to become a string of mindless chain reactions? One search contains an embedded link, click, which leads to some new thing with an embedded link, click, you’re on an entirely different page, and…

Well, in my hunt for cafes, I discovered that TripAdvisor has reviews for ancient historical sites, such as the Forum and Pantheon. You might be saying, “duh,” but to me, this instantly seemed like such a humorous concept. In most scenarios on TripAdvisor, a customer gives critical yet helpful feedback that can then be used by the business owner to adjust future experiences. I gave a 2-star review to a pasta place in Rome to both warn future customers, and to alert the restaurant owner that his carbonara recipe may need to be re-evaluated. There is a collaborative spirit behind TripAdvisor: we all help one another have the best experience while travelling. However, reviewing historic landmarks cannot fit this model. Historic landmarks were not built in the anticipation that some 2,000 year later they might hold a touristic relevance. The Romans who built the Forum were not building it in order to please some Brit or Dane in the year 2018. Apollodorus of Damascus did not construct the world’s first unreinforced concrete dome in the hopes of receiving a 5-star review. But still, we as a species go about reviewing things that had no intention or even thought of our existence, our evaluation of their significance.

In case you are wondering, most of the reviews for Rome’s historic landmarks are overwhelmingly positive. But positive reviews are not very interesting.

Here are some reviews for Piazza Navona:

“With some water fountains”…just some raggedy old fountains, nothing special.

Piazza Navona has an evil vibe, so I’ll just leave a 1-Star review on TripAdvisor…because, you know, I gotta warn everyone else of all the evil here.

And here is a great one from the Pantheon:

Did you know Ibrahim prefers white buildings and level ground? Guess it’s time to pave over the cobblestone streets and re-paint the medieval architecture. Also, the Romans didn’t engineer their spaces with strollers in mind, can you believe it?

I totally see the thought process behind reviewing the contemporary institution surrounding a historical site…there are some excellent, cutting reviews on TripAdvisor about the ticketing booths surrounding the Forum, as well as the security around the Pantheon. These make sense. And god knows I’ve visited places of historical “significance” and have felt less than overwhelmed…but feeling the impulse to go online and criticize the place, as if it were built for you? This is incredibly funny. “The world must know that I prefer white buildings! Rome does not have enough white buildings!”