The Column of Trajan, from the vantage point of Bunker Hill, by Chloë Walker

column of trajan 1With the intention of designing a monument fit to commemorate the events that occurred at Bunker Hill in the midst of the American Revolutionary War, I set out to survey several other monuments around the globe, in search of inspiration. I saw it most befitting to begin in Rome, a place of strength and persistent spirit—traits my country of America surely shares in common. In my travels to Rome and tours of ancient monuments, the Column of Trajan struck me in particular. This large yet detailed memorial was erected after the Roman conquest of Dacia under the emperor Trajan in 113 CE, commemorating and embodying the victory of Roman triumph. Having refreshed my memory of Roman history before my travels, this monument struck me for several reasons, and in several ways. I am compelled to record my reactions and thoughts below, so that I may revisit them upon my return to America before I sketch my own designs for the monument in Massachusetts.

As I approached the structure, I first was surprised by its magnificent height. Reaching nearly 150 feet into the sky, the tall, solid, cylindrical strength and solitariness of the monument impressed me. I struggled to view it as a Roman citizen would have (according to my studies): in the midst of the Trajan Forum, between two libraries. Having not yet looked at any small detail of the structure, I took note of the type of statement this monument made, regardless of its surroundings now or then. My immediate thoughts: The Roman Empire was powerful; Trajan was powerful; Power endured. Any person in close neighborhood simply could not ignore the monument that towered nearly 145 feet over all people’s heads. To the city and all who came near, it yelled “Roman victory!” and did not pause even for a breath. Question to self: What is the overall sentiment I wish to convey in my own design?

When I walked nearer to the column, a series of intricate scenes, which were carved into the large column with impeccable detail, demanded my attention at once. Spiraling upward and covering the entire monument, the scenes were quite difficult to see with my bare eyes, though I could more or less view the carvings that sat the lowest on the column if I stood back a fair distance. The first scenes displayed men moving barrels into boats, interacting with one another alongside a river. What appeared to be a god was also included in the landscape. This was what seemed to be pre-war preparations, the inclusion of which I found to be an interesting design choice. The scene was so very ordinary—yet so important to the victory, I later realized after some reflection. The detail of each and every barrel, human and river-wave inveigled me into believing that this was an exact description of the events of the conquest of Dacia. How could I doubt such an exact record? It certainly was more exact than any book I had read prior to my journey to Rome. Question to self: do I wish to make forever certain the exact events of Bunker Hill?

To my delight, I found it possible to ascend the structure from within, after finishing my study of the intricate exterior. As I began to rise along the marble helical staircase that resided within the monument, I felt a bout of disorientation. The stairs seemed to continue on for days and the narrowness of the column caused me anxiety—surely the Roman soldiers were more relentless than I in their own ascension to victory! In my excitement for the unique design element that was the staircase, I forgot to inquire about what was at the top of the monument, and for what I was climbing those very tiring stairs! It was not long before I completed my own triumph, reached the top of the staircase and my questions were answered. Thrust into blinding light, I shielded my eyes momentarily, pausing to regain vision. As I stood on a platform at the top of Trajan’s Column, I looked out the window before me. Looking out onto Rome, I saw evidence of Roman endurance—I was oriented toward the Roman glory that continued after the Dacian wars. Although I stood on top of a structure that memorialized specific moments in Roman history, I looked out onto the landscape and forgot about the meticulous inscriptions that decorated the exterior. I could only contemplate the glory before me. Question to self: must a monument look back or forward?