Rome the Seventh Time
I first visited Rome back in 1984 as one of a 30-squad Contiki bus tour. Needless to say it was somewhat rushed. A tour of the Vatican Museums, a quick whip-round the Colosseum for a snap or two, a walking tour of the Centro Storico and meet the bus in Piazza del Popolo (which, back then, was a parking lot). I don't remember much and one photo I do have is three of us slumped against one another with faces of utter exhaustion and 'get me a beer'.
Two years later I was back, on the night train from London and emerged, blinking, into the raw sunlight of August Rome. A tout found me a hotel which I think was near Termini, shoved me on a bus and said 'get off after four stops'. I duly followed his instructions and much to my amazement, I actually found the hotel. That was late afternoon - and I didn't leave the hotel. Not even to eat. I was too worried about people lurking in the alleyways and getting robbed. I stayed indoors all night and starved, then crept out in the morning before the lurkers and pickpockets, and met my sister at the Trevi Fountain. We hadn't seen each other for three months and back in 1986, our only mode of communication was messages relayed via mum in Sydney, Australia. We spent four dizzy days in furnace that is Rome in August- went back to the Vatican Museums, went inside the Colosseum this time, and no doubt ate our body weight in pasta and consumed vats of red wine.
I recall throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain on that 1984 Contiki visit and as the Hollywood movie script would have it, I have returned time and again. The visit this year makes it seven times - five of them in the last three years. Rome is an immersion in centuries of civilisation. It is bearing witness to history unimaginably ancient. Walking in the footsteps of the caesars, slaves, soldiers and ordinary Romans I only wish the ruins could tell their secrets.
This year - September 2015 - I rented an apartment in Campo di Fiori. It was a little one bedroom place on the top floor of a 500 year old building in Largo di Librari - about one minute from the Campo in one direction and two minutes from the Jewish Ghetto in the other direction. The apartment was on the top floor and there was no elevator so the sixty-odd stairs were a challenge but the payoff was the terrace - the evening breeze, the pink and rose glow of morning and the cheerfulness of wine and cheese with my mum, my son and his buddy.
Largo di Librari just off Via dei Giubbonari near Campo di Fiori- our apartment is the top of the yellow building on the left (bottom photo - with my gorgeous Mum!). The little church at the end is Santa Barbara di Librari dates back to 1306. It isn't open often so when you see the door open, grab the opportunity and spend a few peaceful minutes inside.
I hadn't stayed in this area before and was excited to explore. Lucky for me there was lots to see and lots to revisit. Mum and I headed out early the first morning for coffee, cornetto and a walk to the Pantheon before the crowds arrived. We rolled on up to the Trevi Fountain which was in the final stages of restoration and then wound our way back via Piazza Navona and Campo di Fiori to pick up some groceries and wait for my son to arrive from London.
I took an hour or so to roam the Jewish Ghetto, and visited the Portico of Octavia and Theatre of Marcellus. I hadn't walked this area before. The Jewish Ghetto is a serene neighbourhood with very few tourists and walking through it will lead you straight to the Portico, which was under restoration at the time of my visit. It was first built by Augustus in honour of his sister, but burnt down three times over the course of a few centuries. It was used as a fish market from medieval times to the 19th Century - all of this history is documented in a wheelchair and pram friendly ramp which takes you past the portico and to the Theatre of Marcellus.
Portico of Octavia (above and below)
This ancient building has quite an interesting history - as they all do - but this one particularly. The idea for the theatre was originally conceived by Julius Cesar who was murdered before he could see construction even start. It was completed in 13BC and formally opened by Augustus in 12BC. In its heyday it could hold 11,000 people and had what was probably superb views of the Tiber. It must have looked impressive as it was encased in Travertine marble - which was quarried when the theatre fell into disrepair 400 years after its opening. In the 11th century it was used as a fortress and later, the residence of the Orsini was built on top of the ruins. This residence was divided into apartments where people still live today. Another example of the juxtaposition of Rome - people still living and working where Augustus once walked.
Theatre of Marcellus as seen from the Portico of Octavia (above) and a close up of its outer ring (below)
Theatre of Marcellus showing the add-on Renaissance apartments on the top
Up the hill from the Theatre is the Capitoline - if you feel like it, take the big staircase on your right and it will take you to one of Rome's highest points where the Temple of Jupiter once stood. The Capitoline Museums are atop this hill and house one of the world's most important collection of antiquities (see previous blog post). If you visit the Capitoline, head to their rooftop cafe for a fortifying espresso or vino rosso. Take in the views of the Roman Forum and know that you are standing where Tarpeia was flung to her death, where, on his knees, Julius Cesar begged for protection from Jupiter (whose temple upon the hill was where his eventual murderers hid), where Vespasian took refuge during the turbulent Year of the Four Emperors in AD64 and where Michelangelo eventually built a palace. This palace is now the museum.
Continue your walk around the Jewish Ghetto and you come upon this little fountain - the Fontana delle Tartarughe - or Turtle Fountain. Built between 1580 and 1588 it was designed to supply drinking water to the Romans during the Renaissance. It is more well-known today as one of the locations in Woody Allen's 'To Rome with Love' and also made an appearance in 'The Talented Mr. Ripley'. It is a quiet place with few tourists, so try and seek it out. It's about 5 minutes from Teatro Marcello.
The photos below showcase the area between the Jewish Ghetto and Largo Argentina - a quiet and peaceful place away from the tourist path.
Below - one of those sights you can only stumble upon if you stray off the beaten path.
A bridal car at Saint Carlo Ai Catinari (just past Campo di Fiori).
Yes, I firmly believe that Rome has so many treasures. It is not overrun by tourists and there are glimpses into the ordinary lives of its people if you slow down and look for them.
Having said that, however, I am about to contradict myself and head back to one of THE most visited places on Earth. St. Peter's Basilica. See, the thing is, this church is truly one of the world's greatest acknowledgements to faith, Catholicism and vision. This is the sixth time I've been inside St. Peter's Basilica and it never, ever fails to make me catch my breath. Especially when I'm with loved ones who have never seen it.
Robert (above and below) is my son's best friend. He has never been inside St. Peter's. He walked in and, while turning slowly around said 'oh wow...oh my God'...and yep I am sure that's exactly the effect Michelangelo, Bramante, Maderno and Bernini wanted.
Robert wanted to climb the cupola and even though I've done it twice before - I did it again - because I wanted to see that view and I wanted to see him see that view. Robert just near the last climb to the top is above. Note the curve of the dome. Also note the narrow stairs!
And we were rewarded with THIS! A perfect Roman day and views to infinity.
And because we were together as a family - and Robert had never seen these famous sights - we took another look at the Trevi Fountain - below (minus the water - the restoration is due for completion in a few days at the time of writing).
The Spanish Steps (above)
Above and below - one of Rome's most beautiful streets - Via Margutta - the centrepiece of the Audrey Hepburn/Gregory Peck classic 'Roman Holiday' - and there is my son Jack (left) and Robert (right)
Above and below - Views from our apartment's terrace - it is just magic in that golden Roman twilight.
The church dome (above) is Sant'Andrea delle Valle where Puccini set the first act of his opera, Tosca
My mum loves Trastevere and so we took a walk across Ponte Sisto for another visit. Mum and I first visited Trastevere in 2012 with Mike, her husband and my Aunty Maxine. We stayed in an apartment in Vicolo del Cedro (see previous blog post) and completely fell in love with this charming neighbourhood.
Trastevere is often cited as being busy and noisy. Not really. Just take a walk up its labyrinth of side streets and feel the peace.
Below - Trastevere's quiet streets. This little garden was behind a locked gate and I snuck my camera inside.
Trastevere's leafy back streets
Below - one of Rome's oldest churches - the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. We were lucky enough to be here in time for Mass when the light was reflecting off the gold mosaics.
There is nowhere on earth like Rome. I still want to go back. I am planning visit number eight which will no doubt lead me to visit number nine.
See Rome on your terms. By all means, seek the path less travelled but don't forget, the sights well loved and visited are so stupendous they deserve re-visiting. Time and again.