Rome has the strong distinction of being home to two of the worlds most dominant religions/cultures; the Ancient Romans and the Catholics. Much of its beauty comes from the fact that for once the Christians repurposed rather than destroyed the architecture of the ‘pagans’.
The city is old, older than London. It is strange someone who identifies closest as a Londoner to be somewhere that makes thats city seem a recent addition to the world stage.
Rome is a strange mix, small winding roads lead to great open piazza. Only a handful of large roads exist in the centre and the act of crossing them shows why Rome is still a religious city.
I arrived late on the evening of the 30th and went straight to the hotel via cab. The journey highlights the wealth of history and the traffic issues in Rome.
The hotel was good, surprisingly so for the cost, wit a free local model for use for apps and data. Great for non-EU travellers.
Once up and ready, a feat much easier as I was doing a dry few months at the time, I headed out in the direction of the Colosseum and stopped for coffee and a small breakfast sandwich at Della Madonna del Pascola, a small courtyard with a fountain and church.
The coliseum dominates the nearby area, easily visible at the end of a number of streets. It dominates to the point that it is only on second look that you see the other monuments around it. Queues for tickets are long but efficient. It is well worth booking online to skip many of the delays however. The ticket also gets you into the nearby Roman Forum. An exhibit runs through the surviving second level enclave on the history of the coliseum, including strange facts like that people once lived in its shell and multiple churches were build inside it.
The central arena is spectacular and thats to its common showing in our popular culture it is easy to overlay the ruins with how it would have looked in your minds eye and hear the roar of the crowds. From the external windows you have a view over the Roman Forum and the Arco di Constantine.
It is a very short walk to the Forum, a long space in the centre of Rome where preserved archeology in there to explore. Tours dot the area with flags, streamers or other identifiers on poles. One of the less imposing but most historically significant is the remains of the template built on the spot Caesar was betrayed and murdered. There is a resonance on the spot that is missing when i visited more ‘foreign’ historical spaces. The history of Rome is the history of the west and the death of easer at the hands of the senators is one of our most notable moments.
After the Forum, passing by numerous people dressed as Legionnaires I stopped at Pizza D’Aracoeli with some impressive architecture before finding a small square off the main streets for a three course lunch that involved going inside half way through due to the rain, and sitting next to some very important eurocrats discussing the Spanish ambassador’s opinion of the Catalan Independence Movement and the UK’s Brexit approach.
Following lunch I headed to the Pantheon, which, whist architecturally impressive, was a disappointment as it had centuries ago been re-purposed by the Catholic church as a place of worship and the alcoves had been filled with various Saints. Only imagination could fill it with the true residents now.
I then climbed the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps) and then stopped at Antico Caffè Greco, an 18th century cafe frequented by the likes of Byron and Keats for a latte and a fantastic canolo.
Wandering on from there I accidentally found the Trevi Fountain turning a corner. Whilst a remarkable feat of sculpture the fountain was swarmed with tourist and touts selling junk which detracts a great deal from the experience.
I followed the winding steers around to Scuderi del Quirinale, an art museum, less well known but hosting a Picasso exhibit with a particular focus on his time with the Parade ballet company. A mixed medium exhibit with paintings, sketches, photos, costumes and some film. (of a post-modern production) It was a good compliment to the museum in Barcelona with basically no overlaps in content.
At that point I was near by hotel and intended to head back for an hour before dinner. Instead I found the Palazzo delle Expositzioni doing a dual exhibit; Digilife on the ground floor and Mangasia on the first floor.
It was impressive, perhaps only four or five emplacements, but each a unique use of technology in art. From using phosphorus paint and light to create an ever changing ever growing canvass to a three dimensional 3D film truly making you part of the experience.
Mangasia was more subdued, a scholarly look at comics from across Asia with a Japanese focus as the title suggest. It highlights how comics as a medium took influence from western art and local history to create their own genres and how different they are between the nations.
After this, I found a tiny restaurant nearby and had a superb meal, perhaps one of the best I have ever eaten. Bread and a complimentary lamb foam as appetisers. Quails eggs to start, beef check as a main, and deconstructed apple pie for desert, with a small chestnut cookie for a thank you from the chef as a final taste. Not ordering a good wine was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
Despite five weeks dry, I am still not a morning person and it was 11 but the time I left the hotel. Heading vaguely westwards my destination was Museo di Roma, but the first stop was outside the Tower of Milize. Breakfast was by travel breakfast of choice, coffee and a croissant both good, the croissant having a slight sugary glaze.
After breakfast I walked past the impressive Piazza Venezia, featuring the Alter of the Fatherland, honouring Italy’s first King and the soldiers of the Great War. At the time, I did not realise what it was or I would have taken a closer look.
From there, I reached the Museo di Roma, a quiet museum, just off the famous Piazza Navona. The first floor features a temporary exhibition and a the second and third a permanent fixture.
The temporary exhibition was Artisti all’Opera, an exhibition of artwork, costumes and state prep for the famous Theatro dell’Opera. It was an impressive collection, spanning centuries of Opera.
The second exhibition was art relating to Rom. Split into two sections the first was the ‘public’, showcasing images of Rome through the use of landscapes and events. The second was the ‘private’ Roman peoples, protracts and sculptures.
Impeccably curated, well lit and ranging from tiny pieces to huge paintings covering an entire wall floor to cellist it is well wroth a visit. (and is remarkably quiet for a weekend!)
After the museum, I stopped for a spicy Diavolo pizza for lunch near to the museum, but not on one of the busier streets. The food was good, and the Tiramisu served in a preserves jar was a demonstration that even Rom could not escape hipster culture.
I then explored the Piazza Navona, which was supposed to have a Christmas Market on, but was just full of tourists instead. An impressive squad with a fountain at each end and a monolith in the centre. However, without the market, there was little to keep me there and so I moved on.
I finally crossed the Tiber River at this point in my journey, using one of the many ornamentation bridges to go to the Castel Sant’Angelo, an ancient fortress in the heart of Rome.
Views from the battlements show its dominance of the Tiber River and show the Vatican in the distance.
The castle was often used as a refuge by the Pope, one using it for almost a year during the Sack of Rome. Warnings abound as much of the floor is original, a thousand years or more old and deeply uneven. it is again a reminder that Rome is an old city.
I then moved back to Piazza Navona and the Pazazzo Altemps. A museum of historic sculpture. Set in a square building with a courtyard centre the collection boats and impressive array of statues. One example is a 50 A.D reproduction of earlier work! The objects are well laid out and not crowded with the exception of the temporary exhibit which lacked space. The sculptures are well lit and a few have paint raining, reminding us that although our perception of classical statues is bare stone, the reality was they were ornamented and colourful.
I had intended at this point to head to the Trajan Forum, but it was closing too soon to be useful, so instead stopped for a drink at Cafe Roma. On the way to dinner, I was able to get a good image of Trajan’s Column however.
Dinner was a four course meal at a local restaurant rather than a more touristy affair. Like most meals in Italy, it took a great deal of time!
Day 4: Sunday
My final day in Rome saw me return for breakfast at the Theatre Cafe. Not something I would normally do, but it faced the Trojan Forum which was my destination for the day.
Separated by a main road from the Roman Forum, with the coliseum far to one end, the Trajan Forum is a series of buildings in various states of repair built to honour Emperor Trajan, who expanded the empire more than any other and was granted the title Primus. He was not only a skilled general eta just and fair Emperor, implementing many policies to the good of the plebeians and freemen of Rome. Many at the urging of his wife.
The views looking out to the Roman Forum and Alter of the Fatherland are slightly spoil by the large advert for the airport shuttle-bus.
The museum is a curious mix of sculpture, remains of buildings and the archaeological ruins themselves It is easy to miss whole levels of areas to explore, but it is worth the time to go back and check you have seen it all.
I walked down the pedestrian street with Trajan Forum on one side and the Roman Forum on the other for a while with the coliseum getting larger ahead of me. After walking and ignoring a great deal of scam artists offering me a string bracket as a gift I stopped for a calzone as my last meal in Rome before taking a cab to the airport.
The cab driver told me of the various people he had met, most famous being the driver for Keanu Reeves for the day.
A couple of hours at the airport ended by Roman adventure and the second of my twelve city breaks.