The Forum and The Vatican
Clearing my mother's house the other day, I came across a slim A4 folder booklet. The last page was signed and dated, by me, on March 12th 1987.
The title of the piece is A Week of Walks - Roman Perambulations, and it was an attempt, at that time, to record some suggestions for friends and family visiting the city.
Unearthing it now is a little like coming across an old gravestone, brushing away the moss and lichen, to read an inscription. I hesitate to clean it up, but, inspired by a friend's recent request to offer some advice on a trip to
perhaps it still has some worth? After
all, the majority of places mentioned are hundreds or thousands of years old,
and, remarkably, they are still there! So
here are the first two days' suggestions, with a touch of updating (there were
no websites in 1987!) but no apologies for the errors that may have crept in
over a quarter of a century! Rome
I lived in
Rome, in Trastevere (my blog Roma Trastevere Revisited (http://www.richardpgibbs.org/2011/12/dance-to-music-of-time.html
has more on that) from 1976 but left for family reasons in
1995. One authority on Italy Rome
is David Willey, BBC Correspondent
in Rome, and when he moved out to Trevignano
Romano in 2009, after about twenty years living in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj
in central Rome he wrote this on the 'Dolce Vita' : Rome
Over the years I have witnessed the growing degradation of the inner city, the mindless graffiti which now deface even newly-restored buildings and the disappearance one by one of the small local shops and artisans - the butcher, the greengrocer, the barber, the antique seller - as their rents became too costly.
They have been replaced by trashy and tasteless trinket and souvenir stores, spreading like a fungus, particularly in the area of the Trevi fountain just across the Via Del Corso, Rome's noisy, busy and crowded high street.
I remember as a student half a century ago in "Dolce Vita"
seeing with astonishment a flock of sheep being driven through the city centre
by their shepherd along the then semi-deserted Corso early one Sunday morning. Rome
Today the Corso with its narrow sidewalks can be dangerous for pedestrians venturing to cross the road and the other Saturday afternoon it was the scene of a knife fight between rival gangs of youths.
By coincidence, I too moved from central Rome to Trevignano Romano, similarly tired by the traffic fumes, the noise, the heat in summer and cold in winter, and, again by coincidence, one of my first acquaintances was an ageing shepherd who recounted driving a flock of sheep along the Lungotevere near Castel Sant'Angelo in his youth (and a bloody encounter with a truck at the time).
Since then I have returned to the heart of the city many times, and, fortunate to have friends there, I feel as at home there as I do in
Yes, there have been many changes, and some wonderful places have been
opened up (such as the Scuderie del Quirinale, https://english.scuderiequirinale.it/categorie/categoria-17)
while others have been closed (per
restauro....) but the underlying history, architecture and art
remains. I still think that Georgina
Masson (aka Babs Johnson)'s Companion Guide to Rome is the best
introduction, though there are plenty more up-to-date and comprehensive books
these days, including my friend and ex-colleague Bryn Jenkins's Roaming
through Rome (ISBN 978-88-96889-39-8), but as I said then, and still
believe, the most important things to take to Rome are a curious mind, a good
pair of shoes, and a map. London
If you look at a map of
Rome, it is immediately
apparent that old
is really pretty small. Another thing
you'll notice is that almost every street has something of interest - a church,
a renaissance palace, a fountain or a museum of some kind. What won't be so obvious is the ancient
history, or the underlying geography.
The famous seven hills of Rome are now buried under two thousand five hundred
years of various architecture, and rubble (literally buried - look down into
the Largo Argentina, for example, to see the difference in street level between
then and now). In the north-east rise
Monte Quirinale and Monte Viminale; Monte Esquilino and Monte Celio are to the
east; Monte Avellino occupies the south and south-west, the Palatino the
south-centre and the Capitolino sits at the heart, near the river, the once
vital Rome Tiber.
At the height of her power the Republican walls and ditches surrounded
this tightly defensible area, from the modern Terminus station to the Tiber island.
Later developments pushed the defences out to the Aurelian walls and in
some cases beyond. Now the ring road,
the raccordo anulare, is barely the limit.
One has only to see Vittorio de Sica's Bicycle Thieves to see how transport in
changed in a lifetime. But with trams,
metros, buses and taxis public transport is good, despite the almost continuous
rush hour from seven am until late at night.
I really would not wish to ride a push-bike around this town, but
walking, for the most part, is fine. Rome
The foremost sights/sites in
When you are satisfied, however, there's one more thing to do on your first day. Stroll down through the Arch of Titus and make your way to the top row of seats in the Colosseum, otherwise known as the Flavian Amphitheatre. This must be one of the, if not the, most famous building in the world, and despite earthquakes, material despoliation, overgrowth and restoration, it is still a place to take your breath away. Just the thought of one lion pulling at the limbs of one Christian, or the harsh fragment of time, suspended in the intake of thirty thousand breaths, as a consul turned his thumb down to the upturned appeal of a wounded gladiator, is enough to make my head spin.
After that, if you have the energy, wander back along the Via dei Fori Imperiali, at first on the left-hand side, where you will see a series of maps, portraying the spread of the
Empire, then cross over and walk along the Forum of Augustus. Look up
at the beautiful medieval additions to the Roman walls, and see the Casa dei Cavalieri di Rodi (House of
the Knights of Rhodes) with its wonderful loggia, and then pass on to admire
the architecture of Apollodorus of Damascus in the Mercati di Traiano (Trajan's Market, http://www.mercatiditraiano.it/). This massive hemi-cycle, of brick with marble
lintels and doorposts, does more than any other building, in my opinion, to
bring the Roman past to life, for these boutiques and stores and shopping
arcades are just temporarily disused, and given a few neon signs and some
baskets of fruit and veg, you would not think it was two thousand years old.
As Castel Sant'Angelo closes at two every day, it is worth starting here, and working upwards towards the heights of the Dome of
The other association is that of Floria Tosca, who at the end of Puccini's opera flings herself to her death from the battlements after her lover, the artist Mario Cavaradossi, has been shot at dawn by firing a squad, who were supposed to use blank cartridges. It is a moment of the highest drama; a shocking climax - or at least so should it be. On one infamous occasion, however, a slightly overweight heroine hurled herself to her fate onto a rather springy trampoline, and consequently continued to reappear above the parapet to the amazement of the audience, until the final curtain covered her embarrassment.
In Piazza Pia, resist the temptation to enter San Pietro yet, but turn right into Borgo S Angelo and follow the covered corridor that enabled frightened popes to scuttle to safety. Follow the fortress walls of the
along Via di Porta Angelica and around the entrance to the Vatican Museums (http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/MV_Home.html). Once you are in there are miles to walk, and
thousands of exhibits, but do not miss the so-called Torso del Belvedere in the
Sala delle Muse (Museo
Pio-Clementino), the writhing Laocoon just off the Cortile Ottagono, the Stanze
di Raffaello and the Sistine Chapel,
which is stunning, despite the hushed awe of crowds, listening spell-bound to
their whispering guides through headphones.
You will suffer from a residual polyglot hum in the head, punctuated by
occasional instructions from ushers, reminding people of the need for silence,
but your eyes will feast. Vatican
Once you have been through this mill, if you have the strength, climb the 537 steps to the top of the cupola of St Peter's. If you are less energetic, the lift to the terrace is easier, and from here you can admire the arms of Bernini's colonnade reaching out to embrace the faithful. Fountains splash and the central obelisk takes you back to the beginning of history. It was brought from
by Caligula in 37AD and stood on
Nero's circus until Sixtus V had it moved in 1586. For the record it took nine hundred men,
forty-four capstans, one hundred and forty horses and five months to shift it,
and if some quick-witted worker had not thrown water on the ropes at the last
moment (to shrink them tighter to stop it toppling - all had been ordered to
keep silent) they would have dropped it.....
At the top, inside the bronze emblem (of the Chigi family) is a relic of
the holy cross. Heliopolis
There was a time when it was, or seemed to be, cheaper to eat a meal out in a trattoria than to shop and cook at home, and so, when a newcomer, my habit was to go out to dine pretty much every evening with friends. In this respect,
has changed considerably, however, and it can no longer be said that it is
cheap to eat out. OK, but it is still
good, and though almost all the traditional places have changed beyond
recognition, and there is no shortage of choice in finding places to eat. One of my favourite places, in Piazza dé
Ricci, across the street from the Rome
and only a few steps from Piazza Farnese, was the Ristorante Pierluigi (http://www.pierluigi.it/). Founded in 1938, and for a long time a relatively
simple place, specialising in fish, but with paper table covers, rough bread
and straw-coloured wine from Marino in flasks, it is now run in sophisticated
manner by Roberto Lisi, and, though it is quite expensive, the quality is first
rate and the risotto alla crema di scampi is still to die for. If you are only in Venerable
English College Rome
for a few days, and have had a hard day walking round the (and
providing it is not a Monday), treat yourself...... Vatican
|Francis Bacon - Study for Velásquez Pope II|