Mary Hamilton-Smith is a passionate traveller, and runs Australian Womens Travel and writes here about Rome, one of her favourite destinations which is on both her Freedom Tour and Andiamo Italia Tour where they spend 4 nights in Rome. Join here on an armchair journey of one of her groups days in Rome.
CENTRO STORICO EXPLORATION AFTERNOON AND EVENING
We start the day at 10.30am which gives us the opportunity to have a long leisurely breakfast or just take the time to enjoy our beautiful surroundings and we then catch Taxis ( yes you read right Taxis, which are included in your tour price) to Piazza del Popolo one of the most famous squares in Rome. The Piazza del Popolo in modern Italian literally means’ piazza of the people’. For centuries, the it was a place for public executions, the last of which took place in 1826. One of its many impressive features is an authentic obelisk from Heliopolis, Egypt dating from the time of Ramses 11. The obelisk was originally erected at the Circus Maximus to commemorate the conquest of Egypt. Tucked away in a corner is the Chiesa Santa Maria del Popolo, one of my favourite churches in Rome.
This church was originally built in an attempt to get rid if the ghost of the notorious Emperor Nero who was buried in a mausoleum which once stood on this spot. However, any fan of Dan Browns ‘Angels & Demons’ may remember this church was featured in the book as the ‘Altar of Earth’ It was here in the Chigi Chapel, that the ‘Demons Hole’ in the middle was removed and the murdered Cardinal was placed in the ground. To top it off there are two stunning Caravaggio’s here —The Conversion of St Paul & The Crucifixion of St Peter .
From here we make our way down one of my favourite streets Via del Babuino , as with all the streets in Rome there is so much to look at, the streetscapes, doors, building details and the intricate decorations, the paintwork ranging from Rome Brown to Burnt Sienna are intoxicating.
Tucked in amongst all of these ancient buildings are stunning shop windows, with unusual and individual window displays .Our next stop a coffee in Caffè Canova-Tadolini, Sculptor Antonio Canova signed a contract in 1818 to ensure that this property, in the heart of the old artists’ quarter, would remain an atelier for sculpture. I love sitting here sipping coffee amongst the gigantic sculpture plasters.
We now head off towards Piazza di Spagna with it’s Fountain of the Barcaccia , but we don’t head straight there, as there are too many alluring side streets to explore on the way!
If your a shopper this area excellent for shopping, with many Italian brands and it’s always worth taking a stroll down Via Condotti, the home of all of the designer labels such as Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Chanel etc , with great window displays!
Next we climb up the famous Spanish Steps for some spectacular views of Rome followed by a visit to the 16th century church Trinita dei Monti , which is very different in Rome, as it is a French church. In front of the church is the Obelisco Sallustiano, moved here in 1789. It is a Roman obelisk in imitation of Egyptian ones, originally constructed in the early years of the Roman Empire. Nearby is the house with the big open face doorway face, (pic on right) worth a wander to see!
We return to Piazza di Spagna and make our way through an infusion of streetscapes, shops and sights to the famous Trevi Fountain. Enroute we will stop for lunch, this may be a simple Panini or a cheap Pizza or bowl of Pasta, more coffee, some wine or maybe a beer, depends on what the group wants to do!
There is also a great shop on the way to the Trevi Fountain, that has a wonderful range of Pandora bracelet charms in the shape of many of Italy’s famous sights i.e. The Colosseum, Michelangelo’s David, The Rialto Bridge etc.
Now if you only ever visited the Trevi Fountain in Rome, you would come away thinking that Rome is extremely overcrowded and full on !! I swear this is one of the places where you really feel like a Tourist!! And it seems like every other tourist in Rome has decided to visit there at the same time as you!! But take a deep breath and head in !! It really is the most majestic fountain in Rome and I still get a thrill as I toss my coin in over my left shoulder to ensure my return to the Eternal City ( It works as I have been back there nearly 20 times! )
During the times of antiquity a glass of the fresh water from the Trevi Fountain was said to ensure good fortune and a rapid return to Rome. Over the course of time this practice has been replaced by the now famous custom of throwing a coin into the water (over your left shoulder while facing away) to ensure you return to Rome. Toss a second coin and you’ll fall in love with an Italian. Chuck a third and be happy you donated to charity.
As we head away from the crowds around Trevi Fountain ,we make our way slowly through more character filled cobbled stoned streets filled with artists, markets and shops that sell great reasonably priced goodies to take home. Eventually we come upon one of the most magnificent sights in Rome, set in the unforgettable Piazza della Rotunda , the Pantheon. Considered one of the masterpieces of Roman architecture, the Pantheon was built by
Marcus Vespasian Agrippa in 27 BC in honour of all the Roman gods. Later, the Pantheon was modified by Domitian and by Hadrian in 130AD.
This temple has been admired by all for what is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. It has a distinctive oculus (the circular window at the top) to give light to the structure. The oculus has always been open to wind and weather.
The Pantheon hosts the tombs of important personalities such as Raphael and the kings of Italy Vittorio Emmanuele II and Umberto I. The interior is breathtaking, I have been there when a group of students have unexpectedly broken into song that sounds like angels singing, another time there was a very elaborate free concert and many times there is just silence, any experience in the Pantheon is unforgettable .
Behind the Pantheon is Piazza Minerva, in the centre of the Piazza there is one of the most curious monuments of Rome, the so-called Pulcino della Minerva. Designed by Bernini in 1667, it is of an elephant as the supporting base for the Egyptian obelisk. The Latin
inscription on the base, chosen by the pope who commissioned the sculpture to support the obelisk found on the site, Alexander VII, is said to represent that “…a strong mind is needed to support a solid knowledge”, also in this Piazza is the property which housed the ‘Inquisition’, I can only imagine what took place there.
Piazza Minerva is also the home of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva ,the only Gothic church in Rome, (it is so named because it was built directly on the foundations of a temple to Minerva, the goddess of wisdom.) Well worth a visit and we always pop our heads in for a peek before continuing our stroll to our next destination.
Piazza Navona, is one of the most beautiful & liveliest Piazzas in Rome, it follows the plan of Domitian’s stadium, an ancient Roman Circus built by emperor Domitian in 86 AD, hence the long oval shape of the square. It is here that we will have dinner at one if the ring side restaurants, as day turns into night, the Piazza is alive, with artists, street mimes and activity. There is plenty of time for us to explore this Piazza before dinner, this lively square features no less than three magnificent fountains. The central and largest fountain is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (fountain of the four rivers ).The design of the fountain was first commissioned to Borromini, but it was ultimately handed to Bernini. The fountain features four figures, each representing a river from a different continent , the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio della Plata. This fountain was also featured in Dan Browns ‘Angels & Demons ‘ as the altar of water. Should you wish to stick your head into yet another church, there is also an interesting one in the Piazza called Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone .built on the site where according to legend, St. Agnes was stripped naked, but miraculously saved from disgrace by the extraordinary growth of her hair!
After our yummy dinner in the square, we head for what is my favourite part of the day a leisurely walk home to our hotel along the banks of the River Tiber, looking spectacular as the lights reflect on the still black water , The illuminated sight of Castel Sant Angelo is breathtaking, built as the Mausoleum of Hadrian in 130AD. In 590AD the plague struck Rome, the then Pope Gregory the Great, as he crossed the bridge to the mausoleum saw the Archangel Michael on top of it sheathing a flaming sword. He took the vision as a sign that the epidemic would soon cease and from that moment on the structure took the name of Castel Sant Angelo. ( It also feature is Dan Browns ‘Angels & Demons’ where it was referred to as ‘The Altar of Illumination’ ) To get there we need to cross he stunning Bridge of Angels , which goes over the River Tiber, The baroque statues of the angels were designed by Gianlorenzo Bernini.
From the Castel Sant Angelo we proceed to our hotel along the Via Concilliazone, St Peters Square illuminated and quiet in the distance. Time for a night cap in the Hotel Bar and yet another perfect day in Rome is completed.
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