When in Rome, it is impossible to not be in a permanent state of awe. With limited time, we overdosed on the history, architecture and general magnificence of this city in one day. Walking from our hotel, we turned the corner at the Fontana dell’Acqua Felice, built in 1587 to mark the completion of the Acqua Felice, an ancient aqueduct that provided the neighbourhood with fresh water. It is also known as the Fountain of Moses, a large statue of whom stands in the central niche and is flanked on either side by reliefs depicting biblical scenes. Four water spouting lions relax in front of the columns framing the niches.
On the other side of the street, two very grand 19th century buildings seemed to line the entire stretch of Via Vittorio Emanuele Orlando. The first is the boutique Mascagni Hotel, then the luxury Dependance Mascagni occupies the top two floors of the second building.
It wasn’t long before we were standing in the Piazza della Repubblica, the majestic Fontana delle Naiads is the stunning centerpiece of a huge roundabout. Constructed in the late 1800s, the original four lion sculptures were replaced by statues of nude water nymphs in 1901. Each figure lies on top of an aquatic animal, representing four aspects of water; a sea horse for the oceans, a swan for lakes, a snake for rivers and a lizard for subterranean streams.
After wandering around the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (you can read more about that here) I noticed this intriguing doorway. The inscription reveals that this is the portal of the Annona Olearia, a series of wells excavated in 1764 to store olive oil. Pope Clement XIII had the foresight to ensure a supply to the city and thereby controlled the price of the product. Each of the ten wells could hold 44,000 litres.
The morning drizzle wasn’t showing any signs of abating as we bought tickets for the Hop On Hop Off bus and settled in to admire the shops along Via Nazionale.
The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, dating back to 440AD, dominates the piazza of the same name. The core of the original structure has been retained, although there has been much restoration and extensions over the centuries with the present façade commissioned in the 1740s. The bell tower, from the year 1300, is the tallest in Rome at 75 metres and the side chapels were added in 1500.
The back of the basilica, in Piazza dell’Esquilino, looks very different with the semi-circular apse added in 1600. Standing in the centre of the piazza is a 15 metre high pink granite obelisk, originally found at the entrance to the Mausoleum of Augustus and moved here in 1587.
The Princeps Boutique Hotel occupies the fourth floor of this impressive palace, one of the oldest in the district. The view from the rooms must be spectacular.
Travelling down a rain soaked Via Cavour,
the traffic stopped us alongside an amazing set of steps that disappeared into an archway. The steps lead to San Pietro in Vincoli (St Peter in Chains), a church named for the chains that held St. Peter when he was imprisoned in Rome and Jerusalem and are on display. It is best known for Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, created for the tomb of Pope Julius II. To add more drama, at the top of the steps is an alley where, apparently, the daughter of the 6th king of Rome killed him by running him down with her chariot. Probably no surprise that her husband was the 7th king of Rome.
We left the bus at the Colosseum for a couple of hours and embarked on a guided tour, you can see that post here. The Temple of Venus and Roma caught our eye as we sought a venue for lunch. Thought to be the largest temple in ancient Rome it was designed by emperor Hadrian and took twenty years to complete from beginning of construction in 121AD.
After lunch, we wandered among the ruins of Palatine Hill
from where we had an uninterrupted view of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. Begun in 141AD by the Emperor Antoninus Pius, the temple was dedicated to his deceased wife, Faustina. When he died twenty years later, the temple was re-dedicated to both of them by his successor, Marcus Aurelius. The temple became a Roman Catholic church, San Lorenzo in Miranda, in the 7th century.
We could also see two statues atop a building in the distance, though at the time, we didn’t know where they were (stay tuned for that one).
We hopped back on the bus which took us past Circus Maximus, the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome, mostly used for chariot racing and now a public park.
The seemingly unassuming church at the top of these steps, Santa Maria in Aracoeli, dates back to the 6th century and houses the Santo Bambino of Aracoeli, a wooden statue of the Christ Child, that is believed to resurrect the dead. The 124 step marble staircase was completed in 1348 to celebrate the end of the plague in Rome. It is believed that those who climb the staircase on their knees will be rewarded with a miracle.
A quick glimpse of the Palazzo Venezia
before our attention was drawn to the most impressive façade of the Altare della Patria. The National Monument was built as a tribute to Vittorio Emanuele II, the man credited with the unification of Italy and first king of the new kingdom proclaimed in 1861. The focal point of the huge white marble edifice is a 12 metre long statue of a horseman, a representation of Vittorio Emanuele II. We could now see the location of the two statues we had spied from Palatine Hill. On the right, the bronze goddess Victoria riding on her chariot represents freedom and on the left, unity. They were added in 1927, sixteen years after the monument was inaugurated. There has been much controversy surrounding the monument, the uncomplimentary nicknames include “the wedding cake”, “the typewriter” and “the dentures”.
Leaving Piazza Venezia, we passed the Carabinieri headquarters (apparently with limited parking spaces)
and the most enormous gift shop I have ever seen, Sorelle Adamoli.
The former Palazzo Strozzi is now occupied by the Marco Besso Foundation. A banker and writer, Besso bought the building in 1905 and set up the library in 1918 while the first floor became the family home. A great admirer of Dante, the library has rare editions of his work, some printed pre 16th century. I would love to explore beyond the doorway.
We passed Santa Maria in Vallicella, also known as Chiesa Nuova, the principal church of the Oratorians. This congregation of secular priests, founded in 1561 by St. Philip Neri, was recognised as a religious group and given the church in 1575.
At the end of Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, we turned right and followed the river, gaining a limited view of Castel Sant’Angelo on the other side.
Commissioned by Roman Emperor Hadrian as a tomb for himself and his family, the building was erected between 134AD and 139AD. He also had the travertine marble bridge, the Pons Aelius, built to connect the mausoleum with the city centre.
We hopped off the bus at Piazza Trinità dei Monti, where the 16th century church of the same name dominates the top of the Spanish Steps.
The 135 steps were built in 1723 to link the French owned church with the Spanish Embassy at the bottom. Yes, there really are steps beneath those bodies and a 17th century fountain in amongst the crowd.
At the bottom of the steps, the Piazza di Spagna was heaving with humanity, obliterating any evidence of the stairway. Incidentally, the building on the right is the house where English poet John Keats lived briefly before his death in 1821. It is now the Keats-Shelley Memorial House, a museum dedicated to the English Romantic poets. The building on the left is Babington’s traditional English tea shop, established in 1893 to provide a tearoom and reading room for the Anglo-Saxon community in Rome.
There was one item left on the ‘must see’ list. Although Fontana di Trevi was less than a kilometre away, the crowds created a challenging transit. The origins of the fountain date back to 19BC when it formed the end of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct. After many years of work, the fountain, as it is today, was completed in 1762, the name derived from Tre Vie, at the junction of three roads. It was impossible to capture the entire fountain due to the crowds so I opted for some sections.
Just as we were walking away, I saw an opening in the throng and pounced.
There is so much to see in Rome, and so much more than meets the eye. I think it would take a few lifetimes to even come close.