Suite Sofia

Anyone who has read my Italian posts will know how intrigued I am by doorways such as this.

1.front door

I could hardly contain my excitement when we arrived at our apartment in Lucca and found this was the entrance.

2.front door

I had booked Suite Sofia on the internet months ahead, choosing it because of location and falling in love with the photos (and price, of course). I am always sceptical that, in reality, some accommodation will not live up to expectations. As soon as we walked into the apartment, all fears dissipated, it was gorgeous.

3.Suite Sofia

The kitchen was compact but well serviced, we didn’t intend cooking anyway.

4.kitchen

The original ceilings have been preserved and added to the peaceful ambience,

while tasteful adornments gave the space a homely feel.

The position was perfect, overlooking cafes in Corso Garibaldi, right above a bicycle hire shop.

17.Corso Garibaldi18.Corso Garibaldi

From the outside, the building was stunning,

19.Corso Garibaldi

no traffic except for the two-wheeled silent type.

20.Corso Garibaldi

Our host, Massimiliano, was lovely, nothing was too much trouble. We will certainly return to Suite Sofia if we have the chance.

21.Suite Sofia from Corso Garibaldi

when in Rome…

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.

6.fontana delle naiadi

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.

7.portal of the annona olearia

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.

8.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.

9.basilica di santa maria maggiore

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.

10.basilica di santa maria maggiore

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.

13.princeps boutique hotel

Travelling down a rain soaked Via Cavour,

14.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.

15.steps from via cavour to san pietro in vincoli

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.

17.temple of venus & roma

After lunch, we wandered among the ruins of Palatine Hill

18.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.

19.temple of antoninus & faustina

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.

22.circus maximus

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.

23.steps of santa maria in aracoeli

A quick glimpse of the Palazzo Venezia

24.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”.

25.altare della patria

Leaving Piazza Venezia, we passed the Carabinieri headquarters (apparently with limited parking spaces)

26.carabinieri, piazza venezia

and the most enormous gift shop I have ever seen, Sorelle Adamoli.

27.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.

28.palazzo besso

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.

29.santa maria in vallicella

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.

30.castel sant'angelo

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.

31.castel sant'angelo

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.

32.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.

33.spanish steps

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.

34.spanish steps

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.

39.fontana di trevi

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.

culinary capers

We had an inkling, when we were planning our trip, that after a day in Rome seeing the sights and battling the throngs we would be ready to escape to the countryside. Consequently, we signed up for a cooking class and did just that. There were only four participants, the others were a lovely young couple from Melbourne, Ash and Mel. We were picked up at 8.30am by multi-talented driver and sous-chef, Roy, and enjoyed a very comfortable 45 minute ride to the medieval village of Mazzano Romano. There, we met our chef, Elisa, who guided us through the process of purchasing our ingredients. Firstly, to the macelleria where vegetarian Mel opted to wait outside.

Next was the green grocers, bursting with colourful, fresh produce.

The last stop was for cheeses and smallgoods, so much choice in one small shop.

12.shop

Sharing the load, we made our way along narrow cobbled streets, climbing higher into the village.

16.Mazzano Romano17.Mazzano Romano

Arriving at the apartment, built around 1300 AD, we wandered around in awe at the beautiful interior and breathtaking views.

29.neighbours

The kitchen awaited us, ready to create our culinary masterpieces

and the essential ingredient was poured.

34.pre-cooking

Michael’s first attempt at tossing salt in a pan was somewhat overzealous but with a little more tuition, he soon mastered the art.

We were shown some handy tips when it came to preparing vegetables, including an easy way to prevent eyes from streaming when chopping onions. Take a mouthful of water and hold it in your mouth while cutting the onion – no tears. I have it on good authority that it also works with a mouthful of beer! Michael was assigned the task of making the dark chocolate lava cake, I’m not sure how Elisa knew he would embrace the challenge with such gusto.

Meanwhile, Elisa shared her grandmother’s recipe for pizza dough using flour and sparkling water. Served with three different toppings – potato & rosemary, red onion and tomatoes with mozzarella – they were deliciously crisp.

Elisa had a great sense of humour and Michael didn’t mind being the fall guy. Presented with a pot of cooked tomatoes, he was asked to separate the skins and seeds and was much relieved to discover Elisa had a handy gizmo to do the job.

We learned how to make three kinds of pasta,

shaping the gnocchi on garganelli boards required a certain technique.

Rolling the pasta through the machine was more than a one person job.

We quickly produced enough pasta to cook

53.ravioli, fettucine & gnocchi

and Elisa impressed us with her presentation of the ricotta & spinach ravioli,

fettucine with tomato based sauce

57.fettucine

and gnocchi with pesto sauce.

58.gnocchi

We had prepared a salad to accompany the veal saltimbocca, savouring all courses with the obligatory bottle of vino.

We had just enough room for the exquisite chocolate lava cake, prepared with enthusiasm and cooked to perfection.

The time had come to wend our way to the car for a much quieter trip back to Rome. I hadn’t noticed this gorgeous little pink house on the way in, I wonder how many centuries it has guarded the village.

63.pink house

The Colosseum

We were both looking forward to seeing the Colosseum while in Rome and had booked a tour well in advance. Not just any tour, one that would take us underground through the  tunnels and dungeons where gladiators and animals awaited their fate. Having to fit in around other plans, we only had one day available to do this and it was a national public holiday. We were very disappointed to learn, two weeks beforehand, that the decision had been made to close the Colosseum on that day. Instead, on a drizzly Roman morning, we boarded a “hop-on hop-off” bus to see the sights. Approaching the Colosseum, it became apparent that it was, in fact, not closed that day. The sheer size of the construction was breathtaking.

1.The Colosseum

We easily arranged another tour with a small group, it didn’t include the dungeons but it was a fabulous experience with a very entertaining guide. We had time to admire the Arch of Constantine before the tour began. The largest surviving Roman triumphal arch was erected in 315 AD to commemorate the victory of Emperor Constantine over Maxentius. The arch is decorated with an array of intricate Roman sculptures.

2.The Arch of Constantine

Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Colosseum was commissioned in 72 AD by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian Dynasty. The nefarious Emperor Nero had built a huge palace for himself after a great fire destroyed Rome in 64 AD and then took his own life four years later. Vespasian gifted the land back to the Roman people and built the arena as a place for public entertainment. The amphitheatre opened in 80 AD, celebrating with 100 days of games in which more than 2,000 gladiators lost their lives.

3.The Colosseum

The exterior has three storeys of arched entrances supported by semi-circular columns of which each storey has a different style.

4.The Colosseum

More than 50,000 spectators, with numbered pottery shards as tickets, would enter the stadium through passageways that led to a tier of seats.

5.steps to seats

The best seats were allocated to the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins, followed by the senators. Some of the areas have names carved in stone, presumably reserving the seats for the notables.

6.The Colosseum7.reserved seating

The rest of the tiers were filled according to social ranking, with standing room only at the very top for those less worthy. Gravediggers, actors and former gladiators were among those banned from the Colosseum entirely.

8.standing room only at the top

Measuring 190 by 155 metres, the Colosseum was the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world.

9.The arena

The maze of tunnels underneath the arena

11.the hypogeum12.the hypogeum13.the hypogeum

were connected to the outside to allow for animals and gladiators to be brought in. There were elevators and pulleys for lifting caged animals as well as scenery and props.

10.tunnels

It seems to me that modern arenas have followed the ancient Roman design, nothing much has changed. At ground level, there are eighty entrances, each one numbered, so the venue could be filled and emptied quickly.

14.exits15.exits

The stadium was used for four centuries, until gladiatorial combats were no longer considered the height of entertainment. The Colosseum was abandoned  and used as a source of building material. Along with vandalism, earthquakes and natural weathering, two-thirds of the original structure has been destroyed. I know I always say this about ancient technology but the complexity of the stonework never ceases to amaze me.

 

There were many different types of gladiators in ancient Rome and each had his own set of weapons and armour, some fought only specific foes. They are represented in these preserved bas relief sculptures.

21.Bas relief of gladiators fighting22.Bas relief in the Colosseum of gladiators fighting23.Bas relief in the Colosseum of gladiators fighting

Various popes sought to conserve the arena as a sacred Christian site in the 18th century. In the early 19th century, triangular brick wedges were added to shore up the walls

 

and in the 1990s, restoration efforts began in earnest. We caught a final glimpse of the Colosseum as we went in search of lunch and the opportunity to ponder life in ancient Rome.

26.The Colosseum

Deredia a Lucca

There were some interesting additions to the city of Lucca on our last visit. Spectacular sculptures by Jiménez Deredia graced the main squares, their smooth, spherical lines a startling paradox to the surrounding ancient buildings.

1.Deredia a Lucca

Jorge Jiménez Martinez was born in Heredia, Costa Rica, in 1954 and began sculpting at the age of 13 after attending an art workshop. His signature style was influenced by the pre-Columbian sculptures of the Boruca tribe, monumental granite spheres he had seen in a museum as a young child. We came across the first sculpture just outside the city walls at Porta San Pietro, Genesi Costa Rica.

2.Genesi Costa Rica, Porta San Pietro

Martinez moved to Italy when he earned a study grant at the age of 22 and started working in marble and bronze. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Carrara, the marble from the Carrara quarries has been used for centuries for both building and sculpture. Juego was waiting at Piazzale Vittorio Emanuele, her bronze curves impossibly smooth.

In the early 1980s, Martinez changed his name to Deredia. He created a series of works known as Geneses in 1985, representing the transformation of matter and his belief that we are all just stardust, transmutating over time. Reclining in Piazza del Giglio, Recuerdo Profundo looks comfortably serene.

6.Recuerdo Profundo, Piazza del Giglio

Mistero seems incongruous against the 13th century façade of San Michele in Foro.

7.Mistero, Piazza San Michele8.Mistero, Piazza San Michele

Feminine qualities feature strongly in Deredia’s work, from motherhood, fertility and birth to different stages of life after birth. There were another three sculptures in Piazza San Michele, Germinacion,

Encuentro,

12.Encuentro, Piazza San Michele13.Encuentro, Piazza San Michele

and a very contented Plenitud.

14.Plenitud, Piazza San Michele15.Plenitud, Piazza San Michele

Sentinella was waiting in Piazza San Giovanni

16.Sentinella, Piazza San Giovanni

while the perfect spheres of Essenza and Transmutazione continued the theme of fertility in Piazza San Martino.

The sheer size of the sculptures was breathtaking. Pareja in Piazza dell’Anfiteatro with a breadth of more than three metres, was a beautiful, imposing presence of two women leaning on each other, the roundness of their bodies reflecting the light.

19.Pareja,Piazza dell'Anfiteatro

It was a privilege to experience Deredia in the enchanting city of Lucca.