Saturday is a really great day, mostly because it's not a school day (nor is it a work day, at least for most of us.) Saturday is especially great here in Rome, because Saturday mornings are the one time during the week that the art gallery of the Palazzo Colonna is open to the public.
I've wanted to see this palazzo, and it's mysterious galleria, for a long time -- for the art, of course; as well as the allure of something that's a bit difficult to obtain. But I've also been drawn because this very grand building was the setting for some of the opening and final scenes in the movie Roman Holiday. (Remember the fantastic hall which was the scene of the movie's closing news conference, where Gregory Peck reveals himself as a reporter to Audrey Hepburn??) It seemed perhaps just a little smaller today, in reality, but really it wasn't all that much diminished from the big-screen version!
I arrived at Palazzo Colonna just in time for an English-language, guided tour of the small gallery. Our guide, a dapper older man, was absolutely great, patient and knowledgeable. Partway through our tour, he was warmly greeted by a very kind-looking man with cropped silver hair and dressed in an elegant, camel-coloured coat, who was leading a small group of his own. Our guide later explained that this was the current Prince Colonna. Clearly, this family line is still thriving!
It was very cool to see the prince strolling happily around, and his palazzo is lovely. I was really taken by the fantastic ceiling frescos depicting Marcantonio Colonna's great victory over the Turkish forces at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 (which, thankfully, the guide explained in some detail. Otherwise, I would have only seen ships clashing amidst the clouds while angels flew about, brandishing swords.) Actually, this battle is important enough to Italian history that I saw similar scenes repeated in the ceiling motifs when I popped into the nearby, sixth-century Santa Maria in Aracoeli, on the Capitol Hill, later in the day.
It seems much of the most important work in the Galleria Colonna is from the Baroque period, which I learned something about a day earlier during an excellent walking tour by Context Rome. That tour, focusing on Bernini and the Baroque, really provided a kind of key for interpreting some of the symbolism in the art of this important period. Besides, it was pretty darned frosty in the Galleria Colonna (with rain and great gusts of wind howling outside) so that, too, helped to focus my mind.
From the Colonna, I trotted up to the Capitoline Museums. I love these museums, particularly the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Tabularium. The latter, which is underground and accessible by a tunnel that links the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo, offers some wonderful views over the Forum towards the Coliseum. And on such a rainy, windy day as this, I was very happy to shelter inside, looking out over the deserted ruins of the Forum.
But to begin, I managed to pry an audio guide from one of the dozen or so indifferent museum staff working behind the ticket counter at the Capitoline Museums. (Why are there always so many staff, all equally bored and apparently angry at museum guests interrupting their day?) But no matter. I love these museums, built on the ancient Capital Hill of Rome and arranged around the beautiful Piazza del Campidoglio, or capital square, designed by Michelangelo.
This was probably my fourth visit to the museums and it was wonderful to see old favourites, especially the Capitoline she-wolf, suckling babies Remus and Romulus. What is it about this old girl's expression that is so desperate and haunting? Does she miss her original Etruscan masters? Or is she just tired of these damn kids?
I also like to take a good look at the teeth built into Hannibal's elephant's trunk, in the Hall of Hannibal. I wonder if Hannibal actually gave his pachyderm dentures, to make him look even tougher? Or was the artist just feeling really fierce....
But amongst all these ancient and wonderful elements to the museums, I was gobsmacked by a new exhibit -- that is, new to me. Very, very old to Rome. I'm refering to the relatively new galleries, which were actually opened two years ago, and include a fantastic, large glass pavillion which now displays the original bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback. A copy of this famous statue stands outside the Capitoline Museums in the centre of the Piazza del Campidoglio and is exposed to all of the elements. Which is why the original was brought inside, for its own protection. For years, it was jammed away in a smallish area of the the Palazzo Nuovo. Now it dominates this new gallery, which also shows a handful of other bronzes, including the giant head of Constantine, and his foot -- almost identical to those in marble now sitting in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori.
As well, newly excavated foundations of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus are displayed and very well explained, in terms of their history and relevence to the understanding of Rome's development. It seems that ceramic fragments recently found in foundation walls of the Temple of Jupiter, on the Capitoline Hill, make it possible to date the construction to the second half of the 6th century B.C., according to the museum authorities. Evidence also suggests that there were settlements on the Campidoglio dating back even earlier than previously expected. Which is extremely cool.
Time to celebrate! It was 6 p.m., time for a glass of wine. Hannibal's toothy elephant made my very lonely for my beloved little elephant who patiently stands outside Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, to one side of the Pantheon. We had a short visit, then I headed over to the Piazza della Rotunda and one of the over-priced, outdoor cafes that look upon the Pantheon, for a drink. Amazingly, a glass of pretty good wine and an excellent view was only 5 euro (I'm sure I paid 7 euro for a cappuccino there last June!) That isn't too bad for a good-sized drink and a small plate of savoury snacks. The snacks must have been tastier than I remember, because when I got back to the apartment, I found bits of phyllo pastry in my hair......my chewing must have been inspired by the dental work on Hannibal's elephant.
After getting the pastry out of my hair, I decided to try a nearby restauranat highly recommended by Stella and other Slow Travellers, Ristorante Arnaldo ai Satiri, near the Campo dei Fiori just off the Via dei Chiavari. However, it seems the place has changed hands, although it took me a while to figure that out. The address was the same as in reviews -- Via di Grotta Pinta, 8 -- and a small, brass plaque beside the door read "Arnaldo's."
But, the business cards and menu inside instead read "4 Satiri in Padella," Four Satyrs in a Pan?? In any event, the food and wine were great, the young waiters remarkably attractive and sweet (Pokey, if you read this -- forget the servers at La Sagrestia, nice as they may be!!! ) I started with the Antipasti Satiri, a nice-sized (not too large) plate with a small bruschetta, good mozzarella and pecorino, several types of ham and, mysteriously, a side dish of warm beans. I followed that with a really good pasta dish, mezze maniche prepared with pesto, small tomatoes, and pieces of mozzarella.
I considered some vegetables on the side, but the previous night I had stayed in the apartment for dinner and made pumpkin soup, and a very large salad that included kernel corn, eggplant, chickpeas and tomatos, with some proscuitto on the side. And some white wine --normale.
Since I was still feeling quite virtuous from the previous night's relatively healthy dinner, I ended my meal at the Satyrs in a Pan with a couple of small limoncellos. I just hope I don't have nightmares tonight, about elephants with teeth. Carpe dentum?