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Report 1176: September Song: High Notes of a Few Precious Days in Italy

By Roz from Massachusetts, Fall 2006

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Page 14 of 16: Rome: You'll Never Walk Alone, so Accentuate the Positive

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Statue of Anita Garibaldi, above her tomb on the Gianicolo

Rome in this early October was teeming with tourists. So it was especially nice to be staying on a street that was a bit off the main tourist trail, with a real neighborhood feeling. We were glad we had been to Rome twice before at more off-season times (February and November) and had seen most of the places where the throngs were accumulating. So we searched out some walks and destinations that weren't likely to be on the A-lists of day-trippers, or tried to visit more popular places at off times.

Some of the high points were:

  • Early Sunday morning light in the Forum for some beautiful photographs.
  • A visit to the Palatine Hill early enough to escape most of the crowds and heat. The temperatures had started climbing the day we arrived, and by the second day, it had become just too darned hot!
  • A shady, quiet walk along the Tiber, with views of the Ponte Rotto (Broken Bridge). The original bridge (Pons Aemilius) dates from 179 B.C., and was one of the first in Rome, but now only a stub remains. Nearby is another monument to ancient Rome's engineering prowess: the Cloaca Maxima, one of the world's first sewers.
  • Tiber Island, where some say the history of Rome really started. The island provided a crossing point in the river and thus a meeting point of Etruscan and Latin civilization and commerce. According to ancient myth, Tiber Island was a sacred ship, dedicated to the god of healing. The Romans commemorated this story by carving a ship into a structure on the island; you can see the remains of it from the shore. There is still a hospital on the island tracing its origins to the shrine for Aesculapius. (For a lot more fascinating history, read Rome from the Ground Up, by James H. S. McGregor -- the book that inspired DH to plan this excursion.)
  • Villa Farnesina, in Trastevere. This museum was not easy to find, but it was worth seeking out. A little Raphael usually goes a long way with us; his paintings can be too sweet, sentimental, and static for our taste. But his Galatea frescoes in the Farnesina are powerfully compelling in their vitality. We were also enthralled by Peruzzi's trompe l'oeil "Perspective Room" and the frescoes of Alexander the Great's wedding by Sodoma. It was especially nice to be able to spend as much time as we wanted looking at the incredible detail in every inch of wall and ceiling, with only a few other visitors sharing the experience.

    I like museums such as the Farnesina, where the art works are in the place they were designed to be seen. You can imagine the richest of the rich Renaissance nobility, decked out in their velvet and jewels, dining here with Signor Chigi, who commissioned the marvelous frescoes for this opulent villa. The story is that he used to show off his wealth by tossing his silver dishes out the window into the river after dinner. Of course, the guests weren't supposed to know that there were nets under the water so he could get the dinnerware back again!

  • Ara Pacis - Augustus' Altar of Peace. I really liked this new museum and couldn't understand all the vitriol it's inspired locally. One Rome art critic called it "an indecent cesspit by a useless architect," and a right-wing mayoral candidate threatened to tear it down if he was elected. Maybe it's just chauvinism because an American (Richard Meier) designed this first major historic monument inside Rome since Mussolini's era. The building is very simple, and I thought it fit into its surroundings and set off the altar very well. There are links to my photos and an article about the controversy in the Resources.
  • Church of Santa Prassede. This small church, off via Merulana, not far away from our apartment, has some of the most spectacular gold mosaics I've ever seen, after the basilica in Ravenna and San Marco in Venice. There were only a few other people there when we visited, and fortunately for us, they had just fed the electric light machines with euros. If you do go there, be sure you get the lights turned on, and prepare to be overwhelmed.
  • Gianicolo (also known as the Janiculum). I had two reasons for wanting to go up the Janiculum hill: 1) the panoramic views of Rome, and 2) the monuments to Garibaldi and his wife. Some time ago, I started collecting photographs of Garibaldi statues from our travels, since he has a monument in almost every city and town in Italy. But this is the only place I know of that also commemorates Anita, and her statue is more exciting than any I've seen of her husband. There she is, riding sidesaddle on her rearing horse, with a pistol in one hand and her baby in the other! I think Anita would have loved to see the three little girls climbing all over the base of her statue while we were there.

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