It is raining again in Rome
And here we sit drafting this poem
For sites yet to see, it’s wet we will be …
Each time we go out from our home.☔🌧️🌦️🌩️
Rome is between 43 and 456 feet above sea level (13 to 139 meters), covers an overall area of nearly 500 square miles (1,285 square kilometers) and has a current population just shy of 3 million. The city feels more crowded and hectic than other cities we have recently visited. There are so many cars; double parked, parked on sidewalks and anywhere there was a hint of space and driver’s use their horns to excess. Our monthly transit passes were an excellent investment and we were able to navigate to most places via bus, tram, metro or train. Of course we were still able to walk our 3-5 miles each day as well.
Italy has a reputation for having excellent coffee and we wholeheartedly agree. Undoubtedly we will miss the coffee when we leave.
In Rome a coffee is called ‘un caffè’ and we learned that unless you specify when ordering, it is implied that you want an espresso. One quirk to know is that a latté does not contain coffee in Italy. A latte is simply a cup of warm milk and coffee drinks are cappuccinos, espressos, and macchiatos. We had a moka pot in our Airbnb and loved the coffee we made. Coffee made in a moka pot is typically 2-3 times more concentrated than drip coffee where as espresso shots are often 5-8 times more concentrated than drip. We were tempted to purchase a small Moka pot for our travels and may regret not doing that.
Rome has two species of parakeets although we only saw this large 16″ rose-ringed vibrantly green parakeet with the bright red beaks. The birds are not native but are among the few parrot species to have successfully adapted to living in an urban environment and there is plenty of food to be found year round so they no longer migrate. They were entertaining to watch and by the end of our stay we could easily recognize their call.
Palazzo Braschi – Museo di Roma
The Museum of Rome today is primarily an art museum although Antonio Muñoz, art historian, initially began the museum as a way to collect, save and document local history during the destructive Fascist era. During World War II the museum closed and reopened in 1952 in its current location, Palazzo Braschi near Piazza Navona.
We toured this museum at the end of our month long visit to Rome and the art work seemed especially relevant to everything we had seen during our stay. Today the museum’s collection runs in the thousands and there are many Italian artists and scenes of Rome represented. There is a large plaster model of the Trevi Fountain that we were able to closely examine. The actual Trevi Fountain designed by Nicola Salvi is large but on the opposite side of all the water and too far away to be able to appreciate the smaller details. It was a quiet and enjoyable art museum to explore.
Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo meaning the People’s Square, is one of our favorite urban squares. It is lovely and large at 145,000 square feet. (13,500 sq meters). The piazza lies inside the northern gate, which was once called Porta Flaminia, in the Aurelian Walls and during the Roman Empire this was a traveller’s main entrance and first view of Rome.
This square today offers many reasons to visit. The twin side-by-side churches, Santa Maria in Montesanto on the left (built 1662-75) and Santa Maria dei Miracoli on the right (built 1675-79) are worth stepping inside. A third church located closer to the entrance, Santa Maria del Popolo, is a basilica that a local recommended, featuring two magnificent canvases by Caravaggio.
There is an impressive Egyptian obelisk of Ramesses II from Heliopolis, called the Flaminio Obelisk, that stands in the center of the Piazza. It was brought to Rome in 10 BCE by Augustus and originally set up in the Circus Maximus. It the second oldest and at 118 feet or 36 meters, is one of the tallest obelisks in Rome. In 1589 it was moved to Piazza del Popolo and in 1818 the Fontana dell’ Obelisco, a group of four lions each resting on a stepped plinth, were installed around the base of the obelisk.
Flanking the west side of the square is another large beautiful water feature called Fountain of Neptune and on the east side is the Fountain of the goddess of Rome. And finally, the square is connected to the Pincio Park on the hill above with a flight of curving steps and ramps, which in turn connect to Parc Villa Borghese, inviting you to continue to explore. A wonderful view of Piazza del Popolo awaits at the top of the stairs.
Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le Mura
The highest ranking Basilicas in the Catholic Church are the 4 major Basilicas, all in Rome and we were lucky to visit each one. They are:
- The Cathedral and Mother Church of Rome – the Arch-Basilica of St John Lateran. It is the cathedral of the Pope as Bishop of Rome and the oldest church in the city, originally built around 320.
- The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, built in 432 was where the papacy lived when they first returned from the 67-year hiatus in Avignon.
- The Basilica of St Peter, rebuilt in the 16th century, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the largest and most important Catholic structure.
- The Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls. It was destroyed by fire in 1823 but fully rebuilt exactly as it was. Luckily the thirteenth century cloister survived the disaster.
Each one is as eye-popping as the next. We felt a sense of being enveloped by a place of peace when we entered into these majestic spaces. We have attached pictures in our previous “When in Rome” and “Vatican City” blogs about the first 3 Basilicas.
Our visit to St. Paul’s Outside the Walls happened much later in the month and wanted to include it. The Apostle Saint Peter is buried St. Peter’s Basilica and the same holds true that St. Paul’s Basilica is the Apostle Saint Paul’s burial place. This immense church was somber and quiet during our visit. We took our time exploring the Basilica, the cloisters, the museums and beneath one portion of the floor, archaeological digs.
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna
The National Gallery of Modern Art was founded in 1883 and is dedicated to collecting and showing modern and contemporary art from the 19th and 20th century. There are approximately 1100 paintings and sculptures on display in the museum.
The greater percentage of work shown is by Italian artists but the museum also has pieces by foreign artists like Jackson Pollock, Cezanne, Degas, Rodin, Monet, and many more. There is a family of majestic larger than life bronze lions lounging on the steps of the museum created by Davide Rivalta that we especially enjoyed. The pièce de résistance of the entire collection, however, for us, was Alfonso Balzico’s magnificently expressive and detailed sculpture, Cleopatra, carved circa 1874. A line from William Shakespeare’s description of Cleopatra in his play “Antony and Cleopatra” could apply to this beautiful sculpture. “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.”
Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II
In 1861 Italy, for the first time in more than 1000 years, united as a single country and Italy’s first leader was King Vittorio Emmanuel II. After his death it was felt something was needed to represent the power of the newly formed nation. The solution was the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument also called the “Altar of the Fatherland”, construction began 1885 and was completed in 1935 to honor this first King.
This national symbol is an enormous structure at 443 feet wide x 230 feet high (135 x 70 meters) with beautiful columns, fountains and stairways, two statues of the goddess Victoria riding on quadrigas, chariots drawn by four horses abreast and an equestrian sculpture of Victor Emmanuel II.
Our other favorite piazza in Rome was Piazza Navona.
In the 1st century CE the Stadium of Domitian was built in this location. The ancient Romans would go to watch the agones or games, and hence it became known as “Circus Agonalis”. Today’s Piazza follows the same oval shape as the original and it is thought that over time the name changed from agone to avone to navone and eventually to navona.
There are three historic and significant fountains in the Piazza. In the center stands the famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers (1651) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. At the southern end is the Fontana del Moro and the northern end is the Fountain of Neptune. Palazzo Pamphili (now the Brazilian Embassy) Palazzo Braschi (now the Museum of Rome) and Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone each face this lively square.
Piazza Navona is in Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons – the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi is listed as one of the Altars of Science. The piazza has also been featured in films like Catch-22, the 1990 version of Coins in the Fountain, National Lampoon’s European Vacation, the 1964 Italian comedy Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow starring Sophia Loren and in Eugene Levy’s film, Once Upon A Crime.
Our month of May in Rome was wet and cool but the memories we take with us will be warm and deep. We accomplished a lot in 30 days and probably took thousands of photos. One of the links below contains miscellaneous shots of Rome that we may or may not have touched on in our blogs. We hope you enjoy them and feel free to send us any questions or comments. We love to hear from you. Arrivederci Roma.
Salute from these Romans,
Ted and Julia