Thursday, 9 December 2010

Campo dei Fiori

The square of Campo dei Fiori, close to Palazzo Farnese, is particularly famous because of what happened to the philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was believing to the existence of many worlds like the earth in the universe and to the theory of the heliocentrism (according to which the sun is in the centre of the universe); he was accused of being heretic and burned alive from the Inquisition in this square the 17th of February 1600. This execution is recalled by the statue at the centre of the square which was planned by the poet Pietro Cossa and realised by Ettore Ferrari in 1889. Today this place, which is generally not included in the usual turistic tours of Rome, represents one of the few places where Rome shows his most charateristic and intimate nature, starting very early in the morning with the open market of vegetables, fruits and fish, till late in the night with the entertainment offered by pubs, wine bars and restaurants in the area. It definitely worths a visit...and possibily two visits, one in the morning and one in the evening!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The perspective gallery of Borromini

One of the masterpieces of Borromini can be admired in Palazzo Spada, in Piazza Capo di Ferro, close to Campo de' Fiori. The palace which hosts the Council of State, was changed by Borromini who created in the space in front of the access to the courtyard an extraordinary perspective effect. The gallery is long just 9 meters but thanks to the row of columns built at a slight decreasing height and the pavement slowly going up, it seems to be illusionistically 37 meters long. The statue at the end of the gallery representing Mars seems to be as high as a man but it is just 60 centimeters.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The "big noses"

The "big noses" are the small fountains which distribute water for free, 24/7, throughout the whole city of Rome. They are called big noses for the shape of the small circular tube from which the water gushes out. There are approximately 2500 in the whole city, 280 of which just within the historic walls of the center. The water which comes out is drinkable and always fresh. The idea of building such small fointains came to the first mayor of the city, Luigi Pianciani, to supply with water the city after its reunification to the italian state in 1870. These small fountains are relatively new. In the centre there are many "historical" ones and from some of them drinking was forbidden to animals such as donkeys, horses or goats. To drink water from these fountains like a real roman does, just block the gush of water with a finger, and it will come out from a small hole in the circular tube.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The church of Holy Cross in Jerusalem

The church of Holy Cross in Jerusalem, founded in IV century A.D. by St. Helen, mother of the roman emperor Costantine, takes its name from the relics of the holy cross brought here by Helen herself. The church preserves as well many other relics (nobody knows of course whether they are true or not). They are: three pieces from the holy cross, one nail, the inscription placed on top of the cross (I.N.R.I., Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum - Jesus from Nazareth, king of the Jewish people), two nails from the crown of thorns, the finger of St. Thomas who touched the chest of Jesus, fragments of the column of the flagellation, one of the thirty coins used by Judas to betray Jesus, the sponge soaked with vinegar to quench Jesus's thirst and the rock where he was sitting when he was forgiving Mary Magdalene. There is as well a part of the cross of the thief crucified beside Jesus. All these relics have been preserved for 1610 years in a chapel below the actual church and today they are shown in another chapel built in 1930.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Saint Charles at the Four Fountains

San Carlo alle Quattro fontane is a tiny church not far from Via Nazionale. It is one of the masterpieces of the roman baroque. It was realised by Borromini from 1634 to 1644, but the facade has been completed several years later. The romans call this church with the name of San Carlino (small San Carlo) because of its small dimensions: it is so small that the entire church could be fit inside one of the fours pillars which sustain the dome of Saint Peter. The dome is wonderful and imaginative: there are geometric shape like hexagons and octagons alternated with crosses. Have a look at the small intersection in front of the church: this is the only point in Rome where you can see three obelisks at the same time. They are: the obelisk of Piazza del Quirinale, the one in Trinità dei Monti and the one at the back of the church of Saint Mary Major.

                      The dome of St. Charles at the Four Fountains

Sunday, 10 October 2010


Costantine was a roman emperor from 306 till 337 A.D. He was one of the most important characters of the roman empire and his reign represented, especially for the christians, a fundamental moment. In fact, in 313 he issued the Edict of Milan with which he granted freedom of worship to the so far persecuted christians helping this way the spread of Christianism throughout the whole empire. Undoubtedly he was the first one to understand the importance of the new christian religion to strenghten the political and cultural cohesion of the empire. The Edict of Milan and his conversion were probably due because of political reasons but they had a great importance for the subsequent european history. Thanks to Costantine, many churches were built in Rome. Among them: S. Peter in Vatican, S. John in Lateran and S. Paul outside the Walls. Moreover, in 326, he founded the city of Costantinople (today Istanbul) that till 1453  remained the capital of the Bizantine Empire.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Raphael and his grave

Raffaello Sanzio is one of the most important artists of the Renaissance period. Born in Urbino, in the Marche region, in 1483, he was painter and architect and he was among the most requested and famous ones of his time. He came to Rome in 1508, at the age of just 25, the same year when Michelangelo started painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. As first commission he had to paint the private rooms of the pope Julius II in the Vatican. Since then his activity in Rome never stopped and he realised plenty of masterpieces. He died very young at the age of 37, allegedly, according to Vasari, because of "love excesses". He was buried in the Pantheon and his shrine reports a very nice sentence in latin: "Ille hic est Raphael timuit quo sospite vinci rerum magna parens et moriente mori" : here lies that famous Raphael by whom Nature feared to be conquered while he lived, and when he was dying, feared herself to die.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The School of Athens by Raphael

The School of Athens is one of the frescos which decorates the Room of the Signatura, one of the four rooms depicted by Raphael in the Vatican. Pope Julius II commissioned this fresco which was realised between 1508 and 1511. This work represents the most brilliant ancient philosophers and mathematicians talking one another inside an imaginary classic building. The perspective of the building is magnificently painted and the vanishing point is in the center of the fresco between the heads of the two most prominent philosophers of the ancient Greece, Plato (the one on the left, maybe his face is a portrait of Leonardo da Vinci) and Aristotle (on the right). Plato points to the sky, gesture which recalls his doctrine according to which our world is just a copy of an ideal and superior world up in the sky; Aristotle, with his arm stretched in front of him, wants to remind us that the only possible reality is the one where we live. The superb building recalls the project of the new Saint Peter whose construction started just few years before. Numerous are the people whose faces have been identified although there cannot be certainty on all of them. The figure inside the red circle is Raphael who wanted to portray himself among the greatest minds of the antiquity.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

St. Peter from the keyhole

On the Aventine hill, at the end of via di Santa Sabina, there is the Villa del Priorato di Malta, home to the Grand Priory of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. This is a catholic secular order and his birth can be traced back from the ancient Order of Hospitallers, born in 1050 in Palestine. It became a military order when the necessity of defending their own hospitals from various attacks suggested to their followers to start using the violence. Eventually it became an armed order and obtained territories, slowly constituting itself as a real state. It controlled the island of Malta for several centuries until Napoleon's time. Today it is based in this villa on the Aventine and looking at the keyhole of the main entrance you would notice in a perfect perspective the dome of St. Peter, at the end of a very elegant garden. A real and nice surprise which is always delightful.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The supplì

The supplì is a tipical roman (and more generally from Lazio) speciality. They are rice balls, with pieces of melted mozzarella inside, wrapped up with a delicate and golden fried layer. In Rome they are also known as "supplì on the phone": dividing the supplì in two parts, these two halves remain jointed together by a piece of melted mozzarella like two people can stay connected by the wires of a telephone. Basically nearly all the pizzerias in Rome make supplì and it is difficult to eat bad ones. But if you want to taste excellent ones visit Franchi, via Cola di Rienzo 200-204, Metro A, station Lepanto o Ottaviano San Pietro. This place started his activity as a salami and meat seller in 1925 and today, among great other specialities, they sell the supplì which definitely worths a stop.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Caravaggio in Rome

Caravaggio was one of the greatest painters of all times. Despite his short life (he was 39 when he died) revolutionized the way of painting during his time for the peculiar way of using the light (theatrical and spiritual) and for the realism of his works. Many painters imitated his style creating the artistic movement of "caravaggism". In Rome there are 23 paintings of Caravaggio, more than in any other city of the world. Six of these can be admired for free in the following four churches: Church of St. Louis of the French (3 paintings, the sublime triptic about the life of St. Matthew), St. Augustine (la Madonna dei Pellegrini) and Santa Maria del Popolo (Crucifixion of St. Peter and Conversion on the way to Damascus). The rest of the paintings is shared among variuos museums, of which the Borghese Gallery has six of them. Caravaggio lived and worked in Rome between 1595 and 1606. Then he had to leave the city because he was condemned to death after killing a man. He escaped in the south of Italy, arrived till Malta, he came back in Italy close to Naples where he misteriously died in 1610.

                           The Crucifixion of St.Peter,
                           church of Santa Maria del Popolo

Vocation of St. Matthew,
church of San Luigi dei Francesi

Monday, 12 July 2010

The cardinal Scipione Borghese

The Young Sick Bacchus, Caravaggio
Scipione Borghese was the nephew of Paulus V, pope between 1605 and 1621. He is famous mostly because he built his palace Villa Borghese, and for having accumulated many art works. He was cardinal, maecenas and an art lover and he didn't only commission art works but sometimes he got them using also...other methods. So it was for the Young Sick Bacchus from Caravaggio. This was belonging to Cavalier d'Arpino, a painter who was one of his first masters. Since Scipione wanted to have that painting, he ordered his house to be searched and found some illegal weapons. So he arrested him and condemned to death. To get freedom the price to pay was just that Caravaggio's painting. Also for another painting, the Deposition of Raphael, the cardinal convinced the pope (his uncle) to help him in stealing it! The painting was inside the church of St. Francis in Perugia. It was taken away from the window of the church and brought to Rome. The people from Perugia started claiming that artwork back but the cardinal asked the pope to tell them that that painting was necessary to pray better in his private chapel. He then sent another version of the subject while the one from Raphael remained in his family possession.
The Deposition, Raphael

Saturday, 3 July 2010

The "grattachecca"

The "grattachecca" is a must for anybody who visits Rome, especially during the summer months. The word is tipically roman and comes from "checca" which, in the old roman dialect, meant ice and "gratta" meaning to scratch. Basically the ingredients are crushed ice with aromatic syrups or fruit juice. It shouldn't be confused with the sicilian granita which is done first combining the water with the syrups and then leaving everything freezing. In Rome there are several stands selling the grattachecca but maybe the best one (also in terms of waiting time for the long queues!) is the one situated in the Prati area (metro A - Ottaviano S.Pietro station) in Via Trionfale, at the corner with Via Telesio. The grattachecca here is sold since 1933 and the prices seem to be reasonably fair compared to the ones of other places in the center. Don't miss the specialities with pieces of fresh fruits.

Monday, 28 June 2010

The Giolitti ice parlour

The Giolitti ice parlour is in via Uffici del Vicario, 40, few meters from the Montecitorio palace. It is probably the best ice parlour in Rome. Everything starts in 1890 when Giuseppe e Bernardina Giolitti opened in the center of Rome a small shop selling dairy products. The quality of their products was so high that just few years later, this shop was chosen as supplier of dairy products for the royal family. Year after year the business became bigger and bigger and they bought the place where it is today. They are specialised in the production of ice cream according to old recipes. The flavours are written only in italian but the all the attendants speak english.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The opera house of Rome

The opera house of Rome was inaugurated in 1880. Several operas were performed here for the first time: the Cavalleria Rusticana and Iris by Mascagni, the Tosca and Gianni Schicchi by Puccini. Basically all the most important characters of the opera world sang here: from Enrico Caruso to Beniamino Gigli, from Maria Callas to Monserrat Caballè, from Carreras to Domingo and Pavarotti. At the center of the theatre a huge and precious chandelier hangs. It was made of Murano crystal and it seems to be the biggest one in the world.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

The cenotaph of Michelangelo

Inside the Palace of Santi Apostoli, very close by Piazza Venezia, there is the cenotaph of Michelangelo. A cenotaph is a monument which recalls a person buried in another place. It seems that when Michelangelo died, his body was supposed to be buried in one of the cloisters of this palace. But since the great artist made very clear that he wanted to be buried in Florence, the city who loved the most and where he grew up, his nephew, Leonardo Buonarroti, took the corpse of his uncle and sent him to Florence as if he was a bag! The body arrived in Florence the 11th of March 1564. Michelangelo, after his last very adventurous trip, was finally buried in the basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, where he still is today.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Sant'Angelo in the "fish market"

Inside the ghetto there is a church built inside the ruins of what is called the Portico d'Ottavia. This church is actually known with the name of "in Pescheria" (pescheria is a fish market) because of its proximity to the ancient fish market of that area, which today doesn't existing anymore. It seems that every saturday the Jesuits, who were the responsible people for that church, obliged the jewish people living in that area to go and listen to the sermon in the attempt to convert them to catholicism. The jewish people though, to avoid any temptation to be converted, were used to cover their ears with a tampon!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The "dancing bell tower"

Sant'Andrea delle Fratte, designed by several architects, among whom there is Borromini who realised the wonderful bell tower, is a church close by Spanish steps. Inside this church there are two angels done by Bernini and initially destined to Ponte Sant'Angelo. They have been put here to protect them against the bad weather. The church is popular also for another reason: it has what is called by the romans the "dancing bell tower". Every time the bells ring, the bell tower swing visibly. For this reason the romans nicknamed it as "dancing bell tower"!

Monday, 12 April 2010

St. Mary of the Angels

One of the peculiarities of this church is that it was obtained from the Diocletian thermal baths, the biggest ones ever built by the romans. They were where today is Piazza della Repubblica (below the square in the metro station is still possible to see few ruins) and the church has been built using part  of the thermal baths. The facade itself seems to be a ruin. The project of utilising ancient ruins for a church is from Michelangelo. Vanvitelli in 1750 placed inside the church many paintings coming from St. Peter. They were eventually replaced by mosaics (you can notice walking inside St. Peter that there are no more paintings on the walls, but just mosaics). Worth to note is the meridian in the transept. From 1700 to 1846 it was used to scientifically demonstrate the correctness of the gregorian calendar and to determine the exact day of Easter according to the rotary motion of the sun and the moon.

Friday, 2 April 2010

The Tarpeian rock

The Tarpeian Rock is the southern side of the Capitolium hill. It takes its name from Tarpea, the daughter of the gatekeeper of the capitolium castle. According to the legend, Tarpea betrayed the city of Rome revealing to the Sabinians the secret passage to arrive to the Capitolium hill. After this revelation she was killed by the same Sabinians. To the memory of this event, according to the roman tradition all the traitors and killers were thrown away from this rock.

Monday, 22 March 2010

The Mouth of the Truth

The Mouth of the Truth represents the head of a faunus and maybe it was the trapdoor of a sewer, used to judge whether a person said the truth or not. According to the legend, whoever inserting the hand was a liar, he had had the hand cut down. One day the wife of a rich roman man is accused of adultery and brought to the Mouth of the Truth. There are people gathering and all of a sudden a crazy man, in reality her lover, kisses the woman in front of everybody. The people gathered want to kill the man but the woman defends him asking the Mouth to prove that she had kissed in her life only her husband and this crazy man. So she puts the hand inside but nothing happens to the great satisfaction of the husband and great disappointment of the Mouth itself which has been so bravely challenged by a woman. Today this is one of the most popular photo stops in the city.

Friday, 26 February 2010

The ridiculous Moses

Close to Piazza della Repubblica there is the Moses fountain, inaugurated in 1589. Realised by Domenico Fontana, it is done in travertine and in the center there is an imposing statue of Moses. Moses, holding the Ten Commandments with his left hand, is pointing with his right hand to the water running below him, hinting to the miracle, described in the Bible, of the water gushing from a rock to quench the thirst of the Israel people. But when this miracle happened Moses still had to receive the Ten Commandments! For this trivial mistake and for the stubby features of Moses, the romans nicknamed this statue "the ridiculous Moses".

Monday, 22 February 2010

The catacombs of Rome

The catacombs of Rome are very ancient cemeterial areas digged in tufa, a kind of soft rock. The oldest ones are from the II century A.D. They were all digged outside the roman walls because during those times it was forbidden to bury people inside the city. When in 313 A.D. thanks to Costantine the christians were free to worship their god, many of them wanted to be buried in these underground cemeteries where many martyrs were placed years before. Centuries later the catacombs were abandoned and the relics of the martyrs were transferred inside many churches. For several centuries nobody knew anymore where the catacombs and their entrances were. It was just in the XIX century that they started to be explored sistematically. In the catacombs there were also beautiful cripts, like the cript of the popes in the catacombs of St. Callixtus. Some of the first popes of the christian history have been buried here.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The Babuino (baboon) statue

In Via del Babuino, one of the three streets departing from Piazza del Popolo, there is a very particular statue. This sculpture most likely represents a silenus, one of the companions of the greek god of the wine, Dyonisus. It was considered to be so ugly by the romans that they nicknamed it "babbuino", baboon. Its ugliness gave then the name to the street where it is! But it is so popular also because of a certain cardinal Dezza, who was living close by it at the end of 1500. It seems that, passing by the statue every day, he was used to bow and greet it. He was almost surely shortsighted and maybe thinking that the "baboon" was a saint! Since then the people started to have fun about this statue so that, shortly afterwards, it became a "talking statue" of Rome where the people could (and still can) hang poems, satires and invectives against famous people or politicians.