Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The origin of the word “money”

On the Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome visible today in the way Michelangelo arranged it, it was built the temple of Juno Moneta (from the latin verb monere meaning "to warn" - the warning Juno). This temple was built in the IV century BC and later on close to it the romans built the mint of Rome (where the coins were made). Since the mint was constructed near the temple of Juno Moneta, what the mint was producing (the coins) was started to be called moneta. Still today the coins keep this name in many languages aside from italian. For example: money in english, monnaie in french, moneda in spanish and romanian, moeda in portuguese etc.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Pyramid of Cestius

The Pyramid of Cestius
Not all the italian cities can boast a pyramid...but Rome does! Close to San Paolo's gate there is the Pyramid of Cestius, which takes its name from Caio Cestio who commissioned its construction in the I century B.C. He was a very wealthy politician who decided when he would pass away to not have just a simple grave but...a real pyramid! Imitating the style of the ancient pharaohs, before dying he asked to his heirs to build a pyramid. But he underlined one important and curious detail: being a wealthy man and being obliged to leave everything to his heirs, he wanted the pyramid to be completed within 330 days! It seems that just to be sure his heirs, attracted by so much money, carried out the construction of the pyramid few days early! The curiosity concerning the construction can be still read in an inscription on the facade of the pyramid itself.

The inscription on the pyramid

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Palatine hill

The Palatine hill is the richest hills of Rome in terms of history. The Palatine stands on one side of the Roman forum and looks upon the Circus Maximus on the other side. On top of it, recent excavations have discovered remainings of huts of XII century BC which witness the very old origins of Rome (but traditionally Rome is born "just" in 753 BC!). After the I century AD the Palatine became the residence of many roman emperors who started to build a huge complex of buildings to be used as their private residences. Many emperors contributed in enriching this complex so that the Palatine became an enormous building and for ancient romans the name of the hill was synonymous with "palace". In fact the word palace (in italian palazzo, in french palais etc.) derives from the Palatine which in latin was called Palatium.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Appian Way

The Appian Way
  The Appian Way from Rome to Brindisi               

The Appian Way was called by the ancient romans regina viarum, the queen of the roads. It is certainly the most important ancient road whose ruins survived till today and it connected Rome with Brindisi in the south of Italy, a strategic harbour linking Italy to Greece and the Middle East. The construction of the Appian Way was started by the censor Appio Claudio Cieco (who gave the name to the road) in 312 B.C. The road, differently to all the previous ones realised, was entirely paved and polished. This way the road could be used with no issues also under the rain. It was 4,1 meters wide, which allowed to cross it both ways at the same time. At the sides of it there were sidewalks, exactly like we see today at the sides of the modern roads or streets. During the middle age the road has been used by the crusaders to reach Palestine to free Jerusalem from the arabs. A curiosity is about Spartacus: he was a slave who, together with other 6,000 slaves, started a revolt against Rome. After he was killed all his companions were crucified along the Appian Way from Rome to Pompei. He must have been a quite shocking view!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Pizzeria "Da Baffetto"

To enjoy the tipical atmosphere of a roman pizzeria together with the voices of loud locals and with their excellent pizzas, once you are in Rome it is a "must" go eating at Baffetto (litterally "cute mustaches"). It is in via del Governo Vecchio 114, very close to Piazza Navona. Baffetto makes thin and crunchy pizzas, done in a tipical wood oven. Be ready to wait a little while before entering and as soon as you are done to be hurried on your way. The experience of eating a pizza at Baffetto is definitely a good one. Don't miss the fried starters before the pizza!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The Basilica of Maxentius (and Costantine)

 The Basilica of Maxentius is one of the greatest buildings of ancient Rome that we can admire today. It was built at the beginning of the IV century A.D. by Maxentius who has been emperor for few years before being defeated by Costantine. It was occupying quite a large area and what we can see today from Via dei Fori Imperiali is just a small aisle of the whole complex. Inside there was a huge statue of Costantine (modelled from a previous one of Maxentius) and few parts of it survived. Just the head of this statue is 2.6 meters of height! Going towards the Colosseum, just at the end at the right of the monument, you can see the immense vaults of nearly 25 meters. These vaults, because of their greatness and harmony, have inspired many Renaissance artists. All the rest of the construction was lost during an earthquake occurred in the IX century and the materials have been used for the decoration of the old St. Peter.

                       Basilica of Maxentius, internal part

Basilica of Maxentius, external part

Friday, 25 February 2011

Some curiosities about the Pantheon

The Pantheon was first built in the I century B.C. by Agrippa, (as it is written on the facade) son in law of Augustus. After two fires it was rebuilt by Hadrian in the II century A.D. The Pantheon, a temple dedicated to all the roman gods (Pan = all; Theon = gods) is the best preserved roman monument and this is because it became a church in VII century. Being a church the popes couldn't steal any marble or stone, differently from what happened to the Colosseum or to the Forums. The Pantheon is a sphere inserted inside a cylinder: in fact the height of the monument (from the pavement till the top of the dome) is 43.3 meters as well as the diameter of the base of the dome. Another curiosity: the dome of St.Peter is the biggest one in Rome (and in Italy) and it was designed by Michelangelo. But Michelangelo loved and admired the Pantheon so much that, when he realised the dome of St. Peter he wanted to make the diameter of the base few centimeters smaller than the one in the Pantheon: this was his personal tribute to the greatness of the latter. So, dimension wise, St. Peter has the biggest dome of Rome but the one with the largest diameter at the base is the Pantheon's one.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Fountain of the Four Rivers

The Fountain of the Four Rivers is in the center of Piazza Navona. It was realised according to a project of Bernini in 1651 and it is an imaginative baroque representation of the main rivers of the four continents known at those times: Rio de la Plata (South America), Nile (Africa), Gange (Asia) and the Danube (Europe). Australia will be discovered only many years later and this is why the statues are four and not five. Worth to notice is the statue of the Nile: he covers his face with a veil because at those times its source wasn't known yet. The obelisk on top of the fountain belongs to the roman period and it was found on the Appian Way. The dove at the top of the obelisk is the symbol of the family of the pope (Innocenzo X) who commissioned this fountain but also of the Holy Spirit which is spread through the four continents represented by the below statues. Recently during the last restoration, since the fountain is threatened by the dungs of the pigeons, they have put a mechanism (invisible from outside) which releases small electric shocks to prevent the birds from approaching the fountain.

The fountain of the Four Rivers
The statue of the Nile

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Fountain of the Old Boat

Why there is a fountain with the shape of an old boat in front of the Spanish steps? The fountain was built in 1627, a century before the Spanish steps, by Pietro Bernini (father of the more known Gian Lorenzo) with the help of his son. It was commissioned by the pope Urbano VIII who seems to have been impressed by a boat who was found exactly where today we see the fountain after a big flood of the Tiber. To remember this particular episode, the pope decided to commission this fountain which is now called by the romans Barcaccia, old ugly boat.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Where do all the coins thrown in Trevi's Fountain end up?

According to the tradition, who throws a coin from the back inside Trevi's Fountain, one day will come back to Rome. Thousands of people every day throw a coin hoping one day to see Rome again. But where all these coins end up? Every day early in the morning, few cops surround the fountain and draw all the coins in with some pumps. They gather all the coins in bags and then they hand them over to some employees of the Caritas, one the biggest charity organizations in Rome. The tourists who throw the coins in the fountain hoping one day to come back to Rome, don't know that they are helping the poor and the homeless people of the city. The coins are eventually counted, separated and invested in charity by the Caritas. The coins of foreign currencies are periodically sent with some trucks in Germany and England where there are special organizations which can change them in euro. But how much money Trevi's Fountain can "produce"? A huge amount: roughly 700,000 euros per year, on average a bit less than 2,000 euros per day. This fountain doesn't only delight who looks at it but also helps plenty of needful people.

Monday, 7 February 2011

The church of St. Clemente and the "comics"

San Clemente, very close by the Colosseum, is a church built on three levels: the upper and lower basilica and a roman house (II century A.D.). In the lower basilica it has been represented the legend of Sisinnio. He was the prefect of Rome and he married a woman called Teodora who has been convinced by Clemente, the saint to whom the church is dedicated, to remain virgin. Sisinnio, angry at his wife, decided one day to follow her with his soldiers and he found her in a catacomb attending a mess by Clemente. He then ordered to his soldiers to tie Clemente up and take him away but, according to the legend, he became istantaneously a marble column and because of his weight he couldn't be brought anywhere. The expressions readable from the fresco, which they make looking the story as a "comics", are from 1100 ca and they are the oldest known artistic utilization of the so called "vulgar" (a language between latin and italian). The most famous expression is "fili de la pute traite" meaning: son of a bitch pull him up! One of the first expressions in "vulgar" is an insult!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Protestant Cemetery

The Protestant Cemetery was built to bury all those people for whom the burial in a catholic cemetery was forbidden either because they were worshippers of other religions or not religious at all. Its construction dates back to 1738, the same date of its most ancient tomb. It is situated at the back of the Cestia Pyramid, of which it incorporates the back part. Many illustrious people have been buried here: poets, writers, intellectuals etc. The place is extremely suggestive also because of the antiquity of some of the monumental tombs. Among the famous people buried here: the english poets Shelley and Keats, Goethe's son, Gramsci, famous italian intellectual who died during the fascism period, Carlo Emilio Gadda, italian writer. The shrine of Gramsci reports a curious mistake: it is written in latin Cinera Antonii Gramscii but it should be Cineres Antonii Gramscii.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Pizzeria La Montecarlo

As you can see from the picture, the pizzeria La Montecarlo looks anonymous from outside but it is a real true-roman pizzeria. It is full of charm and ideal for the visitors of the centre of Rome for its location. Expect to see not only tourists but also plenty of romans who go to eat a thin and delicious pizza cooked in a wooden oven. Paper tablecloths, photos of celebrities who visited this pizzeria and a tipical rushing atmosphere are the main charateristics of this lovely place. The prices of the pizzas range from 5 to 9 euros. The address is Vicolo Savelli 11-13, close to Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. Enjoy!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Capitoline Wolf

The Capitoline Wolf is a bronze statue realised by the Etruscans in the V century B.C. During the XV century the twins, made by Pollaiolo, have been added. This wolf is the symbol of the city of Rome and of its birth because, according to the legend, the vestal virgin Rea Silvia was raped by Mars, the god of war, and gave birth to two twins. Few days later, the grandfather of the twins, Numitore was dismissed by his brother Amulio as king of Alba Longa, a city not far from where Rome would be eventually born. So Amulio, who wanted to avoid the two nephews of Numitore, once grown up, could have taken a revenge, he decided to put them in a basket and throw them in the Tiber. The basket stopped at the beginning of a small hill and it was found by a wolf who suckled them. Eventually the twins were found by a shepherd called Faustolo. Traditionally the twins, Romolo and Remo, are the founders of Rome and thanks to the wolf they survived. This is why the wolf is the symbol of Rome.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Mondo Arancina

Who loves sicilian specialities and wants to taste exceptional recepes even in Rome, shouldn't miss a visit to Mondo Arancina (Arancina world). The name comes from the "arancine", balls of rice (like the ones in the photo) wrapped in a very delicate fried layer and available in 15 different flavours. They are exceptional! It worths a try also other sicilian specialities like "pane e panelle" (bread and few layers of chickpea flower), the sardins, the cassata and the delicious sicilian cannolo (a great sweet speciality). Mondo Arancina in the last few years had an unbelievable success and so they could open several shops in Rome and one even in Notting Hill, elegant residential area in London. In Rome the first shop opened in 2002 and it is in Via  Marcantonio Colonna 38, few meters from the metro A station Lepanto. A dip into a kind of culinary world totally different from the traditional roman one but surely not less good!