Wednesday, September 19, 2018

our first visitor! {Museo di Roma & Campo de Fiori}

exactly one week ago, Kira arrived! and she's here until Thursday! we are the last leg on her around-the-world journey that took her from New York to Seattle to Australia and, finally, to Italy. Greta had been counting down the days for a week (and Cece would excitedly chorus "fwee days! two days! one day! Auntie Keewah!" -- being unfamiliar with the concept of time was no damper on her enthusiasm). on Tuesday morning, i set out to meet her. we planned to meet at Termini station, where her airport shuttle bus would arrive, and from where we could take the city bus back to our apartment. according to the shuttle bus website, the bus would stop near TerraCafe, so we planned to meet there. of course my bus to Termini was late, and when i finally got to the station, i couldn't find anything marked TerraCafe (although Google Maps still thought it existed). i finally ducked my head into the closest cafe and there was Kira! looking remarkably put together and coherent after 19 hours of travel, i might add. 

she had ordered a cappuccino while waiting for me, so i got myself a doppio espresso and we had a lovely chat while the mass of humanity that is Termini station swirled around us. finally, in light of expectant nieces at home, we walked to the front of the station and caught the #40 express bus back across the city. Kira got to experience the gastrocnemius-busting joy of the Gianicolo Hill, and when we finally arrived at our front door, i think the girls' shrieks could have woken Julius Caesar in his grave. 

after afternoon naps for Cece and Auntie Kira, we went on an exploring expedition around the grounds. it's still surreal to me that we live here, not just in Rome but at the NAC. we happened to run into Nick, who had been doing some office work, and he joined us for the piece de resistance, the view from the roof. 

scooter superstar

just a casual afternoon on the roof

then it was time to come home and make pizza. we put the leaf in the kitchen table and i think we'll just leave it that way even when we don't have guests -- there's so much more room for the girls to color or for me to spread out all my recipes when i'm planning meals for the week. 

on wednesday, we had plans to meet our friends at the Museo di Roma at Palazzo Braschi. this palace stands at the southern end of Piazza Navona, and the views out the windows are just as striking at the museum exhibits. the Palazzo Braschi was completed in 1804, on the site of the previous Palazzo Orsini (built in 1435). 


before even entering the museum, we were greeted to this beautiful sight: a "Gala Sedan", built for the marriage of Sigismondo Chigi to Giovanna Medici D'Ottajano in 1776. Greta and Elizabeth were quite enamored with the idea of princesses riding in this carriage. i myself couldn't get over the juxtaposition of eighteenth-century luxury transportation and twenty-first century motorini

the main focus of our visit was seeing the temporary Canaletto exhibit, featuring works by this famous Venetian painter. at least, he's famous in Italy and Great Britain. he may very well be famous in the States as well, but i don't remember ever hearing of him. after seeing the exhibit, however, i completely understand the acclaim. 

watching the action in Piazza Navona

Rome itself is a living museum

we continued our visit with the permanent exhibitions, which are gorgeous. like the Castel Sant'Angelo, this museum isn't one of the heavy hitters like the Vatican Museums or the Borghese Gallery, but the collection is still beautiful and the location is unbeatable. 

if i had to guess, i would bet she's pretending that she lives here

look closely or you might miss it -- just someone feeding her baby

this model shows the buildings on the medieval streets that were razed by Mussolini to build the Via della Conciliazione -- the broad road that now leads straight to the Vatican. Mussolini wanted to make a dramatic statement linking the Church to the political center of Rome, but unfortunately 500 years of history were destroyed in the process.

Sant'Agnese in Agone on the left, looking down over the Piazza Navona. contrary to popular assumption, the name of the church does not reflect on St. Agnes' martyrdom, which occurred in the ancient stadium here. the original name of the Piazza was "Piazza in agone", meaning the place of the competitions, and over the years "in agone" transformed into the modern name "Navona". 

you know it's going to be good when there's a crowd this size gathered around a street performer

and yes! we had a birds-eye view into this unicycle-riding, flame-juggling daredevil's act

this column shows the level of a flood of the Tiber in 1180

by this time, the girls were about through with the museum, and we embarked on the little walking tour i had devised (combining one of Rick Steves' Rome walks and some points of interest from various blogs i follow). with the promise of gelato before them, we set out for Campo de' Fiori. this is one of the main squares in Rome, and every morning, vendors set up market stalls here. it was here, in 1600, that the philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned alive for heresy. a statue of him now stands on the exact spot where he died. 

not a bad life for a pup

here we are! 

thank you, McDonaldsItalia, for your tastefully subtle presence

Giordano Bruno. the inscription reads: "A BRUNO - IL SECOLO DA LUI DIVINATO - QUI DOVE IL ROGO ARSE("Bruno - the century predicted by him - here where the fire burned"). 
 at this time of day, the square was mostly filled with tourists wandering about and restaurant hosts prowling up and down the perimeter of their outdoor seating areas. i want to check it out sometime when the market is in full swing! 

our next stop was to see the secret passage that links Campo de' Fiori with the next street over: the Passetto di Biscione. i had read about this on Natalie's amazing blog and couldn't wait to see it for myself. this tiny covered walkway is decorated with beautiful frescos and a little shrine to Our Lady. 

the secret passage is just to the right of this building ... if only the walls could talk!

speaking of walls!

i had lured the girls on this walk with promises of gelato. most of our gelato so far has come from random shops, some better than others, but we hadn't made a concerted effort to seek out thee best gelato yet. i was determined to try one of the famous ones, so we betook ourselves to Fatamorgana. and oh my goodness ... it was the best gelato i had had up til that point (spoiler alert -- i now like Frigidarium best!). the girls devoured theirs too, as you can see. i opted for a scoop of estasi (dark chocolate with hazelnuts) and a scoop of another flavor with amaretto and chocolate. delicious!

we continued on our roundabout way home, passing a bakery that had just put out a platter of pizza for a tour group. it smelled delicious! i love just wandering up and down the streets here ... you never know what you'll come across. 

 we stumbled across the Piazza della Quercia, named because of the church Santa Maria della Quercia here (Saint Mary of the Oak). the oak tree is also the symbol of the della Rovere family (Pope Julius II was a part of this family). an oak tree has been planted here since the 1500s.

finally, our last sight of the afternoon: Piazza Farnese. the Farnese family built their palazzo at one end of this piazza, and it now houses the French embassy. 

Michelangelo and several other famous architects contributed to the Palazzo Farnese. the Farnese sculpture collection that we saw in the Naples archaeological museum (including Toro Farnese) was originally housed here.

 having explored to our hearts' content, we walked back along the river towards home. Kira, we are so glad you're here! 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Castel Sant'Angelo

the Castel Sant'Angelo has fascinated me since we first arrived here. in a place stuffed to the gills with churches and sculptures and fountains, it's the only genuine castle within the city limits. it sits on the banks of the Tiber, watching the ebb and flow of humanity. and the castle itself has transformed over the centuries, from its original purpose as Hadrian's mausoleum, to a fortress modified and reinforced by various popes (including Pope Clement VII, who sheltered inside during the Sack of Rome in 1527). last week, we finally had the chance to explore it. 

the original cylindrical building was constructed between 134 and 139 A.D. the Emperor Hadrian's ashes were placed here, along with those of his wife and son. however, to begin our tour, we jumped ahead in time to the medieval period when the castle had been transformed into a military stronghold. we first climbed a set of steps inside the Bastion of San Marco, built in the fifteenth century. the castle has four towers -- after visiting three of them, Nick cleverly realized that they are named after the Four Evangelists. 

from here, you can see the entrance to the Passetto di Borgo, the 2,600-foot-long secret passageway that connects the Castel to Vatican City. Pope Nicholas III built this in 1277, and just over two hundred years later, Pope Alexander VI used it to escape Charles VIII's invading armies in 1494. just thirty years later, during the Sack of Rome in 1527, Pope Clement VII fled St. Peter's and was able to take refuge here. you can only visit the Passetto with a special guided tour, but I walk under one of its arches every time I go to the grocery store, which boggles the mind a little. 

lucky tour group, about to walk through the entrance to the Passetto

the Passetto runs from Vatican City (beyond the frame, on the left side) to the Castel Sant'Angelo on the right

the walls of the Passetto seen from outside the castel

we then walked around the Marcia Ronda, the walkway used by the guards to patrol around the castle. there's something about walking in their footsteps that just ignites the imagination. 

mean mugging

of course Cece Marie wanted in on the action

from the Bastion of San Luca, we could look up to see all the layers of construction that make up the Castel today: the cylinder of the original mausoleum, the papal fortress, and finally, the walls of the papal residence. 

we continued along the perimeter towards the Bastion of San Giovanni, from which vantage point I had the very bizarre experience of a watching a Segway tour go past. 

Hadrian must be rolling in his grave over the fact that the human race has come to this
we completed our circuit around the walkway with a much more picturesque view over the Ponte Sant'Angelo (more about this beautiful bridge later). 

I spy ... the dome of St. Peter's

looking down from the walkway, you can see the moat between the original mausoleum and the tower,
built by Pope Boniface IX in the late 1300s
we then entered the passageway Pope Boniface IX built to access the interior of Hadrian's cylinder. first we looked into a re-creation of a sixteenth century guardroom. 

next, we climbed the stairs to reach a bridge built in 1825 to cross the Room of Urns, which is the very place where Hadrian's ashes, and those of his family, were laid to rest. 

the walls of this room used to be covered in marble. the funerary urns were placed in large niches on the walls to either side. this marble plaque still remains, engraved with verses from a poem Hadrian penned himself: 

Animula vagula blandula
hospes comesque corporis
quae nunc abibis in loca
pallidula, rigid, nudula,
nec ut soles Dabis iocos

Little lost and gentle soul,
companion and guest of the body,
get ready now to go down into
colourless, arduous and bare places,
where you will no longer have the
usual entertainment

we walked out of the Room of Urns and emerged in the Angel Courtyard, which belonged to the papal apartments on the left. this statue of St. Michael the Archangel was sculpted in 1544 and originally stood on the highest terrace of the castle. 

we then climbed the stairs to the Giretto Scoperto, the walkway built by Pope Alexander VII Chigi, for some of the most spectacular views of the Eternal City. 

the inner part of the cylinder at this level was transformed into a showcase for military memorabilia when the castle officially became a national museum in 1925. this includes uniforms from the Risorgimento (the Italian unification movement) as well as suits of armor from the middle ages.

quite the helmet -- my neck hurts just looking at it

a peek into the Angel Courtyard
one of my favourite parts of the entire castle is this loggia, built by Pope Paul III in 1543 (who was born Alessandro Farnese). this is the same pope who commissioned Michelangelo's Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel. the walls are decorated with episodes of Hadrian's life. 

rummaging for snacks while I feast my eyes on art

the ceiling

the loggia affords an impressive entrance into the two apartments that Pope Paul III had built in the 1540s. the first room here is the library, so named because it provided access to the papal archives. the vault of this room was designed in 1545 and shows ancient Roman stories with several emblems of the Farnese family (the lily and the woman with the unicorn). 

the library

papal crest over the door to the room that once housed the papal archives

the Tesoro (Treasure Room) by some accounts was Hadrian's actual burial chamber. his porphyry sarcophagus remains here. Paul III had the walnut cabinets installed to house the Papal Archives as well as the Secret Archive, and in 1585, Pope Sixtus V installed the huge lockbox (with six unique locks) to safeguard an emergency supply of cash as well as other valuables. 
 adjoining the library is the Sala dell'Adrianeo, with beautiful artwork as well as a frieze depicting Hadrian's mausoleum as well as other ancient Roman monuments. 

Madonna and Child with Saints, by Luco Signorelli

oh, and then there's this little window that I just happened to glance through. 

a room with a view, indeed
the Sala dei Festoni adjoins this room and originally had a gold and silver-painted wooden ceiling. unfortunately, the ceiling was destroyed when a fire broke out after a fireworks display on the top of the castle (apparently a common spectacle during parties). 

we next went back to the Treasure Room and climbed the spiral staircase leading up from it to reach the Sala Rotunda. this room was actually created in the Middle Ages, when a floor was laid halfway up the incredibly high ceiling of the Treasure Room to divide it into two rooms. this room was the site of the first chapel dedicated to the Archangel Michael. the current statue of the Archangel Michael standing atop the castle was created by Peter Anton Van Verschaffelt and the original metal frame supporting the statue was moved here, to the Sala Rotunda, during renovations in the 1980s.

the nameplate on this bust was indecipherable and my googling has been fruitless... I have no idea who this is!
next, we entered the Room of Columns, which was built in the eighteenth century to house the growing collection of the Papal Archives. 

this view... it just gets me every time
finally, we climbed to the very top of the spiral staircase to emerge into the blinding light on the Angel Terrace. this was where "fireworks of joyfulness" were set off for special occasions. it also played an important role in the ending of Puccini's opera, Tosca. it was from this terrace that the protagonist, Flora Tosca, leapt to her death. but on this gloriously sunny morning, our thoughts were far happier as we took in the expansive views. (in the interest of honest reporting, I should say that Greta was shrieking that the sun was too bright and whining for us to go back inside.)

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle...

neither of the girls wanted in on this photo op
reluctantly, we started down the staircase for the exit, amazed at everything we had just seen. but ... spoiler alert! there's far more to see on the way down! I must have audibly gasped when we entered the Paolina Room, especially since I thought our tour was essentially over. Pope Paul III entertained guests in this room. the vault contains Paul III's coat of arms as well as scenes from the life of Alexander the Great (alluding to the pope's given name, Alessandro Farnese). the walls are decorated with depictions of the cardinal virtues as well as St. Paul, St. Michael the Archangel, and Hadrian. 

entering the Paolina Room

St. Michael the Archangel

Alexander the Great

the floor is inlaid with the papal crest

these baboons are memorialized for posterity here -- they were a gift to the pope from foreign ambassadors

the Perseus Chamber is a private room in Paul III's apartment, his studio, decorated with beautiful artwork including another reference to the Farnese family, the unicorn. 

Pope Paul III's bedroom is known as the Cupid and Psyche room, as the frieze depicts the mythological tale of Cupid who marries Psyche, on the condition that she will never try to look him in the face to discover his identity. of course, she does so, and then must submit to several tests as a consequence. this story was chosen because Psyche was commonly understood to represent the human soul, which also must undergo trials on the road to salvation. one of my favourite works by C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces, explores this myth beautifully, and now I want to re-read it!

details of the frieze

Cecilia started kicking her legs in the carrier just as I snapped this ... apologies for the blur!

quite the ceiling

my kingdom for this window seat
we then walked out into the loggia of Pope Julius II of Rovere, built at the beginning of the sixteenth century. from here, the pope would bless the crowds of pilgrims as they continued across the Ponte Sant'Angelo (bridge) on their journey to St. Peter's. the bridge itself was built by Hadrian to connect his mausoleum with the main city. during the Year of Jubilee in 1450, sadly the weight of all the pedestrians broke part of the bridge and 172 people drowned. the bridge was repaired, and in the late 1600s, Bernini along with some of his pupils sculpted the ten Angels that guard the bridge. 

the loggia leads to the Courtyard of Alexander VI, whose crest appears on the side of the well (which drew from a large ancient Roman cistern). Pope Leo X Medici held theatrical performances in this courtyard. from here, we could also peer into the old prisons (which are only accessible via guided tour). 

the next interior rooms hold an impressive collection of armor and military accoutrements. this is the Apollo Room, built by Pope Nicholas V in the fifteenth century. 

this round shield and the intricately decorated coat of arms below both belonged to Cosimo I de' Medici

Greta liked this helmet for a horse
we then walked through the Room of Justice, which initially was the nucleus of Hadrian's mausoleum. in medieval times, it became the room where trials were held. one famous trial involved Beatrice Cenci, a young noblewoman who was found guilty of murdering her father, Count Francesco Cenci, and who was therefore executed on September 11, 1599, at the age of twenty-two. according to legend, her father was physically and sexually abusive to his wife and daughters. Beatrice, her stepmother, and her brothers killed the count and then threw him off a balcony to make it look like an accident. the four Cencis involved in the plot were tried and sentenced to death, to the outrage of the people who knew what kind of man the count had been. legend has it that every year, on the eve of September 11, the ghost of Beatrice returns to the Ponte Sant'Angelo, carrying her severed head. 

Beatrice Cenci
finally, we walked down the ramp that encircles the mausoleum, retracing the steps taken by Hadrian's funeral procession, to arrive at the Atrium, the entrance to the mausoleum. this room was originally covered in marble slabs and also held a colossal statue of Hadrian himself. only the head survives, but it has been relocated to the Vatican Museums. 

finally, we stepped through the massive doorway and outside the castle walls. at some point, we would love to go back for the guided tour of the remainder of the castle, including the Passetto di Borgo of course. if you only have a few days in Rome, the Castel Sant'Angelo will be eclipsed by other must-see sights, but if you are lucky enough to have an extended visit, it's an incredibly well-preserved journey back in time.