So Thursday started off with a wander around Trastevere, the neighborhood on the other side of the Tiber. It's one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city -- most of the buildings are medieval, and the streets are even narrower and more winding than in the rest of Rome. Have I mentioned that yet? Like most ancient European cities, Rome is not built on a grid at all, with streets that wind around and meet at odd angles. The large arteries are paved, but most of the small streets are still covered in cobblestones, which made walking on them in the rain an adventure. Lots of women walk around Rome in heels, and I have no idea how they manage. As it was, my ankles were pretty tired by the time we left.
We started by crossing the Ponte Fabricio, the oldest bridge in Rome, to Tiber Island, which is home to a hospital and a small church. Then we walked down one of those long narrow streets to the Piazza della Santa Maria in Trastevere, home to the basilica of the same name, which is known for its 13th century mosaics by Cavallini, early examples of perspective in artwork. We started by walking into the church, only to discover that we had accidentally wandered into a funeral. Pretty much all of the churches in Rome that you can visit are working churches, and they all have signs requesting that tourists not come in during services, but there had been no sign posted outside. We made a quick exit, at which point we noticed the small hearse sitting in the piazza. Oops. So we hung out on the steps of the fountain for about ten minutes and went back inside when the coast was clear. Besides the mosaics, I thought the highlight of the church was the row of columns along the nave. If you look closely at the capitals, you can see that none of them match -- the carvings are different, and they're a mixture of Ionic and Corinthian. The reason? The columns were stolen from various Roman temples around the town!
After we'd finished with the church, we made an attempt to visit the Villa Farnesina, recommended for its influential architecture and frescos, but I misread the map and we overshot it, and by the time we got back, it was only a few minutes from closing for the day -- most museums, churches, and shops in Rome close for lunch from 1pm or so until the late afternoon, and this particular villa didn't have afternoon hours. And we were hot and hungry and a little stressed out, so we skipped rushing through it in favor of finding some lunch. So we found a little restaurant in the Piazza di San Giovanni della Malva and faced our first menu with no English on it. Our waitress spoke a little English, and between that and my "menu Italian", I was able to make enough guesses to acquire us cariofi alla romana (Roman-style artichoke, which is served cold with a white wine sauce, garlic, and mint, which was a surprising combination), pasta with red pepper sauce for T, and a really delicious gnocchi dish for myself. After lunch, we made our daily afternoon pilgrimage back to the hotel room, to rest a bit and plan out our second walking tour of the day: the Baroque churches of Centro Storico.
T and I are both big fans of cities and architecture, but T's tastes tend distinctly toward more modern time periods. So, while he can appreciate the ancient ruins and medieval basilicas and Renaissance churches that surrounded us, he was most interested in the Baroque. Fortunately, there's a ton of classic Baroque architecture, paintings, and sculpture in Rome. The tour suggested by our guidebook started with Sant' Ignazio, which is best known as the home of a really spectacular trompe l'oil ceiling by Andrea Pozzo. Pictures really, really do not do it justice. It's the image of saints and many others, including personifications of continents and countries, ascending to heaven, and the effect is highly realistic -- although before I double-checked the guidebook, it looked to me as though the figures were falling out of the ceiling rather than floating upwards! There's also a dome that's entirely fake. The surface is flat, and the image of a dome is painted in. You can see it on the left-hand side of the photograph linked above.
And then things started to get a little wonky, as the guidebook took us to several churches that didn't conform to the same opening hours that the guidebook thought they ought to. There was a cute little church called Santa Maria della Pace, and although we weren't able to get into the sanctuary, the interior courtyard, which is by Bramante, was open, so we checked that out. Also inside was a museum dedicated to Bramante, but we decided we weren't that interested in the man, so instead we made our way back to the Piazza Navonna and the interior of Sant'Agnese in Agone, which has the distinction of being decorated with friezes instead of frescos. It was a much smaller space than I'd expected from the outside, and really quite beautiful. One of the more peaceful churches we visited in Rome, I thought. When we'd finished there, we noticed that the sun was out and we were near the Pantheon, so I decided that I needed a look at the interior with the sun shining through the oculus. So we went, and it was if anything even more crowded than before, but I got a pretty cool picture of a snippet of sky, and it was totally worth it.
We walked past several more churches, saw the work of several more masters -- by late afternoon of the fourth day in Rome, it all starts to blur together a little bit. Finally, at the end of it all, we were back on the Tiber, where T settled in for sunset (no pics posted anywhere yet, alas). Dinner was at a Roman restaurant on the Piazza Farnese, and then it was time for bed.
The next day, Friday, was May 1st. Which, as it turns out, is a major holiday in Rome, and pretty much the rest of Europe. One of those holidays the guidebooks always advise you to avoid, because everything will be closed. Which we didn't realize until after we'd bought our plane tickets and made hotel reservations. Oops. Fortunately, a few days earlier I had called the Galleria Borghese to make a reservation for Thursday; the agent told me that Thursday was sold out, but did we want to come on Friday? After ascertaining that the museum was, indeed, open on Friday, I jumped on the opportunity to settle our holiday plans, and we bought the tickets.
On our way, we stopped by San Luigi dei Francesi, one of the churches we had tried and failed to visit the day before. The church is undergoing renovations, so the exterior was totally encased in plywood, but the real attraction was inside: one of the chapels is decorated with paintings by Caravaggio, who is one of T's favorite painters, and it was totally worth going back. "The Calling of St. Matthew", in particular, is rightly regarded as a masterpiece. Caravaggio plays some fascinating tricks with light and darkness and composition.
Then we hopped on the little bus and went up to Villa Borghese, arriving about half an hour before our noon reservation. The Villa is a huge country estate that's been turned into a park with a small zoo and several museums, including what may be the strictest museum I've ever attended: the Museo Borghese. Reservations are a necessity, because they strictly regulate the number of people who can come in, something like 300 people at a time, and you only get a two hour block to visit the museum. Also, all bags and cameras must be checked, so I have no pictures of the fabulous artwork to be found inside. But overall, I found it made for a much more pleasant experience than, say, the Vatican -- you weren't pressed into crowds, or tripping over people, or rushed past things before you could look at them, and it was easy to go back and look again at something that you missed. The collection was, as I've said, amazing; the building was originally built to house the private collection of the Borghese family (including Camillo Borghese, Napoleon's brother-in-law), and many more masterworks have been acquired since. There was a whole room of Caravaggios, and several classic sculptures by Bernini, all of which were really neat to examine at close range. But I think our favorite was the Egyptian Room, which was designed to hold ancient Egyptian artwork. The marble and wood inlays were designed to resemble hieroglyphics; although it was clear they didn't mean anything, they were beautifully designed. I wish I could find a picture to show you all.
We finished in about an hour and a half. Then, after almost half an hour of futilely waiting for a bus, we found a cab driver to take us to San Carlo de Quattro Fontana, and this is where I'll leave off for tonight. More to come.