10 off beaten tracks places to see

1 Ostia Antica.

Ostia Antica

30 minutes out of Rome if you take the train going to the seaside you can step into an entire ancient city: you can stroll through its alleys, along its residential blocks, baths, firemen barracks, laundries, bars… it is the archeological site of Ostia Antica, the ancient harbor of Rome, with its 34h of surface one of the biggest sites in the world together with Pompeii but easier to reach from Rome, not to be missed if you really want to have a clear idea of what was living 2000 years ago!

2 Santa Maria degli Angeli.

basilica-santa-maria-degli-angeli-med

Michelangelo is celebrated worldwide for his frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, the statues of “La Pietà” and the “David”, but he was also an architect. Santa Maria degli Angeli is the only church he created in Rome by exploiting the monumental warm rooms of an ancient Roman bath, a happy marriage between archeological and modern structures. Inside the church are buried the Italian heroes of World War I and there is the sundial that was used until 1846 to set the clocks at noon in Rome, before being substituted by the cannon shot from the Janiculum hill. Nowadays it is the church used for the most solemn celebrations of the Italian State.

3 Museo Nazionale Romano a Palazzo Massimo.

Pugilatore

If you like ancient art but not crowds Rome offers a number of rich museums where you can stay face to face with the greatest works of antiquity. At the Museo Nazionale Romano di Palazzo Massimo for example you can make a visit to the big bronze of Boxer Mys who, after a career of never ending failures, won his first fight at 40, a great example of the chances that life gives to everybody who keeps on trying. The ticket to Palazzo Massimo is valid 4 days and grants the access to other 3 museums, that’s a great deal too!

4 EUR district.

Colosseo quadrato

EUR is the acronyme for the Italian Esposizione Universale di Roma, the universal exhibition that had to take place in Rome in 1942 for whom an entire new district was planned and built under the fascist regime. The war canceled the exhibition and stopped the works, which were completed after it. Recently chosen as one of the settings for the 007 movie “Spectre”, the district is totally built in white travertine, a unique example in Europe of rationalist architecture with its gorgeous perspectives, colonnades, mosaics that culminate in the magnificent view of the so-called squared Colosseum, now house of Fendi fashion brand. The area is a gorgeous setting for memorable photo shoot.

5 Orto botanico.

Orto Botanico

The botanical garden of Rome is a sort of unreal corner of Paradise on one side of the Janiculum hill from where you can get a glimpse of Rome from the Pantheon up to the Pincio hill, hidden amid the trees and the bushes. Its origins are set back to the Middle Ages to cultivate medicinal plants while nowadays the botanical garden covers 12 hectares including centenary woods, a bamboo and a mediterranean forrest, medical gardens, a Japanese and a rose garden together with various gracious historical garden-houses: in one of them there is the bathtub of queen Christine of Sweden who lived on the slopes of the hill, now used to grow fat plants… no reference at all to her Majesty of course!

6 Egyptian obelisks in Rome.Obelisco lateranense

How did the visitors do when g.p.s. and city-maps didn’t exist? It’s easy… they followed the obelisks! If you like walking you can try to explore the entire city in one day like a traveller from the past following the obelisks that where raised by the popes in the major squares to help the pilgrims moving. You can start in Piazza del Popolo, reach the Spanish Steps, move to Santa Maria Maggiore and St. John’s, touch the Colosseum and go back to the start, or deviate and end at St. Peter’s square. It’s a long long walk but finally the best way to walk the whole city center.

7 Santo Stefano Rotondo.

Santo Stefano Rotondo

Not too far from the crowds of the Colosseum there is one of the most ancient churches of Rome, hidden in a paradisiac garden and unreal silence. Its perfect round shape and the bright light makes the visitor feel in a sort of fantasy medieval set Game-of-Thrones like. To give more excitement to the visit you can follow on the walls the paintings of Pomarancio showing the various creative ways used to kill the most famous martyrs of ancient times and then relax in the nearby Villa Celimontana garden under a centuries-old pine tree.

8 Non-catholic cemetery.

Cimitero acattolico

This was the ground given by the Roman Church to bury non Catholic people, when not being Catholic was not normal at all: here we find men and women of all religions and races resting together in peace under the protective bulk of the ancient Roman pyramid of Cestius and plants and flowers of any kind. The place counts an incredible number of writers, sculptors, historians and politicians and some great names like English poets J.Keats and his friend P.B.Shelley. It is easy to get in, while if you want to get out leave a tip for the automatic gate to open, the night can be long and scary…

9 Castel Sant’Angelo.

Castel Sant Angelo

Close to St. Peter’s church there is the monumental tomb of the emperor Hadrian. In the Middle Ages it became the castle of the popes set by the river, used as a prison for the enemies and as a fortress in case of danger, accessible from a straight path from the papal palace. You can visit the jail where notable guest like the count of Cagliostro spent not a very good time, and the upper private rooms for the popes, to end on the spectacular top floor and share a 360° view of the city with the statue of the angel that according to the legend appeared to set the city free from an epidemic.

10 Villa Farnesina.

Villa Farnesina

Villa Farnesina was a luxury residence by the Tiber river whose owner, banker Agostino Chigi used to give dinners with precious silverware thrown in the water at the end of the every party. Here painter Raphael worked on the splendid paintings always having at his side his lover and model Fornarina, claiming that otherwise he couldn’t concentrate and do anything at all. That spirit of life and Raphael’s masterpieces are still preserved, and the visit of Villa Farnesina will make you step back to a world made of true love, lavishness, joy and elegance.

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memories from the past

The Colosseum is known for the spectacular and bloody fights of gladiators and wild animals, but when the ancient times ended, silence fell upon the forgotten ruins and a new life for the monument started. Actually many different lives.

The building, symbol of a pagan authority that persecuted the Christians, was looted for centuries and cursed with dark legends. Only in 1750 the pope ruling Rome decided to rededicate the monument and free it from the bad presences that haunted it. This pope was Benedict XIV who raised a cross in the center of the Arena field and 14 altars to commemorate the passion of Christ in preparation for Easter.

The pagan monument became a center of pilgrimage and the stage where every Holy Friday the “Walk of Christ” (Via Crucis) was performed. With the archeological excavations these traces of a Catholic use have been canceled, but the procession still takes place. For 2017 the superintendence of Rome has decided to restore and rebuild one of the 14 altars that will be unveiled for the procession of April, 14.

A great occasion to see something old and new, pagan and Christian at the same time, that truly symbolises the spirit of this city and its never-ending, beautiful contradictions.

the ides of march

The ides of March represent a turning point in Roman history, marking the transition to the Roman Empire. Caesar had defeated and pardoned many of his enemies, concentrated in his hands an absolute power seeking to became a king in Rome, and a god after his death.
Deceived old friends who had expected to get more from him and old enemies who dreamt to save the Republic had one last chance of achieving their project in this fatal day, dedicated to Anna Perenna, a goddess of the year (Latin annus) whose festival originally concluded the ceremonies of the new year (in the primitive Roman calendar March was the first month). Three days later Caesar would have gone East to conquer the rest of the world.

The conspirators staged a game of gladiatorial combats at Pompey’s theatre, by the temporary seat of the Senate. Caesar had a nightmare that night and some time before a seer had prevented him of a danger at the ides of March. On his way to the Senate he met the seer once again, and when he claimed that that day had come with no harm, he was answered that the day was not over yet.

When he stepped in, he was approached by a senator pretending to beg for the return of his exiled brother: that was the signal – the conspirators crowded all around him and senator Casca gave the first strike. Caesar hit him with his stylus but when he realized he was surrounded he simply wrapped his head and pulled down his mantel to cover the feet in order to fall with dignity. 23 times he was stabbed but only one was the mortal touch that cut his aorta in the chest. Everybody run away, and dead Caesar was left alone for hours, until three slaves came to get his body. Silence was all around as the citizen locked themselves at home as the news spread. Anthony was spared because the conspirators had decided that the death of a single tyrant would be more symbolically effective than a massacre.

You can live back this day with the historical commemoration that takes place every year, March 15th at Largo Argentina, the archeological area where this enormous fact happened. Every other day of the year you can visit the GNAM if you wish to see the beautiful painting inspired by Caesar’s assassination, together with many other masterpieces in Italy’s largest collection of modern and contemporary art.

all that glitters ain’t gold

Bernardino Spada was a member of an important Roman family and Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church. Respecting his position he was also a refined collector and a cultured intellectual even when joking his guests.

In the century of the scientific revolution he was living, that gave so much importance to the proven evidence, a philosophic question was blowing the minds: is the sensed reality nothing but an misleading game in which easy is to cheat?

Bernardino decided to create in the secret garden of his magnificent Palazzo Spada an optical illusion bestowing the execution to the genius of architect Francesco Borromini. The witty cardinal used to bring his friends there, showing from far a nice gallery made of marble and mosaics leading to a distant garden embellished with square trimmed bushes.

But as the foot got closer or inside the gallery the visitor discovered that marble was plaster and the gallery was much shorter and little than it looked, and that the garden in the end was just painted. Everything was fake and everything can be faked! How can you defend from this offense?

This thorny question is definitely present especially in a period when the tools for faking are accessible not only to a genius like Francesco Borromini but even to the ones with lousy abilities. So Bernardino’s invitation is to verify, touch, get into the problem to reveal the true nature of what may appear different to a superficial eye.

the magic of a candle

Candelora (feast of candles) is among the most ancient Roman feasts coming  from the transformation of a pagan tradition and is celebrated the 2nd of February. This month was dedicated by the Romans  to Fauno, god of fertility involved in the pagan festival of Lupercalia. During this period there were processions with lights and torches for the purification from bad influences.

When Christianism finally conquered the Roman institutions this festival was still going on, since especially the senatorial class was attached to the ancient traditions and some believed that wars, epidemies and ruin were a consequence of the abandon of these practices. It was then that pope Gelasio was able to convince the Senate that the disgraces Rome was going through were on the contrary due to the misbehaving, superstition and traces of paganism.

The festival of Lupercalia was in the end abolished and replaced by other celebrations: among them St.Valentin and the feast of the Purification of Mary, which is 40 days after Christmas as for the Jewish law women stayed impure that long after the delivery. It was called the Festival of Candles, Candelora. The ritual consisted in a procession through the Roman Forum to Santa Maria Maggiore, with the blessing of the candles.

In a later period it was the brotherhood of Santa Maria dell’Orto in Trastevere which took care of the celebration. Other than candles the brotherhood also blessed the waters of the Tiber river, in the morning when everybody showed on their boats for the solemn blessing and delivery of the candles, that could be switched as a sign of devotion to Mary or only as a request for help in case of danger, disease, storms.

The church of Santa Maria dell’Orto is one of the highlights in Trastevere district, in via Anicia 10.

November Fava shaped cookies (Fave dei morti)

The tradition of offering fava beans during the days consecrated to the dead is set far in the ancient times. This superstition has come to our days trasforming the original bean into a biscuit.

The ancient Romans used to offer sacrifices to avoid any persecution or haunting from the bad spirits during the Parentalia festival dedicated to the deceased relatives and organised banquets in the family tombs, offering opium, honey, lentils, eggs and not missing the fava beans, considered as the house of the dead. Another holiday called Lemuria days the Romans offered in a peculiar rite black fava beans to the ghosts of the wandering dead to placate their thirst of blood and violence.

This symbolism was kept even in the following centuries: for example until recent times there was the tradition of preparing a soup of fava beans the night of Nov. 2nd (catholic commemoration of the dead) and leave a dish on the table for the night visit of a deceased relative.
Of this old pagan rural traditions nowadays we keep memory with macaroon-like cookies, popular from the north to south of Italy, there are many variations to the recipe. Sometimes made with just almonds, or with the addition of pine nuts, with just stiffly-beaten egg whites (which make for softer biscotti) or flavoured with lemon zest, candied fruit or spices.

Recipee for November Fava shaped cookies (Fave dei morti)

Blanched almonds 200 gr, pastry flour 100 gr , sugar 100 gr , egg 1, butter 30 gr, lemon skin, a hint of salt

Roughly ground the almonds then put in a mixer. Pay attention when using the mixer, the blades must not get hot otherwise the heat will take out the oil from the almonds, changing their taste. Add sugar.
Work with flour, egg, grated lemon skin and liquid butter until it gets homogenic.
Then create small balls that can also be shaped as a fava bean (5-6 cm long).
Put in the oven at 180* (celsius) and cook for 12-15 minutes.

To pair with Vin Santo

the cleanest wash

In the past times women didn’t have so much spare time since they had no help from technology and the home works were all hand made. Before the washing machine was invented they had to go to the public lavatory to wash their “dirty clothes” in public (even because neither water supply reached the residential buildings as nowadays).

One of these places in Rome was decorated with an inscription inciting women to do their job at the best and in any way possible. The plate has the following text:

LE CONSIENCIE MONDE AVER CURATE/ SÌ COME I PANNI BIANCHI QUI VOI FATE

(mind to keep your conscience as pure white as the clothes you’re washing here)

This lavatory doesn’t exist anymore but its plate has been walled up in the courtyard of one of the brightest churches in Rome, Santa Maria in Campomarzio, where you can find the inscription in the inner courtyard.

a magic bean

The fava bean is a springtime legume, it is delicious and very popular in Rome, but in the ancient times it was often connected with superstitions and with the world of the dead.

The fava bean inspired horror to the Pythagoreans because the black stains on the fava flowers were believed to be a sign of the presence of dead people souls; the Egyptians avoided the contact while the Romans offered them to the dead as a gift.

The reasons of this bad consideration are in the botanical characteristics of the plant and in the difficulty of digestion. The plant is the only one with a stem that comes out from the ground without any knot so it was believed to be a sort of thread of communication with the underworld, used by the dead to take possession of the souls of living people. The fava been is in fact a little bit hard to digest giving a sense of psychic and physical heaviness.

It can also be mortal and provocate an anaphilactic shock in people affected by favism, a quite diffused allergy in Southern Italy. All this of course increased the fame of the fava bean as an impure and dangerous food.

Still nowadays we keep memory of this funeral aspect with some biscuits prepared for the feast of the dead falling on November, 2nd: though they’re made with almonds, they’re called “The dead’s fava”. The best period to eat this highly proteic food is May/June when you can find it fresh and eat it raw with Roman Pecorino cheese or in a typical Roman recipe called “Vignarola“.

let’s swing!

Rome has been great theatre where beauty starred the leading role. One of the best performers on the stage of the 17th c. was architect Francesco Borromini whose powerful imagination embodied the whimsical character of the Baroque art.

Some of his strangest creations were for the church of Santa Andrea delle Fratte. The church has no dome because of the artist’s premature death, but Francesco Borromini was able to achieve the drum, that’s the typical support for the dome, as an x-shaped cross, symbol of Andrew’s martyrdom.

He also made the bell tower which stands absolutely white against the bricks of the church. This tower is used to enjoy not only the pleasure of ringing the bell but also the pleasure of dancing, or to be more correct, swinging!

The secret, as for any dancer, is the elasticity of the body, imparted by the genial Borromini with his thin pillars and curvy elements topped by a flaming crown.

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